Archive for January, 2009

Maid in Goa

January 25, 2009

No, not a typo, although she was. Martin was approached by a 55 year old woman for a job as a housemaid. Well so far we have done a pretty good job ourselves, feeling that it is an easier job to do ourselves, such is the problem of ‘you can’t get the staff these days. Most people we speak to on the subject of domestic labour comment that it’s a high risk and high turnover project.
So, with the woman’s qualifications of looking after a Saudi household for a few years we took her on; three four hour days at 20% more than the best rate, wages for when we are away etc.
Sadly she only lasted two days. On the third day she phoned us and explained that her aunt had died (the oldest excuse in the book for a day off to go to the local football derby or whatever) and she would come in on the appointed day the following week. Of course we have not seen hide nor hair.
We can only guess at the reasons for her departure, everything had all gone very well on the first two days, her last words expressing satisfaction with conditions and asking if we were pleased. Which we were; very. We could have clear weekends in future, reduced shopping, laundry and cooking. Ho hum. Another of India’s mysteries.
Two days is not a record in our circle. That is held by Debbie, who clocked a maid leaving within one hour.


Good with the horn, not so hot with the handbrake

January 22, 2009

We arrived home from a trip to North Goa today to find chaos in Ascanio Costa Road (where we live). The road was blocked by a white car which appeared to have reversed into some parked cars, and a large phalanx of onlookers and police, getting in each others way.

A quick resume for interested parties – Ascanio Costa Road is a fairly steep uphill slope, and the Goan driving test precludes use of the handbrake on hills.

We’ll fill in the blanks. The white car had been parked, the handbrake had failed, and it had taken itself off backwards down the hill and round into the two cars. No one was hurt. And now we know why most drivers put bricks behind their back wheels. Perhaps the concept of parking in first gear could be added to the test?


January 22, 2009

World Heritage Site – Hampi

We’re back – and not before time, we know. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to spend drumming your fingers while a web page condescends to load (yes, still no broadband). We discovered today that our broadband supplier is part of Satyam – a corporation which has just had to own up to the biggest financial scandal in Indian corporate history (some 8,000 Crore – sorry, not sure how many zeros that entails but it’s a lot, like a billion £s). We’re not sure how that leaves us as regards compensation for lost service, however we suspect we’re ‘small beer’ compared with some creditors.

Anyway, on a happier note, we had a very good time in Hampi over Christmas. First, a little about this beautiful place. Hampi is the name of the village at the centre of the sacred part of the site, however the real name is Vijayanagar – ‘City of Victory’.

The site spills from the south bank of the River Tungabadhra and it’s a bizarre landscape, all boulders and hills amid the palm grooves. Between the 14th and 16th centuries it was one of the most powerful Hindu capitals in the Deccan. It was a centre of horse trading from Arabia, along with silks, gems and spices. The city contained a sacred centre with temples along the river, and a bureaucratic (this is India, remember) and royal centre further south.

The city was massively fortified – a perimeter wall around the edge of what even today is a 26km square kilometer site. It seemed impregnable, however another Indian characteristic – the need to interfere with other people’s affairs – took hold of the Hindu rulers in 1565 and led them into conflict with the local Muslim sultanates. The Muslim’s eventually sacked the city, destroying many of the treasures which were not made of stone and damaging many more.

The destruction makes the site seem a lot older than it is. For example, one underground temple reminded us of Olympia, the site of the original Greek Olympic games, except the latter is older by several centuries.

Hampi’s sacred centre

Arrival in Hampi produced two surprises – something India is good at. A rickshaw wallah approached us while we were getting off the train, asking if we wanted a rickshaw to Hampi. We had intended to travel by bus but, out of interested, asked the price, and were amazed to be offered a reasonable rate. In addition, he took us to a pleasant guest house – not one in our guide books but just where we wanted to stay.

You have a choice of two venues to stay in Hampi, one across the river or the other in the main bazar. If you stay across the river, there’s no bridge crossing. It’s all by ferry boat so you’re tied to the timings the ferries run. On the other hand, if you stay in the bazar, it’s a Hindu shrine town so no alcohol and no meat. We chose the main town, not least so we could walk up Matenga Hill to view the sunrise.

The sacred centre includes a number of temples and statues dotted all along the river. There’s the main Virupaksha Temple, still operational as they say, where we received blessings from the temple elephant, Lakshmi. You give the elephant some money (as little as 1 rupee), she hands it to her Mahout and she then places her trunk over your head. When it was Martin’s turn, we’d just eaten some prasad (blessed sweets) from the temple. Lakshmi caught the aroma of prasad and insisted that he buy her some too!

Lakshmi’s not the only animal making her presence felt in Hampi. There are monkeys everywhere, most of them relatively unafraid of human company. And then there are the ubiquitous animal statues – an impressive Nandi bull and ‘mustard seed’ Ganesha, and lots of lions, elephants and rearing horses (Vijayanagar is famous for the latter).

The sacred centre contains Hampi’s most revered treasure – the Narashima monolith, showing Vishnu in his incarnation as half a man, half a lion. It was damaged during the Muslim onslaught, but it’s still an impressive piece of work.

Our favourite temple was the Achyutaraya, now in ruins but a beautifully peaceful site as it’s just off the main walk from the bazar to the Vitthala temple, so many people miss it.

The Royal Centre

The second main centre of the Hampi ruins is about 3km walk from the riverside. It’s a raft of palaces, baths, an impressive irrigation system with aqueduct, and pleasure places. Our favourites were the elephant stables (if you’re going to keep elephants, this is the way to do it) and the step tank. The latter was part of an extensive hydraulic system that brought water to the Royal Centre.

We split our visit to the Royal Centre over two days, walking one day and the second on a hired bike. The latter meant we could also visit the local museum, where the most impressive artefacts are two models showing the site in terms of its current spread and what it may have looked like in its heyday.

While on the bike, we saw a classic example of why some roads are in such poor condition. We were being overtaken by a lorry when out of the corners of our eyes, between the wheels, we saw a goat dash across the road. Much squealing of brakes and wobbling of load later, we were relieved to see the goat heading back to its mates. On traveling back along the same stretch of road later, we were able to observe the substantial hole the lorry had dug out of the tarmac in his efforts to stop.

Our journey back to Goa was no less eventful. Our rickshaw driver was late picking us up and in our haste at the bus stand, we got on the wrong bus. At least it went in the right direction, so that wasn’t too bad, but we did have to change at Hubli. The route back into Goa from the East is beautiful, over the ghats (hills), however all Goa’s mines are at the top and the river with the barges is at the bottom. The result is that the three – four hours that you journey down from the hills into Goa are rough to put it mildly. Still, the journey has knocked on the head any ideas we had about taking the Enfield to Hampi.

In conclusion, Hampi’s a beautiful place and over Christmas is the right time to visit it as many Western tourists stay in places like Goa for the festive season then travel to Hampi later, so it was quiet. We hope to visit again.