My South Goa Road Trip

My annual holiday to Goa, India, was going swimmingly. I’d left the freezing cold of the British winter and was enjoying the heat on the beach under swaying palms. After I’d spent some time catching up with old friends and attending the Holi celebrations on the beach, I decided to take a road trip South along the coast to Palolem.

My base was, as ever, in Varca, a small fishing village about 40km South of Goa’s capital, Panjim. Palolem is situated in the district of Canacona, around 30km from Varca. The drive in itself only takes just over an hour, but I decided to take the scenic coastal path, stopping off to take photos and vlog along the way. As well, I was on my scooter which had a decidedly dodgy front tyre, and besides, I had no plans to hurry, only amble.

From Varca to Palolem. I actually detoured to Cavelossim.

I drove slowly through sleepy hamlets to have breakfast in Cavelossim, a touristy village around 7km south of Varca. Cavelossim was just waking up but I could see that it would become quite busy with it’s many boutique style shops, restaurants and mid to high end hotels. I chose to eat in my favourtite places of all ( when trying to save money) and these are the local cafes where you can fill up on chai, baji and patties for under 100 rupees ( that’s around £1 GB).

Cavelossim

I decided to take a drive down to the end of the peninsular along the estuary to Betul Beach. I didn’t end up seeing the beach because, as you can see from the map, the road ran alongside the river and I just stuck to the route. It was very pretty though and I enjoyed the drive. I saw huge eagles, enormous tropical butterflies, small houses shaded by sky-scraping palms and boats floating lazily on the impossibly beautiful water.

Cavelossim estuary

I doubled back on myself and drove back through Cavelossim and out onto the highway. My original plan was to stop off at Cabo De Rama Fort for the spectacular views across the Arabian sea. On my way there, I noticed the scooter was starting to slide over potholes and so decided to stop at the next garage I could find, and luckily I didn’t have to drive for too much further before I found one. For 20 rupees, the mechanic pumped the front tyre but told me that I this was just a temporary fix and that the tyre needed replacing at some point, but I was at least glad that I would make it to Palolem without any further problems.

I was driving along a particulary long and barren section of road with very little water left in my bottle and getting hotter by the second, when right there in the middle of nowwhere was a little tea stop. How glad I was to see that! One very cold lime soda and a lovely chat with the owner later, I was on the road again, on route to the fort.

On the way to the cliff edge I took a left turning instead of a right and found myself at the cliff top entrance to the exclusive resort The Cape. The views of the sea and beaches below were nothing short of majestic! I stayed for some time, vlogging and taking photos and just marvelling at the incredible views!

Views from The Cape resort, Goa
So, okay…I mucked around with photoshop 🙂

I eventually arrived at the entrance to Cabo De Rama Fort but soon realised that my visit there wasn’t to be on that day. I took a peek, carrying my rucksack with me and immediately decided against it. My bag was heavy and I didn’t want to leave it unattended with the scooter and I was way too hot and sweaty to hike anywhere! It was fine though really. I was more than satisfied with the views I had already taken in from The Cape.

So, onwards with my journey. I was so damn hot and my bum was completely numb and all I could think about was jumping in the sea when I reached Palolem. Still, I appreciated my journey. I love to drive the scooter through the roads and back lanes of beautiful Goa.

Passing by sleepy rivers on route through South Goa.

Around three hours after leaving Varca, I finally arrived in Palolem. Ahhh, bliss! Now to find the accommodation……

Palolem Beach Goa.
Monkey Island is situated at the far Northern end of Palolem beach.

The Three Singing Ladies!

It was during a layover at Bangulu airport, Bangalore, India, that I encountered the three singing ladies.

It was still early in the morning, around breakfast time, and the airport was quiet. I was sat in Cafe Coffee Day and because I had hours before I had to check in for my connecting flight to Dubai, I still had my main rucksack with me. I was desperate for the loo and didn’t want to take all my belongings with me so I asked the ever so attentive and helpful staff at the cafe if they could please just keep an eye on everything for me. They were only too happy to help so I picked up the important things – money, laptop, phone and battery pack – and dashed to the bathroom with the intention of being back to my bags within five minutes maximum.

My little space for the day.

Sat on the loo, I heard lots of chatter and girly giggling coming from somewhere near the wash stands.  ‘They’re having fun’ I thought to myself. Their laughter was infectious and I started to quietly chuckle to myself too. They sounded so sweet and happy!

Then the singing started. Of course, the song was from a Bollywood film. Where else? 

Whilst I sat there listening to this excited chorus from the laughing and singling ladies, I thought about how I had never before experienced this in England whilst visiting the public loo’s! 

When I went to wash my hands, I noticed the girls straight away. It was hard not too. There, at the end of the washstand area were three Jet Airways staff members, dancing away in true Bollywood style as they watched themselves in the mirror and fell about laughing at their own dance moves. They were so damn cute! With hip thrusts, wrist turns and lots of shimmies, the three ladies performed a perfect rendition of the dance sequence to one of the latest Bollywood numbers. I told them I thought they were gorgeous and had really made my morning and to this compliment, they all once again fell about, giggling wildly. I instantly adored them all.

I was conscious about getting back to my bags but after leaving the bathroom I knew I just had to get a photo of these sweet girls. Despite this, I also knew this wasn’t going to be a quick process. I rushed back inside and asked them if I could please take a photo of them, to which their response was a very excited invitation for me to come over and join them. As expected, a session of selfie taking ensued which also included the washroom janitor!

