Friday, January 30, 2009

27-29 January – Khajuraho, India

Our World Heritage Ruin Race continues in Khajuraho. Close to a hundred temples were built here 950-1050 AD. Today the remaining temples are famous for their Kamasutra carvings, showing how to enjoy life, if you are into tantra and those things. There are also many massage and yoga places in Khajuraho – perhaps there is a connection?

23-26 January – Bhimbetka and Sanchi, India

Many of the historical places we are visiting in India are UNESCO World Heritage sites. The list includes Bhimbetka, a peaceful place on a hill south of Bhopal in the center of India. There are 750 rock shelters on the hill, and rock paintings have been found in 500 of them. The red and white pigment paintings depict animals and people. They are said to be 10-12 thousand years old. When you look at some of the most well preserved paintings, it is completely impossible to imagine that they are so old. They look so vivid, so alive, so fresh.
We continued to Sanchi, north of Bhopal. When the Mauryan emperor Ashoka realized that he had been very cruel in a war, he converted to the peaceful religion of Buddhism in the year 262 BC. Actually, Buddhism seems to be an offspring to Hinduism, Buddha being just one of many manifestations of the Hindu god Vishnu. Anyway, Ashoka felt an urge to build a large stupa (Buddhist holy building) in Sanchi. And tourists are very happy about that decision. It is a great looking monument which we enjoyed in the honey-colored afternoon sun.

20-22 January – Ellora & Ajanta Cave Temples, India

We are really enjoying the Deccan plateau in the center south of India. We drive through the tranquil countryside with friendly people; good roads or no roads; lovely food; rich fields of cotton, sugar cane, mustard & wheat, empty forests, grazing cows, working women and idle men.
We can camp in the bush, we can enjoy clean air and silence. However, we occasionally have a welcoming committee at our camp during breakfast.
Almost nobody speaks English here, so we suddenly need a crash course in Hindi. But that’s about time. We have been so spoilt by the fact that many Indians speak English that we only know a few words in Hindi.
The Ellora cave temples were constructed by Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monks during a five hundred year period, 7th-11th century. The largest temple, Kailasa, is believed to have kept 7000 workers busy for 150 years. If there is any truth to that legend, those men must have taken long siestas. On the other hand, judging by the speed of Indian men working today, the legend is probably true after all.
After admiring the Ellora cave temples we continued to Ajanta and were blown away by the cave temples there. The setting, 30 man-made cave temples hewn out of vertical cliffs above a horse-shoe shaped river gorge, is much more dramatic and scenic than Ellora. And the (Buddhist) caves are much older, some dating back to 200 BC, the youngest dating back to 650 AD.
It was hot and sweaty, Indian tourists demanded at least a hundred line-ups with our kids, and there were hundreds of steps. But we loved Ajanta. The kids too – perhaps because they were excited by the bats in the caves.

17-19 January – Hampi, India

On our way to Hampi we passed the chili-growing belt. We sneezed as we passed the many women sorting and drying the red chili fruits.
Hampi is a popular stop on the backpackers’ circuit through India/Nepal. It is a relaxed place, with plenty of places to chill out and an abundance of ruins to admire. In the 15th century, Hampi was a major city of almost half a million souls. Now it is mainly a banana plantation with wonderful temple ruins scattered among balancing boulders.

Friday, January 16, 2009

12-16 January – Beach camping at Agonda, Goa

Time to change environment and prepare for the next phase of our journey. We moved a few kilometers north to Agonda where overlanders can camp right on the beach. It is a lovely spot, although without any facilities. We set camp under the coconut trees and enjoyed lazy days on the beach. Dolphins were playing in the warm sea. Monkeys were playing in the bushes. Crabs were playing on the rocks. Our children were playing on the beach. They are tanned and really blond now, from all the sun and salty water.
Time has come for us to leave wonderful Goa. We are now heading north towards Nepal. We plan to cross the border about three weeks from now.

