Archive for November, 2008

Bombay murderers

November 30, 2008

When we can get over the shock of murderous work of a few young men duped into serving some evil master we’ll post a blog or two. We are deeply saddened, somehow more so than we ever were in our own country when experiencing IRA atrocities and then other worldwide killing events. Then it was a case of anger and resentment tinged with sadness and resignation. Here in India it seems for us to be just overwhelming sadness.

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Beach Life and Death

November 30, 2008

About a year ago (maybe two) we wrote about changes on the beaches here in Goa. Then it was a grizzle about the appearance of armed police patrols and the diappearance of the colourful if irritating hawkers.

We went for a rare evening walk along the beach today. Observing the continuing changes (none for the better) we noted:

The shacks are getting larger, louder and brighter. Sun beds and sun shades are more numerous. Pleasure boats, jet skis and paragliding are proliferating. And on this day, a new eyesore has appeared. Red and red/yellow flags on tall poles stuck in at the waters edge every twenty five metres or so. We’ll not go into officialdom’s thought process (we don’t believe much of that goes on anyway) they are designed to reduce death by drowning of which their are in excess of fifty every year. Remember that Goa is about the size of Cornwall.

Statistics are hard to come by but our reading in the press indicates that most drownings occur at night, and the victims are mainly out of state Indians who are drunk and probably are unable to swim. The placing of eyesore flags won’t dent the drowning figures. One day the politicians will wake up to the fact that they are killing the goose that lays the golden egg by allowing the beaches to be messed up, but again we are not holding our breath.

Post script 1. Actually we are now beginning to hear some good reports about the lifeguards works. Here’s one. A foreign tourist badly dislocated her shoulder and was transferred to hospital in less than 30 minutes through the lifeguard services. That’s outstanding by normal standards.

Marathon

November 27, 2008

We have decided to enter a cross country race organised by a local lions Club. It’s not as the title suggest a marathon. The marathon bit is just registering for the event.

Martin spotted an advert for the race organised by a local Lions club in the gutter. After three calls to different Lions members we eventually made contact with the organiser who directed us to The Saaj Hotel to register. It’s a ten minute walk from home, but in this current heat-wave it’s quite an effort even at dusk.

It took the dragon lady behind reception nearly five minutes to find the pad of registration forms, She then instructed Martinto fill them in there and then. Fair do’s, it’ll save a trip back home

A third of the way through the form was a space for Passport number (foreigners only). IWA, of course Martin had not thought to come fully equipped with that particular identification document, let alone bring anything for Alison’s form. So he said that he pay the Rs100 take the forms and return them later. No chance! The forms were not to leave the hotel, paid for or not. There was absolutely no compromise. Then the dragon behind the desk insisted on Rs50 payment for the partially completed form.

Martin left the hotel laughing mirthlessly, in need of a drink, and thoroughly irritated by the whole shebang. Now, we’ll both have to schlepp over there turning a half hour job for one person into a combined 90 minute effort for two.

This is a tiny example of (to Western minds and some younger Indian minds)the bureaucratic lunacy that hampers India’s progress in the world.

Healing powers (and more holidays)

November 24, 2008
Menhino Jesus

Menhino Jesus

(From a note in mid-October)
Menhino (Baby) Jesus is based at Colva the seaside holiday village just down the road from Margao. It is a statue that was found in Madagascar and brought to Colva by a priest where it evolved curative powers. The story goes that the statue was stolen from Colva by priests from another village but at its new home the healing powers vanished. Meanwhile the Colva priests had a replica made and placed a ring on its finger. The new statue then gained the original’s healing powers.

So of course this event needs to be celebrated over a period of seven days. Menhino is brought out and paraded and thousands of Christians come to Colva from all over India to get cured. Of course, Goans take assorted days off for yet another holiday. Blessings are sold at ten rupees a time, model body parts are on sale and it’s a huge money spinner. Needless to say the crowds and accompanying stalls cause magnificent chaos.

What we’d like to know is how many get cured each year. Answers on a postcard please.

Procrastination

November 24, 2008

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We’d never looked at procrastination as a bargaining point, but that’s how it seems to work over here. Doing nothing is a national pasttime and Alison reckons it will prevent the country from becoming a major international player.

