When I arrived at Panjim bus station the typical fiasco of taxi and Auto-rickshaw drivers hassling you about a lift began. One thing I have learnt is in India it is best to agree or book accommodation in advance before arriving at a stop as the taxi drivers try to tell you that the place you booked or wanted to go to is shut or there is a better one. If you agree somewhere beforehand and write down the address it is easier to just show the address to the driver so that there is no hassle and then agree a price making sure to never accept the first price as it is overinflated.
With that said I sorted out my taxi to Calangute and headed off! The drive was really nice! Goa is very different to previous places! A very humid climate with a strange contrast from paddy fields to suddenly seeing jungle like forest areas before driving over a bridge with the ocean in full view!
After about 35 mins I arrived in Calangute with the taxi driver having to stop and asked 5 people where Castle House was (a common thing in India where taxi drivers say they know the address but actually don’t!). At first the people at Castle House said they were full before I told them I already had booking! They then let me in, made up my room and I was able to have breakfast! The breakfast was included in the price of the room and was a selection of Poached, scrambled, boiled and fried eggs, veg cutlet and Jam all with toast and either a cup of coffee, English tea, Indian chai or masala chai!
After settling in it happened! I finally met some other travellers! An Intrepid tour was just finishing and I was lucky enough to chat to the people on the tour. They had done a journey from Kolkata around the west and southern coast and then up to Mysore and finishing in Goa. Two girls called Emma and Carina mentioned they were staying an extra two days and that I could tag along! I was so happy that I had met some westerners and I could finally start to enjoy the trip! I didn’t realise that it would get better!
We went to Calangute beach where we got hassled by some women trying to sell beads! It was amusing at first! The usual questions came out…. “Hello. Where are you from?… Is it your first time in Goa?… Do you like it here? Would you like to buy some things?” After which we told them “No we are fine thank you and just trying to enjoy the view!” but people still persisted. I had one girl come up to me and say the same things and when I replied “I am from England” she said “Ahhh Alwight mate! Lovely Jubbly!” It was so funny but in the end we decided to leave after Emma had told them multiple times that we didn’t want to buy anything! We proceeded to walk around the market area with Emma haggling like I have never seen before! It was fascinating to watch! She was a pro at getting the price down and gave me a bit of confidence to haggle more!
The tour group invited me for dinner and we all headed off to a restaurant called “Britos” right in front of Baga beach which is about 20 minutes’ walk from Calangute. We had a very nice evening chatting about the tour and their various lives over a few drinks. I had a curry called “Beef Xacuti” which was very tasty and nice to have some beef considering it is very hard to get hold of it in India due to Cows being seen as Holy animals by Hindu people. Goa is more western than the rest of India especially in terms of religion as it has a lot of Christian influence which originated from Portuguese settlers and the Ambassador Vasco Da Gama and so is a very good starting point if a traveller feels that India is overwhelming. Its helps to ease a person into the Indian spirit!
Emma, Carina and I agreed to a trip to a spice plantation which was about an hour away from Calangute. It was really interesting to hear about the variety of spices that India produces and a bit about the history behind chillies including the famous “Piri Piri” which everyone knows is the Nandos speciality! We also learnt how they make the local Goan drink “Fenny” which I should add blows one’s head off! Pretty strong stuff! It was really cool and we got some really nice food!
The next few days involved relaxing and chilling out and spending time with the girls. I finally started to enjoy myself and also met up with two guys who I had chatted to on TravBuddy (A website for organising meetups with fellow travellers!).
Much like myself, Derek (D) and Dan had arrived in India and instantly took a dislike due to the culture shock! After arriving in Mumbai they swiftly decided it wasn’t for them and headed for Goa! We met up and got on so well and we decided to go together and so it began! I didn’t realise how cool a time we were going to have!
As my time in Goa came to an end I said my goodbyes to Emma and Carina who were heading off to their next adventure! I was so lucky to meet them and if they read this I want to say a big thank you for making my start in India so good!
Dan, D and I booked onto the next sleeper bus to Hospet and Hampi to visit the ancient Hindu temples! The real adventure was about to begin!
Anyone who has had the privilege of dealing with Indian bus conductors knows they are a pain in the backside. When you ask for help they are rude and tell you to go away or they just stand there shaking their head from side to side! I had this in Mysore. Eventually I managed to get the right bus and after a fiasco getting my backpack into the hold I sat down next to a nice Indian lady who talked a little before starting the gruelling journey from Mysore to Panjim, Goa!
At first it was fine. The lady (whose name escapes me) chatted to me regarding my trip and mentioned she was from Mangalore but was going to Goa to meet her friends as well as where I was from and why I had come to India. It was nice to look at the scenery and to chill out watching some films and TV shows on my laptop. There are regular stops although when you first start travelling in India you become almost afraid to leave the bus in case it drives off without you leaving you in the middle of nowhere!
To say the roads in India are bad is an understatement! They are like the UK (B) Roads with the odd (A) road and many potholes making the journey bumpy. As night drew in, the bus route took us up a mountainous area with the rain pelting down, roads bending round tightly and the bus rocking from side to side regularly; it did feel like it would tip over a number of times!
Once we made our descent we passed through many towns where loud drumming and music was being played in conjunction to large processions of floats mounted with large elephant figures and men adorned with brightly coloured clothing and garments with gold lining and jewellery! This festival I found out was the same one I had been told about in Bangalore – The Hindu God Ganesh Birthday or as it is known in Hindi “Ganesh Churtathi”. Each town or village celebrates this on different dates throughout September.
