Sunday, December 20, 2009
Next stop after our backwater adventure was beautiful Varkala. This beach town is small and touristy. With shopping, both Indian and Tibetan, any type of restaurant you want, and tons of accommodations, its no wonder it’s a hot spot for tourists of all ages.
Upon boarding the 7am train from Alleppey, we were bombarded with Indians also catching it (must be a popular time). This 2.5 hour train seemed much longer as we were standing crammed in for the duration of it. But it didn’t matter once we saw what we would be swimming in for the next few days.
What a gorgeous beach Varkala is. Based in a cliff, surrounded by rock and palm trees, this was heaven.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
The next venture on our trip (and one that we would definitely recommend to those visiting South India) was exploring the backwaters of Kerala. We chose to start in Alappuzha (Alleppey). Arriving via train, we were bombarded with rickshaw drivers all wanting us to go to the same Guesthouse (Johnson’s Guesthouse). This is one in the lonely planet, and although we went and got suckered into looking, I would not recommend it. The rooms were far too overpriced, the owner pressured me upon walking through his doorstep to book with his houseboat, and it’s far from the main city centre. After rejecting his offer, we were lucky that he was nice enough to suggest another guesthouse. We stayed at a place called Brown Guesthouse, we were the only tenants, and there wasn’t a family there, just a nice lady who owned the place. We were located on Cullen Road (the main road) and were an easy walking distance to everything we needed.
The backwaters are the main reason most people come to Alleppey, so don’t think the Indians don’t know this. They will swindle you in any which way to get you to book with them on their houseboat/canoe. Make sure you check out the ride you’ll be taking before you book and especially before you pay. Look back onto the old saying, “If some things seem too good to be sure, they probably are”.
As for our experience, we decided it best to take a canoe adventure; cheaper and more in-depth with backwater communities. Canoes (unlike the huge houseboats) can fit down the small backwaters and get up close and personal with the small villages. We had such a nice driver, for breakfast he brought us into his home (he lives along the backwaters), where he fed his plenty and introduced us to his charming family. Its crazy how many people can live in one tiny house. For the duration of the trip (we chose an 8 hour adventure), we saw many beautiful things; palm trees swaying perfectly in the wind, birds flying along the water, snakes swimming along side us (don’t worry they are harmless), women doing the daily chores on the backwater steps, children playing in the fields, and the farmers at work in the rice paddy fields.
This city is also located on a beach, a non touristy beach, but a beach none the less. It was definitely different than Goa though, I didn’t even feel comfortable wearing a 1 piece bathing suit due to all the Indian men staring and constantly trying to take sneak photos. Jeffery loved the waves though, so an impressive beach for him. Also, what was interesting was when the sunset, the beach came to life! There was live music, food vendors, games going on, kids running around, everything and anything.
For this stop along your trip 2 things I’d recommend:
1) Make sure you get the proper houseboat/canoe that is right for you. *check all options
2) Stay at a home stay or real guesthouse. The Keralan hospitality is unlike many other states in India. Especially try a nice home cooked meal (the coconut rice here is absolutely brilliant!).
Friday, December 18, 2009
Bangalore is the hub of India's booming IT industry, which is shows through its crazy traffic, rising pollution levels, and civic congestion. Although its a large city on the rise to get even bigger, the garden scene here is surprisingly amazing. We stayed there with Jeffery's family friend, Walter, who in fact is working there (from America). The neighbourhood we stayed at was nice, easily accessible to small things like gyms, supermarkets, etc, and also near by to a park.
The city itself isn't very touristy, and we found ourselves walking around a beautiful park, Cubbon Park, and then went to one of the huge malls to hang out in Crosswords (the common bookstore). While at the mall we were enlightened by a surprise excitement called the. "Scare House". WOW! I have never screamed so loud and grabbed onto the closest human beside me so hard in my life (or at least paid for it). I don't want to spoil the excitement so you'll have to head to Bangalore's malls to see for yourself.
From Bangalore we flew to Cochin, something that had to be done to get to our West Coast destination in the short time we had left.
Another interesting part about Bangalore is for the most part we felt like we fit into the general community... as in we didn't get as many stares and questions. The Indians in Bangalore are fairly advanced and have grew more accustom to our Westernized ways.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
The market is well known for its oils and incense. Marsha bought many oils that smelt very good and were very authentic. Moving through the market we saw goat brains and hooves being chopped up for Indian family dinners, we saw fish and dead hanging chickens. It was an amazing thing to witness because we hadn’t seen anything like that back home, we were right in the action. After the crazy wild market we ended up at this great south Indian restaurant. It had the best south Indian thalis I had ever tasted. I was so happy that I ate the thali with my hands (Indian style of course only using my right hand). I had read in the LP (lonely planet) that there was an amazing garden outside the city. We took the city bus to the gardens which were 45 minutes away. The gardens are a popular back drop to many Bollywood films which we didn’t know until we got there. Accompanied with the beautiful garden were wonderful fountains that were illuminated with colours which shot up and down to the music. All this was happening with thousands of Indians everywhere; they seemed to really enjoy the fountain and the music.