The three Singing Ladies and the washroom janitor. No, theyre not swearing. In the UK, putting two fingers up in this manner means Eff Off! In India, EVERYONE does this sign when having their photo taken and I can’t say I know where that originated from but it’s certainly not meant to be a rude gesture!

It’s moments like these which make me love this country more and more. 

Love Heidi x

Puppy Rescue in Goa

Last August, in Goa during the rainy season, whilst I was driving along one of the back roads in Benaulim and marvelling at the electric green foliage everywhere, I saw a puppy at the side of the road. He was all alone and he clearly had the signs of the onset of mange. He just stood there, so tiny and stared at me with huge, scared eyes. Even with the sickest of dogs you can see a glimmer of hope in them, be that in a wag of a tail at their joy to be spoken to or an effort on their part to trot over for the hopes of a pat on the head. But this pup? Nothing. I could see that his spirit was already broken. How sad to have lost hope at such a young age. My heart was broken along with his spirit. 

There are just so many dogs looking like this in their sad and desperate condition in India and I just feel like I want to rescue them all, which of course I can’t, although I used to, many years ago now, when I fostered pups my children and I used to pick up at the side of the road before handing them over to the Goa Animal Welfare Trust. GAWT, for short.

This little chap, however, really broke my heart. I made a mental note to remember the location and phone GAWT as soon as I could.

The following day, with the intention of contacting GAWT, I drove back to the same place in search of the pup but he was nowhere to be found. I saw a woman who runs a local beach shack during season time sat on her porchway with her child and I asked her if she’d seen him. She said she hadn’t. I described the pup and the kind of condition he was in and, to be honest, she seemed as though she didn’t care less about this poor baby’s predicament. I wasn’t surprised. I mean, there are really good souls around who do care but the large majority of folk are so accustomed to living side by side with dying street dogs and small, begging children, it’s no wonder that those in desperate need are so cruelly overlooked.

The fact that I was unable to find this pup made me feel so sad. I knew he must’ve been around the area somewhere but it was time for me to leave Goa and travel North on the train to stay in Aurovalley ashram near Rishikesh so, unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to search further for him. 

You can read about my 40- hour train journey here.

Fast forward to today ( February 2019) and I’m back in South Goa. On my scooter, I drove along the same route where I had seen the pup some six months previous. To my joy, he was still there! To my horror, sadness and despair, he was in the worst of worst conditions. He was slightly bigger, but not much so. I guess there’s only so much growing a baby can do when they’re starving beyond belief and so, so sick. The mange had got to him so severely that there was not a single bit of fur left on his poor, emaciated body. He was virtually a skeleton, barely possessing the strength enough to hold himself up. 

I knew I had to act quickly and without delay. Luckily, my location awarded a good 4G connection so I searched the GAWT website and phoned them immediately. I spoke to a lovely lady who asked me questions about the location of the dog and whether I would be able to donate some money to the charity. The donation would cover the van coming out all the way from Cacora, and the treatment of the pup which includes shelter, food, vaccinations and spaying. Of course I agreed!  She noted my phone number and assured me she’d be in touch later that afternoon to inform me when the rescuers would be coming out in the van and then they were to phone me when they’d reached the location and we could all meet up. 

I hung out in a local restaurant and used their wifi for some study of my Ayurvedic course and awaited the call from GAWT which came mid- afternoon. 

I jumped on my scooter and drove round to the planned location and immediately saw the GAWT van with three guys sitting in it waiting patiently for me. Following a brief chat about the situation, they followed me to where I thought the pup might be. I was slightly nervous at first that we wouldn’t find him and so on the way, I was mentally calling out to The Universe to let us help this poor baby. Wish granted! There he was. Curled up in a tiny ball in the large, sandy compound of someone’s property. 

The GAWT Van

The GAWT guys were brilliant. They each took large nets from the van and approached him from different sides with me calling him to me from my standpoint. Oh my God, that poor baby. He so wanted to come to me but he could barely move but thankfully his weakness made light work for the GAWT staff, who captured him in the nets in case he ran away ( which I don’t think he would have been capable of doing). 

Caught in the net for his own safety.

Oh, how he screamed! But all the while I was there to talk gently to him and tell him that he was safe now, that he was being helped, that he was loved and that his life was about to take a turn for the better. 

With the net covering him, a cage was bought from the van and little pup was cajoled into it and then this was carried and placed into the back of the GAWT van. 

Suffering from severe mange and just skin and bone.
Sweet baby!

Our pup had company! There was another cage with a mum and her pups inside and they all looked really plump and healthy. Evidently, some street rescues definitely look healthier than others. Perhaps this mum and her babies came from a household who no longer wanted the responsibility of a female dog once she’d given birth. Who knows? The really positive thing though is that that mumma and her babies will be treated for any fleas, ticks and lice and they will be vaccinated and spayed. 

Following our pup being placed in the van and the doors locked, I filled out and signed a form to document the case and donated 900 rupees, which is roughly £10 and an invoice was given. 

Backtrack ten minutes to the rescue…..

