A Great Day in Liverpool and a Terribly Modern Museum

(Part One)

Liverpool is a truly wondrous city. I make this statement with absolutely no reservations. Yes, I may have only ever been there three times, and yes two of those visits were only in order to get somewhere else, and yes one of them did involve me witnessing two rather dilapidated looking chaps injecting heroin on a rotting sofa in the middle of an unsurfaced car park near the bus station. But, this is a city that seems hard to dislike.

In fact, setting aside the limitations of a facebook style binary value judgement system for a moment, let us simply consider the vast depth of Liverpool’s cultural and industrial heritage: It was a city at the heart of Britain’s Industrial Revolution, a port that was vital to the Manchester textile industry; It is Britain’s fourth largest city, with a rich (if not always pleasant) history of multiculturalism; Liverpool’s docks are marked as a UNESCO world heritage site due to their historical significance; The city has provided us with countless great musicians, bands, writers, top flight football teams and, of course, The Beatles.

These are a few, though by no means all, of the things that make Liverpool a great and unique city. The city itself manages to, at once, impart a sense of great significance whilst also having an air of nonchalant modesty. Modernity and history are both on show, with Liverpool’s urban planners opting to retain and adapt many of its great industrial buildings alongside more modern structures, such as some of those surrounding the original Albert Dock.

Then there’s the scousers. Say what you like about their perms, moustaches and dodgy accents, but they’re a brilliant bunch as far as I can tell. Honest, proud and in possession of the kind of perspective and self aware, self effacing humour that can only come from growing up in a city that has seen such changing fortunes of prosperity and poverty. This, combined with truly dismal weather, seems to unite the Liverpudlians, Glaswegians and Mancunians in kind-of troika of hilarity and misery.

The whole thing makes me feel like Jeremy Clarkson attempting to be Bill Bryson. I am drawn ever more towards making poorly thought out arguments about the city, its history and its people as all being somehow quintessentially Liverpudlian. As though they and it are a brute fact, each brought into existence by the other.

Regardless. I “like” it.

Which, at length, brings me to my point: The Museum of Liverpool is absolutely rubbish.

It appears that someone has gone to quite extensive lengths to ensure that absolutely nothing interesting enters the building, and that such exhibits as there are, are scattered in such a cutting edge fashion, that they are quite impossible to engage with. If all this wasn’t enough, the Museum of Liverpool seems to have opted for the ever more popular approach of largely dispensing with information, insight and facts in favour of thousands of touch screens and a larger array of shiny and flashy things than I feel museum can really justify.

So incensed was I by this disappointing museum excursion, that I decided to do nothing about it other than complain to my friend Quincy who, whilst being incredibly well informed and wise in the ways of the world, has literally nothing to do with the Museum of Liverpool, and so was not the best target for my angst. His intelligent and well-considered opinions on the matter were, however, engaging, thought provoking and went a good way towards helping climb down from my incredibly high and indignant horse for long enough to form some sort of opinion on the matter.

Ultimately, I have three main problems with this sort of funky, modern and ever-so-interactive museum:

Firstly, information and education seems to be largely sacrificed in favour of shiny screens, bright colours and what I can only presume civil servants regard as wacky designs.

Secondly, I strongly disagree with the current consensus that more technology and more interactivity on all fronts is necessarily a good thing. Why do we accept that having touch screens, hubs, places to connect your phone and apps everywhere is, simply in and of itself, a good thing?

Finally, I find the whole process of think-tanking and dumbing down, to be frankly quite insulting. If we, as a people, just accept that we no longer have an attention span or any interest in things that don’t give us an interactive pat on the back every time we take a shit, then yes, this type of key-jangling effort at culture is acceptable. But if we don’t, then surely we should be asking for a little more?

I’m going to sign off from this piece for now, due to a self imposed deadline to publish something before I go away this weekend. I will, however, be back to finish what I’ve started.

As an aside, the Maritime Museum in Liverpool is great.

Tom

xx

The Big Long Runaway is Back!

Finally, you may feel free to release that long held breath, retreat towards your chair backs and relinquish the tension induced habit of biting the skin around your nails. And whilst you take a moment to gather yourself – your lips turning again from blue to pink, your inner ears rejoicing in their escape from the seemingly eternal and perilous battle with edge-of-seatdom and your cuticles slowly regaining a stronghold on the much abused ends of your digits – allow your mind to ponder the magnitude of what is occurring.

My own little universe of fantastical hyperbole, narcissistic over-dramatisation and wonderfully written introductions, followed by generally quite disappointing stories, is back! The Big Long Runaway has risen from it’s erstwhile period of hibernation and has returned to the world of blogging to spew forth a whole new torrent of grandiloquent nonsense.

