Ahhh… Goa! The hippie paradise, the charter destination for potbellied middle aged Germans (and plenty of Russians, too), the weekend destination for Bollywood celebrities… Well, we had put off a trip to Goa for all these reasons, and also because it took me a while to convince Ksenia that we should be driving down there. As it turns out, it was a lovely drive and Goa is indeed quite lovely, especially if you make a big circle around the hippie, raver, and charter destinations.

Since the 9th this month was a holiday, we had five days to play with, taking off the Wednesday and Friday as well. We wanted to leave Mumbai at 6am, but as usual, we packed last minute and didn’t leave the house until 7am. Still, there was no traffic to get out of Mumbai to Panvel, where the NH17 starts. National Highway is of course a bit of a misnomer, because it’s a pretty narrow road, one lane each direction, no dividers, but plenty of pedestrians, bicycles, and cow carts for added entertainment and diversion during the 600km trip.

Nevertheless, I had been a bit worried that the road would be the standard pothole infested diet we’ve come to love to hate around here, so that it would indeed take 15-17 hours to get to Goa, as some websites had said, but in fact the road was for the most part quite good. Narrow, but smooth and curvy – apart from a few stretches up and down some mountains, it would have been fun to go on a motorbike. Plus, there were surprisingly few Horn Ok Please trucks on the way, and even fewer maniac bus drivers. The landscape is very nice all the way, and it changes quite often between lush green fields and dry yellow mountains, but I kind of forgot taking pictures, because I had two much fun driving.

We stopped over for lunch halfway at some posh hotel in Chiplun and reached North Goa at 6pm. It took another hour or two to find a place to stay that wasn’t booked, but then we ended up at the very nice River Cat Villa in Mandrem. The next morning, we walked to the beach, spotted the first topless tourist and were surprised to find that the water does indeed resemble the color blue, which is an enormous step up from the brown sewage at Juhu Beach in Mumbai.

Shocked by the sight of so much blue water and almost empty beaches, we left and drove down to Old Goa, the former capital of Portuguese India. There seem to be more churches then souvenir shops in Old Goa, and there’s not much else, but it was nice to walk around without much bother, and with vendors restricted to a small area around a main parking lot, which was almost empty. Goa is close to completely banning plastic bags, so it is probably the cleanest place we’ve been to in India so far. Of course, a lot of tourists seem to have an addiction to potato chips, so there’s still that, but ah well.

Our next stop was the Savoi Plantation, a tropical spices farm pretty far east in Goa. When we got there, there was an army of charter tourists being served some yummy organic food, a traditional Goan dance and music performance, and a very efficient spice sales show. Thankfully, they got bussed back to wherever they came from, while we stayed to sleep in a most quiet and lovely little farmhouse on the plantation. The owners were very nice and not too pushy or in our faces, so it was very relaxing.

Having gone so far east and away from the beach, we went to a nice little 13th century Hindu temple the next day, deep in the forest. There was a Brahmin family stopping by for some prayers and it was all very laid back. Then we drove to the south and made a lunch stop in a little restaurant. The owner was some local politician, and it was quite interesting as he told us that he’s first of all a Goan, then an Indian – he still speaks Portuguese and even has a little Portuguese flag in his car, much to the dismay of some people who consider such a display anti-national, he told us. He complained a bit about the foreign invaders in Goa, by which he meant Marathis from Maharashtra – apparently, there was a row about what the official language in Goa should be, and it almost became Marathi instead of Konkani. There’s also some discussion about whether the Roman Konkani script should be on equal footing with the Devanagari Konkani script.

Anyways, Goans, especially women, are by the way considered the lazy, laid back, catholic and fun loving people of India, with the loose morals to match, even though Christians are a minority here (nevermind that being catholic anywhere else doesn’t exactly signifies loose morals). And speaking of stereotypes, hippies are generally despised, while Israeli tourists are now even more loathed than Germans, the reason being that they are all fresh out of the Army and hence prefer drugs to sauerkraut with beer, and a good fight to lazily drunken roasting in the sun. All of this according to our Indian Goa travel book, which marveled about the story of a bunch of Israelis being kidnapped in Afghanistan, who then proceeded to close combat their kidnappers to death.