The owner of the compound where the pup was found, and her neighbours, came out to watch the rescue and mostly their reaction was laughter. Not laughter in a happy way that this poor, dying, starving, mange covered baby was being rescued. But laughter at the absurdity of it all. One woman asked how much I was giving and one of the GAWT staff said 900 rupees. She thought he had said 100 rupees and questioned him and when he repeated himself she laughed so damn hard. 

I get it. I do. I really do. 

What I don’t get, however, is how people, who’s whole way of lives are based on religion and the teachings of Jesus, can openly lack so much compassion for fellow sentient beings. 

How is it possible to attend church daily and listen to lessons of Jesus and recite prayers at every sundown and then watch a dog dying in your own garden and then laugh when someone tries to help? 

How is it possible to own a dog, to spend money on their food and buy them a collar to wear around their neck and at the same time, every single day, watch, right in front of your doorway, in your own garden, another dog starve to death? How? How does that work? Where is the love, the compassion, the mercy? 

Anyway, I videoed the rescue although I was unable to capture the beginning of it as I was busy calling pup to me and distracting him from the GAWT staff member who was approaching him from behind with the net. If you’d like to watch the video of the rescue, then please watch HERE. 

I’m writing this post late into the night now and I’m so, so happy that six months after first meeting that poor baby, he has finally been rescued and will now be on a new journey in his life. That journey is to recovery. I can sleep well tonight. He was on my mind for a long time. 

Off to a new home! Well done GAWT guys. You’re all amazing!

If you are an animal lover and have been touched by this post about the incredible charity, Goa Animal Welfare Trust ( GAWT) then why not pop over to their website and have a browse. Maybe you would consider donating any amount to this wonderful cause. No sweet angel should live in such pain. Thank you!

You can also read about how my children and I used to rescue dogs in Goa and how we came to know about GAWT in my post here.

Or watch the video of today’s rescue mission here.

Love Heidi xx

Goa Animal Welfare Trust GAWT

When I came to Goa with my children, around ten years ago now, we all fell hopelessly in love with all the stray dogs.  We felt desperately sad about their predicaments and our hearts would break to see their forlorn faces, their big, sad eyes staring back at us from mangey, flea-ridden faces. Alone and unloved, they would wander the streets and beaches, searching for scraps of food in piles of rubbish or standing outside the back of restaurants, waiting patiently for any kind person to throw them some food. Some fared better than others. Tourists in the beach shacks would often take pity on them and offer them food and a pat on the head. Others were left to die, starving and with their spirits broken, at the side of the road. It was simply heartbreaking and more than the children and I could bear.

This soul has a collar on so presumably he either belongs to someone currently, or he did use to. He’s fairly fat, so clearly not starving so I would think the former.

Every day, I stopped the scooter and we would all pile off to offer them biscuits and a cuddle. 

I used to take the children swimming at Williams hotel in Colva, South Goa. On one particular occasion, we stopped at the local shops there and to our delight, we saw a charity shop! I’m a massive lover of charity shops ( thrift stores in the US), so I was really excited to see what we could find.  We were overjoyed to discover that the charity in question was GAWT. The Goa Animal Welfare Trust. I’d never heard of them before and I knew there and then that I wanted to be involved in some small way. 

GAWT charity shop in Colva, South Goa. ( not my photo)

On subsequent visits to Goa, we started to become rescuers of dogs in need, carrying them back on our scooter and taking them home to feed them for a few days until we could take them to the GAWT shelter in Cacora, South Goa where, with the help from the incredible volunteers there, they would be looked after so beautifully and nursed back to health in the way of regular feeding, treatment for mange, vaccinations and being spayed. 

GAWT premisies. (not my photo)

Unfortunately, the GAWT premises just didn’t have the space to keep the dogs indefinitely and so following treatment they would be taken back to the place they were originally rescued from but not before a small V shape was clipped from their ear. This obviously would assist not only the staff with any future rescue missions, but also any tourists or kind hearted locals who wanted to report a sick dog, as it was a sign that they had been helped by GAWT in the past. 

GAWT also used to advertise their ‘puppy camps’. These days were when the healthy puppies, following full treatment, would be sold in various locations in South Goa. I thought it was a wonderful idea, if not slightly bittersweet. It had become very popular and fashionable for Goan’s to own a dog. Mostly, the dogs would be used to guard the property and would spend their days tied on a short chain, often with no water. I cannot tell you the number of people’s houses I used to walk up to in order to tell the owner that their dog absolutely must have access to a bowl of water at all times! But still, they were at least fed and no longer living on the streets. And, of course, they could no longer breed and were vaccinated. 

Fast forward ten years and GAWT is still going strong! Of course, there are still thousands of dogs in need with a massive number of them living in absolutely dire conditions on the streets. However, GAWT continues to do their fantastic work and this is evident from today’s situation when three staff members drove out to Benaulim in South Goa following a call from me regarding an extremely sick pup. He was so stick-thin he was virtually a skeleton and was suffering from mange so severely that he had absolutely no fur left on his body, the poor love. He must have been in so much pain! You can read about his story and how I came to notice him and his rescue HERE. You can also watch the video of the rescue here. He was in a real state but, thankfully, now that he’s in the good hands of GAWT, he will be loved and nursed back to health. 

A successful rescue mission for this baby yesterday.

If you are an animal lover and have been touched by this post about the incredible charity, Goa Animal Welfare Trust ( GAWT), or by the story of TODAY’S RESCUE, or anything you have read on their website, then please do consider donating any amount to this wonderful cause. No sweet angel should live in such pain. Thank you!

