Adventures on an Indian Visa (week 4): Gokarna
After calling in at Albina’s nursery & telling her I had to leave. tho’ giving her my contact details just in case she was pregnant, I set off south. After a couple of busses through the flattish jungle-covered world of north Goa, I hit Panjim, the state capital. It has been fifty years since the Goans kicked the Portuguese out, but the place still retains a lazy, continental European air.
10K up the banks of the wide, glimmering Mondovi River I came to Old Goa – the former capital. Today it is just a few – admittedly stunning – churches. The old houses have all been swept away, & grass’d over like the terrac’d streets of Burnley. One of churches contains the bones of Francis Xavier, which you can see through his glass coffin. I also had a wander round a museum of Goa, where I saw this ceremony of tall portraits of every governor or viceroy the Portuguese ever sent, with the whole experience inspiring the following sonnet;
They were the first white faces to arrive,
& the last fascist faeces to depart,
Whence inbetween a race envangelized;
You can still taste the breeze of the Tagus
By Mandovi, in spacious Spanish rooms
One takes whenever pausing in Panjim,
O pocket Portuguese emporium!
The stuff of fallen empires lingers near,
Array’d as if an eastern Nuremburg
Had Speer inspired, these barrel-vaulted rooves
So cleverly conserv’d, where faded scenes,
Like Shivapurams on a temple wall,
Paint papal hagiographies, spread proud,
Around us in the old Latino style!
I am currently staying in this old Portuguese guest house, where among the guests is a lesbian bird called Fee. She heralds from Todmorden, a town just 10 miles from Burnley. ‘I’m thinking of going to Gokarna,’ I said. ‘You’re coming with me!’ she replied energetically, & apparently tomorrow I am. By taxi, half of which I’m paying for, which is possibly my main attraction to her as a travelling companion. The feelings mutual, tho, for with my mojo so off the chart at the moment, if I’m travelling with one of Sapho’s darlings I might finally feel safe to draw breath.
This morning jumped in a taxi with Fee & headed south, majestic views all the way. A few hours later we hit Gokarna island, took a sneaky back road & suddenly found ourselves at the eponymously titled Paradise Beach. What a touch. Fee’s a regular here, a founder member of the hippies that first came to Paradise, years ago. Arriving with her felt like being with royalty; everyone knows her & as her ‘friend’ I’m getting good prices on the weed / illegal beer & my room. This is a beach hut, with the floor & bed carved from rock (mattress on top) all covered by rushmat roof & walls – its wicked & only ten meters from the sea. Fee has slung her hammock up right outside (for free) sleeps in its lazy arc like lavae in a split cocoon. She’s also put rugs & plants around the place making it into a little villa. The restaurant is literally 5 seconds away, where I am currently building up a tab, as I am at several other very friendly places along the beach, you don’t actually need money here, just honesty.
Fee, or fi-asco as her friends call her, tells me she sometimes spends an entire 6 month visa on Paradise Beach, & spending time & chatting with such a season’d traveller has led to me penning the following sonnet;
THE INCREDIBLE INDIA CODE
1 Book your tickets in advance
2 Separate your money sources
3 Never trust a tout
4 Keep tabs on yer tabs
5 If they say they’re a masseuse – they’re not
6 Murder all mosquitoes before bed
7 Never trust a fart
8 Anything is possible in India
9 Check your room thoroughly before leaving
10 Picking up stones scares off dogs & monkeys
11 Eat with your non-wiping hand
12 “I was an Indian in another life!”
13 Plenty of change for journeys
14 Ask five different people for directions
Rock-gouged, sandswept Paradise Beach is at the end of a long chain of beaches which are travelled to by either clifftop walks or boats. Inbetween are rocky headlands – great for scrambling – & many a restaurant to grab some shade & drink a lassi. Currently there’s an Israeli lass call’d Shiri staying in the beach hut that lady-of-the-manor-like overlooks our own private part of Paradise, & she & Fee have begun to waffle on incessantly. One conversation is very interesting. ‘How is your wife,’ Fee had ask’d Muli, the guy who owns the central restaurant, ‘O, she died in a house fire in September,’ he’d said solemn faced, & proceeded to show her the scars on his hands & belly. I then overheard Shiri saying that Muli probably kerosened his wife cos he was fed up with her, apparently a common event on round these parts!
