I neglected to mention last time that I became rather fragile whilst in Mysore. It was something I ate on that Holi day in Bangalore. Lots of bananas and Imodium carried me through Mysore, as well as the knowledge that I always had a nice, Western toilet nearby at my guesthouse.
This reassurance vanished when I reached Gokarna, a small collection of beaches in between Goa and Kerala on the West coast. As usual, my method of washing was a bucket and jug job – I haven’t had a ‘shower’ since Mumbai – but, aside from once on a train, I hadn’t had to face down one of the demons of this trip. The squatter toilet.
My respect for women has risen to immeasurable levels after this realisation that female toilets in much of Asia will be limited to these holes in the floor. Sure, I’ve used them to pee numerous times – but I could stand. And at most places to stay, I usually had my backup, my safety net.
Not this time. This is the price you pay when your bed is Rs100 – less than £1.50 – a night, and on the beach. A quiet, beautiful beach. Eerily quiet at times, as this one, called Om Beach as it is in the shape of that symbol, was apparently the hub of backpacker and social activity. All I found were crazy Indians jumping into the strong waves, and hippies.
So many hippies. The infamous drum sellers should come here for a quick rupee. It’s a crowd that, with my background as a politics graduate, I struggle to assimilate into smoothly. Luckily I met an English guy on the horrific thirteen-hour bus up to Gokarna from Mysore, so I hung out with him and his friends. All of them are on a gap year before starting university. What a place to spend it in. I could not have travelled India at 18, simple as that.
I was due to meet these four guys, and an English girl called Rachel who they also collected, for dinner on the first night. One problem needed to be negotiated. I mentioned earlier that Gokarna is made up of an assortment of beaches. Each beach is roughly two kilometres apart, separated by imperious, jagged, dangerous cliff face. The others had told me that there was a trail connecting Om Beach to the town, where they were staying. It was the path that they had taken to find me on Om, and they stated proudly that it took between thirty and forty-five minutes.
With this knowledge I tried to locate this trail at 6pm, an hour before sunset, to use the internet before meeting folks at 8. It is fair to say that I completely missed it. I’m sure – and it was later verified for me after I had dragged my exhausted body into town – that the trail does not involve climbing those same cliffs aforementioned. I know I have a tendency to exaggerate at time for dramatic effect, but I was becoming increasingly scared as darkness covered the cliffs in a thick, black blanket. I guess you could say that it was lucky I had used the squatter earlier in the day.
Clambering over razor-sharp edges with broken flip-flops in the dark, with only the glow of my iPod dimly lighting the way, is not a fun experience. I got to the stage where I was considering finding cover amongst the rock to sleep. To survive. I was hungry – a spinach and mushroom burger (we had to know what it looked like, let alone for the taste) only takes you so far over the crevasse. Yet I eventually, somehow, dragged myself onto Kudle Beach, and then gave up to take a rickshaw – the easy, sensible way to commute between beaches – to town, where I greeted the others half an hour late. I was greeted with concern. Then laughter at my idiocy.
I also failed to locate the trail when I went to hang out with Rachel the next morning: instead, I ended up walking along the blazing road in those broken flip-flops for ninety minutes. Still, a personal best by almost an hour. Whilst planning our travels, an older man with slicked-back greyish hair, a wispy beard and googly eyes asked us if we wanted any tips. We said yes.
Two and a half hours later, with Rachel wearily resting her head on her palm and me slumped in my chair, our man was ranting on about spirituality being practicality, the need to find our various forms of yogi, and demanding that we find clarity. He was, bluntly, a mentalist.
Not that yogi! I have to stress that he was a fascinating gentleman. A man with such power in those googly eyes that you feel a sense of intimidation and also inner strength. I listened to him intently. The problem is, when someone talks at you for such a long period of time, your memory becomes rather selective. What stuck with me were not the numerous philosophical ideas I often agreed with, but the few statements that I took issue with, or was stunned into shock by. Here are three examples:
1) He told me that I had come here to give and receive, and that I should be selfish and not do as others want me to. Fair point, except that he stated I had not come here for the cricket, and that I should not watch cricket anymore as ‘It is not India’ and I am merely ‘following the masses’. Wrong on all counts, brother.
2) He told me that, when I return home, I should kneel down and touch the feet of my parents, to show that I love and cherish them. No. Firstly, my Dad would probably kick me if I attempted this. But seriously, my parents love me and would move heaven and earth for me, and it is a mutual feeling. It is why I’m considering shortening this trip to return so I can help them move house. I don’t need a futile gesture or gift to prove to someone that I love them.
3) He referred to Kristina constantly as ‘my wife’. Why? It is because I ‘seem like a man who will not rent a girl, but buy one and keep one forever’. I took great pleasure in telling her this, choking back the laughter all the while. Who knows about the future, but the M word is not something that crosses my mind at this young stage of my life!
A passionate, intelligent and genteel man, I like him. I respected him, and he often was gushing in his praise for us throughout his lecture. Yet, in spite of his wishes, I didn’t stay away from ‘harmful substances’ later that day, and did not stay in Gokarna longer than that night. It’s strange writing such a long blog about a place where I seemingly accomplished so little. But I met good people, was victorious over my toilet concerns, and was able to relax. I even saw a cow eat someone’s book. But this place will be, for me, forever associated with two C’s – the cliffs and the crazy.
Love you all