I’m currently in the process of deciding which of the Die Hard sequels tag lines to adopt for my comeback, but in the meantime, here’s an idea of what to expect.

  • More adventure stories, musings and observations from the road. Last time out, I was lucky enough to have some excellent, and frequently hilarious, experiences. I hope that at least some of the small number of people who read my last travel blog, found them as interesting and funny as I did.
  • More deliberate attempts at intelligent commentary. I did a little of this on my last adventure, but I figure that a couple of years on and with basically still no clue as to what grown-ups are supposed to do to occupy their time, I may as well have a proper go at half-decent journalism.
  • More non-travel blog style entries. Hopefully, this time round, I’m going to maintain enough courage and commitment to include some of my other writing as a way of overcoming my inability to write anything that stands up to a literary appraisal beyond the first few paragraphs.

Tom’s Big Long Runaway is back!

Hope you enjoy.

Tom

xx

Maddest day evar!

I have rarely felt quite so excited as I did over the last hour or so before going to collect my mum and Dave from the airport. I’d stayed up all night partying away on the beach with a bunch of rather mad Swedish people, and decided I should go and spend the last hour or so in my room with a few cartoons in the hope of vaguely sobering up. It didn’t really work, but after brushing my teeth and partaking of a cold shower, I felt much more human and set off with the taxi driver to the airport.

 

Waiting outside arrivals in the cool, pre-dawn morning, I drank three or four little plastic cups of tea to keep warm and awake, ready to rescue my mum and Dave from those generous philanthropists who will happily give new tourists their first lessons in haggling for a taxi. Only slightly later than predicted, they emerged from the terminal building. My mum, always one to find the perfect words in any situation, summed things up wonderfully:

 

Oh Tom! You haven’t got any shoes!”

And all my wondering and worrying as to whether my mum would like India, have a good time or think I’d gone mad was instantly proven to be in vain. Of course she would have a good time, find it impossible to resist India’s charms and occasionally think I was mental. To me, the decision to stop buying more flip flops because I kept losing them made perfect sense, but perhaps, having not seen me for six months, to be greeted barefoot at an international airport may have seemed a little odd.

On the drive back to Arambol it was great to go relive some first experiences again by proxy: First time crossing a road in India, first near-collision that nobody bats an eyelid at, first herd of cows in the middle of the road and of course, first glances at India’s incredible scenery. We arrived intact at Cock’s Town and, whilst waiting for the accommodation I had booked for my mum (she did it properly – beach hut and everything!) to be ready, decided to celebrate with a breakfast bottle of Kings. Excellent.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, some of the finest moments of insanity I have seen/participated in so far on my travels occurred during my last two weeks in India, which is also the time that my mum was present. Of this two weeks of madness, there was really one stand out day of crazy. That first morning, having just collected my mum from the airport, the full ensemble cast of Arambol freaks, geeks, pirates and clowns descended upon Cock’s Town for an all-star show. The events as they unfolded are pretty much inexplicable. I’m not sure we’ll ever know why Jonna and the Swedish pirates were running around with miniature speakers taped over their eyes, or why a sixty year old French woman on amphetamines had an arm-wrestling competition with Marko before jumping on his back and riding him round the beach (complete with riding crop mime). We’ll certainly never know why Juan was so determined that Dave should buy him a fried egg.

Seriously, absolute chaos had erupted by about nine thirty in the morning. What’s more, is that it settled in for pretty much the entire day. Nothing really got any more normal at any point after that. Even Juan, frequently the bull-goose loony himself, seemed to be perturbed by the antics of those around him at points. “You are more crazy than me no!?” becoming his phrase of the day. I have no idea what must have been going through my mum’s head that first day… But she certainly seemed to be having a good time. I know I was. 

The Many Crazy Faces of Arambol

Aaaaand we’re back! Once again, apologies to anyone who cares (I’m quite certain that by now I must have attracted literally hundreds tens of some avid semi-interested readers) for the phenomenonal delay: Since catching up on all my writing, I have effectively been living in another century where the internet and wifi simply don’t exist. As Jeff Goldblum warned in Jurassic Park however, “nature finds a way”, and here I am: Poised, ready to reminisce and eager to opine. Like some kind of verbose veloceraptor, who instead of learning how to open doors learnt how to type.

As promised, I wanted to try and write some kind of entry that captured the sheer volume (and calibre) of absolute mentalists present in Goa, most specifically Arambol. As I think I previously wrote, any one of the loonies described below would easily be the craziest person in any room/social encounter/postal code, but here in Arambol, there really is somewhat of a crazyface showdown. Everyone is absolutely insane and most people are on hallucinogenic drugs so generally the average level of crazy is quite high anyway, but there are a few characters who really seem to work their hardest to ensure that the insane-ometer reading stays at the top of the dial.

