Tag Archives: Hipstamatic

Goan Places

21 Apr

Asvem Beach, Goa, India

Despite the fact that our visit to India was originally supposed to be a short two and a half weeks, I insisted that a stop in the state of Goa be a part of our journey. Unlike the India we are accustomed to seeing and hearing about — dirty, polluted, noisy, congested, overpopulated, poor — Goa is characterized by lush green landscapes, fine sandy beaches and a laid-back lifestyle. This was the perfect place to come in the middle of our trip — a calming respite from the multiple cities we were visiting.

We took a short flight from Pune (just outside of Mumbai) to Goa, and upon our arrival at the tiny little airport, we were greeted by our driver who took us to our hotel. The 50-minute ride was a feast for the eyes — there was so much to take in, from the little groups of Catholic school-children walking to and from school, the lush flora, the cows wandering wherever they pleased (sometimes even stopping traffic), the advertising billboards lining the highway, the storefronts which varied from very modern down to the shack-like stands. The Portuguese presence is still very strong here, and is evidenced very much in the architecture. They landed early in the 16th Century as merchants, and conquered it soon after. This Portuguese India existed for nearly 450 years, until it was annexed by India in 1961. Most striking is the number of Catholic churches present, with the occasional Hindu temples thrown into the mix. Immediately, you get that the vibe that Goa is laid-back, which is almost the exact opposite of where we had just been, Delhi and Pune.

Our home for three glorious nights.

Our front yard

Goa is pretty renowned for its coco-hut culture. Wanting to have the genuine Goan experience, I was stubbornly insistent on finding one of these huts to stay in. The BF, on the other hand, wisely discouraged this, knowing that a girl like me would hardly be able to endure the sub-standard conditions that most of these huts offer. He had even gone as far as to seek some high-end resorts for us too book. Luckily though, I happened to stumble upon the fabulous Yab Yum Resort online, situated in Asvem Beach, which appeared to be somewhere between a basic beach hut and a well-appointed resort. The best of both worlds — how could we go wrong?

Our huts interior, looking more like Tatooine than like Goa

The resorts lobby

We had chosen our resort also for the location. Ashvem Beach is in the Northern part of Goa, and by many accounts which proved to be true, this part of the state is much quieter and very tranquil, away from the hippie and party culture which has characterized Goa for so long. This is exactly what we were looking for, as we had long suspected that this would be our respite from all the anticipated chaos from the rest of our holiday in India, especially with the wedding. Our area of the beach usually had no more than 50 people on it at a time for about a mile stretch. One day, we decided to venture out and check out the flea market in Arambol. During our hour walk to the North for this, the beaches became increasingly crowded with locals, families, men playing cricket in the sand, tourists, international hippies and yogis. And not to mention all of the cows and stray dogs, both of which are ordinary sights in the rest of India.

A frequent sight in all of India

Hippy culture still strong in Goa

A market stall

It was gloriously hot and sunny those few days that we were there. We lazed on the beach on the hotel’s chaises, using the palapas for shade when it got a little bit unbearable. And I will admit, at times the heat was a little too much to bear because the breeze was virtually non-existent. Thankfully the Arabian Sea was deliciously warm and inviting. During our 3 days there, I spent as much time as I could in the water playing in the waves like a silly child.

Our piece of the beach

A local selling fresh coconuts

Fishing Boats

Sunsets were also pretty magnificent from where we were.

What we looked at every evening

I think that most everyone will say that one of the most memorable aspects of Goa is of course the food. The state is bounded by the Arabian sea on its western coast. This means that there is no end to the fresh seafood that is served up by the numerous restaurants and food shacks along the beach. So many options, so little stomach. Our first lunch there was taken at an open air restaurant constructed mostly out of bamboo poles and fabric. We had Kingfisher beer, Prawn Biryani and fried pomfret. I still recall the gusto with which we attacked that Biryani — it was flavorful and fresh. On the following day, we had settled into another restaurant and were discussing our options from the menu when a fisherman walked up to us to show us the King crabs he had just pulled from the ocean. After what amounted to perhaps 2 quick seconds of deliberation, we agreed to let them steam it up nicely for us — I’ve never eaten anything that had come so fresh from the Ocean. The Arabian Sea, no less.

Another common sight: menu boards advertising the fresh seafood offered by the numerous restaurant huts lining the beach

Food, glorious Goan food — fish curry and prawn biryani

Fresh lunch from the Arabian Sea

Our last night there, we happened upon an Arabic restaurant. It was constructed of coconut fronds and poles, and most of the seating was on cushions on the floor. After we finished our meal, the owner sat and chatted with us and we discovered that his wife is also a Canadian, now living with him in Goa. It was a fitting cap to our stay in Goa, encapsulating all that was good about it: the friendly welcoming people, and the laid-back vibe, and of course, the spectacular eats.

