“Welcome to India” were the first words of the captain wishing all of us a happy landing.
My first impression of India, as well as to every other Western person coming to India by plane, was a complete shock. After a sleepless night spent on the plane we landed in Bombay at 3 am. I waited at the airport until dawn so that I wouldn’t get lost and wander around this 25 million people town. Finally, dawn broke and as I started approaching exit doors, the continuous noise emerged through airport hallways. I opened the door and…. a complete shock. Cars, rickshaws, horns… all together created the noise ranging to more than 150 dB. Since I was very tired, lost and hung-over, this noise seemed to be 200 dB high. I needed to find my way to accommodation through this traffic chaos and disorder, which is also one of the characteristics of this country. Priyanka and her boyfriend were only 5 km away from the airport, however in Bombay 5 km stands for a lot more. I stopped one rickshaw (Indian taxi on three wheels) and the show began. I just managed to sit down and already we headed with full speed on to my next stop. Fast driving, pushing through, overtaking, constant horn blowing, suspense… all these actions fulfil every ordinary day of rickshaw drivers. The sun was rising and lighting the town, whereas the grey smog started being more and more visible and subtly and secretly started entering the lungs of every individual.
I arrived to Bombay on Saturday when there was a huge gay parade held. After the parade, I was invited to the gay parade party. Priyanka’s friend who is homosexual came to her flat so we all went together to this big party. Honestly, it didn’t take long for them to put me up to it because my curiosity again prevailed. That whole evening enriched me with a totally new experience. Naturally, I only experienced it as a witness, not a participant :).
On my fourth day in Bombay, my friend Milan whom I used to work with got in touch with me. Not so long ago Milan spent ten years of his life in India living as a monk. He heard that I was in India so he gave me contact details of a guy from Varaždin who has been living as a monk for 19 years in the ISKCON temple, the Hare Krishna temple. After Priyanka I was hosted by another host who wasn’t as kind as Priyanka, which led me to visit this Hare Krishna temple. I contacted Darko, the guy whose details were given to me by Milan, and on that same day I was already in the temple. Darko was a wonderful host. He told me I could stay there for a couple of days in a special room which was only mine. I had food and accommodation for three days and I also witnessed daily routines of an ordinary monk. What impressed me the most was singing and dancing held every morning from 5 till 8am in the holiest part of the temple. Many times I tried to reach for my camera which is usually hanging around my waste but I decided to leave it in my room through my stay at the temple. It wouldn’t be appropriate, humane or nice of me to record these moments and share them with public. It was better that way. Every one interested in what is going on inside this kind of a temple should visit such place. Hare Krishna community is spread all around the world so you can find it everywhere. Since Darko travelled around the whole India in the last 19 years of his life, he was able to give me interesting and valuable advice and recommend the places for me to visit. I took out the huge map of India, put it on the floor and started marking all recommended places.
6 days passed and I was still in Bombay. My tactics was completely wrong. I should have left this mega million town a while ago. It was good for me to spend some time at the temple where I could find peace which is not at all typical of this town. Fact: did you know that Bombay (or new name – Mumbai, name unpopular with locals) is not at all such a big town? According to my estimates, this town is three times as big as Zagreb. Now, put 25 million people in this kind of town. What do you get? Chaos in town. There. That is Bombay. Now, you can approximately imagine what this huge and intolerable crowd looks like. Due to this fact, Bombay actually might be the most populated town in the whole wide world.
My next destination was Goa, 700 km away towards south. I was about to buy the train ticket because only someone who was crazy enough would go hitchhike in this town. First, I have no idea where to go to exit this town. I see the exit on Google maps but I can’t find my way around in this town. Second, I’m not sure if Indians (at least the ones living in this town) actually know what hitchhiking means. Third, everyone is driving on the left side so I don’t have the faintest idea where to stand to be able to hitchhike. Fourth, when rickshaw drivers saw me, I’m sure they would drive me crazy with their loud horns. Fifth, trains are really cheap in India. When I finally made the decision to leave this town, this town didn’t want to let me out. All train tickets to Goa were sold out. Every day I would come to the station trying to buy the ticket to Goa and every day I heard the same reply: sold out. The only tickets left for sale were tickets for air conditioned railway wagons which were three times more expensive than tickets for regular railway wagons. Day four – my luck changed. There was only one ticket left and it was waiting for me. I bought it and went immediately on the trip. Only fog was left behind me. The Bombay smog.
