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Category Archives: India

Goa

We published an album of video frames extracted from the footage we shot in Goa, India. We shot in Old Goa the magnificent churches built by the Portuguese who never planned to leave India and had to be pushed out by the Indian Army in 1961. The churches’ architecture is for sure not appealing but it had to represent at the time the power of the Catholic Church. One of the church’s most important missioner in Asia was Francis Xavier, who as a student in college shared the room with another student named Ignatius of Loyola, with whom they end up staring the Jesuit sect. St Francis Xavier died in Asia and is entombed in a raised coffin in the Bon Jesus Church. Besides the numerous churches of Old Goa there are several Hindu temples, that specifically for Goa, are dedicated to local deities having tall towers whose niches were used to be filled with lit candles in the night.

Arambol, Goa, India

But besides churches and Hindu temples Goa is renowned for its beaches. Resorts of huts abound aligning the stretches of sand on the shore of the warm Arabian Sea. We shot in several of them, Mandrem, Arambol, Aswen and Anjuna and also in the Mapusa market.

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Posted by on March 12, 2018 in Blog, India

 

Karnataka

We published an album of video frames extracted from the footage we shot in Karnataka, India. We shot mainly in Hampi, the capital of the old Vijayanagara Empire, the largest empire established in India in the 14th century. We biked and shoot for two days through the maze of temples scattered on mostly barren fields between Hampi Bazaar and Kamalapur. We also crossed the river and shot from the height of the Hanuman Temple that confers a spectacular view over the entire valley.

Pilgrim in Virupaksha Temple, Hampi, Karnataka, India

From there we drove to Goa and stopped on the way in Gadag at the immense statue Basaweshwara, a saintly character that tried, and failed, to eradicate the caste system in India and the fabulously sculpted Trikuteshwara Temple dating from the 11th century, one of the oldest temple in the region. On the way we did a short stop also at Chandramouleshwara Temple of Hubli, an 900 year old temple also with an impressive new gopuran right off the road.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2018 in Blog, India

 

Maharashtra

We published an album of video frames extracted from the footage we shot in Maharashtra, India. We shot first in the sweltering heat, humidity and the snarled traffic of Mumbai from where, honestly we just wanted to zip out as soon as possible. From there we went to Nasik on the Ganga, one of the four places of the famous Khumb Mela, the largest religious festival in the world, and in Shirdi, the place where Sai Baba lived a hundred years ago inspiring millions of devotees, whose samadhi, a famous pilgrimage place in India, is visited daily by thousands.
We made a base in Aurangabad, an old Muslim capital of the Deccan sultans, where is located the “Taj Mahal of the Poor” a look-alike tomb of the one in Agra but built with less marble and more plaster, but for sure worth a visit and we stopped and visited the Daulatabad Fort, an unconquerable fortress perched on the top of a tall hill but taken over by the enemies just by bribing the guards.

Cotton candy seller in Shirdi, Maharashtra, India

The Buddhist, Hindu and Jain sculpted caves from Ajanta and Ellora are for good reason designated UNESCO world heritage and we lost ourselves through the numerous statues of Buddhas and Hindu Gods fighting or cajoling each others or through the naked Tirthankaras of the Jains’ Diganbara sect. We close our tour in Manaharashtra in the chic Pune, a world apart of the India we regularly search and visit, a clean and green place of chic restaurants and many ashrams full of meditating westerners, the most known being the one established by Osho, the Rolls Royce and gold watch collector sex guru, after he was kicked out of Oregon for tax fraud and conspiracy.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2018 in Blog, India

 

India in flux

FlyingMonk’s office overseas, Mandrem, Goa, India

I booked the hotel near the airport because I hated so badly the Mumbai traffic. But it proved that the traffic was horrendous even for such a short distance. Traffic is the major problem in India and the more recent I came the worst I found it. I am coming in India for 20 years now and changes are obvious. The roads are better, the cars are way more numerous and better but the traffic is way worst than when I first came. The chaos that dominates the traffic in the town centers turn out that it has its clear philosophy and watching the Indians drive you realize that the only reason that they do not crash in each other, in spite of continuously breaking the rules is because they are very nimble and very smooth while driving. The Indians are not aggressive drivers, no matter that they can drive fast if they could. But even if they may jump in front of the traffic they would be doing it gently and predictable because anybody else in traffic would expect that somebody else, cars, motorbike, bikes, pushcarts, people, cows, elephants, camels, aliens may fill any available space. You may get stuck and wait and just see somebody getting in front of you but nobody is frustrated like drivers would be in the West. They just occupied a space that others did not take and in any case the traffic is stuck, all the way in the front and back so why worry about it. Their driving is like a smooth dance that involves all the other dancers on the road, who come towards you from all directions and go in all directions like a swarm of flies. The moves they do are expected, no matter how chaotic may look for the Western organized mind and the only time when Indian drivers can get frustrated is if somebody broke the rules of predictably and made a move that could have been perceived as unexpected, and implicitly dangerous.