6-9 January – Gear Box Adventures, Goa

A phone call from an air cargo company told us that the new gear box had arrived from the UK and was now in customs. Ola waved goodbye to family beach life and drove Alhambra to customs. After a full day of Kafka experiences, and a more thorough understanding of the art of Indian corruption and bureaucracy, Ola had taken possession of the gear box. All the 15 customs officials and agents were richer than before, and smiling. Ola was a bit poorer than before, but still smiling.
After asking around, Ola found a car repair workshop which looked reasonably tidy. It was in the city of Vasco da Gama. Three days of vary hard work followed in the garage. Ola, the service manager Felton, and mechanic Ganesh worked twelve hours per day.
Finally, the new gear box was fitted and everything was working. Ola could reunite with family and we celebrated with a nice dinner in the evening. Now we have a functioning vehicle again!

1-11 January 2009 – Patnem & Palolem, Goa

We continued our addictive beach life in Goa. We spent most days at beautiful Patnem Beach. Nina took a one week course in Ashtanga Yoga. She was very satisfied. We went on a day trip to Turtle Beach with the Fernström family, enjoying today’s oyster catch in the smallest of beach shacks.

Monday, January 5, 2009

28-31 December – Goa, India

We have met many Swedish people in Goa. It seems to be a very popular tourist destination for Swedes. The children have found new friends and we have had a lot of fun with two Swedish families from Stockholm.
After Christmas the Palolem Beach has become more crowded, so we have spent our days at the quieter Patnem Beach nearby.
We wish you all a Happy New Year 2009

21-27 December – Grandmother in Goa, India

The week with grandmother was fantastic. She had not seen the kids in several months and it was a very happy reunion. We spent a lot of time on the beach, swimming and playing. We enjoyed the excellent food in Goa and talked for hours.
Grandmother’s suitcase contained Christmas presents and some real Swedish herring! Our seafood platter on Christmas Eve is a lasting memory.
And our day trip to Margao, Old Goa and Panaji was very nice, giving us a glimpse of Goa’s colonial past.

The children were sad when grandmother left. The week passed so quickly.

19-20 December – Panaji to Palolem, Goa, India

We celebrated our arrival to Goa with a nice lunch at Hospedaria Venite in Panaji, the capital of Goa. After that we went to the Main Post Office to check on our Poste Restante. We were very happy to find five large envelopes with letters and gifts. Many thanks!

That night we had great difficulties to find a place to camp. In the end we simply set camp on a small street in the middle of Panaji. It was one of the oddest places we have slept in so far.
The following morning we were supposed to look for a garage/workshop which could help us to change the gearbox. We had ordered a new gearbox from the UK and it should arrive by air freight in one or two weeks. However, we were now told that 19 December is a very important national holiday since it marks the day when, in 1961, Goa became independent from Portugal after being a colony for more than 400 years. So we went directly towards Palolem Beach instead. From what we had read and heard, this would be an ideal beach for us during grandmother’s visit.

The countryside in Goa is very beautiful, with rice paddies, jungle, palm trees, spice plantations, rolling hills, Portuguese colonial architecture, Hindu temples, white churches and a wonderful coastline with sandy beaches. A few kilometers from Palolem, in the south of Goa, we took a detour to Agonda Beach to try to find a camp site on the beach which we had heard rumors about. That turned out to be a bad idea. You should not relax until you have crossed the finish line.

We ended up having to make a u-turn on a very narrow and steep road. We did not have a reverse gear, and the road was too steep to push the car. So we had to build bridges for the wheels to take us across a deep ditch. Just as we had crossed our improvised bridges they collapsed. But the car was now standing firmly on the road again! Relief.
Time to go to Palolem. No more detours. We found a nice hotel in Palolem and settled in. We went to the beach and found it to be a real paradise beach with white sand, coconut palm trees, clear and clean water, nice restaurants and a friendly atmosphere. Now we were prepared for the arrival of grandmother.