So we drove further south to Agonda, after we made a quick stop in Colva, which seemed packed with lobster red vodka infused Russians walking around town half naked. Agonda in contrast is a very laid back little strip of lovely beach, so we stayed there and actually went for a real swim the next day. Of course we had to also check out Palolem further south, which was predictably overcrowded, but the Oceanic Hotel, outside of Palolem, was one of the nicest little places we’ve been to in India so far.

The next day, it was back to Mumbai. We decided to take the NH4A from Goa to Belgaum in Karnataka, where we’d get onto the Bangalore – Mumbai express highway. Unfortunately, a large part of the 150km to Belgaum was on the most horrific stretch of road ever. There were literally thousands of trucks loaded with red dust from the Goan ore mines, and the road itself was totally destroyed; it basically didn’t exist anymore. The dust from the trucks and the road was so thick that we felt like we were in the middle of a heavy red London fog, so we chugged along in first or second gear for many many miles.

But eventually reached the express highway, the pride of Indian civil engineering connecting Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, and Delhi, and from there it was a nice ride at 120km/hour all the way to Mumbai – then and again interrupted by trucks and cows going the wrong way on the fast lane, while we were passing some rickshaw or cows going the right direction on the slow lane. Quite obviously, after spending probably billions of dollars on the highway, there wasn’t enough money or thought left to also build underpasses or overpasses at the exit points, so instead the cows and the rickshaws and the trucks just cut over to the other lanes and go the last bit against the traffic. We had seen people parking their cars on the highway, preferably on a bridge or in a sharp curve and where the highway has no shoulder, just to say a prayer or to take some pictures, but these cows and rickshaws going the wrong way were a bit like the icing on the cake.

Anyways, we got home eventually, where we noticed that our building had yet another watchman (they kind of change like people change their underwear), who immediately rang our door and asked for money. We also noticed some bite marks on our couch that strongly suggested mice, and sure enough, we saw a mouse running around in our apartment, plus a dead one caught in the grill of our A/C. Well, maybe they eat the mosquitos, of which we have more than we can kill. On the plus side, it’s 35 degrees Celsius in Mumbai every day these days, and we don’t even really feel it anymore – we’ll be freezing during New York City summers when we come back.


Last weekend, we drove up to Bordi, a small Parsi town with a lovely beach 150km or so north of Mumbai. Well, let’s be clear, the beach is lovely, in that it’s 17km long, when the tide is low, it’s 1km to the water, and there’s hardly anybody there. Other than that, the water is sewage brown, there’s plenty of plastic garbage, and plenty of people going for a shit onto the beach.

First we thought we should go to a place further inland that advertised itself as a Nature Retreat. We got there after passing a number of dusty and already pretty dried up villages – monsoon ended only two months ago, but around here, there’s not much green left. The place itself looked green enough, but we knew we were in for some trouble when we saw three large tourist air-conditioned busses on the parking lot. As soon as we opened the doors of our trusted Ambassador, we heard loud screams of fun and teenage laughter from what turned out to be the dining hall. Since that’s not exactly our idea of refuge from Mumbai, we made a quick round to take a look at the premises and left for Bordi.

Bordi also had its fair share of hysterical fun and laughter, but it came from the town’s cricket field, which was far enough from our little Parsi hotel that not even the over-amplified loudspeakers announcing this and that and the other could reach us. Our host seemed a very laid back chap and didn’t even get his pants in a knot when we told him that we’ll first take a look at the other hotels in town before we decide to stay at his. Of course, he did try to convince us that the other hotel in town was entirely booked, which didn’t seem likely, since his was entirely empty, and as expected turned out to be BS.

