A Travellerspoint blog

May 2010

Pondicherry and Mamallapuram...

L'aventure Franco-Indienne.

sunny 40 °C

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So we get to Pondicherry feeling worse for wear, we are not quite sure what it is but with my man down we check into a decent hotel to get better. The decent hotel (hotel d'Orient - sorry its time to name and shame) just so happens to have the stuffiest room combined with the worst AC system one could install in this heat. You basically have to sit on the floor 10cm away from the unit in order to feel anything. Gavin has a restless night but we both eventually settle down and get some sleep. The next day we check the other rooms and swiftly check out to somewhere with better AC. We get a hotel close to the Manakula Vinayagar temple and as soon as we settle in it all catches up with me and I am out for nearly two days with Gav's bug.

Once we are better its time to explore, actually I am quite happy just to chill and take it easy. Pondy has such a good feel about it, the old French buildings, beautiful tree-lined streets, the beach is 5 minutes down the road and Gav's new friend - Lakshmi the elephant at the temple - which is 30 seconds away.

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We instantly fall in love with the place, everything is so easy and it kind of feels like home so much so that even though we are only supposed to be here for a few days we end up staying the full 10 days until its time to make our way back up north to Delhi. The French influence in Pondi is everywhere. French buildings, french schools, french people, french restaurants. It's like wandering round a Parisien suburb full of Indians! :)

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Our days in Pondy are spent going for long heritage walks in the morning, eating at what is probably the best restaurant in the whole of India - yes a very big claim but the line has been drawn and "Surguru Spot" is what everything will be compared to. We love it so much that at the very least we have our lunch and dinner at the restaurant every day! The food is a mixture of dishes from both the North and South but they are cooked to perfection, at a cost of just over a quid per dish! I ask the waiter if the chef would be willing to share any of his recipes and am thrilled when he obliges. Of course since most Indian recipes are according to eye and taste he tells me how to make the dishes and I cannot wait to try these out once I get back to the UK.

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We explore a few local sites, the churches, museum and temples, a paper factory... but apart from that the pace is very slow. At one stage Gav rents a moped to zip about the french cobbled street boulevards. Believe me, it's not easy negotiating the roads here with hundreds of bikes, cars, cows, people, dogs, rickshaws etc all over the place. It soon becomes clear to Gav why the use of the horn is so essential in India! Without it, no-one knows you're coming. You see, you dont stop and give way in India at all. No matter where you are, a busy junction, a crossroads, a motorway slip road, the style is to continue, beep your horn like crazy and then adjust speed depending on the proximity of oncoming traffic. A kind of perpetual game of chicken where the prize is escaping with your life :). Now, whilst Gav is no expert on Indian driving techniques, he did very, very well and we had great fun scooting off here and there, tooting the horn at anything that moved! That was until we fell off... and Gav no longer wished to ride around Pondi on a scooter! We decided it would be safer on two legs while we still have them! :)

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We arrange for a rickshaw driver - Swami to take us to Auroville just outside for for a day. Pondi is full of shops and institutions which are dedicated to guy called Aurobind and some French lady who is referred to as the Mother. They basically shared the same philosophy on humanity that everyone should be able to live together in peace and harmony and created a village in the 1970's about 15km outside Pondi. Auroville is made up of people from all nationalities who work and live together to realise the dream of their guru. Gav and I can't really argue with the philosophy but it doesn't feel very welcoming since outsiders are only allowed to the visitors centre in Auroville, one cannot go to visit the farms, homes, community etc unless you stay for a long time and contribute to the society. So there are some bits of the whole thing we find cultish and a little creepy. We do however visit the visitors centre and then walk 2km (2km is not a lot but in the scorching heat it feels like 20k!) through beautiful forest, past giant ant-hills to see a giant golden golf ball. The golf ball is made of golden discs and is where the Aurovillians come together for meditation. It has a chamber inside which also house the largest cubic zirconia in the whole world! Wow! I hear you cry ;) , but of course this being Auroville and all, you are only permitted to view the odd structure from a distance and if you want to visit the chamber you need to make a special application, watch the videos on Aurobind and the Mother, visit the visitors centre a number of times and be sure to get your stamps otherwise you have to start over again. Like I said a little bit weird and creepy.

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As you must know by now we love our bus journeys so a visit to Tamil Nadu would not be complete without a trip on the bus. This time round we make it onto the super duper Ac Volvo bus but as luck would have it all the seats are gone so its standing room only on the two hour trip to Mamallapuram. Mamallapuram is a 7th century port city and houses some of the best monolithic and rock-cut monuments in India. We get a rickshaw driver - Ramesh to take us round some of the key sites. Our first stop is the five rathas.

