is a sign on the wall of our favorite restaurant here in Gokarna, but really is the mantra of every restaurant I’ve been in for the last three months…that is, except for a few tourist-oriented cafes in McLeod Ganj. Last night we tried yet another of the charming beachfront eateries with their palm-braided thatched roofs and individualistic wall hangings, lounges (for those who have no other place to sleep), and lights. This one was aglow like a Christmas tree and had alligators carved or painted around the wall. Like all the others it’s open-air and a gentle wind flutters the decorations and hanging lamps. The floors are sand, wonderful on the feet, and not a few cuddly dogs sit on your toes, hoping for a hand out. No cows. They only bother you in town.
We’ve eaten mostly vegetarian, with a freshly caught fish or two for my friends (remember, I’m allergic), but last night we found chicken on the menu. Oh boy, what a treat! A few minutes into a fabulous homemade soup we heard the distinct cackling and screeching of a chicken, and an obvious struggle, followed by silence. Omigod, what have we done? Talk about fresh. An hour later, I kid you not, there was chicken sweet and sour (the Chinese have gotten to India big time) and Marsala. Fortunately, for me, it was so spicy that I substituted spinach dal and didn’t have to feel any more guilty than I did about the fate of the chicken.
Today, I finally felt strong enough to wander around the side streets of Gokarna and photograph the temples, bathers, and faces as varied as a painter’s palate, You have never seen so many facial markings, or different ways of dressing, or brilliant colors of saris, worn by women even when they are doing manual labor. Even the sadhus, the holy men near the temples, have only their long hair and beards in common. Their dhotis show imagination and no one face is similar. I also was thrilled to see so many young women, some with small children, run their own shops. They are well-spoken and as beautiful as the handcrafts they sell. If only I had more room in my pack!
I met with the Zontines for lunch. We were able to get a table outside, so could watch the throngs of pilgrims coming down the main drag from the bus station to the beach, and, the downside, be accosted by beggars. But what is most disconcerting is to sit with a cow’s wet nose three inches from your chapatti, looking at you with eyes even more soulful than the beggars. They just keep coming a little closer and when you finally remove one, another takes its place. The secret is to wield a large stick and threaten it. This is given you by the waiter. But the cows know who are the pushovers and pay no heed. Upshot: we’ll eat inside and forgo the passing parade.
We’ve become friendly with several of the young men, who use sewing machines to embroider T-shirts and hangings in an open-air shop. They hail us as we pass by, and are able to keep their breakneck speed going as we chat. I’ll have some pictures for you later. One man in particular could out- shine anyone I’ve seen on Bollywood, but, instead, works from early morning until after 10 P.M. every night…for very little money. It’s a whole different world over here, and it’s hard to reconcile with our privileged life. To count your blessings is cliche, but true, nevertheless.
As I was sweeping out my cabin with a short, homemade broom, which is just a bunch of stiff straw held together by a rope tie, I wondered why some enterprising person hasn’t introduced tall brooms, also of straw, but better made, into India. Everyone leans over, which is bad for the back, and the straw keeps falling out. And the dirt just gets spread around. Does anyone have any ideas about this? I’m sure the very rich have brooms, but what about all the little ladies I see bending double as they use these inadequate “sweepers.”
Tomorrow Gullvi and I head off by sleeper bus (Volvo, supposed to be comfortable) to Hospet and then to Hampi, once the seat of the Vijanagara Empire, and a major center of Hindu rule for 200 years–from 1336…although there may have been a settlement as early as 1,000 years before then.
I’ve never been on a sleeper bus, but I know it beats the local vehicles. Wish me luck. It won’t be easy to leave this seaside paradise, but all good things must end…or something like that. And it does get brutally hot at midday. I’m looking forward to heading north, after Hampi.
Hey, the snow in the East sounds marvelous. Maybe it’s time to buy those skiis!