Love Heidi xx

Walking along to who knows where!

Twins!!

This is one of the twins in the above photo. They both live outside Varca church. I bought some biscuits and fed them the packet.

The Taj Mahal


“A massive marble structure, without weight, as if formed of ether, perfectly rational and at the same time entirely decorative, it is perhaps the greatest art work which the forming spirit of mankind has ever brought forth.”

Count Hermann Keyserling, German Philosopher

There is barely a year I can remember when I haven’t gazed wistfully and longingly at photographs of the greatest monument on earth; The Taj Mahal.

How was this great structure built? How can it look so beautiful? The sheer size of it! Will I ever see it? All questions I would ask myself as a teen, eager for travel and already feeling an innate and long buried deep connection to the Motherland, India.

With the advent of the internet and then YouTube, the floodgates of my curiosity opened further and I seeped myself in images and documentaries about the Taj Mahal. Then on one incredible day in March 2017, I invited someone very special to me – my beautiful Kashmiri friend, Shabir, to accompany me on some North India travel. He agreed and, of course, a visit to the Taj Mahal was at the top of our agenda.

T

On 10th May 2017, we arose very early as we had planned to get to The Taj at sunrise so as we could enjoy a good three hours there before the hoards arrived. It turned out to be a good decision! By 9am, just when we were leaving, the May Agra temperatures and humidity was rising fast and the crowds were descending.

Our taxi driver had arranged for his tour guide friend ( he actually was an official tour guide and not just the taxi driver’s mate) to spend our time with us. His name is Abdullah ( if I remember rightly) and he was super quirky and quite sweet and incredibly informative! Abdullah met us at the main street and together we walked the fairly long pathway, past gardens and crazy monkeys eating garbage, to the ticket booth where, of course, I paid much more than Shabir for entry to The Taj.

I was so excited I could barely breathe! I had watched countless videos of people approaching the main archway where the view of The Taj was symmetrically and directly in front. And here I was, about to do the same!

My dream was about to be realised!

Shabir respected my decision to have ‘this moment’ alone ( Abdullah took a little more convincing – he really likes to talk), and with trepidation and high emotion, I walked through the archway……. and there it was!

The Taj Mahal.

In all its majestic, white, stupendous glory, I stood in awe, with tears in my eyes and in that moment I had a feeling of having somehow ‘come home’. I had waited for as long as I can remember for this day, this moment in time which shall remain with me forever.

For all the images I had gazed at and the number of videos I’d watched, nothing, NOTHING could’ve prepared me for the sheer beauty of this incredible monument of love. I was completely blown away by the size of it! What’s more, I was here sharing this incredible day with a new love, which made everything feel even more magical!

Shabir and I spent the next few hours ( with the help of Abdullah) walking, talking, staring, marvelling, touching, taking videos, photographs and making incredible memories.

The inlay of the semi-precious stones in the walls blew my mind! As I said, seeing photographs of these intricate works of art simply couldn’t prepare me for the real thing. There are literally thousands of incredible patterns of flowers and vines which adorn the monument in border fashion and frame blocks of intricate stone carvings.

Verses from The Quoran cover large areas of this bewitching structure in exquisite form and touching them filled me with deep emotion.

Inside the Taj Mahal, we meandered through coolly shaded walkways marvelling further at the complex and sophisticated carvings of the low walls which surrounded the tombs. Of course, the real tombs of  Mughul emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz, are buried deep underground, but that doesn’t defer from the surreal and otherworldly quality of the interior of this splendiferous building.

After we had spent a long time with the Taj, I sat quietly in deep reflection, trying to assimilate the wonder of what I had just seen.

We moved onto the incredible and sacred mosque located at the Western side of the Taj Mahal and this filled me with almost as much awe as the Taj itself! Again, the emotions which are felt at the mind-blowing architecture and the impossibly beautiful sacred geometry shapes are something which cannot be experienced by photographs or videos. Like the Taj Mahal, this mosque needs to be seen to be believed!

WOW! JUST WOW!

Shabir and I sat between both monuments and discussed our shared visualisations of being in this courtyard almost 400 years ago. I saw regal men and beautiful women strolling by. I heard the bewitching sound of the Muslim call to prayer as it bellowed from the minarets and I imagined men, kneeling in devotion. What a magical place!

With deep emotion and great gratitude, we realised our time at the Taj Mahal had come to an end. We strolled slowly away through the gardens, looking back over our shoulders many times as the Taj Mahal slowly disappeared from view.

Goodbye beautiful Taj. We’ll meet again one day, for sure.

In this post, I haven’t really given too many facts and figures about the Taj and the mosque as my emotions whilst writing this haven’t really lent themselves towards that. I feel nostalgic, sentimental and wistful and I think I’ve pretty much typed myself into going back there again, sooner rather than later.

I hope I’ve portrayed well enough how excited and happy I was to be visiting the Taj Mahal on this day and if you would like to watch my vlog of this very special day, you will see it for yourself! Also, Abdullah offers some very interesting facts. So check it out HERE. Youtube Heidi’s Journey.

I hope I’ve sparked an interest in you to visit and if you haven’t already done so, I highly recommend making this trip. Here are a few links to websites for your information and reading pleasure.