Carlos “The Space Baba” is a man who seems as though he has been wildly prowling up and down the beaches of Arambol and the mountains of Hampi since the dawn of time. An absolute crazy spectacle of a man to behold: Well over six feet tall with a wild, uncontrolled way of moving, topped with dreadlocks down to (almost) the waist and bedecked vast array of leopard-print tattoos and bone jewellery. All this is nothing compared to the wonders that issue forth from below his thin, Santana-esque moustache when he starts to speak. In a voice made both effortlessly cool and infinitely hilarious by his native El Salvador accent and the lifestyle his vocal chords have been subjected too (think stoned, South American Tom Waites or Spider Dijon from the New Sound episode of the Mighty Boosh and you’re getting close), he will wax lyrical on the most bizarre and incongruous topics you can imagine.

I actually ended up being very good friends with Carlos, and can testify that he is a lovely person, and one certainly worth befriending, if only for entertainment value. One relatively normal conversation I had with him proceeded thus:

Me – So, how you doing man?

Carlos – Maaaan, I had this new idea for one new tattoo maaan.

Me – O yeah? What you thinking of? More leopard-print?

Carlos – Nooooo maaaaan! No Waaaay. I have this idea to have a tattoo from here (points to shoulder) to here (points to knee), with one skull representing each of my ex girlfriends. I think it will look really cool maaaaaaan…
Me – Yeah, it sou…

Carlos – YEAH! And each of the skulls man, will have one unique feature. So that it represents. Like one with pigtails, one with blueeyes maaaaaaaaaaan.

Me – One with a beard?

Carlos – (Laughing hysterically) No waaaaaaaaaaay man! But I want to get 118 skulls and so far I only have 79 ex girlfriends. But it is okay. I see some very nice girls sitting close by to here man. I go show them some of my work and then….

Me – You have 79 ex girlfriends?

Now another one of the finest displays of crazy I’ve ever witnessed is Juan. According to popular legend (heavily proliferated by Juan himself), Juan was a very successful musician in earlier life, playing the guitar and the sitar with some of the biggest stars of the 60s, 70s and 80s before falling, at some point, into an apparently unstoppable decline into alcoholism and craziness. Aspects of Juan are fairly tragic, not least because his back-story seems very plausible after hearing him (when rarely just about sober) play the guitar, but also because when the mood takes him, he instantly opens up his entire back-catalogue of mistakes and regrets and lapses for moments into despair. Overall though, I think he’s having a fairly good time, and Arambol beach would certainly have been a much quieter place without his big, toothless smile and mad cries of “I am the fucking king of Arambol!” Followed by the inevitable attempted seduction of any nearby womenfolk, “But how can I be king with no queen? Will you be my wife?”

Juan really typifies the Goa crazyfolk more than any other I think. Always surrounded by friends, always pretty much on his own, wandering round half-baked and only half aware of what’s going on around him, but bringing huge amounts of happiness and hilarity with him wherever he goes. A real life sad clown. He could arrive at Cock’s Town first thing in the morning or turn up at Drunken Heroes in the middle of the night, clutching his bottles of Old Monk and proclaiming in a fantastically caricatured Chilean-English accent that he is “more handsome than Johnny Depp no?”

Although compiling a top five of Juan moments would be a fairly impossible task, I can’t help but find the absolute incongruity and visual comedy of this particular moment to be my favourite: Picture the scene if you will, it’s around nine thirty in the morning, a group of us are sitting around having morning coffees, joints and breakfasts. Juan had arrived maybe half an hour earlier and taken a seat, relatively sober but doing his best to rectify this problem. The above mentioned Space Baba also turned up and sloped his implausibly long self into a nearby hammock. Things continued as normal for a while. Then, seemingly without any prior warning or conversational segway, Juan, a bearded, toothless, half-drunk Chilean somewhat resembling a kind-of vagabond El Cid, stood and turned to Carlos, stoned, dreadlocked and slouched in a beach hammock, to launch the following pertinent enquiry:

Why do you not go work in one bank?”

The thought of either of these wild, beach animals surviving anywhere near an office block was simply too much. Some of the most beautiful irony I have ever witnessed.

Now would be a fairly good time to mention that the vast majority of the craziest people I met during my entire stay in India, were during the last month or so, particularly during the last fortnight when my mum and Dave came out to visit. It seems that Arambol’s crazies really pulled out all the stops to put on a good show for Mrs Hobson. Many of them really did their best work during this period. Particularly Granny Speed and the Angry Scotsman, who we will meet next time.