Dawn broke and people started waking up. Crowded train entered into its usual morning routine. Going to toilets, washing, brushing teeth, making the beds (which is usually just removing pillows) and confused looks circling around railroad wagon. A few of the sellers, each one with different kind of groceries, started going through railroad wagons dragging their boxes with groceries. To be successful at selling groceries, sellers raise their voices to the level inappropriate for morning hours. Come on, who wants to buy a wallet at 7 in the morning?
A bit after 10am and two hours before than scheduled, the train stopped at Pernem. Pernem was my stop and I got out of the train. This is where my Goa adventure started. As usual I already had accommodation arranged. Five kilometres from the train station is the place where a little village called Arpor is located in the north of Goa. My host was Kusum and his entire family. After routine conversation, how, what and where, we moved to deep conversation topics. Kusum started telling me about Indian arranged marriages. He explained that 90% of marriages in India are arranged by families. The family finds a male or female partner for their son or daughter. The first step in all of this is showing the picture of a future better half to your child. If son/daughter is interested in getting to know the future partner, the meeting is arranged. This meeting is arranged between future partners who are also accompanied by one parent. If everything goes well and future partners feel some special invisible energy which connects them, the following happens – wedding. Only after wedding the partners get to know each other better. Then they can start going out on their own, hugging, romance… The most interesting part is that these family-arranged marriages are far more successful than the other 10% of couples who decide to get married of their own free will and choose their own partners. That’s what Kusum told me. Why is this so? I think it’s like this because couples who went through family-arranged marriages have bigger respect for their parents and partner. In most cases, these arranged marriages result in long-term and continuous relationship. Hmm…. Where is love in all of this? This is something that we, Westerners, will never be able to understand.
I spent my first evening walking to Anjun, the place most famous for night life which is only 3 kilometres away from Arpora. While walking, I started asking myself: “Wait a minute. Why don’t I hitchhike?” After a couple of minutes, a car stopped. The driver was Nigerian. He explained that the reason he came to Goa was “business”. He told me he had so much work that he was constantly in the car driving from one end of Goa to another. Hmmmm, interesting…
Two days after, I left Kusum and his family and went 15 km further north to a village named Siolim. Marco, who named himself Marco Polo, was my host there. Marco is one of the most relaxed people I have ever met. He was born in Kashmir but he moved to Goa because of its relaxed way of life. After 8 days of hectic life in Bombay, Marco Polo taught me how to switch into slow-motion mode. How to switch from fifth gear into first. The answer to most of my questions was: “Just reeeeleeeex, man, you are in Goa” :). After Marco gave me that advice for the tenth time, this sentence finally came into my brain. Suddenly I was in Goa relax mode.
It is interesting how almost every host gives me some precious advice, tells a story or a message. I don’t like to impose my views but I can tell you this. LOL, this is actually a lie…. I definitively like to impose my views If in the near future you intend to go on a short or longer trip, try to avoid hotels, hostels and guesthouses. Instead, try using the couchsurfing website. One night spent at a local’s house will make your experience more valuable than spending a couple of days at paid accommodation. Sometimes hosts send you a message saying they won’t be able to host you but they insist on meeting you, only to give you some useful info. I think it’s time for me to contact this website since I constantly advertise them.
Finally! Two months after my trip started, I decided to try paid accommodation. Enough of that couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is way better but the time came for me to pay for my accommodation. Since I was about to pay for my accommodation, I think I chose the accommodation located on the most perfect spot. A wooden hut was on the beach, 40 meters away from the sea. Uncle at reception desk, or I should actually say the bar, wanted 400 rupees for one night but I offered him 200 rupees. A couple of minutes later we agreed to only 250 rupees (25 kunas). These last few months I’ve learnt that negotiating is an integral part of every purchase. At some places one can negotiate the price and lower it up to 300-400%. But, I have to be honest… I think this accommodation is worth much more mostly because of its location. I immediately paid for four days. Internal appearance of the room changed my opinion on how much this room was actually worth. My thoughts immediately were that the fair price for this room is actually exactly how much I paid for it, if not less. Squeaking rusty fan above my bed which was turned on and the room with no windows will be my home for the next couple of days. But, all right, I think I will only spend nights in this room.