We think the reasoning goes something like this.

If a job is difficult then doing nothing will make it easier. If you’re really lucky, the job will go away on its own. If a job is easy then doing nothing will make life more interesting. If the work is not processed and gathering dust in a cupboard, it can also be produced at sometime to justify the existence of one’s employment. Especially if you’re a government official dealing with a white skin (although natives suffer too). The official’s objective then becomes that of making life as awkward as possible, whilst having a fun time him/herself and enhancing his perception of his and his bosses power.

Our latest dealings with a government department, which shall remain nameless, resulted in an immediate flurry of activity involving at least four officials. This is so contrary to normal procedure that a tactical retreat (running away) was our most expedient course of action. Returning to the haven of home, we had to implement damage limitation measures. We await the outcome of our efforts.

Procrastination in resolving this particular issue would have been wise. The lesson learned is that we should use a professional to deal with all government departments and utilities and leave it as long as possible before entering the fray.

The only problem with the procrastination habit? It’s catching when you’re not under any pressure to get things done.

Gokarn 3 – Not another religious ceremony

November 23, 2008
car - after

car - after

It says something for Indian spiritual stamina that in the course of three days in Gokarna we managed two religious ceremonies. The first was on the first night, with the party next to our hotel. The second one was also a night-time affair, involving a chariot.

When we arrived, the said chariot was stood unadorned in the street. By day two, the decorated screens were in place on the first level. Day three saw the addition of the fabric and flags – lots of them.

It was a full moon and we were assured by everyone the ceremony would start at midnight. So ever keen not to miss a new experience, there we were on a balcony with two other British visitors, thinking this would be a rather crowded affair.

At this point we should say that getting to the balcony was a bit of an effort as the gate at the bottom had been locked and we had to wake up the watchman (!) to get it opened. Anyway, by about 00.15am, we were beginning to wonder if this was another Indian make fun of the foreigners moment, as the street was silent, no one in sight. We’d just decided to give up on the affair and broken back out of the building, when people began appearing. There’s no question Indians operate on some kind of ‘through the ether’ communication that we just don’t understand. Within 15 minutes there was a band (ubiquitous and noisy) and lots of priests (all of whom seemed to need to climb into the chariot with shopping bags and remerge later still with bags). Anyway, eventually a sturdy group of men grasped the rope at the front of the chariot and began pulling it up the main street.

We had observed earlier that there were rope banners across the street and that these were too low to allow the chariot to pass. Some were taken down before the procession, others the chariot broke through. Not sure if someone was going to be in trouble the next day for not taking his/her banners down. The speed wasn’t exactly Lewis Hamilton off the start line but it was pretty quick. Just as well it wasn’t too fast as the wheels wobbled sometimes alarmingly (and you did wonder if a sudden jolt was going to deposit the sitting priests all over the road). There was also the need to redirect occasionally, to avoid taking out the street lighting.

We followed events to the top of the street then decided that a four-hour drive the next day required some sleep. We think the ceremony continued round to the water tank, but not with the chariot we hope as there wouldn’t be room through the narrow lane.

Gokarn 2

November 23, 2008
Om Beach

Om Beach

As well as being a Shaivite centre, western tourists in particular visit Gokarna for its beaches. There’s the town beach, a long sweep of sand similar to those found in Goa but with more sheltered, calmer seas (so easier swimming) and also less obvious development. There are beach restaurants but nothing like as many and they’re set back on the palm groves and amid gardens. And no sun beds or beach umbrellas.

However far better if you don’t mind a bit of effort is to walk over the laterite headland south of the town beach and arrive at Kudle (Kootlee in some books) beach, a half kilometer bay with two large headlands at either end. Very attractive and again very sheltered for swimming. Prettier still, and with more shade, is Om beach, a further 20 minute walk over the next headland. You can get bike or rickshaw to Om now but the walk is pleasant.

We rated Om the best beach we’ve seen in India. It’s shaped like a letter Om, lots of natural shade, quiet and relatively undeveloped. Even the resort behind the beach has been done with care and taste. We’ve got so used to the jarring multicolored concrete blocks so beloved of Goan builders that it was a surprise to see a resort designed and sited with care and taste.

