Friday, August 31, 2018

Book Review - The Guide by R.K. Narayan

The bliss of having read a book before watching its movie version. The Guide movie is a cult classic, ranked #4 in best Hindi movies of all time (some Time list somewhere). Even with this knowledge, to have grown in India and to have survived to get a chance to read the book first is simply to have very good luck. Having said that, I am writing this post with OSTs of the movie playing in background. Hey - SD Burman's music is God level !

The Guide by R.K. Narayan, (sidenote - RK Narayan and RK Laxman - the cartoonist extraordinaire, are brothers coming from southern tradition where surnames are written before first name) is a fictional novel set in Malgudi chronicling life of Raju. The novel, written in flashback style, describes Raju's present times where he has just been released of prison and his transformation into a local guru. In flashback, he remembers his childhood, his job as a local Guide, and how he fell in love with the wife of a tourist, all the way leading him to be jailed.

The scenes describing the transformation to a local Guru are insane yet believable, hilarious with shades of sadness lurking in the background. The writing breathes simplicity into characters and it is effortless to read through the book. Raju's early days as a Guide are so ahead of its times. For one, the profession of Guide at a train station is something that is almost non-existent and yet so cool. Raju's love interest - Rosie's husband is shown to be a man who is interested in studying drawings of early men in caves. He even travels outside India and ends up with a book with his findings. I have rarely read or even seen an Indian movie which talks about such professions.

But the best part of Guide, what makes me recommend this book is the depiction of relationship between Raju and Rosie. Rosie comes from a family of nachnevali, is frustrated with her marriage but ambivalent of leaving her husband. Raju falls instantly in love with her and the progression of a relationship from a casual affair to something totally unique is the best part of this book.

Post reading the book, I searched and realized that Rk Narayan did not liked the movie and called it 'a misguided guide'. To be honest, I do not think that Indian audience is mature enough to have mass level appeal on what goes on in the book. I have read the movie synopsis and clearly, the movie fails to capture the better part of the book.  I will however watch the film just for curiosity's sake.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Gokarna trip - 2018

The itch to visit Gokarna had been there for quiet sometime. So, when this was floated as one of the destinations of our trip with Nitin, Parul, Kanishka and myself, we zeroed in on it.  The only catch was that this is now an off-season, monsoon time, and hence it could limit our options but since when has weather dictated my trips. So, we went ahead. On the plus side, off-season meant fewer tourists :)

Day 0 -
Friday night departure via our typical western ghats train. We had packed Aloo parathe, Paneer parathe, pickle and dal-chawal for Kanishka. Kanishka was recovering from a sore throat and couple of other ailments, so was on full precaution mode. She only jeera rice + dal as the default meal during the entire trip.

Day 1 -
Our arrival at Gokarna was at noon. The good part about this train is that by the time you wake up, you are on the Konkan line and you get to see amazing scenery from train itself. Plus, we played Court Piece on the train to keep ourselves occupied. My usual boastful statements ended up making me deal till the last station.

Upon arrival, we were really hungry and decided to go the town first to have lunch before we drop our bags at our hostel. We had chosen a hostel this time with bunk beds to experience simplistic travel. Pai restaurant has been there for last 80 yrs and prepared a nice lunch for us even though it was not lunch time yet. Local transport is very expensive in Gokarna. Four of us ended sharing one auto multiple times with Nitin sitting at the front. My first impression of Trippr was quiet bad. First, there is no direct access road for the property. Our auto guy dropped us 200 meters away on the beach and we had to walk to reach the property. Property is very basic, dogs were roaming around and the chef was absent as it was off season. The room was ok but our bigger disappointment came later when we realized that the water is muddy.

Somehow we managed to take the bath and decided to visit the temples at Gokarna. Since the temple only opens up at 5 pm, we had an hr to kill which we did by roaming nearby streets. It was fairly deserted. Many shops are closed because it is an off-season. Very few tourists were visiting. In the market, we saw an art gallery. A few kids were learning basic drawing and coloring while the walls had paintings which were quiet abstract.

After roaming streets, at 5 pm, we reached our temple and one of the requirements for entry was to remove the shirt. I skipped visiting it inside. After the temple, we walked to RamTeerath - another temple about 750 m away. At RaamTeerath, it is believed that Lord Ram had meditated here on his way to Lanka. It was a breezy and peaceful place with a big rock where you can sit and enjoy waves going sideways. Typically, you see waves coming at you but at this point, you can see waves going and hitting the Gokarna beach shore.

We decided to have dinner at Namaste Cafe on Om Beach. The cafe was the only one open. You can hear the waves from your dinner table. Food and service are ok.

Gokarna autos have a differential pricing structure where they have fixed rates between destinations and if you divide the rate by distance, it roughly comes to be about INR 50- INR 70 per km.  I used to believe that hotel and transportation from home to city are the two biggest expenses in travel. Food is variable - you can get both cheap and 5-star options, so it depends on us. But over last 3-4 trips, I have realized that within city transportation is also a significant expense. At Gokarna, about 20% of our total expense would have been local city transportation. A majority of this is just union controlled dynamics which will be shattered in few years by a corporation with lots of money.