We know that at the end of last century Goa was one of the main meeting points of hippy (r)evolution. People with their own beliefs defying the system in a peaceful and open-minded way proved that there is an alternative to this systematic-slavish life. Today, half a century after, you can still feel their “freedom” energy which is present and invisibly circles around. You will notice the real hippies which are quite old but still remain authentic to their own beliefs. Also, you will notice “new” hippies who joined just one or two decades ago, the so called post-modern hippies or psytrancers. The looks changed somewhat, the music definitively changed but the energy remained the same.
The most interesting and the best part of my day was the sunset. A bit before 6pm, all current jobs are left and everyone runs to the beach to arrive before the sunset. Suddenly, the beach is overflown with the big mass of people. Songs, dancing, juggling, yoga, meditation…. You can see all this at the beach. However, the most important event and the centre of every sunset is the drum circle. People with their drums, mostly djembes, gather on their own initiative and drum playing can begin. As day turns into night, djembe playing becomes more and more louder. This genuine small party lasts for about an hour after the night falls.
After beautiful Arambol I am headed 50 km further south to Panjim, the capital of Goa. After Bombay I promised myself to avoid all big towns and capitals. But, ok, Panjim is the capital of Goa, however it is neither big nor overpopulated. The reason why I came to Panjim is my CS host. Panjim is a town which is by its looks completely different from towns I previously visited in India. Twenty kilometres further south from Panjim, there is a town “Vasco de Gama”, named after Portuguese explorer who reached India in 1502. His presence, i.e. the presence of a European, can be noticed in numerous churches which spread up to Panjim. That is why Panjim is so very different from all the other towns. Hinduism prevails mostly on the periphery of vast India (also Islam to a lesser extent), whereas in this area you can see mostly Christian signs, churches, crosses, rosaries, statues of Jesus…. Furthermore, the architectural style is in Latin-Portugese tone and often you will be able to find cafes or street names in Jose Pinto style. There is no mucking around when a European or a Westerner walks in the streets where something is not according to his beliefs. The most interesting part is that these people are still famous here even today. Books are written about them, students learn about these people at schools. THEY are the reason that the world headed towards a “better” direction. LOL… What load of crap and brainwashing! If you know anything about Vasco de Gama, then you surely know his way towards fame paved with blood. All those bloody things which one such hero-explorer does by coming to such historical area, all this goes into oblivion.
In every blog post I usually comment on the well-known fact of the place I am currently visiting and subtly ask you (the audience) a question. I will do it again in this blog post. Why aren’t Indians environmentally conscious people? Why do they throw garbage everywhere around themselves? They throw it through train or bus windows, car windows, taxis or rickshaws. Some scenes are truly incomprehensible. Sometimes you find yourself in places where everything runs in its usual way. Fruits, vegetables… are sold at market stands and people lead conversations with smiles on their faces…. And, only a meter or two away from them, there is a pile of garbage which by its smell reminds you that it has been there for some time already. The need to get rid of garbage gets so big that patience and time just get forgotten. Or, poetically said, “The need to get rid of garbage gets so big that time loses its patience” or “The need to get rid of garbage gets so big that patience gets overcome by time”. There is no use of drawing the third eye on foreheads if with their own two eyes they cannot see these things.
My first impression of Indians was that they are very unkind. A week or two later, I realized that this is actually not their unkindness but it is just their way of communication which is only a small part of their huge culture. To one Westerner who looks at India with his/her imposed views, who didn’t come to India to learn but to share his/her knowledge, this type of behaviour of Indian people will simply make him/her angry. If you stick to your views this whole time and you don’t reject them or transform them, you will see India only in a negative way. These same travellers or tourists belong to the group of people who do NOT like India. There is a well-known saying about India: one either loves India or hates it. There is no middle way. In order to love it, you first need to let go of your old beliefs which brought you here and just try to listen, watch and observe. Be as inconspicuous as possible and a subtle observer. With time, India will get under your skin and one day you will just love it.