March 1, 2013
A Snake In My Luggage And Other Stories From My Trip To India
My first impression of India was not good. I had escaped the snow in both Italy and Canada to spend a few weeks with some girlfriends soaking up the sun, yoga and some well-deserved R & R. I arrived alone in Mumbai airport. I was nervous, which was unusual for me as I travel all the time but this was my first time in India and there had been some pretty gruesome press recently involving attacks on women. I was armed with every drug and vaccine possible to ward off the endless diseases and stomach ailments I was surely going to come across. I'd dragged my weary body through the busiest and smelliest airport I've ever been in; a jungle of noise and intense heat.
It was overwhelming. I was approached by a customs officer, who asked me if I was crying. Sweet of him to care but my face was just pouring with sweat not tears, although those were soon to follow. I had slipped out of my snow boots and into open sandals and was waiting sleepily for my luggage at the packed carousel when something furry ran over my bare foot. It was a rat. With a fist clenched in my mouth to halt the scream I grabbed my bags and boarded another flight to Goa. As this plane took me down the west coast of India I read a national newspaper (all in English) with headlines declaring the tiger problem that was going on in the area I would be in, the province of Karnataka. These tigers had been munching on some hapless farmers as they encroached out of their usual habitat. I was beginning to feel a little less brave about the week ahead. I would be alone until I met up with my buddies in the laid-back, hippy Mecca of Goa. For now though, I was met at the next airport, crowded with masses of locals all waving and shouting at their long lost relatives and friends. Sandwiched among the crowd was the most welcome site of a large piece of torn cardboard with my name handwritten on it. The face behind the board was beaming as I approached and as I introduced myself it wobbled from side to side. I was soon to get used to this head-nodding custom but it’s a bit disarming at first. My luggage and I were swept up by my driver, Rashid, and my journey and my love and fascination of India began. I live in Montreal part of the year. Here the drivers are not the best (fast and aggressive) and the roads are legendary for their potholes but nothing can prepare you for the roads in India. I am still not sure what side of the road Indians drive on because I am convinced they are not sure either. They honk every time they pull out which is all the time. The roads are packed with bikes and scooters holding entire families, even whole villages. Massive rickety trucks painted up like Indian temples bully their way through every jam but it is the cows that are the biggest obstacle. There are cows everywhere. They are sacred and are allowed to wander down any road, across it, through it and poop wherever. Four hours later after the most eye opening trip ever, I arrived in heaven.
SwaSwara is a wellness center. Not as severe as an Ashram but certainly not your typical spa. No pedicures here. I came alone to detox for a week before I would meet my friends back in Goa. Again, I was greeted with a nodding, smiling staff, who became like family by the end of the week, and then was shown to a palm-thatched cottage with my own garden and roofless bathroom. I spent the week being nurtured through the world of Ayurveda. The team at SwaSwara create a personal program of rejuvenation and wellness. I juice fasted with the most delicious juices ever, I did yoga twice a day under a banyan tree the size of a large house and was soaked and massaged in oils and spices until my skin and muscles were relaxed and glistening.
It was hard to leave this paradise but a week later I was back in Goa ready for my 'girls' week. Originally part of the 'hippy trail' in the 60's, the flower power generation would summer on the island of Ibiza then make their way to the heat of the Goan beaches on the south-west side of India. Many of these 'free loving' people are still there now joined by the next generation of dreadlocks. The beaches are relatively unspoiled with small shacks where you can stay in basic, and I mean basic, accommodation. Change is on its way, as gangs of young and old Russians seem to be buying up the land to open noisy nightclubs. I am sure this change will not be good, but for now there is still a special charm left there from a bygone era, both with the local Indians who live side by side and with the laid back tourists. It takes some getting used to. Anyone who has visited India talks about the contrasts and for me this was so true. Trash is everywhere and its ugly and yet the beauty of the women in their brightly coloured saris is unforgettable. The markets are filled with open sacks of intensely coloured spices that make you heady with their pungent aromas. The next minute a cow will walk through a pile of potatoes and leave a steamy pile. The old Goan buildings are stunning, many influenced by Portuguese architecture. The paint colours the Indians use to paint their homes would have you jailed by your local council at home, but here under the blistering sun they work. The poverty is shocking but the smiles and warmth of the people are unforgettable. I loved every minute of my week spent on the beaches of Goa doing what girls do best; talking, laughing, eating and drinking! I have many dinner party tales to tell but the one that will carry me through for years is what happened on our journey home.
We checked in our luggage at the small airport in Goa, and as I reached down to grab my hand luggage to put it through the X-ray machine a snake came through the gap in the zip and slithered onto the top of the case. The screams of me, my friends and all the other passengers must have been heard for miles until a security guard with a large truncheon bashed the poor thing into bite size pieces. India – please, please put this amazing continent on your bucket list.