Apparently there are two further beaches – Half Moon and Paradise – reachable on foot by walking on down the coast from Om. We’re saving them for our next trip.

Gokarna 1

November 23, 2008
Car - before

Car - before

Safely arrived, if a bit dusty, we settled in the explore the sacred town and sites of Gokarna. It’s a Hindu shrine town – a Shaivite centre (for devotees of Shiva) for more than two millennia. It’s on the coast, but Hindu pilgrims visit mostly to take ‘darshan’ (view of a god or receipt of religious teachings) at the pranalingam. This lingam (symbol of Shiva) is one of the most powerful in India – apparently one view washes away thousands of sins, even the murder of a Brahmin, who is considered the top of the caste structure.

Pilgrims tend to start with a visit to the sea. According to local Hindu lore, the power of the lingam is enhanced if you first shave your head, fast, then take a dip in the purifying waters of the sea, before visiting the temples. There are two main temples – both medieval – the Shri Mahabaleshwar and the Shri Mahaganpati. Non-Hindus aren’t allowed in either (following a spate of poor behaviour by Westerners) but you can see and hear the activity from outside.

The town also possesses a large water tank for ritual bathing, and two chariots for religious ceremonies. Buildings are largely wood and terracotta, and the town has a refreshingly peaceful, uncommercial feel. We found somewhere to stay with a beach view and were looking forward to some respite from the sometimes overwhelming noise of Goa. We should have known better. We arrived on a Hindu celebration day (don’t ask which one, haven’t been able to work it out). There was a party in the field opposite our hotel and as they didn’t have an electricity supply, a generator was provided which was situated almost right outside our room. It began its noisy work around 6pm and carried on right through the night. It had to keep working because once the party was finished, everything had to be packed away and this required light through to around 5am. Still the music from the party was good.

Power

November 23, 2008

Power.

Two months ago, Martin ran the gauntlet of the Electricity Board to attempt to stem being billed for 50% increase in power useage. He nearly had his fingers burned because if officialdom (and others) can make life miserable for a whiteskin they will. Martin beat a strategic retreat (ran away) to try other avenues.

We have now employed the services of the electrician who wired the building, who cannot quite yet figure out the problem; it’s something to do with the wrong numbers on the meter’s cover and a new meter reader cocking up the readings. Hardly surprising is the fact that on the bills their is a similar but different number.

We will be disconnected if we don’t pay this bill, so we’ll have to stump up a lot of money with a letter of protest and trust that somehow we can get the problem sorted in the shortest possible time. We are not holding our breath, but thinking of investing in our own generator. We will soon get adjusted to the additional noise.

On the road to Gokarna

November 22, 2008

We’ve been away on one of our trips again, this time taking Hari (our Enfield) out of state for the first time. This meant running the gauntlet of the Goa border crossing police. If you’re white it’s virtually guaranteed that you’ll be stopped and your papers scrutinized. Anyone wanting proof of this just needed to stand with us for 10 minutes while we were waiting to cross, watching all the Indians being let through without check, including those who were not wearing helmets (supposedly compulsory on the national highways).

We’ve delayed making this journey until we were relatively sure we had every piece of paperwork we could be asked for. And guess what – we still managed to be one piece short. Despite producing the registration documents for Hari, they still wanted the sale deed to prove we were the owners. This is one of those times when you wonder about the logic process, given you cannot get the registration documents without the sale deed. Anyway, they let us through the Goa section and the Karnataka police didn’t stop us.

So off we set, down the NH17. It takes about four hours to cover the hundred miles from Margao to Gokarna. It could be nearer two and a half hours but the road is in a pretty dismal condition apart from the section between the Goa border and Karwar. Both in Goa and further south of Karwar, it’s full of potholes, some so deep you’re forced on a two-wheeler to get off the road. Bearing in mind that the tourist season has started, you would think they’d get this sorted out before people arrive. And it’s still a bit of a mystery to us why the road is so bad. The similar highway in Tamil Nadu – the East Coast Route – is in very good shape. However if you read about this NH17 you’ll find it is touted as the best road in South West India!

Mind you, like all these things there’s a positive side. At least if the road’s poor everyone has to drive slowly. India already has the highest death rate of anywhere in the world on its roads so perhaps the country isn’t quite ready for good driving conditions.