(Hello all! Gav taking over now :))

I had to do the part about Mamallapuram because I loved it so much. So anyway, we arrive at the 5 rathas, a site dating back to the 7th Century. In fact all of the collection of monuments in Mamallapuram are circa this time and as such are all Unesco World Heritage Sites.

The five Rathas is a set of magnificent monolithic rock temples. They are sometimes called the Panch Rathas as Panch is a Hindi world which means ‘Five’. They are basically rock temples located in a sandy compound, but they are so much more than that. If you're looking for examples of early Dravidian architecture I dont think it gets better than this. All five monuments are built in the shape of pagodas and Rathas in English means chariots. This is basically what the Rathas represent, they are the chariots of the gods. The five rathas are (i) Draupadi’s Ratha, (ii) Arjuna’s Rath, (iii) Nakul – Sahadev’s Rath, (iv) Bhima Rath and (v) Dharamraja Yudhistar’s Rath. They are each carved from one single peice of pink granite boulder (I'm serious, a single peice!). I'll let the photos do the rest of the explaining as to why I loved this place so much.

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Just incase you're wondering how they cut massive whole slabs of mountain 1,500 years ago take a look at this picture. You see the series of small square holes in the face of the rock? Into those holes fits a wooden peg. Once the pegs were in place the masons would saturate them with water causing them to expand and with a bit of luck, crack the rock in two. Amazing huh!?

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The next stop was an odd sight. Krishna's Butterball. A boulder placed inexplicably and precariously on a sharp slope. That's pretty much it... :)

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Onward to Arjuna's Penance, a fantastic example of 7th Century relief carving, depicting Arjuna's vow to raise his arm in penance to Lord Shiva in return for the power to slay the most powerful gods and demons.

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Next, possibly the most incredible place, not for what you can see, but for what you can't see. I'll explain...

The shore temple is undoubtedly beautiful, but much of a muchness after you've been to the Five Rathas and Arjuna's Penance. The real beauty lies in an amazing turn of events during the Sri Lanka Tsunami in 2004. Our guide Ali tells us that he was there when the ocean began to rise, and for 45 minutes there was an abnormally low tide (caused by the tsunami). When the ocean was at its lowest point, six new temples were revealed about 200 meters behind this one. They had been hidden beneath the ocean for 1,500 years. No one knew they were there and no one could believe their eyes. After the tsunami the ocean's level was permanently altered and now you can see six little white dots in the distance behind the shore temple. These are froth generated by waves hitting the submerged temples! I really could not believe it when he told me that story. It was just jaw dropping.

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Leaving Mamallapuram thoroughly satisfied with the days sightseeing we returned to Pondi by bus and enjoyed dinner at our usual Surguru spot. The next day we leave for Agra via Chennai and Delhi and drive through the heaviest rain I have ever seen in my life. It's a taste of the monsoon to come and really defies belief...

Stay tuned :)

Posted by Gavness 21:47 Archived in India Tagged events Comments (0)

Rocky road to Calicut and rich (tea) pickings in Ooty...

Finally, some cool weather!

25 °C

Kovalam is the place for Gav, due to my injury I have to make do with watching him tackle the waves. The place is like no other, you literally can sit for hours on end mesmerised by the waves and the people having fun with them. Seeking safety in numbers, the Indian families are the best they all holds hands and huddle up together as they try and find the courage to edge a little bit further in. I make quite a few friends, Radha and her friend who bring me fruit each day, Sanjeev Kumar that is S A N J E E V K U M A R as he spells it everytime someone asks him his name, there is also Ramesh with the sarongs and lunghis. Their stories really touch my heart, and it is sad to say goodbye.

The one thing I won't miss about Kovalam is the cockroaches!! I see them every night in the loo and as Gav is fast asleep he thinks they are the phantom cockroaches. Nonetheless I hate cockroaches so have trouble totally relaxing at night out of fear of having one on me at night.

Its right about now that we start feeling homesick and are also a little bit fed up with the heat and moving around and so decide to go to the cooler climes of Ooty. Ooty is a hill station founded by the British in the Western Ghats. Since we are not that organised, it is impossible to get a train ticket and we instead decide to do the nine hour journey by bus. Trivandarum is at a stand still on the day we leave due to the labour day marches. We make it to the bus station in time by but our bus is delayed by a couple of hours and no one seems to know where it is or why. We've noticed that the men have a particularly annoying way of not communicating...firstly there is no acknowledgement - of you being there let alone saying anything and secondly giving a one word answer with a particular look that can only be interpreted as "the matter has been dealt with". If one persists with further questions or queries they turn into robots looking right through you and repeating the one word answer. Thus, by the time our bus finally arrives the calmness of Kovalam has well and truly left our spirits.