A major change I discovered in the today India comparing with what was here five years ago was in technology’s development. All over India Wi-Fi is now widespread and is no facility that does not have Free Wi-Fi at least in the lobby. The hotel bookings that in the past were the monopoly and the tip/ruse of the drivers who were taken you to various places where they got commission are now all available on Booking or Expedia to the point that when I wanted to extend a room in Grand Hotel Mumbai that proved to be 33% more than I paid online, the receptionist asked me to book it from Expedia to get the same discount. I did it right in front of him, using his Free WiFi and he was happy.
Credit card payments are now the norm comparing with five years ago when I was still reluctant to use it, even if I had the chance to do it, most transactions being at that time cash only. Now rarely you may find a facility that does not take Visa so I returned in the US with a stash of cash that I had to carefully guard during my entire trip. All Indians have iPhones or Android phones with some having Windows Phones or some Chinese versions and all are connected on Whatsup. If you are not on Whatsup it looks that you simply do not exist. I never needed a phone in India in the past but during this trip I realized only towards the end that I should have bought a SIM for 100-300Rs ($1.5-$5) that would have given me Internet access of 1Gb/day!!! But all Indians were eager to share their data over hotspot or give you the phone to make phone calls. You could walk in a restaurant, have a bite and asked the server to lend your phone to call your driver and all would oblige.

As I usually did in the past, this time also I combined the car+driver transportation with tuk-tuks, planes and several buses (no trains this time) – all good, reliable and safe. The Uber revolution came to India and several companies started the car+driver offers competing with the classical tourist agencies that still abound. But if the classical tourist agencies still take a lot of haggling and back and forth till they give you a price and till they find a driver, Savaari.com can give you a totally transparent quote with the exact number of km and price per extra km in only 5 minutes grace to their software. The price is way smaller than a regular agency and if you pay by PayPal, (the credit card payment online is still not working right if the banks issuing the cards are not Indian banks,) you get an email within two hours with the name of the driver, his phone number and the hour when he will come to pick you up in his own vehicle that is GPS tracked. I always did my car booking when I arrived in India but coming in Mumbai I could not find any agencies except Incredible India that has a menu of trips and is ridiculously way-way-way overpriced. But if you are booked on Savaari and want a little extra travel by car after you reach your destination is better to let the driver close the trip and deal directly with the him to continue, now off-GPS.

But even in the pace of this rapid modernization India remains still incredible and fascinating and you’ll always still be able to find the almost medieval spiritual life happening unperturbed by these changes.

Mumbai International Airport, India

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2018 in Blog, India

 

The Russians

Mandrem’s huts in O’Saiba

While in India you feel oppressed by the constant heat so the spectrum of a beach seems like a dream with a refreshing breeze going through the palm trees and empty stretch of sands ready to be explored. At least this was in my mind when I planned to spend one or two days in the Goa beaches. And it was somehow as I imagined except that I found the place to be some kind of… “meh”. Far from the secluded beaches of Thailand or the exotic beauty of the Sri Lanka’s south shore beaches, the beaches in Goa are lined up by so called resorts, sets of buildings and/or huts built on land or on top of the other buildings. All resorts have a restaurant by the seaside where you can hang out all day using the Free Wifi and watching the waves, the time and your life go by.

Arambol street, Goa, India

However I was some kind surprised to find out that Russians occupy almost exclusively the majority of these accommodations. Their presence is overwhelming to the point that even the names of the resorts are spelled in Russian. But also the menu in any restaurant is in Russian – and thankfully English -, the stores’ advertising is in Russian, there are party flyers and billboards only in Russian, the shop sellers speak Russian, greeting the customers with “pajal” and “krasnaya”. You hear Russian everywhere, including from the Indians who serve them and learned enough to manage. The day I arrived the resort nearby had a Russian wedding with loud folk music that could be heard on the entire beach. When accidentally you hear some bits of German, French or English you turn your head to see who are those people lost in this Russian land. The Indians are happy because Russian fill up the hotels and give them business but they were very clear to point out that they dislike them; they consider the Russians to be cheap, uncouth, and they treat the Indians bad in comparison with the Westerners who may be distant but few are rude. When, in stores or at the beach, the Indians asked me where I am from, it followed with: “It’s good that you are not Russian. We love USA.”