A description with photos of how the semi -precious stones are constructed. https://www.core77.com/posts/25995/Ancient-Crafts-The-Stone-Inlays-of-the-Taj-Mahal

Good old Wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taj_Mahal

The official website of the Taj Mahal https://www.tajmahal.gov.in/do%26nots.html

The Mosque http://tajmahalfacts.com/taj-mahal-mosque.html

How to Deal With The Indian ‘STARES’

Stares. They’re going to happen. In my experience, whether you’re travelling with a guy or completely solo, men, women and children are going to stare at you. Obviously, where men are concerned, the stares happen less if you’re with a guy but still….what to do about it?

India . Incredible India  The land of stares.

Curious stares.

‘I’m gonna look away from you as soon as you look at me’ stares,

‘You’re so freaking different’ stares’.

‘Pleeeaaasssee be my girlfriend’ stares ( yup!)

I’ll tell you my take on it….

Smile!

Just smile!

We are all human, right?

At our very core, all we desire is a connection with one another. Connection with our fellow humans is what, ultimately, makes us tick.

We might choose to be a solo voyager on this trip we call life and yes, some may love their own company, sometimes for days on end, but when all is said and done, human contact, even if that’s brief human contact, is what we all need.

I travel alone. It suits me. I love my own company. People have asked me if I get lonely and my answer is…no….yes…..sometimes….no.

No. Because I enjoy the freedom of pleasing myself. I enjoy the freedom of not having to consider another’s preferences and trying to marry them with my own. I can go where I like when I like. My free-spirited self can drift and roam to my heart’s content. If I choose to browse in the market or talk to someone, I can stay with that for as long as I please. I can be selfish. I can choose my own accommodation,  whichever suits me. I can, alone, choose when to arrive and when to leave. I can choose to engage with conversation and I can choose to look away and give the message that I am happy to be by myself.

Yes. I do get lonely. Sometimes, I feel lonely. I sometimes feel lonely when I’m alone. When I’m sitting in a cafe or bar and I see friends engaging. When tables are full of friends sharing, laughing.

And Couples.

I feel lonely when I see close couples and I get to thinking, why am I alone? .And then those thought processes lead me back to my life and I start analysing why I push people away, why I’m a lone traveller, whether it’s because it’s my karma, my fate, my destiny or whether it’s just because I’m some seriously fucked up individual who has major issues with being so close to another someone else.

Sometimes. Basically, this is yes and no. But it’s not the above which I’ve written about. I waver. Meaning, ‘I can change my mind between the Yes and No 5000 times in one minute. Yes is yes and No is no but ‘sometimes’ basically means, I don’t fucking know. ‘Sometimes’ means I can’t decide whether being on my own is good or bad. Lonely or not lonely.

I ‘sometimes’ feel lonely when I’m in my room at night. I think about how lovely it would feel to have shared my day’s experiences with another human being. Someone to talk about it all with.

But when all is said and done, every single one of us human beings on this planet needs to connect. It is at the very core of us.

A mutual stare, a moment of eye contact can mean the world.

Whether the connection is made from a high society individual to a freaking ‘lower caste’ individual,,….from a slum dweller to….a higher, lower, or who gives a fucking shit caste individual………….a look, a touch, any engagement, on any level, connects us.

After many years of being in India, I have never felt threatened or unsafe. I have always smiled at my fellow human beings.

That’s not to say I haven’t been met with hostility on occasions. I have had my fair share of ridiculous ‘come on’ gestures: from licking of lips to blatant requests for sex. My responses range from flipping them the finger to laughing in their faces to VERY LOUDLY naming and shaming – they soon retreat back into their sad shells following naming and shaming. One time, on the bus back to Shogi from Shimla, some freaking perv touched my arse ( he was sitting down, I was standing ) and I FREAKED on him! The whole bus load of people became VERY AWARE of his crime. But I didn’t feel threatened by this. I freaked because it’s just NOT OKAY for some guy to think he can touch my arse, uninvited.

I guess how we choose to deal with these annoyances depends on how we choose to view them.

There are no hard and fast rules on how to deal with the stares lone, female travellers will encounter. Ultimately, your response is up to you! It would be ridiculous of me to attempt to write a post on ‘rules’ on this subject. It, of course, depends entirely on who you are as an individual and what your own personal boundaries are.

I’m a woman and I certainly do not mean to downplay stares or touches as just annoyances, no way!! No one female or male, should EVER have to be touched without their consent,  EVER!

But stares? It’s gonna happen. As a  Western female, getting on the bus, walking in the street, hailing that rickshaw, ordering food in a back street, non- tourist, locals restaurant,  is gonna attract stares.

Just smile. Offer that basic human gesture. Smile and look away if that suits.

When a woman, or a whole group of women cant take their beautiful big brown eyes off me, I stare back and smile at them. Woman to woman, sister to sister, eye to eye. Sometimes this causes whispering between them ( clearly I’m the subject) but still I smile. Mostly, I receive a smile back. Often times, if the circumstances allow, this basic of human connection will result in a conversation about their children, questions of where I’m travelling to or my complimenting them on their beautiful sari’s. Sometimes, from that initial stare, facebook ‘friendships’ are made!

I also want to stare at the women, if I’m honest! I’ve never been a big fan of my pasty white skin and brown hair. I’m certainly not body shaming, no way, but I do slightly envy their beautiful brown skin, their jet black, long, thick hair and deep dark eyes. Usually, my hair is stuck to my face with sweat and yet they all manage to look so…so…fresh?!