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The bus rides in India are adventures in themselves and this one is no exception. We settle in with our iPOD and both manage to catch some sleep only to be awoken by the conductor growling at us to get up, get off and change buses. We are both shocked by the rude awakening but grab our luggage and get onto the next bus. Maybe it is the rocking motion of the bus, maybe the sleepless nights have caught up with me, I'm not sure what it is but I manage to go back to sleep which is more than can be said for Gav who is more then a little pissed off with the bus, the journey and the moody conductor. We arrive at our destination, Calicut at 4.30am and are promptly taken to the only decent and way over-priced hotel in town. This just adds to the bad feeling and we promise to book bus bus tickets the next day to get out of town.

We wake up late morning and head for some breakkie at a coffee shop where we get chatting to Patrick. Patrick is a British South Indian who has jacked in his job as a teacher to come to play professional football in India for a year. We talk about the frustrations of communication in India (his coach is an old school Indian who hasn't quite grasped the idea of team building), love of Indian food and of course our beloved London. We leave Patrick to go to book our bus tickets and after an hour of walking in the burning sun we are no closer to finding anyone who can help us with our quest. People either laugh and walk away, point to a direction over yonder or simply just ignore us. As you can imagine this does not really help our already low opinion of Calicut. Feeling defeated we decide to get a car instead and spend the rest of the day chilling. In the evening we decide to get mall food, we know its super crappy but we can't be bothered with trying to find anything else. The mall in Calicut is the first of its kind and Gav and I spend some time after dinner being entertained by people trying to use escalators, mainly unsuccessfully. Childish we know but it gives our spirits a much needed boost.

The next day is a 6am start for the 5 hour journey to Ooty. The journey is pretty uneventful except for the driver trying to rip us off for 300 Rs. We know we are close when we can wind down the windows without it feeling like we've opened the oven door. We breathe in the cool mountain air, sit back and enjoy the windy road up to Ooty.

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Now, we've heard that many people come to Ooty to escape the scorching heat, but the sight that beholds us as we get to the town centre is like no other. It feels like the centre is a magnet that pulls traffic from every direction. The noise is not the calm we had anticipated but instead a din of blaring horns and people shouting. Then there are the people...so many people that it feels like everyone is in town and there is no room to move. We try to find our hotel but the map of Ooty is impossible to work out and we draw blanks from the police, traffic wardens and rickshaw drivers. We eventually find the Lonely Planet's recommendation for best budget stays at the YWCA, the building is an old brewery "possessing an old Tuscan vibe". Gav checks out the room and the look upon him returning it says it all - filthy and smelling of "tuscan" wee which is where we draw the line at where it is acceptable to stay. Since everyone is in town everywhere is booked up so it takes some time to find a place. We manage to nab a cancellation at Willow Hill which is an alpine-chalet type affair set high above town. The views from our room and the garden are breath taking but more importantly the silence is golden, no horns, no people, no traffic.

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Our days in Ooty are spent feeling homesick (probably exacerbated by the UK-like climate), chilling, walking (to train for Machu Pichu) and eating. Ooty is inexplicably famous for making their own chocolate, consequently the town is aflood with chocolate shops...

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This is how cold it gets in Ooty...

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We book ourselves on a day trek (12km) with a tribal guy - Rajeev. After a few false starts our trek gets underway with two other couples - Andrew and Cara (from London) and Jack and Mariam (from Goa). Rajeev is a diamond. He's a member of the Toda tribe, a people that have farmed and lived in these hills for 5000 years. He takes us through the Nilgiri hills explaining about the flora and fauna. The place is so lush and green that we could very easily be walking in the South Downs or the Lake District. In fact it does feel like walking on a piece of England when Rajeev tells us about about how many trees, plants, vegetables, types of grass were brought over by the British. Our guide is very knowledgeable about the hills and is also a very proud Indian, we get another side of the British colonization story when he tells us that Ooty would not be the place it is or that the tribal people would not have survived had it not been for what the British did for Ooty.

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We get to meet some of Rajeev's family when we stop for lunch (a healthy affair of tea, biscuits and crisps). He explains how the girls have been stopped from furthering their education after a certain point due to them meeting boys at college and consequently wanting to marry outside the tribe. The tribe disowns anyone who marrys outside and as such there is a high level of inter-breeding which of course means a high number of mental and physical defects in newborns. We are told that they are aware of this problem, however, due to the tribes wanting to keep a strong blood line these things are ignored. Its quite sad when later that evening, Rajeev tells us that he doesn't think his tribe will last for more than 25 years.

