Sunday, March 6, 2011

Allepey, Goa

Today marks the day when your laziest blogger (relative to his covering-of-everything ambitions) finishes writing about the South Tour, which, incidentally has been done for almost three months. Why am I so bullishly insistent on covering everything in this detail? I've discovered that I really like this travel writing. And what with the onslaught of 95-110 degree heat, I'm going to become a bit more of a shut-in than I have before, so I will hopefully catch myself up with reasonable speed.
Alleppey is Kerala exactly as I imagined it from Arundhati Roy's wonderful book The God of Small Things. We arrived at our hotel after a hellishly long bus ride in which we made a misguided stop at low-quality Subway that made everyone sick except me and got lost multiple times. It's a horrific tragedy that this particular Subway establishment is giving a bad name to what is, generally speaking, a top-notch chain that provides a plethora of sandwiches both delicious and nutricious.
We spent less than 24 hours at this place - we woke up fairly early and took a morning cruise around the backwater canals of the area. Canals is what they claimed to be, but they really seemed more like decisive rivers. If a great picture can speak a thousand words, mine can probably only account for a few hundred, but that would still save me from writing lengthy descriptive paragraphs about the climate and ecosystem of the area. Frankly, there's not all that much to say.
Goa is among the most popular tourist destinations in the whole of Asia. It is India's smallest state, and among the smallest in population. I've never been much of a sun-and-sand traveling, but Goa is home to some eye-poppingly appealing beaches. The one below isn't one of the most swimmable ( I photographed it from a cliff that was nowhere near the more touristy beach zone), but it's no less beautiful.

We were staying at a resort that extended down on to the beach, and this was a terrific beach. Packed with people, but not too many people. The sand was beautiful, the water from the Arabian Sea was amazing. There were a bevy of activities to take part in beyond the tanning and swimming - we went on jet-ski rides through the rough waves, we got cheap but awesome two-week tattoos, and we went parasailing, which I loved. Beachside restaurants are all over the place, and sometimes they send waiters out to wherever you are sitting so you don't have to get up. Our first day was pretty much a beach day, and a nice one at that.

Day 2 was spent sightseeing. Most of the day was spent driving, frankly, but we did get to see the very beautiful Basilica of Bom Jesus, which is an extremely beautiful basilica in it's own right, but is most famous for housing the remains of Saint Francis Xavier, famous for his pioneering missionary work in Asia. Xavier's remains are, apparently, exceedingly well-preserved for some reason (cited as holy influence, I think), and every 10 years his body is taken out for public viewing. The next one is 2014. It's supposed to be an extremely big deal.

Day three was spent with the morning at the beach and the afternoon at the biggest flea market you've ever seen. It stretched for over a kilometer, just a gigantic, sprawling mess of shops selling things that were generally more traditional Indian than the things I usually find at home. The shopkeepers, based on their dress and behavior, did not seem to be all that prosperous. They weren't trying to sell any electronics or anything very modern, the pace was lightning-fast and the haggling was extreme.

I made an observation here that somewhat helped me to progress in my understanding India. I thought to myself "these are very desi Indians (desi means kind of proper, traditional Indian), but why are they like this in a tourist place and less so in my own city, which is not a tourist place?" The thing is, this kind of wild, zany India is fading. Modern India, the one I live in, is an India that, dichotomously, can still be backwards, poor, and undeveloped, and can also be hurtling headlong into new technologies and ideas of the globalizing world. THIS is the real India today. The other kind of traditional India is fading. People don't really live like that anymore. It's a show for the tourists, as part of their economy. And I have to admit, I loved it. It was a total blast. I kind of feel like this kind of India is either fading, or was a foreigner's myth to begin with.

Well, then we went home. Then there was Christmas, which I discussed several posts ago. In January, there was another festival, and it was extremely awesome. That's what I'll talk about next.

I'd just like to conclude with this goofy little sign at the Basilica. India is perhaps the only country in the world where it is deemed necessary to inform people that there are certain places where you shouldn't explode things.

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