14-18 December – The long road to Goa

The time had come for us to head south towards Goa. The children’s grandmother (Ola’s mother Lisbeth) would come to Goa on 21 December to spend Christmas with us. We did not want to be late for that! And we had to find a nice place to stay in Goa. We had about 2000 km to drive, so we knew it would take several days. But we ran out of luck (Murphy’s Law). Strange noises started coming from the gearbox. Suddenly we discovered that fifth gear had disappeared. Then the reverse gear stopped working. And we continued losing a gear every half hour until only fourth gear remained. Terrible noises were heard from the gearbox. We still had more than 1700 km to go.

The fourth gear was still working an hour later, so we decided to take a crazy gamble and try to drive the whole way to Goa. Since we could not reverse, we spent the nights camping at the roadside at bus stops, petrol stations and canteens. The closer we got to Goa, the more our spirits rose. After five very challenging days and 1700 km in fourth gear we actually reached Goa. Our gamble had succeeded and we were very happy!

11-13 December – Great Thar Desert, India

We liked western Rajasthan very much. The hills give way to a semi-desert with small villages where time stands still. People live in rondavel huts. Women are carrying water and firewood on their heads. Goats are standing on their hind legs to reach the acacia leaves. The colors of the landscape are sun bleached, but the people dress in bright colors. It reminds us very much of Africa.
Our first interaction with the deep sand of the Great Thar Desert was when we got stuck in soft sand while trying to find a good bush camping spot. The whole family took turns digging us out. After half an hour we were on firm sand again and could camp under the stars. The Milky Way was very bright. The temperature fell quickly that night, from 25 degrees at sunset to only 4 degrees at night. Those extra blankets we bought in Pakistan came in handy.
We continued to Jaisalmer and walked through the narrow alleys of the old town which is surrounded by a fortified sandstone wall with 99 bastions. There are many Jain temples in Jaisalmer, and of course many cows. This holy cow thing is really very strange in India. The cows can do what the want. Most of all they seem to enjoy standing in the middle of the street, and while Indian drivers will blow their horns furiously at anything that moves, they wait patiently for the cows to finish their business. Perhaps we have discovered the real purpose of having many cows. The cows of India are the equivalent of city dumps in other countries. The cows are eating the garbage which is randomly collected in dust bins, or just thrown at the roadside. They start with the plastic bags (the average cow in India has 20 kg of plastic in their stomachs – slowly dying from this) , and then devour and regurgitate the rest of the trash. If you think the milk in India tastes a bit odd, you know why…
About 40 km west of Jaisalmer, the real sand dunes start. The most popular spot to experience the real sand dunes is at the village of Sam. We found that place to be a mess, with irresponsible tour operators sending in hundreds of tourists every day, but leaving all the empty water bottles and garbage among the sand dunes. The garbage situation in all of India is really a major problem. We left Sam and the main road, driving straight out into the desert in really tough terrain. We wanted to try to find untouched sand dunes, far away from the tourists. After a few very challenging and fun kilometers we had to stop as the sun was setting. The noise from our engine disturbed some gazelles that ran away at full speed. A full moon rose and we did not need any lights as we were having dinner in our lovely bush camp. Suddenly a voice was greeting us. A man came riding on a camel. He had heard voices and thought that some ghosts had ventured into the desert. Bravely he decided to investigate the nature of the ghosts (four blond kids with parents and a red car with a rooftop tent). We talked a little, and the man offered to return the next morning to take us by camel to some untouched sand dunes. We happily accepted.

The next morning we woke up to the sound of farting camels.

After breakfast we boarded the ‘ships of the desert’. Nina, Temba and Atlas rode on Patang. Ola, Tinna and Disa rode on Raket. After half an hour we came to some beautiful dunes. No garbage. No human footprints. We struggled to stay on the camels when ascending the steep dunes, and then again when the camels folded their legs like a Swiss army knife and lay down on the sand.
Then we played among the pristine sand dunes until we were completely exhausted. The kids led the camels down from the dunes, and then we rode back at a leisurely pace to the car. It had been a great morning and we felt very lucky to have met Romer and his camels in the middle of the desert.