Rajeev finds a deer skull which he says was recently killed by a tiger...

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After lunch we carry on and proceed to the tea plantations on the Nilgiri hills. We are meet by a group of young boys who insist on us taking their photos. It really is the best thing to hear them getting so excited and shrieking with joy when we take a picture and then show it to them. I think this goes on for almost an hour and their excitement does not wane a tiny bit, picture after picture they look, shriek and then ask for another picture, of course we are more than happy to oblige.

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How much does she look like Vija? :)

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Apart from this, the best part of my day is when Rajeev leads us to a tea plantation and explains all things (OK maybe not all) about tea. We learn about the different types - white, green and black and then have a go at picking some ourselves. The people who work on the plantation work nine hour days and earn 200 Rs per day picking tea, this is regarded as a good wage.

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Our day ends with a walk and bus ride back into town followed by a coffee with our new friends.

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Andy and Cara are up for a beer before dinner at the hotel but as we have a few chores to run they wait for us at a bar in town which Rajeev takes us to. Cara describes the bar as a speakeasy and it being the first "proper" bar that we have been to in India I am not really shocked or surprised at the watering hole for the local men folk. Gav and I complete our chores and return to our drinking buddies. Cara and I are the only girls in the bar so we get a lot of stares. I kind of think that it is probably a little bit more acceptable for Cara to be there as a foreigner whereas I am probably considered to be lower than the brown stuff on their shoes due to my Indian descent. I feel totally uncomfortable and can feel eyes boring into my head as I sip on the beer and make merry with my friends. I mention how I am feeling to Rajeev and he tells me that what I think is very true but not to worry as he's got our back. I find it incredibly sad but hey I am in their territory and since you never know how alcohol can flare tempers, I tell my friends that I would not be happy for us to stay if Rajeev left. As luck would have it Rajeev misses his last bus (not our fault, blame it on his quadruple vodkas...straight!) and stays until closing time! Andy, Cara, Gav and I take some beer back to our hotel and cotch up in the garden for a night cap. It is our best night in Ooty, under a blanket of starts shooting the breeze with some fellow Londoners.

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The next day we are up early for our onward journey to Chennai. Our driver picks us up at 7.30am for a lovely drive down to Coimbatore airport. We make our plane and land in Chennai late afternoon. Chennai is probably our least favourite place, it is just a big, noisy, polluted city with really not much at all. Thus we are grateful that we decide to only stay for one night and make arrangements to travel to Mammalapuram the next day. Unfortunately Gavin is really sick the following day and our plans change to go to Pondicherry instead which has better medical care should we need it. Turns out Pondi is wicked beyond all expectations. We end up staying there for over a week. Gav will update with the Pondi blog anon...

:) Later aligators

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Posted by Gavness 09:00 Archived in India Tagged events Comments (1)

From Backwater to open water...Kovalam, I love you.

Pineapple, mango, papaya, bannana...

Ahhhhh Kovalam. I have to say, hands down my favourite place in India so far.

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We arrive at Trivandrum station, the biggest city in Kerala, brimming with noise and activity. A mere 30 minutes drive however and you land in Kovalam. An idyllic beach town, quiet as a mouse except for the crashing waves and cawing crows. Our first port of call is the Beth Saida resort, which we book on the recommendation of our good buddies Sanj and Deb. Hi guys! :)

Sorry guys but since you were in India this place must have gone down the crapper! We have the shock of our lives when the restaurant buffet offers us up a smorgesboard of stale food and crappy service. We wonder how this can possibly call itself a top end resort and we swiftly book ourselves out of there and head straight to lighthouse beach, the coolest place in India I reckon.

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Lighthouse beach is a surfers paradise, yes Rob, you need to come here. The swell is huge every day, the water's crystal clear and warm as you like :) Everything about this place is warm and friendly, from the old ladies peddling fresh fruit on the beachfront - "Mango, pineapple, banana, fruit salad" to the charming locals and hassle-free shopping. This is the life for me. Neet also takes a distinct liking to this place and we end up staying the best part of a week. Every morning I'm up early to jump into the 25 degree ocean. I have a local resident who I hire a boogie board from and let the waves do their work as they pummel me this way and that. It's like a theme park ride open 24hrs a day for free! So much fun! Neet can't decide which pain is worse...the pain from the burn or not being able to go in to the water. The sand here is also worth a mention. It's jet black volcanic sand and it is amazing. It's so fine and the colour makes it look like the ocean is lapping onto slabs of granite. It's really nice, you fall in love instantly and can't somehow quite find the words to describe it. The crabs seem to love it too, and I spot a couple of big fellas that would fit nicely into a pot of boiling water. Too hard to catch though :)