But we stayed at his hotel, the Gool Khush Resort, because it seemed nicer than the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) hotel nearby, whose manager had a bit of a smell of a bureaucrat, whereas the Gool Khush seemed very hospitable. Of course, hospitality necessarily means that the host gets to ask all kinds of nosy questions, orders us around (“Sit! Lock the car! You should not smoke! You don’t eat enough! Go for a swim! Come back in half an hour!”), and generally becomes a bit of a pain in the ass pretty quickly.

But we are good guests, so we locked the car, we even shut down the car engine before that, just as he told us, then we went for a half hour walk to the beach and came back to meet him, so we could drive him to a nearby village, where he would introduce us to a guide, who would sheppard us up some mountain to a debilitated Parsi cave the next day. It seemed a matter of life and death that we get a guide, and a good one at that, someone who speaks English to explain everything to us. In addition, we were also told not to trust anyone, so we should bring some chalk with us to mark our way up the mountain, so that we wouldn’t get lost on the way back. Fair enough, an English speaking guide might be good, and we’ll see about that chalk.

Anyways, after being told to drive slowly, shut down the engine, and lock the car, we met our guide. Needless to say, he was drunk and didn’t speak a word of English, and the second one seemed sober and didn’t speak a word of English. But the village was interesting, with lots of women coming down from the mountains, balancing tons of wood on their heads as they walked very quickly and barefoot. As usual, hardly any men could be seen working. It still seems one of the mysteries of rural India that the guys don’t seem to be doing much other than getting drunk, while the women seem to be working 24/7. Of course, it would also be entirely inappropriate for a man to offer a seat to a woman in the bus, so they are usually the ones standing, no matter how old.

The next morning, we were told to eat glucose against the terrible exhaustion and the paining that we will feel after walking up the mountain, but to stay away from water. A little bit of mango juice we were allowed though. Our host strongly advised not to go to work the next day, because we’d be paining just too much, and in any event we’d be much too tired to drive home to Mumbai after that walk. Oh, and we should lock our car before we start walking.

What he didn’t mention was that at 6am, the railway crossing to the village would be permanently closed and that we’d have to honk the horn to wake up the attendant. Luckily, he of course called us on our mobile a few minutes after we left to let us know that we have to call him when we find the guide. Not that Ksenia hadn’t already figured out by then that honking the horn should get us across the railroads, but it was a gentle reminder that we aren’t alone in the wilderness.

The walk up the mountain to the Parsi caves was nice and as expected not exactly like climbing up the Mount Everest. Our guide was for some reason racing like it’s a competition, so we made it up there in less than two hours, and one would have to be fairly short mental capacity to get lost, because there was a trail and not many other choices to go, other than up the mountain, following the trail. The caves themselves were pretty sad and appropriately littered with plastic garbage, but the views were not bad and the air was sort of clean. Despite originally being the location were the first Parsis fleeing from Persia were in hiding and kept their holy fire for twelve years, there was also a little Hindu shrine nearby and two orange Hindu flags. Our pre-selected guide didn’t speak a word, but went for a prayer, then disappeared somehow, and then came back.

Back in the hotel, we witnessed a modern day grown up woman and what might have been a brother splashing around in the swimming pool, she in bikini, paddling around with her glasses on, he in Speedos silently ruddering the short distance of the pool back and forth. It was a bit strange, but maybe not as strange as the extended family lunch that followed, in complete silence.

Back on the so-called highway to Mumbai, some other modern day guy in a baseball cap and expensive car tried to cut us off by an inch or two, like driving is a videogame, and when I showed him the finger, he proceeded to play some child’s game with us whereby he’d pull up next to me, forcing me to step on the brakes as I was approaching the next truck or rickshaw crawling about at pedestrian speed on the highway.

Meanwhile, I still haven’t gotten rid of a pretty constant cough and running nose that I’ve been basically having since November, a month after the monsoon ended. Sometimes a nice headache and a slight fever gets added, so I have decided that maybe Mumbai really is a health hazard. Turns out, by Indian standards, RSPM (Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter) concentration of 100 µg/m3 is considered acceptable, but it’s more like 350 µg/m3 on average during the winter, which is well above what’s called the hazardous danger mark of 300 µg/m3.