Right, to be continued. I really must go to sleep. I’ll pick up tomorrow with some more stories of crazy people.

(I’m finding it really hard to not keep addressing my writing to Mr Premier, having just finished reading The White Tiger. You should read it if you haven’t done so. I enjoyed it hugely, and it really does give a great insight into many of the contradictions and madnesses of India as far as I can tell)

Goodnight xx

“Tom, God loves you today…”

Bangalore

After a particularly pleasant and comfortable sleeper bus (greatly aided by the Indian traveller and American housewife’s friend – Valium), I arrived this morning in Bangalore, although not strictly at the advertised destination. Sometimes buses in India that are supposed to go, for example, to the city centre, just decide that they will instead drop you off, for example, miles outside the city centre. This was one such bus. I think that there must be some kind of deal between the bus drivers and the rickshaw drivers, because they always drop you conveniently beside several dozen empty rickshaws with tourist money hungry drivers.

Now, I always bypass these guys, because they are rip-off merchants. It is much better to flag down one of the non-predatory drivers who just happens to be going past on his normal business. In Bangalore, you’ll still pay way more than locals (you can never get them to agree to using the meter in Bangalore), but you will escape ridiculous quotes of 1000 rupees or more for a ten minute journey. It’s strange, in India, kilometres are very very short, for example, a walk you know to be ten minutes can be up to fifteen kilometres according to a rickshaw driver. Adversely, minutes are very long: Everything takes ‘five minutes’, regardless of how long you will actually have to wait. Don’t ever expect to wait five minutes for something to happen. Anyway, I digress. Again.

On this fair morning however, as well as managing to evade the onslaught of “you want rickshaw” which was directed solely at me (I was the only white dude on this particular bus), I decided that I should ignore my map, not ask for directions, and just figure out the way as I went. “My sense of direction is pretty good” I said to myself, “and I’ve been here before, how hard can it be?”

Two and a half hours later, I had to relinquish that, regardless of how hard it actually was, it was too hard for me. I was well and truly lost. In the middle of what can only be described as an awful slum. I really don’t know what possessed me to keep walking in that direction, despite it being obviously the wrong one. I thought, maybe, for just one moment, that the policy of NEVER GO BACK may finally have let me down. I had no idea which way to go, everybody I asked for help either didn’t understand English, didn’t know where SC Road was, or wanted money in exchange for (probably bad) directions.

The few rickshaws I encountered saw me for exactly what I was: A lost sweaty Englishman with a heavy rucksack and no sleep. Thus, trips which would usually cost fifty rupees suddenly cost a close to one thousand. I was mid-haggle with a driver, maybe the fourth or fifth in a row to offer me a ride for seven hundred rupees, and in the process of telling him that I would “rather stand here and die than pay you that much money” when, suddenly, my saviour appeared!

A smartly dressed man on a scooter, wearing a builders hard hat (these are permissable as bike helmets in Bangolore, where drivers but not passengers have to wear helmets) stopped beside me and asked where I was trying to go. He seemed nice, so I told him I was trying to go to my hotel on SC Road. “Get on” he said. On I hopped, and within seconds I was zipping through the traffic of Bangalore. About thirty seconds after picking me up, my hero turned slightly and the following brief conversation unfolded:

Ajay – What is your name?

Me – Tom

Ajay– Tom. God loves you today.

After which, he just went back to driving and didn’t speak again until we stopped on SC Road and I thanked him. What a cool mother fucker. Not only did he really help me out of a tight spot, but he proved that NEVER GO BACK always works and that things always turn out fine.

Return of the Jedi…

 

Arambol

Back in Arambol then. Beautiful, but horribly predictable. Why is this place so very hard to stay away from? I think gravity is stronger here or something.

Arambol is pretty much the same, except there are way more people here at this point in the season, and there are a whole new bunch of crazies and lost souls (I’m reserving a whole special, section for the many mentals of Arambol – it’s a real competition for Bullgoose Loony here), and of course a brand new Cock’s Town crew! Some of the old faces were still around, of course, Nic, Josie, Kristina and I came back, Fleur the Dutch Pirate is still present, Chiku the Ninja is ubiquitous and of course The Space Baba is still prowling back and forth along the beach like some kind of dreadlocked, wildly gesticulating pendulum. But beyond that, it’s all new faces and new funtimes.

Leaving then returning to Cock’s Town has really driven home just how good a guest house it is too. It’s by far and away the best place I’ve stayed so far. I mean, it’s not the cleanest place, or the cheapest, and the food isn’t the best, and if you want to sleep it’s not really ideal… BUT, it has something special. I’m not convinced that it’s Thiery Henry’s kind of place, but if it was, he would tell you that it had je ne sais quoi or va va voom or something. It’s not even down to the fact that all the guys working there are really nice, it just seems to attract a certain type of crazy person.