Day 2

Day 2 was our beach hike day. We took an auto from our hostel to Paradise beach. Our plan was to start hike from Paradise beach, then to Half moon beach and end at Om beach and have lunch there. If we have energy, we may want to hike to Kudle beach or just relax at Om beach. Both Paradise and Half moon beach are not accessible by roads, one has to trek to reach them. Our Auto guy dropped us at about 1.5 km away from the Paradise beach.

Both Kanishka and I instantly realized the mistake of not having floaters on this trip. We had to cross a stream which meant taking off our shoes and then wearing them again. The trek was ok. Even though it was off season and it had rained last week, the trail was firm and clean. Paradise beach is indeed beautiful but for humans. People have etched their names on rocks, there is a garbage pile at one end. But the beach overall is clean and if you have a sense to ignore your distant surroundings, you can stay in peace there.

From Paradise beached, we started our hike to Half moon beach. But in the absence of a guide, we took two wrong turns and ended up at a point where there was no trail ahead. We had to back trace and then figure out an alternative path. That is the joy of natural trekking.  In this process, we had to face couple of paths which were difficult to climb. Parul was a little scared but Nitin guided her.  We did manage to reach Half moon beach and it is a small beach with some nice rice paddy fields behind it.

It reminded me of Half moon bay near SF and my good memories of that place. Trek from Half moon beach to Om beach was much easy. We were guided by couple of folks who had come to Half moon beach to relax, chill and smoke weed. We were also offered to join them but we decided to move on. The trail goes through a nice tree cover and you can see the ocean through them at some points. There is also a view point where you can see the boundary of Om of Om beach.

Om beach was almost empty, this being the off season. There were few tourists near the Namaste cafe but for the most part of the beach, it was clean and clear. We enquired from a life guard on possibility of taking a boat to see dolphins. He said that this is high tide and off season and hence dolphins trips are not happening.  Our lunch was good at Namaste cafe. Post that, we decided to dip ourselves .

Water was not that cold but since it was high tide, we were advised to not go deep. We were at the rim of ocean where waves were little slower. Hence in addition to water bath, it was also sand bath for me. Fortunately Om beach also has a water bath facility but it is in poor condition. Bathing rooms did not have latches, there was no light plus you had to carry water in bucket from a tap 25 meters away.  Somehow, I was able to take bath and then was all freshened up.

We decided to check the Zostel hostel and its Mantra cafe. Coffee was good and hostel is decent, much better location as compared to our hostel. We walked from Zostel to Kudle beach. Along the way, we found the birthplace of Hanuman Janamsthal. This was so ironic . We have so much going on for Ram Janambhoomi and for Ram's biggest bhakt and he himself being such an iconic lord, his birthplace is lying in tatters.

Kudle beach is decent but could be maintained well. We walked from one end to another hoping to find a nice dinner place but could not. With this we have walked all famous beaches of Gokarna from one end to the other. We had done it for Paradise, Half moon, Om, Kudle and Gokarna. We decided to have dinner at a fancy white elephant restaurant but when we reached there, it was all empty. We decided to have food at a restaurant opposite White elephant. Food was decent there. Through out our stay at Gokarna, we could not find any Roti, it was always the Chapati (Maida roti). Kanishka due to her head issues was very careful with her diet and only had Jeera rice + dal tadka/fry at all times.

Day 3
After having breakfast at our usual Pai restaurant, we went off to Yana to see the caves there. Our plan was to see Yana and then go to Mirjan fort if time permits, have lunch and then board the train back. We had rented a car who charged us INR 2000 for the entire day. Drive from Gokarna to Yana is scenic.

Yana was absolutely stunning. It was by far the best part of this trip. Located inside a dense forest, with no network (bonus), we had to trek about 30 mins to reach the top. There are two Yana rocks, we visited the smaller one. Wikipedia has a nice anecdote about the mythology behind this place -,_India . The rocks truly are alien given the surrounding landscape and the theory that they were left by aliens ages ago seem plausible.

The trek to cave top was very beautiful with waterfalls, lush green forests and no leeches . At the top, there is a temple. The caves are behind the temple with proper staircases leading up to them but the catch that one has to walk bare feet. At this time, it was raining there and we were all wearing ponchos. Rain had made the steps and the path quite slippery. But we still went ahead. There were very few people and hence it was very beautiful.

Getting down was quick. Kanishka was feeling little sick because of motion sickness. She took some candies. From there, we went to Mirjan fort but we saw it in a hurry as we had only 30 mins. Mirjan fort is in ruins but could be very beautiful.

After having lunch at a highway restaurant - delicious and cheap - we even got some packed for our dinner, we were before time at the railway station to catch our train back home. We played Bonus on our way back and I tried to read The Guide - by R K Narayan at night.

During the trip, we saw how new constructions are coming up in Gokarna and we felt that in next 10 - 15 yrs, it will become present day Goa. It needs more attractions and possibly couple of good pubs. Gokarna as of now is still very beautiful and green. It is still not as commercialized. Its beaches are still pretty and off-season with fewer people is a good time to visit. If it rains, just carry a poncho. Dolphin siteseeing is anyways not good for Dolphins and hence I was in two minds to avoid it. But the highlight of this trip and this destination is indeed Yana. It is truly secluded and untouched by tourists as of now. Yana made this trip totally wow. If I visit it next time, that would be because of Yana and not Gokarna.