The whole island of is about 6k-3k square, half of which is luscious jungle & the other rough red scrubland peppered with black volcanic rocks. The coastal strip is dotted with coves, from the huge boob-shaped expanse of Om Beach, to the quietude of Half-Moon Beach. These are fill’d with scantily-clad ladies, led like golden fleeces, daring argonauts to pluck them as we pass. The beaches spread out from Gokarna town, one of the holiest spots in India. After following Fee through half-lost paths in the jungle, we came across the town & its wonderful water-ghat. Sat on the steps were four young Brahmin adepts, knelt cross-legged, their right hand on the guy in front of them’s shoulder, & all four were repeating, word-by-word, the song-chant of their bearded teacher. A very amazing scene.
Back at my hut I settled into a stony haze, chilling above the waves with my 23-year old Russian journalist neighbour, a complete starry-eyed stoner who speaks impeccable English. To break things up I swam round to the next beach – Om Shanti – a tiny place with 4 beach huts & one restaurant. The sea is not the cleanest but the swim was quite invigorating
This morning I swam to Half Moon today with Shiri, who proudly states her age as 38 & a half. Her Jewishness is apparent in both her business acumen – renting out properties sends her round the world – & her nose. She is a very warm lass to be around, smoking weed & playing chess furiously. I played her, beat her & agreed to become her teacher, Karate Kid style. Today’s lesson involved a kilometre swim round the green warm waters that fringe the coast – she was third best backstroke swimmer u-15s in Israel, apparently – & I was amazed at her practically effortless stroke, especially as she had a plastic bag with chess pieces, board, weed & water tied to her legs. I found it wonderful fun swimming with a lady in a bikini, stealing furtive glances of her breasts or watching the water roll off her sinewy back.
At Half Moon the restaurant was still being built, a 60-year-old landlady smoothing off the cement that gets ruined with each annual monsoon. After food & chess, the swim back was lovely; dolphins flipping flippers, lone butterflies fluttering over the waves, sea eagles skirmishing above us & out at sea the lightning bolts of a distant storm. Great conditions to write in, with the sea-waves accompanying every sound. Being here has chilled me out big time & I’m loving these wicked coconut lassis I’m now completely addicted to.
In the afternoon Kate, Steve & a couple of the Tantra crew (19 year old Jake from Cornwall & 26 year old Suze from Cardiff) caught a train from Canacona to Gokarna Road – an hour & twenty minute journey that only cost them 16 rupees! They all only stayed one night, having come down especially for the Full Moon Party, but it was very good fun & we were drinking til daft o clock as we boogied to the bongo-happy hippies. Music, nudity, magic & stars – you can take the party of out of Goa, but not Goa out of the party.
Another sunny day in Paradise, watching from my lofty beach-hut the toing’s & froing’s of scantily clad ladies lazily frolicking below like some Restoration Masque. I awoke before sunrise, both sky & sea a beautiful pastel. My Russian neighbour was also up having his ‘cream’ – a ridiculously dodgy looking pure skunk spliff with bits of rizla hanging off the Dry Gonzo style spliff like wedding streamers. As soon as I had bought my obligatory bag of weed I joined him, watching the sun’s orb rise in the direct centre of a little chink between the two hills that framed the eastern end of the beach. Not long after that a boat arriv’d at my local restaurant with a big block of ice to keep all the drinks cool. This, like other days, was divided between studying, sweating, siestas, getting stoned & going on increasingly adventurous swims. I’d never swam these distances before, & with the sea warm & easy it was a very pleasant experience.
