Udupi, Gokarna and Goa

(subtitle: You’ll Never Never Know-a If You Never Never Goa)

Hi all! It’s been a bit longer than intended since my last update. At the moment I’m at a yoga retreat near Anjuna in Goa. I’ll be here for another couple of weeks, spending around six hours a day doing yoga.

But my last update left you all on my last day in Varkala, Wednesday 22nd, about a week and a half ago. I was about to catch the overnight train to Mangalore and then Udupi. Travelling second-class sleeper turned out to be a pretty cool experience. It was nowhere near as grotty or hardcore as various people on the internet made it out to be. In fact, the only real concern I had was that the bunks were really hard, so I woke up the next morning with a mild back ache. Thursday afternoon I arrived in Udupi.

I should probably mention at this point that while I was in Varkala, I came down with a really bad cold. Bad to the point that my ears got so blocked up that one morning when I went to have a shower, I felt really dizzy, collapsed, and vomited into the toilet. Normally I would have only bothered staying in Udupi for one night, but since I still wasn’t feeling great, I decided to stay for two.

Udupi is, as far as I can tell, notable for two things: a temple to Krishna which brings many Hindus there on pilgrimages every year, and really good food. It is supposedly the birthplace of the masala dosa, and the restaurants there serve up really nice thalis – unlike other places I’ve been to, there was usually a choice of thali available. It was definitely a pleasant change from Varkala’s beach-side “multi-cuisine” restaurants, i.e. expensive and mediocre Western food. In Udupi they serve both types of food, South and North Indian.

So besides visiting the temple and eating, I spend most of my time in Udupi sleeping in and reading. Eventually it was time to catch the train and the bus go up the coast to Gokarna, a beach town just south of Goa. Everyone I met had raved about it, but I would rate it as not as nice as either Varkala or Goa. It did feel marginally more “authentic” and popular with domestic tourists as well as foreigners. My cheap “beach hut” (actually a room in a largeish building) was very basic, with cold showers and squat toilets in a separate building. It was also quite cheap.

Unfortunately, while my cold had mostly cleared up in Gokarna, my health took a turn for the worse – came down with food poisoning, I suspect from the salad I had alongside my meal in my first night in Gokarna. For about $3 I visited the local doctor and got the usual course of anti-biotics and pro-biotics and anti-diarrhoea tablets which fixed me up after a few days, but it meant that my time in Gokarna wasn’t particularly fun.

On Wednesday, I left Gokarna and went a bit further up the coast to Goa, where I stayed for four nights in Anjuna. While waiting for the train, I had the chance to observe a couple of uniquely Indian things. One was what I like to think of as Indian-style road trains – long freight trains carrying trucks. Apparently this is called “roll-on roll-off” transport and is unique to Konkan Railway (Mumbai – Goa – Mangalore along the coast), saving trucks a lot of time because the coastal highways are so congested. The other was a few dozen locals waiting for their train, crowded around the small television screen, completely transfixed by the cricket. It continues to amaze me how cricket-obsessed this country is.

Goa is, for some reason, immensely popular with Russian visitors – and, of course, international visitors in general. The beach areas are covered with shops and wandering merchants selling cheap, overpriced trinkets. They generally have amazingly aggressive sales pitches if you dare to even make eye contact with them. But the beach itself is fairly nice, I guess. Anjuna is normally a bit of a party town, but I arrived in the lead up to local elections, and the sale of alcohol in Goa was completely banned until the following Monday (tomorrow, at the time of writing). If there was much late-night partying going on, it wasn’t anywhere I could see.

Yesterday – Saturday – I arrived at Purple Valley Yoga Retreat in Assagao, just outside Anjuna, where I’ll be for the next couple of weeks. I probably won’t post much here until near the end of that time. After that, I’ll be zooming up to the far North of India: I have train tickets booked up to Mumbai and then Amritsar, at which point I’ll have to decide whether I want to venture into Kashmir or go touring around Rajasthan.

By complete coincidence, I ended up having dinner on Friday night with a group of ashtanga yoga students and their teacher. They’d heard of the instructor taking the course I’m doing right now and reckoned he was excellent. Based on the single three-hour session I’ve had so far, I’d be inclined to agree! The next session begins in half an hour’s time…

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