A “trip” sarong store in Mandrem

The faint distinctions that existed in the old time between the villages, each with its own specific were now obliterated by the Russian tourists. I could not distinguish the quaint and forlorn spirit that existed in Mandrem, or the traveler vibe for which Arambol was known, or even the hippy and backpacker counterculture from Anjuna. Everywhere I went there were the Russian families with naked children roaming the beach – not that I have anything against this – obliterating what once was a specific flavor of a place. If you salute them, like travelers usually do, you get just a blank stare, a kind of  “do I know you from somewhere to respond”.

One of the few throngs of palm trees I could find close to Aswen Beach, Goa

Besides all these I found the beaches I visited way too common. Large expanses of darker sand, stretching as long as you could see and occupied by lounge chairs under extended awnings. It took me a long stroll to take ONE picture with many palm trees that looks some kind of exotic. The rest of the beach side is filled by all sorts of vegetation, a lot of erosion and a general feeling of unkempt on some places. Even the overpriced hut I occupied in Mandrem in O’Saiba Resort looked that it saw way better days with a curtain on a rod that was covering a totally cracked wall that fell from the wall onto the bed, luckily not on my head because it happened in the middle of the day while I was out.
The night I arrived in Mandrem the Internet was down in the entire village and hotels could not do their bookings so everybody was freaking out but nobody had the guts to ask the guy who came to fix it how long would take till the Internet would come back.

The Yoga Village schedule, Arambol, Goa

Still Goa is all into Yoga of various kinds and the beach is full in the morning with people jogging, swimming, practicing asanas and meditating in the caressing morning sun. About a 2 km walk on the beach from Mandrem is Arambol that has a good stretch of nice stores, probably better than I saw in any other places, competing only with the Friday market of Mapusa. However my midweek passing through Mapusa found just a dull local market with wares of all kinds, shoes, underwear sold from large stalls, bags of chilly and lots of flowers.

Sunset in Mandrem, Goa

Anjuna had lots of construction going on and it looked for the moment very unappealing. Not even a hint of the old hippy and backpacker spirit for which the place used to be known. But I came here, right before my Mumbai flight, to meet a very dear friend who spends a lot of time in Goa and whom I did not see in 20 years. A video editor from New York whose interests migrated to become a professional DJ , Jo lives and works around the world but spends a good chunk of her time in Goa and the rest in London. It was an emotional meetings and a lot of catch up after so many years. And it could have happened neither in New York nor in London but in Anjuna at Zoorey’s under a spectacular sunset, thou with no “touchdown” – the sun does not seem to touch the water – like there are most of the sunsets in Goa because of the haze.

Sunset in Anjuna, Goa, India

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2018 in Blog, India

 

The Portuguese

The Immaculate Conception Church stands in the middle of the town in Panjim, Goa, India

Out the ones who occupied India the Portuguese were the most stubborn. The Brits left in 1947, the French evacuated Pondicherry in 1954 but the Portuguese were determined to stay put in Panaji(Panjim), their colonial capital. They were also the first to come and establish the Portuguese India while roaming the Malabar coast in search of spices. They first established an interest in Cochin, down the coast in Kerala, and after they they moved up in Goa that they conquered in 1510. So when time came to leave, The Prime Minister of bad memeory Salazar refused to cede the territory and asked all the inhabitants to fight till death in spite of the obvious lack of chances to succeed. In 1961 the Indian Army invaded putting an end of 450 years of Portuguese occupation. Quite a long run.

Se Cathedral, Old Goa, India

One of the way the Portuguese succeeded was through the influence of the church and nowhere else this can be sensed than in Old Goa – Wehla Goa – a town full of enormous, but for sure not beautiful, churches. Most of the churches’ construction date in the middle of the 16th century and the cathedral was at the time the seat of the Patriarch of India.