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Speaking of the seafood, every morning the fishermen come to sell their wares to the local restaurants along the strip, and in the evening the restaurants lay out their bounty for you to choose before they cook them up to your liking. I had prawns the size of small children, I kid you not! SO DELICIOUS :)

Unfortunately Neet's motorbike burn has prevented her from enjoying the swimming here in Kovalam but she is loving it all the same. I on the other hand have taken to the "point break" lifestyle, living for the ocean daily. All I have to worry about here is what time to go swimming, what time to nap, what time to eat amazing seafood and what time to grab a beer while I sit with Neet on our patio listening to the sounds of the waves and watching the mesmerising monotony of the lighthouse. It's something else here, I can tell you. If you ever come to India for a break, this is the place to come.

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This blog update will be pretty short because honestly, nothing much happened. We just chilled and ate great food, swam in the ocean and took strolls along the beach every day. That is what Kovalam is all about, and we loved it to death :)

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After Kovalam, we took the bus to Calicut enroute to the Ooty hills of Tamil Nadu. Ooty was fantastic and Neet will hopefully have something up soon from there.

See you soon guys, PEACE :) !!!

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Posted by Gavness 04:07 Archived in India Tagged events Comments (0)

From North to South....Welcome to Kerala.

First stop, Kochin and Allepey... Crows and goats, fish and boats.

32 °C

So we arrive in Kerala the next morning exhausted from the shenanigans from the night before. We book ourselves into the Old Harbour Hotel in Fort Cochin and head down in a taxi. I am exhausted and sleep most of the way, Gav is quite excited and manages to stay awake and take some pics. We get to our hotel and it is exactly what we need, nice and clean with super friendly staff. We get showered and head for a much needed breakfast...our first brekkie dosas in Kerala!! Sad I know but I am so excited to be having the staple south Indian brekkie in south India.

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The heat in Kerala is totally different to the dry heat up north, down here is a dampness which makes for high humidity. The minute that Gav and I step out from the comfort of our ACed room we start feeling sticky and uncomfortable. Within 5 to 10 minutes we are covered in sweat and our clothes start sticking. The dampness along with daily thunderstorms means the mosquitoes are out in force.

We try to fight the urge but the tiredness takes us and we end up catching the Zzzz's until late afternoon. We have the harbour right across from our hotel and it reminds me of Flic en Flac in Mauritus with the locals going for strolls, children playing, the sound of the waves and the smell of food. We head onto the harbour when we wake up to see the Chinese fishing nets and meet the fishermen. These guys have a tough job - casting the nets about 300 times a day to catch enough fish to feed themselves and their families. They tell us about their families and how they have been affected by the tsunami and my immediate thought is why not move the nets to where the bigger bounty is? After speaking to a few more people, it turns out that the tsunami didn't affect Kerala at all and the story is to spin a yarn to get some extra money from the tourists. The reality is that the massive boats that now patrol the Harbour front have scared all the fish away. That I'm afraid is apart of India that makes me constantly suspicious of what I am being told and being taken advantage of.

Gav and I take a stroll, watching the folks do their thing on the waterfront. We spot this mad guy getting a tattoo, check out the DIY tattoo needle!!!!

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We find a spot on the rocks to watch the sun set, for company we seem to have a million crows! The cows and dogs from north India seem to have been replaced by crows and goats in south India. It is beautiful - to see the colours changing in the sky and sea while ships and boats pass by.

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The next few days in Fort Cochin are super chilled, we couldn't have picked a better place to stay it is just so relaxed and feels even more like home due to the similarities to Mauritus. We hire a rickshaw driver for one of the days to take us to the market and end up with him showing us a couple of sights (his idea) and then a load of shops where we presume he is being paid commission to take us there. This is what I mean when I say being taken advantage of. Our hotel has the old fashioned candlestick phones which we think are antiques and have taken quite a fancy to so decide that we may take one home. Our search for the phone starts and although we see a few we don't make a firm decison on any. We get back to the hotel and decide to check how much they cost on ebay and instead end up calling a dealer in the UK who advises us against buying anything as they are made very cheaply in China and imported to Kerala. This advice really makes us open our eyes as every shop we have been to has told us that the phones are "proper" restored antiques from the old forts, palaces and mansions in Kerala. And so ends our shopping urges in Kerala.

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The next day Gav goes down early to the fishing nets and spends some time with James and his motley crew. They let Gav help to raise and lower the nets and he gets a first hand look at how difficult their job really is. Each time they lower and raise the nets they get about 1 or two tiny fish. They used to catch about 40kilos a day, now they are down to just 3-5 kilos. You can forgive them for trying it on with the tourists now...