At around midnight we stopped at a service station for a toilet break and food. I was a little uncomfortable at getting food as I was the only westerner so I grabbed some crisps. Now I am more confident it doesn’t worry me but when you are first in India on your own you get sick of being starred at. It takes a few days to get used to this and afterwards it is just part of Indian life as a westerner is not a common thing for many Indian people to see!
Surprisingly the Overnight AC Recliner chair buses are relatively comfortable and I would go as far as to say they are better than coaches back in England. As soon as you get on, you are given a bottle of mineral water included in the cost and when it is time to sleep you get a blanket as well so that you are comfortable all for less than the equivalent of £8 for a 16 hour journey! Pretty good I think!
Well up until now it was fine but then the elderly Indian couple in front of me decided to recline their chairs but more than they should of! I literally could barely move my legs and the woman next to me had the same! The elderly guy just turned around and starred at me! Very rude but something you get used! Manners are something rarely found here!
Eventually we made another stop and the man moved seats so I got his wife to push the chair up and when he came to push the chair back again I put my knees up! I don’t think he liked it but it was tough! I managed to close my eyes for a bit before a guy got on and started to play his Indian music so the whole bus could here! Someone asked him to turn it off but he didn’t! I then put my earphones in and listened to my music before drifting off and awoke to bright sunshine and a new destination! I finally made it to Panjim, Goa!
I didn’t realise this would be the place where my adventure would really begin!
Mysore is a pretty place. Less manic than the fast paced Bangalore, with a certain charm. Famous for its beautiful palaces, sarees, pashmina and sweet “Mysore Pak” which is tasty!
After the two nights in Bangalore I decided that was enough for me, so I thought to try my first time on a standard non AC bus. I figured I would sooner do a smaller trip to start off with and I am glad I did. It was hard trying to get to the bus station as none of the auto-rickshaw drivers understood what I meant until finally one of them managed to take me and luckily I just got the bus in time. It was full of people but not rammed however no space to put my backpack in a hold. This meant my backpack had to stay between my legs and if any of you have had to sit on a standard Indian bus will know it’s not particularly comfortable. Anyway after 3 hours, Mysore was in sight. Getting a bus was a good experience for me and pleased I managed to do it without ending up in the middle of nowhere!
Once I arrived, I was again overwhelmed as I was still struggling to get used to people hassling me. A nice man called Mr. Nagendra asked me if I was staying anywhere and offered to take me to a hotel and see the room before I stayed. I took him up on the offer and ended up in the Aschwrya Residency close to the city centre. It was a nice room and definitely better than the one in Bangalore however I did find out there was no bar and when I ordered food it came from a takeaway although it was quite nice – Dal Palak (Lentils & Spinach) with Roti.
Mr. Nagendra offered to take me on a tour of Mysore. The first part involved the famed Mysore Palace. It’s a bit cheeky as Nationals only have to pay Rs.20 whereas Foreigners have to pay 10X as much at Rs.200. I suppose it helps pay towards restoration or you would hope so anyway! It is a bit of rigmarole as you go in as you have to deposit your camera in one room then walk to a foot stand and take your shoes of and then go through another Camera scanner and then go through another barrier before being able to actually get into the palace. It is funny as they say strictly no photography but everyone takes photos on their phones. Photos are allowed outside the Palaces in the grounds surrounding.
The palace itself is amazing and a couple of travellers have said they think that it is the nicest building they have seen after the Taj Mahal so I am really pleased I saw it.
The Kingdom of Mysore was ruled by the Wodeyar dynasty from 1399 until the independence of India in 1947. Mysore was not always the capital of the kingdom. Srirangapattana was named the capital in 1610 but later it was moved back to Mysore after a battle where Tipu Sultan (nicknamed the Tiger of Mysore) became De facto ruler who was son of Hyder Ali (an officer in the Mysorean army, and his second wife, Fatima or Fakhr-un-nissa). Later the Wodeyar family reclaimed rule after Sultan was removed from power. Mysore was then named the capital again with a new palace being built. This burnt down in 1897 and then The regent of Mysore, Maharani Vani Vilas Sannidhna, commissioned a British architect, Henry Irwin, to build yet another palace in its place. The construction was completed in year 1912.
After the Palace I was taken to a Pashmina shop where I was explained about how they are made. It was so obvious that prices are a lot higher than the items are worth. I gave in and bought something in there. Next I got taken to incense market. Here a little old lady squatted whilst rolling bamboo sticks over a black coating. I was explained by a young guy that this was charcoal mixed with a combination of ingredients including almond oil to make this sort of black sponge. This is then rolled onto the thin bamboo sticks and these are left to dry for a day in the sun before being coated in another oil with a scent such as Jasmine, Geranium oils, Lemon oil etc. which is what we know as incense sticks. These oils were all explained to me as each had a healing property e.g. one for Delhi Belly or one for stress. It was interesting but of course they wanted me to buy them and I just said to them “What would I do with scented oils???” before swiftly leaving!
I then got taken to a church which wasn’t particularly special before returning to my hotel. It was a rip off slightly but at least I got to see the Palace.
I did like Mysore slightly but I would have preferred to be with people as it was quite lonely which is why I decided I had enough of not meeting anyone. After a chat with a few people I realised enough was enough and I decided to head somewhere I thought there would be more people and it was the best decision I made! I asked the hotel in Mysore if I could get to Goa from Mysore and the only way is a bus so they helped me get a ticket reservation. I stayed one night and then headed to the bus station for a 14:30 departure.
My first long bus journey experience was about to begin!!!