The next day we went to the Mysore Zoo. The Zoo has so many amazing animals, including the majestic Bengali Tigers. The tigers had a descent sized habitat which they roamed freely. We didn’t realize the sheer size of the beasts. In small cages beside the roaming beast was a white Siberian tiger. The Siberian tiger was circling in his small cage and we felt bad for it. The Maharajas Palace was next on the list and we couldn’t take any photos of it. The Palace was a cacophony of colors and had amazing detail. The floors of the Maharajas Palace were made of Italian stone. The Palace was built in the 1900’s by an English architect that replicated the old Maharajas Palace that burnt down.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Back to the grind that is India. Two weeks on the beach has been relaxing and a much needed break from the fast pace of Rajastan and Mumbai. We get on the train headed to Mangalore a city on the coast known for its spice trade. The train is a first come first serve policy meaning there are no arranged seats, therefore, if there are no seats when you arrive, you stand. This creates pushing, shoving and the occasional elbow to the face. The Western Ghats train route is beautiful and filled with rice paddi fields, wide rivers and lush landscapes. The trip to Mangalore was slow as usual but we have found two 21 year old Indian Girls to chat with. They are nurses who have finished there training and now work full time. The discussion gets on the topic of religion. They wanted to know if we celebrated Easter and Christmas and other various religious Holidays. When we told them of our Easter celebration where we find chocolate eggs scattered around the house they became very confused. It took several minutes to describe to them what we meant, but I’m sure they were still very confused.
Once we got to Mangalore we looked at the Lonely Planet and decided we should look around at the various accommodations around the city. Most of the places that the book gave were very disgusting and overpriced, so we decided to ask the rickshaw driver for suggestions. He brought us to a very nice place called Park Place which was very nice and clean. (Usually we don’t go with rickshaw driver’s advise because they will most often rip you off with commissions etc). Upon arrival we decided to go out and find food. We found a little omelet shop outside our place, total bill; 30 rupees. Cheap, convenient, and delicious.
The next morning we were off to the Coorg region of Karnataka, to a little city called Madeikari. There were no trains so we had to take a 150km bus ride. The roads were terrible. The monsoon which lasts for 3 months and ends in September destroys the roads. The 150 km took a grueling 6 hours through narrow and windy one lane roads meant for 2 lane traffic.
We went to Medeikari because of its plantations; which grow coffee, rows and rows of fruit, make spices, as well as the beautiful picturesque country side. This region is popular for its homestays. Homestays are guesthouses that are connected to the plantations. We opted to stay in the city instead. The city is nice and peaceful but power is a problem and it often cuts out every 2 hours. We had read in the LP ( Lonely Planet) that there was a little Tibetan town close to Medeikari. Since McLeod Ganj we had both been in love with the people and the religion. We decided to take a city bus to Bylakuppe which was among the first refugee camps set up in South India to house thousands of Tibetans who fled from Tibet. We saw the golden temple which was remarkable and stunning. Inside were faboulous paintings with amazing detail depicting stories from the past. There were also 3 huge Buddha statues that were approx 65 feet tall.
The next day we visited the Dubare national elephant park. There was no bus to the park and we had to be there at 8 30 in the morning so we took a taxi. When we got to the park we had to take a little boat across a river to meet the elephants. The elephant park cost 200 rupees each which was very cheap. The first order of business at the park was elephant bathing!! The elephants came down to the river and were washed by around 10 tourists including us. The elephants were well trained and seemed to enjoy the scrubbing by all of us. After the elephants were all scrubbed and cleaned we fed them. They seemed to really enjoy watermelon and coconut. We got to touch their tongues and watch them eat which was an amazing experience. After the elephant park our taxi driver brought us to a plantation. He took us for a walk around the plantation which was very nice. We saw coffee beans drying, banana trees, mango trees, fig trees, orange trees, chili pepper plants and various other plant and trees which we forget. It was very impressive and we loved the tour. From there we went to a waterfall called Abby falls which is raging during the monsoon but lackluster during the fall months. We then proceeded to the spices store where Marsha went wild buying every spice in sight. It didn’t matter because the spices were fresh and about 1/10 the price.