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South India
Aurangabad (India) to Colombo (Sri Lanka), January 2011

On the third of January it seems safe to get back on the road again. We have spent the holidays in Aurangabad, because this is a time of the year that also a lot of Indians are going on an outing, which makes it difficult to find reasonably priced accommodation in the touristic areas of the country. From Aurangabad, we travel by bus to Pune in the vicinity of the Indian Metropolis Mumbai (formerly Bombay). We deliberately skip Mumbai because it’s a very busy and incredible unhealthy city. The air quality is shocking. They say that staying a day in Mumbai is equivalent to smoking 22 cigarettes. As we have two other Indian Metropolises (Bangalore and Chennai) on our agenda, we prefer to pass Mumbai over.

We stay two nights in uninspiring Pune, after which we take a 10 hour long bus ride to Goa. Goa is the smallest province of India, but probably also the most famous one. Although Goa is passed its heydays, the province is still popular with beer drinking English tourists and the new rich from Russia. We have had some doubts about visiting Goa, as we aren’t really beach persons and because we don’t like the image of Goa. Indian newspapers often report about the high number of criminal offences in the province. Unfortunately, rape or murder of foreign tourists isn’t unheard of. Panaji is the capital of Goa, and this is the first place that we visit. The first impression is fine. Contrarily to most Indian cities, this is a beautiful city. Many Portuguese colonial buildings have survived and the people are friendly. Old Goa (the former capital of province) lies in the vicinity of Panaji, and several spectacular churches survived over the centuries to illustrate the splendour of these times. Panaji is also the place where we arranged our visit to Backwoods Camp, our next destination in Goa.

The beach of Palolem in Southern Goa
Backwoods Camp is a simple resort bordering one of the National Parks of Goa. Goa is a surprisingly green province if you compare it to other Indian provinces. This certainly helps to sustain a large number of birds, including some endemic ones. (See also our article about Backwoods Camp) Our visit to Backwoods Camp is a great success. The absolute highlight was to see the Ceylon Frogmouths, a bird species that we didn’t see before. After visiting Backwoods, we decide to go for a few days to the beach even though we don’t really like to have sand between our toes. We choose Palolem Beach, a quiet place in the southern part of Goa. The northern beaches are normally overrun by a party loving crowd that helped create a lively nightlife. Furthermore, there are luxurious resorts cater for large tour groups. We prefer Palolem Beach, which is quiet but not deserted and only three hours by bus from Panaji. It appears to be a beautiful spot. The beach is picture perfect; soft white sand and waving palms giving it a tropical green background. You won’t have the beach for yourself, as the entire length of the beach is lined with bamboo hut hotels and restaurants. The development, however, is done in an atmospheric way. There aren’t any fancy resorts yet, so most tourists that you meet are individual travellers.

In the end, we stay six days in Palolem. We are doing not much more than enjoying a nice breakfast, lunch and dinner on the beautiful beach, with a cold beer in hand. When it is time to leave Palolem, we feel sorry to leave Goa so soon. Even though we didn’t really look forward to a visit to Goa, we really enjoyed it. Our next destination is Hampi in Karnataka province. Hampi is one of the most famous archaeological sights in India; an absolute “must see” according to most people who visited it. We take an early morning bus from Palolem to Margao, where we transfer to a bus to Hubli. At three pm we reach Hubli and we decide to travel for four more hours to reach Hampi just after dark. We take a small, simple room of approximately 6 Euro and spend three days in Hampi and its surroundings. It’s a nice place, but you won’t hear us raving about it. You can visit some ancient temples that are still in good shape and the landscape is dominated by huge rocky outcrops. The atmosphere isn’t really nice anymore, as the temples are more of a tourist attraction for the Indians as a place of worship. India has nicer temples that still have an authentic vibe.

One of the old temples in Hampi

From Hospet, near Hampi, we take the local bus to Bangalore. The city doesn’t have real attractions but it is the city that is most associated with the Indian IT sector. Many people in the city earn their money in the Information Technology, which has led to a large middle class. We stay in the area of Mahatma Gandhi Road, the area of the city where the newly found fortune is best seen. The Indian youth that is working for one of the many IT companies in the city is walking in western style clothes, dines in luxurious restaurants and sips coffee in the expensive Starbucks style coffee joints. A newly build glitzy mall has shops of Louis Vuitton and Montblanc and other expensive watch brands who are all praying like raptors to snatch part of the newly found wealth.

After Bangalore, our third visit to India is almost coming to an end. We take a bus to Chennai, where we transfer to a bus to Mammalapuram. Mammalapuram is, like Hampi, a archaeological tourist destination because it has some well preserved ancient temples. Perhaps it is because we have seen lots of temples last months, but also the temples of Mammalapuram fail to impress. Nevertheless, Mammalapuram is a pleasant village and a good alternative for staying in smoggy Chennai. After a few days it is time to go to Chennai Airport (see also: The safety of Chennai's airport: easy to get around?) where our plane to Sri Lanka leaves on the 30th of January. The first impression of Sri Lanka is very positive. We are in Colombo at the moment, and the city is much cleaner and nicer than most Indian cities. The country also seems richer than India. Whether this first impression is correct, is something that we will find out in the coming six weeks.


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