Many years ago I fell in love. Not with one person but with a whole country, India.
When a friend of mine, Annie, invited me to join a group visiting Rajasthan some eleven years ago, I couldn’t resist. Annie had travelled the length and breadth of the country over the years and I had seen many of her wonderful photos. This wasn’t India on a budget, they’d be staying in the most luxurious hotels, forts and palaces. Despite the huge cost, I decided to join them.
For three weeks I lived, breathed and ate my way around Rajasthan. Never had I been anywhere so exciting and vibrant. The colours, smells, noises and chaos verged on the overwhelming at times but I loved it all. My credit card, however, was not so impressed.
That first visit to India was supposed to be a one-off, a holiday of a lifetime, but the following year Annie organised another tour, this time to Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Thanks to an unexpected windfall, curtsey of the council tax (yes, they actually owed my money) I could see another exciting journey within my grasp. Even though I hadn’t even finished paying for the first trip, I simply couldn’t resist. Annie was such a brilliant tour leader always finding unusual and interesting things to do, often well off the beaten track.
One month before we were due to leave the horrific Boxing Day Tsunami struck. Fearing the worst a couple of people backed out. Our first two hotels in Tamil Nadu had been flooded but I saw no reason for this to stop us. The hotels were back in business and the region needed our tourist’ rupees now more than ever. My credit card, however, wasn’t convinced.
It took me many years to pay off my debt but boy, was it worth it.
My credit card and I are now once again on speaking terms. My only regret was that I didn’t write a blog at the time to record my memories and all my photographs were on slide or print film rather than digital.
Ever since India has been calling me back. Nowhere on Earth, that I have visited to date, can compare but I’ve been determined not to abuse my credit card again in such a manner. It really had been painful, slowly paying it off.
And so I waited.
An unexpected journey
And then the call came.
Earlier this month I had an unexpected invitation to visit Goa on the west coast of India, to photograph the lovely hotels there and to get to know the destination. As you can imagine I was filled with joy. It was all rather short notice and for a while it seemed uncertain as to whether we’d get our visas in time but before I knew it we were off, flying back to the country I loved so much.
Goa didn’t disappoint, as you can see from these highlights from my adventures just last week.
I was up early on our first morning and took a walk by myself along the beach. At 7.30am it was already very hot and humid and the beach was busy with locals cooling off in the shallows, taking advantage of the therapeutic properties of the sea.
It was a privilege to visit some very beautiful and colourful temples and, as there is a strong Christian presence in Goa, there were also some very impressive cathedrals and churches to admire.
At one hotel we visited we stumbled across an Indian wedding, a real joy to see. We were invited to join the feast and festivities. Sadly we couldn’t stay long as we had other hotels we had to get to that day.
The food in Goa is out of this world, especially the fish curries with plenty of spices and coconut. The vada, shown above, are delicious deep-fried fritters and are part of a traditional breakfast.
On a day off from visiting hotels we hiked through the jungle to the Dudhsagar Waterfalls in the Mollem National Park in the east of Goa. One thing that struck me was that, despite it being the end of the dry season, Goa was still very lush and green.
We visited a number of markets including the colourful fruit and veg stalls in Panjim. Markets, no matter where in the world, always make a great subject for my camera.
Our second to last night we spent on our very own rice boat, cruising along the banks of the estuary of the Chipora River at sunset, mooring up for the night and then heading inland as the sun rose the following morning.
When I saw the colourful stalls of the Saturday Night Market in Arpora I instantly turned into a shopaholic coming home with spices, clothes, textiles and jewellery. The live music played on into the early hours. A wonderful way to spend our last evening in Goa.
And thanks to my excellent travel companions, Natalie, Annabel and Becky, for being such great company.
Watch out for more posts from India over the coming weeks.
Disclaimer: My visit to Goa was courtesy of the newly launched, Goa Experience.