Ah well, tomorrow until Sunday we are going to Rajasthan. Maybe desert dust is better than Mumbai. Ksenia will be looking for fabrics, while I am tempted to look for a gas mask.


Last weekend we drove to Matheran, probably one of the most popular and nicest places in Mumbai’s vicinity. Matheran is a hill-station, 2600ft above sea level, and is apparently the only village or town in India where vehicles are not allowed, so it has lovely air and a calm atmosphere, despite being quite touristy. It is only 110km east of Mumbai, but of course that still means a 3 hour drive. Add another hour, if you can’t read Hindi like us. We were kind of hoping to see signs for Matheran or Chauk or any of the other places shown on our fairly useless map, but no such luck, at least not in English. I had noticed on the way to Kashid that there were big signs for Goa for a while and then, all of a sudden, none of that, and we missed the road to Goa. So I was extra careful this time, but we ended up doing a little detour, reversing directions and passing through the same highway toll booth three times, until we finally understood the toll booth guy’s directions. We were meant to actually make a u-turn right at the toll booth, to get onto that little pothole infested dirt track, which then brought us to the road to Chauk. The toll booth guys only made us pay once, but they probably had a good laugh about those stupid Westerners. Try that on the NJ Turnpike, and you probably get shot at.

Anyways, so eventually we found Neral, which is the valley town where we could have taken a little toy train, which takes two and a half hours to climb up to Matheran, if that train weren’t currently out of service, due to the heavy rains this year. So we drove up the hill to where the road stops at a big chaotic parking lot. The road up there was quite something – hundreds of feet straight down on one side, canyons of water drains ripped and carved into the semi-destroyed road on the other side. The road was basically made of clay and had a nice 20% or so climb. One really had to wonder when this road will go down the valley in a landslide, but after half an hour driving in first gear we arrived and left the car on the parking lot.

From there we took horses, which is the main means of transportation in Matheran. Of course, there were two horsemen enthusiastically fighting for our business and before I knew it they literally pulled me in two different directions. We are not exactly practiced horse riders, so the fact that our horses were a bit on the small side was quite welcome. Half an hour later our horses dropped us off at the hotel that we had made reservations for. The place was recommended to me, and it looked like an odd mix of Sovjet exteriors and British-Indian colonial – well, at least the dining hall did, the bungalow-type hotel rooms looked just Soviet and didn’t have any windows to speak of. But they bathrooms were ok, and we picked the one that smelled a little less strong of whatever hotels in India smell like, probably some sort of anti-mold chemicals or maybe it’s anti-cockroach spray or whatever. There also was a strangely shaped and unused swimming pool, a cricket field that had not seen a batsman in 50 years, and something that was threateningly advertised as a discotheque, but which luckily also just turned out to be a threat.

The food was fantastic though. All vegetarian (and of course no alcohol), but very very yummy. The dining hall had a huge mirror with a kitchy etching of some wild horses, but one could well imagine a bunch of stiff British officers walking around in jackboots smoking cigars, so we didn’t even really mind that there was zero relationship between the price they had quoted on the phone, the prices on their price list, and the price we actually ended up paying.

The rest of the weekend we pretty much spent on horses and feet, going from one valley view point to another. People were annoyingly eager to try to nail us down on certain times of the day (or the next day) when they would be waiting for us with their horses, and wherever we went we or our horseman got asked where we were from and which hotel we were staying, but other than that, it was all good. One of our horsemen liked to watch WWF on television, the other one told us that his horse was the fastest horse in town, and of course the blatant staring and hello, how are you never ended.

We took one of the bigger horses once, but that was a bit scary, since it’s not like we actually have any clue about how to ride a horse. We also firmly decided that we don’t like monkeys. There were quite a few monkeys running around, and they are well trained to get their food by scaring tourists off their bags. Just a few minutes after we had seen one of the monkeys grab a plastic bag out of some tourist’s hands, I was sitting down with my bag next to me, lighting a cigarette, and before I knew it some monkey had snatched my bag and ran away with it. I guess I should not have left my bag alone, especially not if it contains a few slices of sweet bread from a Bandra bakery. So that monkey grabs the bag and as I try to go after him, the bastard just retreats right to the very edge of the cliff, a couple of hundred feet of air behind him. And then he hisses at me like a bloody monkey who just stole my bag, which by the way contained my passport, foreign registration card and another camera lens.