The cross of miracles whose arms miraculously increased a number of times, Se Cathedral, Old Goa, India

With this apparatus in place the Portuguese started the process of showing the Indians the way of their own God and started an intense process of forced conversion to Christianity. With religious forces exported from Europe the campaign was in full swing when on stage came St Francis Xavier who was probably the most devout activist of the Church at the time. A co-founder of the Jesuits, he was an advocate of forced conversion and the punishment for those who do follow and petitioned the King of Portugal to introduce the Inquisition in the colony. He died traveling the East Seas several years before the Inquisition was adopted in Goa but he is credited to its future implementation, one of the most brutal manifestations of its kind in the world. However for his activism he was beatified and canonized by the church and his relics are kept in a glass coffin under a curtain of stars in Basilica Bon Jesus, right across the cathedral.

The encased remains of St Francis Xavier – The Church of Bon Jesus, Old Goa, India

But in spite of the Portuguese destructive efforts, and the large number of Christians that are currently in Goa, the original Hindu tradition did not die and around Goa there are numerous Hindu temples rebuilt around the 18th century. Most of them were dating from the beginning of the 16th century but were razed by he Portuguese, like the beautiful Mahalsa Temple and Manguesh Temple, not far from Old Goa. The beautiful tower that is typical of Goan temple architecture would have been lit in the night by the numerous candles that were place in the niches marking the time of the pooja.

Mahalsa Hindu Temple tower was used to lit candles to be seen from far away. Goa, India

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2018 in Blog, India, Portugal

 

Biking the heart of the empire

Virupaksha Temple, Hampi, Karnataka, India

Vijayanagara was the largest empire established in India around the 15th century. It had enlightened rulers who were devout Hindu but they applied a secular approach in ruling their empire, accepting all subjects as equal and adopting Islam influences in architecture. Hampi was its capital and from here they spread around and conquered territories as far as Odisha. They ruled successfully for about 250 years till they were conquered by the Decca sultans, from around Aurangabad. During these years, especially in the period of golden rule around the 16th century the Vijayanagara rulers raised numerous temples in Hampi, that at the times counted more than 1000 structures.

The stepped Pushkarani, religious water pool, Hampi, India

Hampi was not chosen by mistake. This is the city mentioned in Ramayana where Prince Rama, one of Vishnu avatar – like in the movie – waited and exchanged messages with Sita who was abducted by the Ravana monster of Lanka. How at the time Whatsup was not invented the messages were conveyed by Hanuman, Rama’s monkey general who went back and forth jumping over the straight to Lanka to secure the messages and confirm to Sita that Rama will come to save her.

Narasimha an avatar of God Vishnu – His Lion incarnation, Hampi, Karnataka, India

It’s hard to imagine a better bike ride than in Hampi. You rent a bike and wind you way on dirt roads that snake around a temples decorated in magnificent sculptures, on ceremonial pools used by queens, in religious puskarini, ablution pools fed by long aqueducts that were used exclusively only for ceremonials in temples, through elephant stables and watchtowers, stopping on the way at gigantic statues of Ganesh or Narasimha, also an avatar of Vishnu. And all these surrounded by boulders sitting on each other creating tall hundred meters mountains of boulders around you that entice you to explore also. Only if time would permit.

Temple in Hampi

The temples’ walls have freezes sculpted with the entire story of Ramayana – Hazararama Temple – on three level so if you walk three times around and follow the sculptures you can skip the thousand pages book of the Asian legend.

Sunset over Virupaksha temple, Hampi

In the afternoon I crossed the river with a tiny power boat that would be considered unsafe anywhere in the world and I biked to the Hanuman Temple where I had to climb 575 steps on the sweltering heat on South India to get to an astonishing view over Hampi’s temples. From inside the temple the orange figure of Hanuman was piercing through your soul with only one central eye.

Watching the sunset as we do, Hampi, India

The next morning at sunrise I took a walk to Vithala Temple, a winding stroll peppered with other temples and rocks encountering on the way several huge temples that I did not see and knew the day before. Considered the best of the Hampi architecture Vithala is remote and protected from the hoards of tourists. It has in its middle a stone chariot and its column sing if tapped. But the cool thing is that all this can be done by bike that you rent for a couple of dollars a day and just promise to bring it back. No paper needed but this is India. At sunset when the heat is tapering off you can chill watching the sun going down surrounded by hundred of monkeys. They may jump on your back or steal your food, banana as a preference, but at sunset they just chill and watch how the sun goes down, the same as you are.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2018 in Blog, India