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The pace of life down south is totally different to the north, it is slow, and we fall right into step. Our days are spent pottering about, reading, catching up with family on the phone, eating lovely food and just all round chilling before our next stop which is Allepey.

We make arrangements for Allepey and since our first choice in accomodation is full we go by the hotel driver's recommendation to stay at the Keralayan backwaters at a place called Aqua Bliss. He seems to know what he is talking about and has a colourful brochure with beautiful pictures so we think why not? The journey to Aqua Bliss involves a two hour car ride and a dug out canoe. The backwaters are amazing - so calm and peaceful. Our host - Suresh is a really jolly guy, always similing and I imagine typically Keralyan. We get shown to our room and Gav and I are not sure whether it is the comfort of our digs at the Old Harbour or the places we've stayed in so far up north for the same price but it is super basic and a little too out into the wild. The location on the other hand cannot be beaten. You walk two steps and your facing the river Pampa and the endlessly stretching backwaters of Allepy. Suresh's team have prepared the most delicious lunch which we eat off a banana leaf. The afternoon is spent relaxing before our evening boat ride on the back waters.

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Day-break on the backwaters... just stunning. The light is like nothing else in this world...

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Backwaters at night...

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Some local Allepey critters - Mr Toad...

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...and the biggest flock of ducks I have ever seen!!!!

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Now we don't want to sound ungrateful but the place we are staying at is very quiet, a little too quiet maybe. Well actually there is a church opposite which seems to be having some kind of festival so it is rather loud with the singing and fireworks (which are super scary!). So apart from church for company there really is nothing for us to do, we have to rely on someone getting us a boat to get us anywhere and this seems to take ages as it is the weekend and most of the people are involved in their religious practices. Also, Suresh's staff don't speak much english making it difficult to communicate. Gav and I decide the isolation is too much and we'll leave the next day.

The next day being a sunday means that everything is so slow that Suresh ends up taking us to the train station himself. We grab an autorickshaw and find alternative accomodation, ending up at a place called Keraleeyam which is decent if not a little overpriced. There is a real problem in communication here which makes us feel isolated, which is further exacberated by not meeting other travellers. It seems that the north Indians come down south to escape the heat and as most Indians keeps themselves to themselves we somehow end up doing the same.

Now this Sunday is not like any other...it is the 20/20 final between Mumbai and Chennai. Having never seen a game of cricket before I decide to watch the match by myself as Gavin is not feeling well. There is one TV in our hotel so I go and join one of the staff watching the game. As soon as I sit down, he gets up and leaves. I think nothing of it until some time later when I turn around and see that I have the whole room to myself and there are 6-7 men sitting on chairs around the doorway watching, and no amount of persistence would get them into the room!

(Hiya! Gav's on the mic now... :))

After the match Neet and I decided that we should try and book a houseboat so we call our mate Madhu, a guy who owns a hotel in Allepey, and he arranges for it to pick us up from the jetty outside our hotel (it's weird having no road access but plenty of boat access!).

The houseboat arrives at 11.30am and my first thoughts are... THIS THING IS FOR TWO PEOPLE?!!!!! IT'S HUGE!!!!

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The boat is lovely though, in a traditional thatched roof Keralan design, it's got a nice lounge, TV (with SKY!!!) and a half decent bedroom. The bathroom however is Nightmare on Elmstreet-esque... The boat leaves and we settle down for what must me the most abjectly peaceful, serene and unperturbed day of our lives. It is silent on these backwaters. The only sounds are of the motorboats humming away and the gentle sounds of riverside life.

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The heavens open at one point but its actually a really nice experience. The storm brewing was an epic sight though... I feel it in me' bones...

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At 6 am the next morning we are taken off the boat onto a small dug-out canoe for a tour of the true backwater village life. This is a real eye-opener for me, the way the locals use this network of rivers for absolutely everything. We sail past people brushing their teeth, washing themselves and their cookware, fishing, swimming. The nature is bursting everywhere around us and we spot river snakes slithering past us, kingfishers perched atop electricity cables, herons and storks as well as cashew trees, bannanas, Mangos and coconuts. It was so interesting just to sit in silence watching the villagers go about their daily routine. Loved it!

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When we return to the drop off point we are informed that there is a national strike so no taxis, rickshaws, nothing! This means we are restricted to the scooter and motorbike that Madhu has sent to pick us up on. My trip to the hotel is fine but Neet burns her leg on the exhaust pipe of the bike, ruining any chance of her going in the ocean tomorrow when we reach Kovalam. I have previously purchased a rail ticket from Allepey to Trivandrum for 1.30 this afternoon but, a sudden wave of fear pulses through me as I realise, I have no idea what the date or day is! I check the ticket and lo and behold, the train left yesterday! DOH! We rush to the station and luckily there is a train leaving at about 4pm so I book tickets for that.