I also walk’d into Gokarna with the Patnem posse, a lovely 6K amble pass’d deliciously mellow Om Beach, over the black volcanic rocky wasteland that leads to Kudle Beach (the busiest) & finally a walk over a lush green hill, past a wicked cricket pitch (with hysterical loudspeaker commentary) before the main Gokarna beach stretched for 8k into the milky distance. As I stood there, the distant hills framing a very tropical scene, I imagined pterodactyls circling over the jungle. After buying supplies, on the way back I photographed a few kokava’s… crazy white heron-type birds that follow their chosen cow/buffalo everywhere, nibbling on the insects that nibble on the cows, bobbing along thro’ life like a perfectly happily married couple.
The sun is now setting, an orange sphere lending the Sea of Araby an oriental glow. This is being accentuated by Nedev, one of the annual ‘family’ that spend some of their travelling days in this place. He is playing a 72-string Persian instrument called a Santur – each of the eighteen main channels is split into four steel wires as the western 12-strings are split into two. He is playing them with two metal sticks & the sound is just divine.
Not so long ago I always stood up to bullies – it was a Lancashire principal instilled in me at a young age – hence me spending most of my chemistry lessons outside Mr Mansfield’s classroom. So today I decided to get ahead of all my tabs, so walk’d into Gokarana Town drew out some money & paid off everyone I owed on the way back – lots of coconut lassies. Anyway, when I got to Muli’s restaurant, suddenly my four bottles of rum had turned into eight, & as I disputed the fact I was thrust into a hornet-swarm of threats, including bamboo massages & my severed hands being thrown about the beach. At first I stood up to him, saying ‘go on then & do your worst,’ kinda stuff – then remembered he’d probably just killed his wife & it was only a few quid for god’s sake. So, I paid up & thought fuck this, I’m off first tomorrow. Besides, I reckon the brain begins to turn to jelly after too much bumming about on the beach & it’s been almost four weeks of sunshine, sea, sand – it’s time to hit the hinterland. Fee tells me Hampi is really cool, so I’ll be heading there tomorrow.
I finally managed to peel myself from those lush, green dolphin shores of golden beaches & the company of all those hedonistic ambassadors of the west. There are only so many lazy hours one can stand with a book & a beer, hot semi-naked babes frolicking in the surf, & spectacular sunsets a man can take before he’s straining for some proper culture.
This morning I set off east on a government bus & was soon trundling thro’ the plush jungles of south Goa, rising steadily up to the Western Ghats, jagged mountains that run for a thousand miles, affording us an incredible palm-laden vista that spread west through as far as the eye can see. We then began to descend into Karnataka, which at first seemed like the undulating agricultural realms of England, before spanning out into a vast plain, something like the steppes of Russia. At one town we were just stretching our legs when we were hit on big time by curious beggar-kid. His upper body seemed to be shifted to the left & his rib cage jutting out of his back forming a hunch. Holding out his gnarly left hand touched the heart strings & I found a few spare rupees. Then the sun began to set, a red-hot cannonball that seem’d to shoot into the eyes & nestle in the brain after only half a glance.
Back on the road was startled to see old Indian women carrying baskets of stones on their heads & others operating a concrete mixer as they were building the road I was travelling on (road? I don’t think smate). Several more hours of numb-bum later, as the fullish moon rose a bloody red, we reached the outskirts of Hospet where a crazy convoy of trucks seemed to go on forever. To amuse myself thro the traffic jam I watched Bruce Lee clips on this Indian’s mobile phone, then a bit of the new Incredible Hulk.
As I reached dusty Hospet, things suddenly got tense. As we pulled into the bus station I was set on by this pack of braying jackals – young rickshaw drivers all braying for my blood. Wherever I went they followed & soon I turned into the Hulk himself – ‘what part of shut the f**k up & leave me the f**k alone don’t you understand,’ kinda thing. Then I resorted to are you stupid / deaf – but still they insisted on following me everywhere. In the end I was forced to take a very dirty room in a lodge just for some peace, where I was subsequently eaten alive by bugs.