And speaking of crazy people, Mairi returned from South East Asia in time for NYE too! She came back with all sorts of stories, and with a new found ability to ride a motorcycle. To anyone who has ever been a passenger in Mairi’s car, this thought may sound terrifying, however, I can testify (honestly) that she is a far better motorcyclist than she is driver. I actually felt quite safe when I had a go as passenger!

We did New Years Eve Catface style. The old classic recipe of as much alcohol as possible, a light sprinkling of marijuana and a generous garnish of girls make-up. Yes, just accept it: The world is more fun when you have a cat face drawn on. Other than the catface, I don’t really have many memories of New Years, which I am again taking to be a positive thing. I did, at first, think I had a full, clear memory of the whole night until I realised that my collected memories amassed to account for only around five minutes altogether. I know we were on a beach, that we walked around a lot, that (for probably the only time ever in my life) I was pleasant to Mairi (I think this may be one of the harbingers of the apocalypse), and that at one point, we were shouting “Catface!” as we had lost one of our posse, a nd someone else turned up claiming to be a catface. They were obviously lying. Fools.

I have to head off back to Bangalore again later today, to get a chest X-Ray for my Australian visa, which should be fun. I don’t yet really know where I’ll go from there, but I can half see me coming back to Arambol again after a couple of days. I don’t really have the time to go much further away, because (excitement ahoy!) my mum is coming to visit me on the 16th! I get to see my mum before I go away to the Southern Hemisphere! AMAZE!

xx

 

Christmas at the Zoo…

Kudle

Spending Christmas on the beach was absolutely, thoroughly brilliant. Despite it being so strange compared to a Christmas at home, and despite really missing family and friends, it could even be my best Christmas ever! So many things culminated to make it such a perfect day. Some of them were purely circumstantial, such as the weather and not freezing my tits off, some of them were great purely because of their being weird, such as the impromptu Madchester disco on the beach on Christmas eve, and some were simply one-off, beautiful, magical and totally unforgettable moments.

On Christmas Eve (which, incidentally, is the bigger Christmas event for almost the whole rest of the world except the UK and US) we had a pretty pleasant daytime which, for me, kind of followed the usual Kudle routine of a morning filled with exercise and enthusiasm and an afternoon viewed through the haze of a post-workout joint and beer. We then went off to meet Josie’s family for Christmas dinner, which was great. The plan had been to go from dinner to one of the bonfires on the beach and spend the night getting twisted whilst enjoying the gentle, slightly dissonant sounds of hippies banging things together.

My own hopes for this plan were pretty high, given the excellent musical displays we were treated to at the previous night’s bonfire, when a trombonist appeared out of the night to add some comic sadness to the usual melee of reggae-esque guitar, half-learned digeridoo and usuallyintime drumming. He was brilliant. I really admire the kind of people that decide to bring a trombone (or other incongruous seeming instrument) travelling with them: I like to imagine that they endure the inconvenience of flying with it, looking after it and carrying it about, all for that one moment when, in the dead of night, on an almost deserted beach somewhere in India, they can suddenly materialise and absolutely blow everybody’s mind. Well done that guy. Apologies for the digression.

What actually happened however was a little different. The Karnataka police had, over the entire festive period, decided to make a right, royal nuisance of themselves. In fact, the behaviour of India’s police over the entirety of the ‘big tourist season’ really demonstrates why you should take heed of such pieces of advice as “don’t trust the police”, “if you have a problem, don’t go to the police” or “the biggest crooks you meet in India are the police”. Seriously, they are. Stay the fuck away from them if possible, and if you have to encounter them: a) run away, they are all bloated and lazy from too many bribes, or b) make sure you have five hundred rupees on hand to pay them off, tell them you don’t have anything else, and get out of there. Sorry, I wandered somewhat off the point again there.

So, the police stopped the bonfire and music at ten pm. Before doing so however, they made sure that they were (at the very least) highly inappropriate to a number of girls and (apparently) genuinely sexual assaulted several others. This is a great game for them. They touch-up a girl, girl gets justifiably angry, nearby boy steps in to do the right thing, more police officers arrive, boy (and sometimes girl) get slammed with a fine. Money for nothing and chicks for free. May they rot in hell.

