We arrived in Bangalore in time to meet our friend Louise, who had just flown in from Ireland for her first ever trip to India. She’d been given a bit of a taste of South Asia when she joined us for two weeks in Sri Lanka exactly two years ago (see here). We’d put together an 11 day itinerary that would hopefully give her a good taste of south India, with a combination of city, sea, wildlife and temples, and a mix of places that were mainly popular with Indian tourists and places that were firmly on the westerner tourist trail.
After given her a chance to freshen up and experience some of the chaotic traffic in the centre of Bangalore we introduced her to a quintessential part of Indian travel – an overnight train to Hampi in Karnataka. Bangalore station didn’t fail to live up to our stories of Indian train stations, with crazily crowded platforms, a very delayed train (we only left after 2am), and a smattering of nervous looking westerners.
We arrived at Hampi early in the morning and after checking into our little hostel, we sorted out an auto rickshaw (tuk-tuk) driver for the day and headed out to explored this famous temple area. Hampi is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and was the imperial capital of the 14th century Vijayanagar empire. The many ruins are spread out over 26km2 of stunning scenery consisting of hills covered in massive granite boulders – very similar to the famous Matopos Hills in Zimbabwe. The ruins are in varying states of repair, with the more important temples in very good condition. We only had a day in Hampi so we concentrated on the main sites, but you could easily spend two or three days exploring the area. It is really popular with Indian tourists, with a few westerners heading there from Goa. It’s well worth the effort to get here, and it was a great introduction to India’s historical sites for Louise.
Our next stop (via a day train) was Goa, Indias’s premier seaside area. It’s probably the most touristy part of India, especially over New Year, and we struggled to find places that accepted bookings for less than a week. We decided to head back to the Palolem / Patnem area where I’d visited two years ago (see here), as it is one of the more relaxed areas in Goa, with no large resorts. Patnem in particular is very chilled, and was the perfect spot to spend New Year’s. The area was busier than my previous visit, but this is largely because the whole area is built up in time for the busy December season, only to be dismantled again once the busy season is over. We stayed at a lovely place called Secret Garden Resort (http://www.secretgardenpatnem.com) halfway between Palolem and Patnem. We were lucky to have the owner cook a delicious traditional Kashmiri meal for us one evening.
We were quite surprised to find some really good beach restaurants (April 20 in Patnem and Dropadi in Palolem were our favourites), and prices for food and booze in general were surprisingly reasonable. We spent New Year’s on the beach watching the many fireworks, before heading off on 1 January to our next destination. All-in-all a great place to spend the last few days of 2016!
Next stop: the Western Ghats near Coorg!