But of course that monkey is too stupid to actually open the bag and get the bread. Just like they are smart enough to get scared when you simply pick up a stone and raise your hand, but they are too stupid to throw stones themselves, thank god. So eventually he gets bored with the bag, leaves it right at the edge of the cliff, where there’s already a nice slope, and buggers off. Alright. Needless to say, we have an audience now and one guy deplores me not to go get the bag, because, you know, it is very dangerous and it goes down a couple of hundred feet. Well, yes, we are in India, and thankfully, it’s not like they turned that view point into a plot of concrete with benches and garbage cans on top and nice railings and warning signs around it, like they would in the US. And if anyone fell down that cliff into the valley, good luck with trying to sue the town of Matheran, telling them they didn’t know that falling down the cliff could hurt.

Anyways, so Ksenia was no longer in the mood to use her video camera or to take pictures, but just asked me nicely not to kill myself, as I got onto my knees, crawled towards my bag (go slow! someone yelled), and rescued my US passport and, more importantly maybe, my official Foreign Residents Registration Office book, the one printed on toilet paper, stamped many times by Indian government officials, the one and only document that sometimes allows me to pay local rates for museum entrance fees instead of the foreigner rates, which are usually ten or twenty times as high.

So apart from the nice views and the clean air, that life and death experience was another highlight. Well, plus the fact that it started to rain heavily just as we were about to head back home on Sunday afternoon. Not only didn’t we have umbrellas and weren’t in the mood to ride back to the parking lot in the rain, we also weren’t particularly happy about the idea of trying to drive down that little nasty clay road in heavy rain, because that seemed like just asking for trouble. But then it stopped raining, so we rode back to the parking lot, and of course by the time we got there, it was dark and now it was raining again. Ah well. So we had no choice but to slowly slowly feel our way back down that road, 1st gear all the way, and then back home from there, this time without any detours. All in all, not bad, and we’ll come visit Matheran again some time.

In other news, Ksenia is getting a tooth pulled tomorrow. The Indian tooth fairy hasn’t been so kind to her so far. Also, one of her first exectutive decisions when she got back was to fire our maid. And when I asked her today what’s new in the world, she said well, apparently, policemen in Mumbai are raping women left and right… Ok, so maybe some more on those things another time.


Last weekend, a Scottish expat, her French roommate and I drove down to Kashid, a very small village on what’s said the be one of the nicest beaches in India outside of Goa. It’s about 160km (100 miles) south of Mumbai, which, given the state of the roads means a 4 hour plus drive. They both speak and read a bit of Hindi, so we took the wrong turn only once, since they can actually read the road signs, and understand left and right, whereas I, embarrassingly enough, still can only remember straight.

Apart from the at times disastrous roads, it was a pretty nice drive. We drove down the Mumbai-Goa express highway, which is a little road with one lane in each direction without a median. Of course, that meant that we had to practically stop on the side of the road once or twice, because some maniac bus driver coming the opposite direction took up our entire lane as he was passing some car or truck. But the views from that road are nice, it was very green and mostly fun.

On the way there we passed through Alibaug, a small crowded town by the coast, and then later some monstrous industrial estate that looked like they were mining red stone. Kashid has absolutely nothing other than a green background and a long beach. There were a couple of options to stay over night, and we settled for a small place that had very simple rooms for Rs650 each. Probably overpriced for what it was (and I should have brought my own towels and bedsheets), but ah well.

I also tried to check out the fanciest place in town, but before I could even ask any questions there, I got stopped at the gate, they wrote down my license plate number, and then I was told that they are booked and, no, I cannot get in to check out the place. It later turned out that that was A Good Thing, because we could hear some horrific disco music all the way from the fancy place to our little spot.