We arrived just after the police had officially and professionally broken up the party, put out the fire and taken loads of money from everyone and the remaining people seemed to be at a bit of a loss as to what should be done. I however, the great team player and forgoer of my own fun for the sake of others that I am, had a plan. Carefully, I looked around the group to each of my friends in turn and patiently, I assessed each of them. After much consideration (around thirty seconds), I concluded that none of them had a fucking clue what to do and so began to look elsewhere. Using my lightning fast loyalty skills, I decided to ditch my friends and follow the most rowdy, drunken looking group of people I could see. Unsurprisingly, they turned out to be British. And unsurprisingly, they turned out to be exactly as rowdy as they first appeared.

I ended up spending Christmas Eve in a bar on the beach watching, with some degree of stoned bewilderment, a group of forty somethings bouncing around rather schizophrenically to the Stone Roses and Morrissey . By the time midnight arrived, myself and the rest of the youngsters had gotten sufficiently wasted to join the madness and soon I was bouncing around like Bez himself. The whole night ended up being a lot like a night out in Manchester, but with more sand, less clothing and significantly more crazy people. It was odd, but it reminded me of home in a really nice, abstract way. Overall, ten out of ten for Christmas Eve.

Christmas Day absolutely kicked ass. I began with a preposterously large joint and a beer on the beach at about ten in the morning, and the day continuously improved from there. Walking up the beach with portable speakers playing Crimbo Classics was a definite highlight, as was drinking five mojitos before breakfast. We met again with the crazy Brits from the night before and had some quality giggles. Perhaps the finest moment of the whole day a moment was listening to The Flaming Lips on the rocks, caught in the sea-spray, dancing like a lunatic, laughing my ass off.

I even got a Christmas present! In a stocking! There was no chimney in the hut for Santa to come down, sop Nic bought snickers bars for everybody, and sacrificed all his socks to be used as stockings in the name of festive good will.

Over the course of the day, we gradually lost more and more members of the Christmas party crew to sleep or alcoholic comas. When the evening reached the smoketilyourbrainfallsout stage, my friend Sarah returned to her hut to collect her chillum, only to discover that she had got Christmas puppies! There was a bitch with eight pups lay under her bed. They were incredibly cute. We didn’t, but should have, named them after Santa’s reindeer.

In true British style, I’m taking my lack of more specific memories of Christmas day as a positive measure of how much of a good time I had.

 

A couple of days of planned rest from self-destruction before heading to Arambol quickly and predictably turned into a prolonged continuation of the Christmas party. I managed to to sober up for long enough on the 29th (I think) to get on a train back to Arambol though… just in time for a seriously hardcore New Years party.

More on that later.

Xx

“Good Energy”…

Kudle Beach

Getting back to the beach was amazing. I was a little worried about going back to Gokarna after what happened at Om Beach, but this time we went to Kudle (Cuddly) Beach, and I have to say that it was a truly special place. In the true spirit of beach life, I didn’t really do a great deal during the three weeks we spent there. In fact, it took me until the day before we left to actually venture off the sand and into the town. I did however, have a really great time. Kudle really has a lot to offer. Firstly, it is beautiful, and many hours can easily be whiled away simply looking out at the sea, at the small rock island at the end of the bay, and at the cliffs that enclose it. Secondly, the sea at Kudle is a bit of an anomaly on the coast of the Indian Ocean, in that it is incredibly calm. Most days, it was totally flat like a pond, which made it really good for swimming. Thirdly, and finally, I’m going to have to resort to a New Age vernacular, and state that Kudle Beach “just has a really Good Energy”. And it really does. I felt great simply by virtue of being there, in that place at that time.

In the hope of somewhat de-mystifying this “Good Energy”, I at first tried to describe how Kudle made me feel: Specifically why I felt good, or exactly what feelings I was experiencing. This exercise was, at best, futile. In need of a more effective means of exploring Kudle and its “Good Energy”, it occurred to me that actions speak louder that words, and that (whilst I would still have to use words to recount these actions – the irony is not lost on me) I should look to the lifestyle I led whilst there to demonstrate how this “Good Energy” manifests itself. Start with the result and work backwards to discover the recipe.

And from there it was pretty straighforward. The great thing about Kudle is that you feel like doing lots, but at the same time, don’t feel obliged to do anything. The place is such a microcosm, and feels so separated from the world outside, that the direction of your days is of little consequence, it just feels like whatever you do do, you should do it with real verve. For me, this manifested itself as morning filled with a general up and at ‘em enthusiasm – running, swimming, exercising hard and writing, and an afternoon of fun and games viewed through the haze of a post exercise celebratory joint. I know these don’t really count as achievements in the real world, but here, it made me feel like I’d really made the most of my day and was free to get as trousered as I wanted in the evening.