I personally love the stares from beggars. I totally stare back and then engage. I often sit with gypsies and the ‘untouchables’.  I love to talk with those who mostly only experience life with people only passing by and ignoring them like they’re dirt. To me, they’re not dirt. They are humans with a soul. They’re no different to the guy or girl with all the financial wealth.

Obviously, it’s a little different with guys. I still smile because I’m a polite person. Human to human and all that. But I don’t prolong eye contact and I also don’t agree that all men think you want to bed them because you’ve smiled at them!  I’ve had some fantastic conversations with guys which all started with that initial stare and they clearly have no agenda, whatsoever!

If the stares are just too intense and too prolonged and are actually making me feel a little uncomfortable, I will stare HARD back at them and raise my eyebrows in a questioning, ‘What the fuck are you looking at?’ way! This usually does the trick but for the most part, I’ve never felt threatened or uncomfortable and like I said, I’m often just as curious as them!

But for the most part, I feel it’s totally worth remembering, before we moan about it all,  that We have CHOSEN to go travelling in the land of stares so we can hardly bloody moan about it. If you don’t like it, leave and take you and your backpack somewhere else!

Love Heidi xx

Solo Female Train Travel in India: My 40 Hour Journey From Goa to Delhi #1

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Belapur. One of the stations on the Goa to Delhi route

I needed to get to Delhi from Goa for my onward trip further North to Rishidwar for my stay in Aurovalley Ashram and I decided to take the train to get there! Yeah, I could’ve caught a flight, but where’s the fun in that?

I was full of mixed emotions when I made the decision to leave Goa. I was very reluctant to leave the secure and friendly comfort of my beloved friends who have, over the past thirteen years, become my family. The familiarity of my community, Monica’s cooking, playing with the kids, cosying up in my ‘room in the trees’ and just chilling and gossiping with my ‘sisters’ was going to be hard to pull myself away from. You can read all about why I love Goa so much HERE.

But at the same time though, I was super excited to get going, to move forward into my adventure. I knew it was time to leave.

Indian train travel is something that has been on my bucket list for a very long time and after the first disastrous attempt, many years ago, with all my children and when I was so naive and knew zilch about travelling in India, I have been dreaming of the day I could get going with it again.

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A fantastic read and highly recommended!

I had recently read a book by Monisha Rajesh titled Around India in 80 Trains. It’s a humorous and informative account of her travels for three months across the length and breadth of India with her friend, by train only! 80 of them! The book inspired me no end. You can check it out HERE.

So, after some big hugs and a few tears, I said farewell to my lovely Goan family and me and my backpack went on our way to Madgaon Station, the main station for Goa situated in Margao, South Goa. I’d already booked my 2AC ticket about a week before so I was all set and I knew as soon as I arrived at the station that I was in for an adventure. I was very excited! And hungry.

Madgaon Station.

It’s clean, well organised and when I was there, not too busy.  There are plenty of places to grab some snacks and a large restaurant where I had time to eat.

A bottle of water, chickpea curry and two parathas cost me 80 rupees. That’s around £1 UK.

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Very spicy & completely delicious station food!

The train stations in India can get exceptionally crowded as in, ‘no room to move an inch’,  and the trains can also be extremely long! ( The longest one I ever counted whilst waiting on my scooter at Margao train crossing some years back now, had no less than forty-four carriages!) That’s crazy right! But, I guess they travel vast distances transporting thousands of people on each route, so they have to be large! Anyway, they have a great system running which organises things brilliantly.  A new post about how to navigate your way around finding and boarding your Indian train will be written soon! In the meantime, check THIS POST out from Trip Savvy to help you on your way. 🙂

My carriage was due to stop fairly far away from the main area of the station and it was raining pretty hard so I had to make a dash for it to the undercover bench area where I received lots of stares from, well, everyone! Whats new??!! Check out my post about how I deal with those Indian stares!

Bye Bye Goa!

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Finding my seat was super easy because every seat is numbered. I shared my carriage with a woman on the lower bunk opposite me and her husband on the lower bunk by the other window. They were both asleep, the large man snoring heavily but the woman woke up as I took care to chain my pack to the underside of the bunk. She just couldn’t take her eyes away from every move I made! I smiled and she gave me a shy smile in return, never once taking her eyes from me.

As I made myself comfortable on my bunk, I took care to keep my ‘essentials’ bag tucked closely behind my pillow. There are some items I’m not prepared to risk loosing.

The sleeping man awoke briefly and turned to engage in a short discussion with his beautiful wife on the seat opposite me before turning back around and resuming his snoring. She sat up and stared at the back of her husband. She stared long and hard, and not with affection. I watched her whilst she watched him. I think she hated him. Her face told a story of such idignation and bitterness.

As I settled down beneath my blanket and leaned back against my pillow with my book, I wondered what her life was like……..what her story was….

……soon, the rhythmic rocking of the train had sent me to sleep…..

To Be Continued….

Baga and Why it is The Worst Place to Visit in Goa!

Hello readers.

I’ll let the following letter I wrote to the Goa tourist board, and the collection of photographs taken of the terrible state of Baga streets, speak for themselves……..

Dear Mr Menino D’Souza

As a seasoned tourist of Goa, I felt compelled to write to you regarding the absolute terrible state of the roads in Baga.