As probably was to be expected, but it never fails to amaze me, even this quietest of quiet places, in the middle of nowhere, near a long sandbeach, was not all that quiet. Apart from the disco music coming over from the fancy place, there were a bunch of guys in the hotel who insisted on playing their car stereo, making a lot of noise fooling around, and laughing like little children – at seven fucking AM the next morning.

A similar bunch of boys was hanging around at the beach. The Tata truck parked by the beach, all doors open and car stereo on full throttle. For some reason, they decided it would be cool to play every shitty song on the 80s US charts for five seconds and then play the next one. Of course, they also came over and asked whether they can take a picture of us with them. Not sure why, but this happens very often. I was in a good mood, so I said, sure, why not, but regretted it immediately. When this happens with Ksenia, she always says no, before they can even finish the question.

Anyways, so of course they were taking the picture of themselves with the girls and then they buggered off. Unfortunately, I am now considering not taking any pictures of kids either, because, while it’s cute when little kids want their picture taken (and they always go completely crazy with laughter when they see themselves on the LCD monitor), it is very bloody annoying when teenage and older boys do it.

The beach is pretty long and sandy, but not exactly clean, and the water isn’t exactly blue or otherwise inviting. So we didn’t go for a swim, but that was ok. At least the air was nice and despite the boys, it was quieter than Mumbai. We took a different and very nice route back, and stopped at some place for dinner. It took them a lot of official maneuvering to set up our table and to give us the menu and to take the orders, only to then tell us that they don’t actually have a single thing from the menu, but only some sandwiches or something. So we went somewhere else, and that was great.

In other news, my phone was ringing with the same unknown number that had been trying to call me for days now. I usually don’t take these calls, because it inevitably turns out to be my bank, which for the tenth time is trying to sell me some investments on my mobile phone. Sometimes it is the local liquor store that has delivered beer a few times now, trying to sell me some wine that they apparently just got in. Anyways, so it was Airtel, my mobile phone service provider, and the woman is telling me that I am way over my credit limit with them. I think last time Airtel had called me, the woman only spoke Hindi and was in complete disbelief that I only spoke English.

Anyways, so the conversation went something like this Hello, Sir, you are over your credit limit.I have a credit limit? What’s my credit limit?Excuse me?I didn’t know I had a credit limit. How much is my credit limit?Sir, you are over your credit limit [this goes on in a loop three more times] Your credit limit is 5000 rupees, Sir.Ok, so what’s the problem, my last bill was 8000 rupees, and I paid that, no problem. [Yes, I am spending a fortune on international calls from my mobile these days, but two hundred something dollars is still bearable] – You are over your credit limit, SirOk, so what do you want me to do?Sir, can you pay the bill now?Well, send me the bill and I will pay it. And please stop calling me while I am at work.I am very sorry, Sir, but can you pay the bill now?Well, I don’t have a bill. You need to send me the bill, then I will pay it.But can you pay the bill now, Sir?Well, no, I can’t pay any bills when I don’t have the bill, right?Ok, thank you, Sir. Have a nice day.

So, I don’t really know what to make of that. I guess I will be waiting for the bill now. Meanwhile, I still have the original of my rental lease, which I had needed to buy my car, over a month ago. Now, the relocation company that took care of the legal stuff has been wanting that lease back ever since. Since apparently noone here would ever even think about using the postal service, they keep calling me in the afternoon, asking whether they can pick it up from my apartment, either now or tomorrow. And for many weeks now, I have been telling them, you have to come in the morning, when my maid is at home, or I can bring it with me to work, and you can pick it up there. And for many weeks now, they never actually come by to pick it up, but just keep calling me (sometimes twice a day, two different people from the same company), asking the same question again. Maybe they are hoping that they might catch me on a sick day, but basically, the concept that someone, anyone (maid, mother, wife) might not be at home, is completely foreign to them, it is kind of bizarre, and apparently just showing up at a certain place at a certain time is impossible.

Anyways, I think I need a vacation. Luckily, Ksenia is coming back next week and we are off to Thailand in two and a half weeks!