I don’t think that this combination of listless drifting and ass-kicking motivation was unique to me though. Looking around at the other people on the beach, it seemed that everyone had a similarly small list of missions that they were looking to excel in each day, and were feeling excellent as a result of having done so.

Kudle kicks ass.

xx

Little Amsterdam…

Mysore

Riding the bus from Bangalore to Mysore really was one of those great exhilarating, life-affirming moments when you realise that everything has fallen perfectly into place. I felt like Hannibal in the A-Team announcing that he ‘loves it when a plan comes together’. Nothing particularly exciting happened on the journey, but sitting there, listening to Yeasayer’s rejoicing chorus “I’m so blessed to have spent the time, with my family and the friends I love, in my short life I have met so many people I deeply care for!” (Red Cave is a great song to listen to if you ever need cheering up), and looking out at the spectacular madness that is India, everything in the world seemed to be right.

I really can’t stress enough how exciting I find it at times to have pretty much my whole life with me in a small bag. When you’re on a bus or a train to a new city, it’s amazing to know how easy it would be to decide to just keep going, to get on another train or another bus or just set off walking. You can stay where you like and move where you like without any logistical hassle at all. I love it.

Mysore created an instant good impression. It is a pretty small city by Indian standards, and its smaller size is reflected in its (again, relatively) more relaxed atmosphere. The palace and the city’s many landmark monuments lend Mysore an air of slightly faded majesty. The market is definitely worth a visit too. It really is a sensory adventure.

We met back up with the Vikings on our second day. Kristina and Josefine had been in Mysore for a few days already, learning some yoga and staying in an Indian homestay. It was good to see them again, and I think that (after a week of nine o clock curfews, yoga and ‘detox’) they were looking for some entertainment. We had some really good food at the RRR hotel (one to remember) and also visited the zoo. Animals in cages in India is no more or less amazing or depressing than it is at home.

Mysore has its fair share of tourist touts as its a popular destination for yoga. There are the normal hotel and taxi touts and the people selling jewellery etc., but Mysore also has its own unique brand of street-seller. There are a dozen or so (as far as I could work out over the few days we were there) guys who hang around the main squares or drive rickshaws who are pretty keen to tell you that marijuana is legal in Mysore and to invite you to their ‘coffee shop just like Amsterdam’. I’m pretty sure that pot isn’t legal in Mysore, but eventually curiosity prevailed and we went along with the least dodgy seeming of these chaps to check out his enterprising little slice of Holland.

His coffee shop was his bedroom. And his totally legal stash was hidden so well it took him ten minutes to retrieve from a space behind the top shelf of a unit over the door of the room. The walls of the room were decorated with quotes, signatures, snippets of wisdom and oddities scribbled there by the (presumably hundreds of) previous visitors. It was pretty cool, but Indian prisons really don’t appeal to me at all and, unable to fully relax, I wanted to get out of there fairly quickly. It was fun little trip though.

I was surprised by how many people know who Frank Zappa was. I had my Movember moustache still whilst there, and a lot of people stopped me in the street to tell me how I looked mike Frank Zappa. I thought the ‘tache was more James Hetfield myself, but still, I really didn’t know that he was so big in India!

Overall though, I was a little underwhelmed by Mysore. I think I probably just stayed there too long. Other than sightseeing and yoga, there isn’t a great deal to do there, and I was also a little worn out with Indian cities, having just been through Hyderabad and Bangalore. I was ready to leave by the time we finally got on the overnight bus to Gokarna. Incidentally, and in complete contrast to the great journey into Mysore, this was by far the most unpleasant bus trip I have taken in India. I mean, it was still quite fun, but in hindsight it was eleven hours of being totally uncomfortable, being shaken to pieces and being squashed by reclined seats. Arriving in Kumta, the nearest stop to Gokarna at four in the morning was a welcome reprieve, even accounting for the three and a half hour wait for our next bus. Ah well. They can’t all be great journeys eh?

xx

 

Expensive (and confusing) Coffee…

Bengaluru

Sadly, leaving Hyderabad entailed another sad goodbye moment. Brian, our Gaelic warrior of whit, was heading north to Varanasi (allegedly the smelliest of all Indian cities) whilst Nic and I were going south again towards Bangalore. Brian really has been one of the finest travelling companions I have had so far on this trip. Relentlessly funny describes him fairly well, but I also really liked his outlook on the whole travelling thing. He approaches days with the full sense of wonder and bemusement that they deserve and does so sincerely, in his own way. So many people I meet travelling are very determined to have some sort of deeply spiritual experience in India. Most of them I am sure are doing so very earnestly, but I am at least a little cynical in thinking that many people feel an obligation to have these interests whilst here, whether for fashion or preconception. I admire in people like Brian the fact that he doesn’t give a toss about what he is ‘supposed’ to see in India. He goes where he wants, sees the sights he wants and is having a great time doing so.

