Friday, May 28, 2010

Sun, Sand and Motorcycles in Dahanu

A short blog this week. I'm heading off to travel for two weeks in South India next week, so I'll see what I can do to keep you entertained while I'm away.

This trip with the Firelords Enfield club started with a 4am wakeup, then a punishing motorcycle ride north-west to the coast of the Arabian sea. The traffic in Thane, a suburb of Mumbai, really reminded me of Toronto. Riding through the Western ghats north along the highway to Surat was very scenic. Being a pillion rider is not easy, and by the end of it I was exhausted, dehydrated, in pain, and obviously very upset. Dinner and drinks under the palm trees helped a little.

The next day was spent eating, and taking photos on the beach. The water was way too silty to swim, so I took a dip in the hotel pool instead. There were only six of us left: me, Yogesh, Nipun, Aditi, Amit, and Vijay.

The ride back went much better, with regular food, drink, and rest stops, including a McDonald's stop where I got a Happy Meal with a Fiona toy. Yah! Punch!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Goa! Jesus!

Bom Jesus (good Jesus in Portuguese), to be specific! The first day I spent on the beach eating and drinking. The waves were awesome so I spent some time playing, and then some time trying to clear salt water from my sinuses. Ouch.

Of course the second day I went to Old Goa to take photos of old churches. Old Goa was the capital when the Portuguese were ruling here, and is now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The coolest was Bom Jesus, which has the uncorrupted (but mummified) remains of Saint Francis Xavier. You can kind of see his body in the glass and silver coffin in the middle of the huge masoleum. Upstairs there is a small art gallery with wooden carvings and paintings.

Se Cathedral was filled with gold and carving and chapels. I've included a photo of the back side. The front looks much more interesting because one of the two towers fell off, but I don't have a photo.

The Church of St. Francis of Assisi is filled with graves, and they were blocked off to preserve them.

The walls were covered in frescoes. Although this church is not currently in use as a place of worship, it was fascinating.

Finally, the ruins of the Church of St. Augustine, which included a five-storey tower. It was abandoned in 1835 because of the Goan Inquisition.

The third day more eating, drinking, and laying on the beach. Wonderful sunsets, and plenty of bikini time on this trip!

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Land of Tea

I've been back in Pune for more than two weeks now, so this is a little late! Congratulations to Scott and Tatiana in London, and Sarah and Frank in Toronto. Both couples added a baby girl to their homes recently, and I am so excited to meet them when I return to Canada!

The main purpose for visiting Darjeeling was for the tea, which was lucky because there weren't any views of the mountains the whole time I was there. Good visibility meant seeing across the street. It was a welcome change from the heat of northern India. And tea is one of the reasons for my existence.

Everywhere in north West Bengal there are signs for the Gorkhaland movement for a separate Indian state. Right now the movement has achieved some autonomy. A separate state seems reasonable to me, since Gorkhaland has a different geography, economy, and ethnic group from the south.

I visited the Makaibari Tea Estate just south of Kurseong. I was unimpressed with the tour, especially since the guide didn't mention that Makaibari tea is organic, and that seems important. It was definitely cool to see the process of tea production: picking, drying, fermenting, drying, sorting, packaging. None of the fine Makaibari teas were available for sale, unfortunately.

In Darjeeling I bought a Castleton's Moonlight White, the unfurled tips of the tea bush, apparently picked by moonlight. I also bought a Castleton's Muscatel, a second flush. That's picked later than the first flush, uses the opened leaves lower on the bush, and is considered finer than the first flush. Got that straight? The Moonlight White is properly a "green" tea, which means unfermented (or unoxidized), while the Muscatel is a "black" tea, fully fermented (three days). When I was in Kathmandu, Nepal, I also added an Ilam first flush (black) and an Oolong (partially fermented) to my collection.

The main temple in Darjeeling, built on the site of the Dorje Ling monastery, is a fascinating mix of Hinduism and Buddhism, covered in Tibetan prayer flags, and images of Hindu gods. It's also covered in aggressive monkeys.

Another big draw in Darjeeling is the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For the "joyride" to Ghum and back they still run the steam engine "toy train" on the 610 mm narrow gauge track (compared to the 1435 mm standard gauge). Nine kilometers takes 40 minutes, so taking a jeep by the road which runs alongside the tracks is much faster for long distances. The difference in elevation between Siliguri, the closest regular train station, and Darjeeling is about 2000 metres, so my airtight toiletry bottles all changed shape in the three-hour jeep ride.

From Darjeeling I put my name on the waitlist for a train out of Siliguri, and unfortunately failed to get a seat. Facing a lack of available trains, and a 24+ hour trip by train or bus to my next destination, I decided to fly back to Pune, which resulted in an interesting adventure trying to book a seat.