Last dinner in Goa

Last night in paradise and our swimsuits

The Wedding in India

6 Feb

The primary reason that brought us to India in the first place was a wedding. Most of you have probably heard that Indian weddings are huge affairs which often span at least a few days. They are lavish occasions which usually host hundreds of guests there to participate in, witness and celebrate the tradition, ceremonies, rituals and of course, the festivities.

There were six big events/rituals which we were attending. The bride was the first cousin of The BF, and traditionally in Indian families, cousins are regarded and treated as siblings, so this was a very important wedding for us to be a part of. That I was immersed in the culture through his family this way was an incredibly valuable and life-changing experience for me.

Mehndi Party

Mehndi is the application of henna in intricate patterns on the bride’s hands and feet, and is done at a celebration mostly attended by the bride’s family and close friends. In addition to the bride, her female relatives and friends also get painted on their hands by henna. It’s said that this ritual of mehndi signifies the strength and power of love in a marriage, and is therefore regarded as a good omen for the bride-to-be. For us, this ritual happened a few nights before the ceremony, and I was invited to also have henna applied to my hands.

The henna comes in tiny cones, which resembled teensy little piping bags, and were applied by two professional mehndi artists. All the designs applied were unbelievably detailed and intricate, were done swiftly and most incredibly, freehand. After they were done decorating my hands, I was told that the swirling, patterned paste was to remain for a few hours and I wasn’t to wash my hands so that the henna to set and stain my skin. Once the dried paste was removed, the designs were dark orange in colour, which gradually darkened over the following couple of days to a dark reddish brown. The designs remained beautifully distinct and visible on my palms for the following three weeks.

Allowing the paste to dry.

That night, after removing the paste, the designs on my hands are a dark orange. I was constantly amazed by the detail and found myself examining my hands every few minutes. Do you see the peacock?

Engagement Ritual and Sangeet

The engagement ritual was held the night between mehndi and the ceremony. This is the first formal affair for which both sides gather to celebrate the forthcoming wedding ceremony. Both families exchange multiple gifts, baskets of fruit, sweets and good wishes. A ring ceremony takes place, and the bride and groom are both formally introduced to the other’s family.

The traditional gift exchange that takes place during the engagement ritual.

The sangeet festivities followed, which is a very elaborate affair with food, dancing and songs performed by relatives to gently poke fun at the prospective bride and groom. This is a big celebration and is meant to be a fun and joyous affair. The groom’s extended family put on little dances, little skits and performances set to music.

Choora Ceremony

This was held at the home we were staying with the bride’s family, and it began with a religious prayer ritual, called havan, performed by a priest. We all sat around a small fire, while mantras were recited and various items like rice, herbs and other foodstuffs were placed in the fire. Once the prayers were completed, the bride’s family members adorned the bride’s wrist with white and red bangles (the choora). After this, ornaments made of silver and gold, known as kalira, were tied to the bangles by female relatives and close friends.

For the havan ritual, the offerings, the fire container and the prayer book.

Tying the kalira onto the bride

The wedding

The bride and groom on wedding day.

The night revolved around an elaborate ceremony that took place under a canopy, in which a number of rituals were performed by the bride, the groom, their parents and close relatives. The venue at which it was taking place was outside at night, and the entire area was decorated with garlands of marigolds and was lit with twinkling white lights. While the ceremony was being performed, which lasted a couple of hours, guests watched, or milled about to socialize. No Indian affair is complete without food, and there was plenty here served buffet style.

Reception

The reception was held the night after the ceremony, and this too was held outdoors in a big sprawling tent. This event was not marked by any customs or ritual, as it was strictly to celebrate the newly married couple. Everyone celebrated with lots of food and drink, music by a live band and dancing.

For us, there were two formal receptions to attend. All the wedding ceremonies and festivities were held in the groom’s hometown of Secunderabad, and the bride’s family hosted a second reception near their home just outside of Mumbai a week later. The second reception was slightly smaller and more understated, as it was where the bride’s family presented the new couple to their friends and family who could not attend the event in Secunderabad.

Riding the Indian Rails

23 Jan

One of the more commonly known facets of Indian life is that things rarely run on schedule. If you visit this country, you have to come fortified with extra patience. It’s for this reason that I wasn’t too surprised that this happened to us for one of the train rides we had booked. We had tickets for the 11am train from New Delhi to Pune, which rolled into our station to collect us at 2:45pm, over four and a half hours late for our 30-hour trip to the Southern part of India.

A little naively, I was looking forward to this train ride. It was my very first overnight ride on a train ever in my life. However, on the station’s platform that morning, The BF took notice of my eagerness and in an instant knew that he had to manage my expectations. Simply, he said to me: “Don’t expect this to be the Hogwarts Express or anything like it.”