So with most of our minds and at least some of our dignity still intact, we left Hyderabad. The sleeper train was pretty painless. In fact, there were some really funny, cute kids in our compartment and we had lots of fun reciting the alphabet, doing kids’ magic tricks and singing happy birthday to pretty much everybody who was in range.

I felt a real sense of elation as we stepped off the train in Bangalore. Amidst the huge crowd on the platform and just after dawn, the air was crisp and cool, yet the hazy early morning light seemed to mirror the just-awoken mood of everyone around us. Even the whole ritual of getting past the scores of auto drivers (who will do everything possible to convince you that Subedar Chatram Road is at least four kilometres from the station – it isn’t) and avoiding the hotel touts (who can not only find you the last remaining available room in the city, but can guarantee you the very best price for only a small fee) seemed to drift by as though filmed in soft-focus that morning. We took the short (or incredibly long and arduous, depending upon who you believe) walk from the station to SC Road and after only half an hour or so, found somewhere fairly nice to stay.

Much needed showers taken, we ventured out into the city. We had no real plan for the day other than to eat some delicious Indian food, buy some new books and have a bit of an explore. We definitely achieved two of these objectives successfully. Tasty food was consumed, in the form of a special masala dosa, and new books were purchased. Ready for a bit of non-fiction, and tired of arguing with people over new-age alternate explanations of life on earth, I decided to arm myself with a bit of evolutionary knowledge in the form of Dawkin’s The Blind Watchmaker. This turned out to be an excellent read by the way, but I think I’ll write about that another time.

As for the exploring, we didn’t actually do very well. After travelling from SC Road to the decadent hub of modern India’s biggest boom city, Mahatma Gandhi Road, we were a little overwhelmed. The wealth on show is really quite shocking after so much time surrounded by poverty. The whole area is so very very Western as well, indeed, you have to search pretty hard to find the last surviving vestiges of Indian culture on MG road. Or at least that’s how it seems at first – until you notice the insanity of the traffic and the paan shops. That, and the sheer number of people everywhere! That there are a lot of people in India seems like a bit of a banal statement, but sometimes the population and the crowding really just hits you all at once.

The glass fronted buildings, branded shops and coffee houses really could have been anywhere though, on the high-end shopping streets of any European city. I found myself not really knowing what to do with myself. We actually sat down and bought a coffee in a “Cafe Coffee Day!”, the main coffee chain in India apparently. It cost more than double what we were each paying nightly for accommodation. After about ten minutes of distracted attempts at reading, I gave up. We had to move. It was simply wrong. The whole thing seemed to be make-believe. As though the staff, the Indian businessmen (blue-tooth headsets attached, laptops out) and the other western tourists were all pretending that this was what they wanted to do. It seemed too, that by being there, we were doing the same, joining in the make-believe. Except, it wasn’t really a fantasy I was interested in, it was the exact opposite. This was one of the most confusing moments I have had in India, and I’m still not entirely sure what to make of it: It’s not as though being there filled me with anti-capitalist rage, it didn’t make me feel any resentment towards the Indians aspiring towards this consumerist utopia, it didn’t even make me feel bad about how this kind of place highlighted the gap between the rich and the poor in India. If anything, it just made me feel a little sad that, in getting rich, Bangalore hadn’t managed to come up with something better than an overpriced coffee shop with an uncomfortable, self-conscious atmosphere. The world has already tried those, and they’re rubbish.

Sorry, I know that was somewhat of a ramble/rant, but I can’t really be any more articulate about it than that: It was odd.

In lieu of having any better plan, we decided to get lunch. The sign at a place named Coco Grove promised something like ‘a real relaxing beach side experience in the middle of the city’. Now, normally a few palm trees and some bamboo fencing wouldn’t really be enough to convince me that I was about to get a real relaxing beach side experience, but disoriented and baffled as I was, I was quite ready to believe that tropical paradise awaited me inside. It didn’t. But some moderately delicious food, draught beer and three very nice girls from Australia and Germany did.

And that was really the end of our sightseeing in Bangalore. Instead, we spent the afternoon and early evening drinking beer with them and decided, as we were going to go there soon anyway, to join them to Mysore the following morning. We did have a very good time, but overall, I left feeling as though Bangalore had a lot more to offer than I took advantage of, and I’m glad that I have subsequently had the chance to go back there and see a little more.

The next day I awoke excitedly anticipating Mysore, which I had heard exclusively good things about as a destination. We set out to meet Georgia and Nadine, our respectively Australian and German travel partners, and hit the road again.

xx