Goa is a beautiful State of a country I love and whilst I am completely accustomed to the ways of India, I was alarmed at the way the Goan tourist board welcomed it’s guests to Baga this year.

As you are aware, Baga not only welcomes party goers, but also two week, and longer, package tourists, many of whom are elderly. However, on the days I stayed there ( I was visiting a friend who works in Baga), I constantly watched folk having to stumble and pick their way gingerly across broken rubble and bricks which were just left strewn across the streets and roads. On many occasions, I witnessed elderly people with walking aids trying their best not to fall down.

Whilst I understand that essential roadworks need to be carried out in aid of the ultimate improvement to the look of the streets, I fail to comprehend how or why any workman can be instructed to leave their work so unfinished! It is one thing to start major building works at the start of the tourist season, but another thing entirely not to clear up what they started in order to make it safe for tourists. Could the workman not have just stacked bricks and cleared rubble to the very side of the pathways?

As for the electric wires just protruding from the ground or just laying randomly everywhere for people to trip over, I am speechless. It presents a major safety issue.

Frankly, the roads are nothing short of a hazardous mess!

I spent as little time as I possibly could in Baga. It has become such a horrible place to stay and in fact I was so heavily disgusted by what I saw.

I would think that common courtesy toward the many folk who pay good money and take their well earned and much saved for holiday abroad to visit Goa once a year, wouldn’t go amiss. These people deserve to be treated better.

Regards

Heidi Hawkins

Eight Things I Love About Goa!

Goa. The little state in West India, famed for the long stretches of beaches, sweeping palms, full moon raves and the oldy woldy Portuguese charm.

For me, personally, though, it  means so much more than that. I’ve been visiting Goa for 20 years and I love, love, love the place! 

Here’s what makes me go crazy nuts with excitement every time I have a visit planned. 

Family and Friends

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Birthday Celebrations!

Fifteen years ago, I rode my scooter down a gorgeous little leafy lane in search of rented accomodation. I was directed towards a beautiful house where I was met with a typically Goan warm welcome from the family who lives there. 

All these years later and I’ve never stayed anywhere else! We have all watched each other’s children grow into teens and adults and seen marriages and new children born into the family. 

The members of this beautiful family are amongst my closest friends in the world.

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Family

When Im there, I get so well cared for by my lovely Goan Mum. At home in the UK I am a carer and as a lone parent, everything is on my shoulders. As soon as I walk in those garden gates, I go from being full time carer to the ‘cared for’. 

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My lovely Goan Mum 

I love to play with the kids and I adore them all, including the neighbours children. We hang out together and do arts and crafts and play games. They’re all such beautiful kids. 

I tend to put on a ton of weight when I’m staying as Mum feeds me enormous amounts everyday. Sometimes I just want to sit and chat in the kitchen but then the next thing I know I have a plate of food in front of me which, by the way, is magic. No matter how much I eat, that plate just refills! 

I love hanging out with my ‘sisters’, chatting about stuff and putting the world to rights. 

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I live in a room in the treetops overlooking a field. Each morning, I look at my window and wait for the light to come. As soon as it does, I open my balcony door and am met with a sight which fills my heart with happiness and contentment; trees. Palm trees, teak trees, bamboo, banana trees and more. I step outside and look over at the field and listen to the sounds of my little neighbourhood waking up and feel blissful in my heart. What a way to rise in the morning! To be surrounded by tree energy almost as soon as Ive opened my eyes! 

The view from my room

A piggie down by the watering hole

Me…. feeling relaxed and contented on my balcony

So close I can almost touch them!

Community

I love the sense of community in the little neighbourhood where I stay. People are very friendly and I’ve known a lot of them for many years and am good friends with one particular woman. We have such a laugh together. She’s a sweetie. 

When I’m riding my scooter I love to watch people standing by the side of the road and just chatting. People always give a smile or a wave and more often than not, someone is shouting my name from a doorway, or as they too pass by on their scooters. 

I know more people here than I do in my own village in England. More people take the time to stop and chat with me in one day here than in one week, or even one month at home! 

Extended Families and Strong Family Ties

In India and Goa, when a marriage takes place, the woman leaves her own family home and goes to live with the husbands family. Im not going to pretend that this situation is always rosy. It’s not. Women all over India are suffering abuse at the hands of their husbands and his family. A mother is always going to support her son over the wife and this leaves her with little or no support. 

However, this obviously isn’t always the case and millions of families live very happily together. My lovely Goan family included. 

I marvel at the way the children are surrounded by adult relatives; aunts, uncles, cousins, grandmother and grandfather. This is so good for them and it teaches them to get along with people of all ages. There is always someone around to attend to their needs so they never have to feel neglected and from this comes a sense of security. I think this must be where their strong sense of identity stems from, thus preventing them from ‘going off the rails’ in their teen angst years. All parents become stressed at times, that’s a given, but when you know you have someone else there to share the load with, life becomes a little easier. And I should know, having raised all my kids myself for the past 20 plus years! 

The strong bonds between the family members is so apparent and I admire the way the kids have such respect for their elders. 

Living together = sharing together, helping one another and respecting one another. And let’s face it, no one is going to get lonely in their old age! 

Cooking together.