Look at this nutter!

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The train journey (3hrs) whizzes by as we chat the whole way to Umi, a local tamil businessman. He's a jolly fellow, as many of these southies are!

Stay tuned, our next post will be about Kovalam, one of my absolute favourite places in the world! See ya :) !!!
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Posted by Gavness 07:09 Archived in India Tagged events Comments (1)

Trouble and Strife in Mumbai

Its our last day in Udaipur and I am feeling quite sad to leave. I absolutely love it here (I know! I know! We say that about everywhere!!) it is supposed to be the most romantic place in India and I am captivated. One could spend the whole day looking at the lake, way yonder into the mountains, watching the small sandstorms forming in the fields, as well as the birds, elephants and bats and best of all people. Since we have been pretty lazy we decide to hire a rickshaw driver - Dream to take us around for the morning before our flight to Mumbai followed by an epic train journey to Hampi. Dream is a right old dear, he seems a sad and sorrowful soul with the biggest heart and the best laugh you can imagine. He takes us to a park, the three lakes, to the outskirts and villages and then some shopping. Gav and I have a flight to catch in the afternoon and as we have taken a liking to the domestic airports we decide we'll go an extra hour earlier to check out Udaipur airport. Gav and I split to complete our chores - mine is to go to the post office to send all our goodies home. Unbeknown to me, we are supposed to pack it all up before you get to the post office - my thinking was to get a box and brown paper and do it all whilst in the queue. This is not the case, Dream takes Martin and I across the road to get our stuff packaged up, this involves "proper" packing where they box and sew the package together. I have been assured that the PO delivers to the UK within 10 days so I leave my parcel in the trusty hands of the Indian and UK PO...

We meet Gav back at the hotel and exchange gifts (a watch and spangly disco cum torch cum lighter) and bid goodbye to our travel companion Martin who is undecided on the next leg of his journey. We may meet up in the South but for the time being it is au revoir, or as they say in Hindi phir melange (we'll meet again). We get to Udaipur airport and really couldn't be more disappointed. There are two shops - one selling confectionary and another selling tourist paranephalia. We aren't allowed to go through the gates until our flight is called so make arrangements for our accomodation and travel to our next destination, Hampi. It is low season in Hampi and we are more than slightly shocked at the rates offered for a car to pick us up from the train station. Gav and I board the plane and we are both thinking the same thing - why pay silly prices for Hampi when we can instead use the money towards Kerala. It may sound very silly with not doing much (except for pondering), but we are in desperate need of a break and decide to change our plans and go to Kerala instead. I guess that is the thing about plans...

We get to Mumbai airport and while Gav dashes off to get a refund on the Hampi train ticket, I look for onward flights to Kerala. There is nothing until very early the next morning so rather than getting a hotel we decide we'll kill the few hours between dinner and our flight at the airport. Dinner tonight is a treat - a feast at the Taj in Mumbai. We phone ahead, make reseravations and get the taxi into the city. Since we are only here for a few hours I try to get the driver to point out some interesting sights en route. We get to the Taj and are surprised with the security in force - armed guards, x-ray machines, police etc. Despite all this, we are looking forward to a swanky dinner. Unfortunately, as the menu arrives, we order and start to eat our thoughts turn to the poverty that's outside of the hotel front door and suddenly the meal doesn't taste as it is supposed to. I think despite the poverty and as most people know how much Gav and I love our food, it really is not as good as some of the other places we have dined at. Never mind, we live and we learn...

Since the hotel is a lot nicer than the airport, we decide to kill time there instead. I have taken to nicking toilet tissue everywhere we go and I can tell you the Taj's is amongst the softest!!! Its about 1.30 - 2.00 in the morning and Gav and I decide to go for a walk. We cross the road and are promptly told by the armed police that the road is closed and we can't go there, so we decide to go another way which looks open. We get to the end of that road and can't decide whether to turn right, left or turn back. We turn back as we have no idea where is safe to go and we see quite a few stray dogs. As we turn back we see about seven armed men coming towards us. All of them are shouting and Gav and I are basically crapping our pants. As they get closer the shouting gets louder "What is your room number? Where is your hotel? What are you doing here?" They don't give us a chance to explain and instead just repeat the same three questions over and over again. The sight of angry shouty men with guns more than scares both of us and whilst to his credit Gav maintains calm composure, I get upset. They can't understand why one would be upset at this type of showdown. They take us across the road and a lady goes through the same questions over and over again. They check our passports and visas and can't some how understand that we are British. This is something that we encounter on a daily basis and have to explain that we have an Indian ancestry. Once again our passports, visas and bags are checked (my heart does beat a little faster when they find the hoard of tissues!) and once they are happy that we are not a threat, they call us a taxi and tell us to wait at the airport.