Spending so much time on the platform gave me the opportunity to really observe this part of Indian society. Locals from all walks of life populated the train station. Wallahs traversing the length of the platform selling various things, from chains to secure your luggage on the train, to paan, to various snacks, to chai.

There are a few classes on the train. We were situated in AC 3-Tier, which reserves you a berth in a curtained cabin. Second Class Sleeper was the lowest, and it was these cars that commanded your attention as soon as the train approaches the station. People on these jammed cars who need to exit are clamoring their way out the door, pushing against those who are charging their way onto the train through the same opening. From what I could see from the outside, the insides of these cars are absolutely packed from wall-to-wall with people. Those who are unable to get inside properly hang onto the handles beside the door openings, and continue to do so as the train starts to move away from the station.

There was one family on the platform that afternoon that I couldn’t take my eyes off of. One man, accompanied by two women and six children. All were barefoot, and one small boy had no pants on. Unable to squeeze onto the Second Class Sleeper car of one train, they waited patiently until another train stopped at the station. Although this train was traveling in the opposite direction, the entire family hopped down from the platform and crossed two sets of tracks, carrying all their children, huge baskets and burlap sacks so that they could pile onto this train. It was obvious that their destination was of no consequence to them.

While our train ride was long, it was a gave me a superb vantage point from which to see India. Traveling from the North to the South, you observe parts of the country that would otherwise be obscured – farm villages, slums, small towns, laborers, children at play, stray dog colonies and other wandering animals.

Laundered bed linens are supplied for each berth. Because there were only three of us — me, The BF and his Mom — we had the misfortune of having to share our cabin with an ill-mannered man, who’d embarked at an earlier station and who steadfastly refused to fess up to the fact that he’d swiped one set of sheets and a pillow while we were arguing with the Linen Manager that they were missing from one of our berths. As a result of this, The BF and I had to share a narrow berth and a tiny, paper-thin pillow for our overnight trip. Meal, snacks and tea can also be ordered. Meal service is not often on time, but is sufficient. However, something that we ate upset both of our stomachs.

Though our car was equipped with a Western-style toilet, its seat had been broken off. Therefore, I had no choice but to learn to master the Indian-style toilet. This is made up of a hole in the floor, with a chute leading to the tracks outside, and two footrests on either side of the hole. Using this toilet requires that you firmly plant your feet, squat down on your haunches while gripping the bar on the wall in front of you as the train sways and buckles.

The BF was great and helpful, and it’s a good thing I’m not shy about these things with him because as discretely and as modestly as I possibly could, I would strip out of my almost all my clothes for him to hold onto outside of the stall so that I could do my business inside. It was a complicated process, but it ensured no unsightly accidents or messes by this germaphobe from Canada who’s used to modern luxuries such as flush toilets.

A far cry from the Hogwarts Express, that’s for sure.

Five Senses of India

7 Jan

I really wanted to blog about my trip this week – there’s just way too much to share with you. However, until we solve the whole camera and image download dilemma – most of our pictures are on the point and shoot (battery charger is fried because of a power surge on the train) and a DLSR that was on loan to us (our MacBooks don’t have SD card readers) – I won’t be doing full posts just yet.

It’s also been a challenging week, returning to work and playing catch up, while also trying to train my body to live again in my own time zone.

The details of my trip are so fresh and juicy in my mind and I don’t want to lose them. One thing that is especially notable is that your senses are assaulted the minute you arrive in India and what’s quite wonderful is that the sensory stimulation is constant. This is something I always want to remember

Sight – Beauty is everywhere, from the green lushness of Goa, to the colourful crowds of people on train platforms, to the magnificent Taj Mahal, every single thing commands your attention and dazzles your eyes.

Smell – Here, it’s so pungently human – the smells of urine, garbage, diesel, incense and spice overwhelm your senses.

 

Sound – A constant, boisterous, blasting sound. Everyone shouts, even in conversation. Horns blare, stray dogs battle for territory, birds scream, trains blow their horns and drone constantly all day and all night.

Taste – Flavours are complex and layered. I will never be able to have Indian food again without remembering how perfectly true it tasted there.

Touch – You are constantly touched and bumped. Bodies are pressing and jockeying, and strange hands are tugging,
poking, begging.

 

Home sweet home

4 Jan

And so, I’m back!

Jet lag has not hit me yet, but I feel like I’ll be fadingfast really soon. We returned yesterday afternoon, and I’m writing this at my desk at work. Yes, less than 24 hours after my return from the other side of the world I am back at work and slightlyregretting not  asking for another day off to recuperate. I have lots to share in upcoming posts. A slight mishap on one of our train rides fried the battery on one of our cameras, so until we figure out a solution, sadly we won’t be able to download the photos from it. Thankfully, we were traveling with another camera and my iPhone, so we still have thousands of pictures that are accessible to us. So, once I get my bearings back here at home, you can look forward to many posts and images from our adventures in India. I’ve missed you!

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