The Sea

Ahhh, the Arabian Sea! Be it wild with monsoon  winds or as calm as a lake in the dry season, sitting on the beach and staring out to the ocean is one of my favourite ‘go to’ places for quiet time.

During monsoon, the sea can be ferocious and when I hear the roar of it from my room in the treetops, I am drawn to it like a moth to a flame. 

Monsoon waves

In dry season, sometimes the sea can be so calm that, save the slow, lazy slopping of the shoreline tide, it appears not to even be moving at all. 

As calm as a lake

Whatever the weather, when I’m leaving the beach, I always have a quick glance backwards and silently say, ‘goodbye sea, Il see you soon’. 

Flora and Scooters

One of my favourite pastimes is driving my scooter slowly down little back lanes lined with electric green leaves of all shapes and sizes. I just kinda meander lazily as the sun beats down on me, occasionally stopping to let some cows or water buffaloes traipse past me as they cross the road from one field to another. Or to pet a stray dog and maybe throw it some biscuits from my bag. 

I drive past stunning displays of brightly  coloured flowers, all contrasted beautifully against the green of the leaves. So dazzling and striking in the sunlight! 

Sometimes, I just stop. I want to sit quietly on my scooter and just breath in my surroundings. I marvel at the sheer size of some of the leaves. So tropical! The bright green paddy fields, the roaming pigs on their way to nowhere in particular, the distant barking of a dog or the quick beep of a passing scooter. But it’s the sound of the coconut trees leaves in the breeze which flirt with my heart the most. As the long, thin leaflets brush together, it makes the sound of gentle rain. This is the sound I take home with me, nestled in my heart like a cosy memory, a sound which nourishes me through the long days and lonely evenings until I can return again to my beloved Goa. 

Hospitality and Friendliness 

There’s no welcome like an Indian welcome! 

No matter what caste or religion a person is, or whether they live in an mansion or a hut, I’ve never met anybody as friendly and welcoming as an Indian. I rarely make eye contact with someone without receiving a smile. People are just friendly. It’s that simple. Friendly, chatty, approachable and helpful. In fact, from my own personal experience, people go out of their way to assist me. Here are just a two examples of so, so many. 

If I’m having problems starting my scooter, there will always be someone who notices and comes over to lend a helping hand. Let’s check the petrol levels. Is it a faulty starter motor? Let’s try and kick start it instead. I have honestly had this happen multiple times and each time the kind soul who is assisting me has not given up and gone on with their day until Im ready to drive away. 

There was one occasion when I dropped my scooter key down a hole in the ground outside two shops in the local parade. It was a really tiny hole as well. Not much larger than the key! It landed on a platform far down below! 

The pair of shop owners and their staff came to my aid. It was a real team effort! Someone disappeared and came back with some wire, someone else bent it into a hook shape, another person held the phone torch and finally some other guy, oh so very carefully, hooked the key right up out of the hole again! It took many attempts, however, but not one person gave up on the task. What a beautiful group of guys! I showed my heartfelt gratitude to them by buying goodies from both their shops. 

 Homes Past and Present

Following four centuries of Portuguese rule, in 1961, at the order of the Indian army, the Portuguese finally departed and Goa was awarded its freedom. However, remnants of a time-gone-by remain in the way of beautiful old world heritage houses. ( the following photos of the old houses are taken from the web).

These gorgeous homes range in size from very modest to enormous mansions, from unkempt with faded and cracking paintwork and overgrown gardens to highly decorated with huge well maintained grounds.

Either way- I love them! In fact, I used to rent one from my Goan mum years ago, many moons before the room in the trees was built. 

Apparently there are no other buildings the same in the world. Not even Portugal! 

So this post is about my personal loves of Goa and driving past these old heritage houses is definitely one of my favourite things to see. I need to take more photos….

The other houses which, at times, literally stop me in my tracks, are the majestic new builds. Huge and colourful, these houses come in many different designs, shapes, sizes and colours. Some are literally stunning beyond words. It’s very interesting to watch the building of them over time. It’s almost as if you can order this balcony, that doorway and different shape structures which eventually fit together like a jigsaw to make one huge house specifically according to your own personal design! If I had the money……..

Sunsets

They need no words…..

So, yeah, I could probably go on and on about what I love about Goa! Needless to say, I urge you to visit if you haven’t already. You won’t be disappointed. 

Happy Travels

Heidi xx

Daily Gratitude

Today, I am grateful for…..

The abundance of wildlife in and around the ashram where I am staying in North India. I am surrounded by deer, fireflies, bugs galore including many species of ant, caterpillars, centipede’s and more dragonfly’s than I can possibly count, not to mention the butterflies in all their array of different colours. The sheer amount of birds species is incredible! I also saw a peacock wondering around this afternoon. I adore the sweet squirrels with their stripy raccoon style colouring. They’re so tame. Always scampering everywhere but not really running too far away.

I was eating my fruit in the kitchen this morning and I found I had a lizard for company. Not a gecko ( I do love them and they’re everywhere), but a very long tailed green lizard. It was wonderful!

Everywhere I look there is some creature, running, scampering, playing, flying, or crawling. Or in the case of Holy the old dog, lying down having a belly rub. 🙂

Nature’s Design.

The silence. Besides the many different bird song, there is just…. simply… silence.

My breath. Bringing awareness to my breath during meditation. It’s sweetness, the force with which I am being kept alive, fills my heart with gratitude.

Namaste

Heidi.