We are still shaking when we get to the airport and once inside hold on to each other until its time to get the flight to Kerala...

Posted by Gavness 06:32 Archived in India Tagged events Comments (3)

From Jaipur to Pushkar and Udaipur...

and the heat goes on...

Hiya folks! :)

So, the ludicrously out of date blog continues but you'll forgive us considering theres a power cut here every 30 minutes or so!

So we've left Jaipur and head on the bus with Martin to Pushkar, a sleepy town a bit further west. Further west means hotter! The bus which is supposed to be air conditioned, is of course without AC and offers only a window to open which may as well be an oven door in this 45 degree heat. I struggle with the heat for the first time and cant wait for this trip to be over. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) this "direct" bus is anything but. The conductor and driver have a little side business going where they pick up people every 3km or so charging them 7rs a go! Cheeky buggers! The journey therefore takes over an hour longer than it should. When we finally arrive in pushkar the heat is stifling and the landscape changes drastically, you can really tell you're in the desert here.

Pushkar itself is lovely but Neet has taken a dislike to it, probably because it's a bit smellier and dirtier than Jaipur. I on the other hand love it here and am really getting used to the village life. Pushkar is one of the holiest places in India, and the only place in India where they have temples dedicated to Brahma, creator of the universe. Every morning I get up at 6am and go out to immerse myself in the morning village life which is really fascinating. I get myself a coffee, sit outside and watch the world go by. There are so many cows here, presumably because its such a holy place, but there's also far too many hippies on old Enfield motorcycles with dredlocks harping on about Indian culture and peace and love. I resist the temptation to slap them. But only barely...

The days in Pushkar are passed by meandering through the streets, markets and chatting to locals. Neeta even starts to warm to this laid back place.

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On our third day we meet some of the best people I've met in India so far. I'm getting some Tabla lessons from a guy called Vinod who works above a hotel, next door to the left is a clothes shop run by 20 year old Uttam (a.k.a John) the hotel is staffed by Kailash Kumar (a.k.a King) and to the right is Hanuman the tailor, a weasly little fellow who makes me laugh with his little comments as he spots attractive ladies walking by! We make great friends in Vinod, Uttam and Kailash, and they invite us out for Pizza one night, a monthly treat for them if business has been good. These guys are top fellas, I learn a lot about India and especially the importance of caste and family from them. Hanuman makes me a Kurta and I spend a few hours watching him make it from scratch, a strangely mesmerising experience, therapeutic even :)

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I'm really sad to leave pushkar and our new friends. On the way out of town my thoughts turn to Kailash who is 20 years old and is struggling to put himself through school. He works for 300 rs a month at the hotel (yes that's right, about four quid) as well as finding any odd bits of work during the day. He's an intelligent, charming lad who would do well in any company lucky enough to employ him, he just doesn't have enough money to get him there yet. Persevere Kailash, you'll make it, that I am sure of...

Enter the desert...

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Crazy Enfield bikes...

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The funniest menu in India, local "deficacy" and "pee" aplently...

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A beautiful old temple in Pushkar village...

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Me and Uttam...

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Extraordinarily gay photo of Martin and Vinod...

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Kailash, the man with the plan...

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So we leave Pushkar with a heavy heart and Neeta and I head to the train station for the 6 hour ride to Udaipur. Martin tries to get tickets too but they've sold out so he'll join us later on in a couple of days.

Arriving in Udaipur is like pulling into a different country compared to Pushkar. It is really beautiful, romantic and more like Venice than India with its colonial architecture and lakes. The thing that will always stay with me about Udaipur is the way the city turns to gold when the sun sets and they way it seems to glow when the sun rises. This place is stunning, and is Neeta's favourite city so far. Here's some pics...

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The photos of me and Neet were taken at a restaurant where, just as the sun goes down thousands upon thousands of bats start to swarm. It was such an unexpected and amazing thing to see, I couldn't really get any photos as they moved so quickly, but it was really something.

The next few days in Udaipur were spent browsing the amazing artwork (which the city is famous for) and seeing some spectacular traditional dance performances including one dance, local to the deserts of Jaisalmer, where a woman dances while balancing 9 water pots on her head. Amazing!!!

Anyway, Neet will update the next blog, but till then, enjoy the bank holiday weekend! We miss you guys :)

Posted by Gavness 01:56 Archived in India Tagged events Comments (1)

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