Hiccups in the schedule

Hiccups in the schedule
Madurai, India

Madurai, India


Travel day – 7 hours in a bus, with a Coffee Day stop, lunch and a toilet break. At the toilet stop, our CEO told us we might have to stay a little longer than planned, because of a political issue that might cause us problems. We ended up skipping a planned museum visit, going straight to the hotel and staying there for dinner instead of going out for dosas (I was really looking forward to it too 🙁 ). Ah well, tandoori chicken pizza hit the spot. Plus we each have our own rooms for the night! Yay! Washing time! The next day, we made our way to a UNESCO world heritage temple that didn’t allow cameras because someone had made a home made bomb with a flash mechanism, but they still allowed iPhones…. Anyway, so I didn’t bring my camera to this part of the trip. The temple, called Meenakshi Amman temple, was beautiful. The outside was a bit garish, with huge towers covered in colourful carvings of gods, demons and people. Inside, it was dimly lit, with thick bare stone pillars raved with deities, and mythical creatures. The ceiling was painted with bright concentric circles. The vaulted spaces, the bare stone floor, I felt small, like this was a place of immense significance. This is the first time I felt the holiness of a place in India. After the temple, we went to the Nayak palace. The white pillars with scalloped edges, and red trim were very European, and very grand. Another gorgeous place. Bored of walking around, a German girl and I had a competition to see who could balance their water bottle on their head for longest. I did pretty well, I’m not sure who won per se. I’ll have to get the photos from one of the guys. Back to the hotel for a while, and then jumped on a rickshaw to the Gandhi museum that we missed yesterday. It was interesting, but very British bashing. He had an interesting point of view on the events though. Then back in the rickshaw (poor guy was soaked with sweat), to the banana market. Our CEO bought different types of bananas for us to try – red bananas, tiny delicate bananas, long thick bananas. They all had a slightly different tastes. For dinner, we went to a restaurant where they served us a family sized dosa – it was about 1.5 metres wide.


French influence

French influence
Pondicherry, India

Pondicherry, India


We started early with a bike ride around some of the temples in the area. The last one was called the shore temple, because of its location, surprise, surprise. I enjoyed being on a bike again… Even the dodgy bikes they lent us. Must do more when I get back home. Breakfast was at a German bakery we had spied on the way home from dinner last night. I had a set breakfast with toast (yummy loaf bread), poached eggs (sadly not runny), and “hash brown”, which was more of a potato bake with tomatoes, and a really delicious fruits salad with muesli, curd and honey. It was far too much, so I was stuffed, but so good to have homemade muesli and fresh fruit. Then started on another riveting bus trip to get to Pondicherry. On the way, we stopped in to Auroville, a strange town that was built in the late 60s to be a place without religion or politics. They have their own government, and accept all people from around the world. Their principles seem to be based in Hinduism or Buddhism, and after a very cult like introductory video, we walked to a viewing area to see a golden dome, the Matrimandir, the symbol of Auroville and the Divine, and the words of the Mother (not a religion at all, nuh uh). Still, it was a lovely place, and seemed very hippy, into organic, veganism etc. We had a lovely salad lunch there (oh my god, greens!) with juice. Back on the bus all the way to Pondicherry, the largest French colony in India. We did a quick stop at an ashram in the city, where the aforementioned Mother was interred. We then went for a walk along the beach area, which was more footpath, dirt and huge rocks than sand. My feet were sore and I got bored of walking, so I started to head back. On the way, I had a couple of guys want to take a picture with me. Sure, nothing really unusual – everyone in the group was treated like a celebrity at one point or another. At least it was better than the creepy ones who took your photo as you passed without asking. Guy 1 had a phot, guy 2 had a photo, then guy 1 came back, saying one more … And puckered up. No way! I found my roomie a little down the road, and the other group had turned around and caught us as we were walking towards the French restaurant we planned for tonight. It wasn’t open for a couple of hours so we had a drink at the bar across the road until it opened. The meal at the restaurant was worth the wait. I had steak with creamy mushroom sauce and potato mash. The meat was so tender and perfectly cooked, and the mash was creamy and smooth. I think it was better than any meal I’d had in Australia.


On the move, then day by the pool

On the move, then day by the pool
Mamallapuram, India

Mamallapuram, India


We had a sleep in today, which I used to catch up on emails and Facebook. I had fried eggs at the hotel restaurant for breakfast, the first runny eggs I’d had in weeks. I missed it so much. Grabbed some snacks before a hectic tuk tuk ride to the train station. A lot of the roads were closed for a festival parade. Then 7 hours of train travel followed by 2 hour bus ride. Next morning, we started with a 6am yoga class. With such a diverse group it was interesting to see people’s flexibility and balance. It’s been a while between stretches for me, so I was pretty good in some poses, but one of the worst in others. After breakfast, some wandered to the beach. I opted for a nap, but not before buying some wifi. At lunchtime, I joined my roommate and others out by the poolside, reading and relaxing. There were optional activities like lunch at a nice hotel, and a visit to a seashell museum (yawn), but I much preferred chilling out. Dinner was seafood specialty Moonrakers down the road from the hotel. They even brought out the live crabs to look at. I had prawn butter masala and coconut rice, which was so tasty and just what I felt like. Some other people had issues with their order, but I really enjoyed mine. We wandered around looking at the shops for a bit (the girls went on a spree at one clothing place) before calling it a night.


Mysore, your sore

Mysore, your sore
Mysore, India

Mysore, India


We set off early without breakfast after last nights fiasco. On the way out of the wildlife park, we saw two herds of elephants, three groups of deer, monkeys and heaps of peacocks. One spot we stopped, we had all four together! I got some great photos. Apparently some people don’t see any elephants or quite as many deer. We were very lucky! Quick walk around a local village and then onto Coffee Day (a local cafe chain) for breakfast. I had at a tandoori paneer sandwich and a cold chocolate thing. Not bad at all. Then onto Mysore, where they were preparing for a festival and a parade the following day. Our CEO told us the palace would be lit up, but not open to tour, like usual. He took us on a tour of the local markets, where they were selling flowers, in chains and loose for the festival offerings. A couple of us bought some fresh fruit – grapes, mandarins, a pineapple, bananas – for later. It is hard to find fresh fruit on the menu here. After that, we we’re let loose on the streets, where we went hunting for clothing. I bought a shirt to sleep in and a singlet – both 200 rupees. We even found a proper shopping centre where we got some ice cream after our purchases. The sidewalks were barricaded from the street for the parade, and the traffic was pretty hectic. After a little siesta and wifi time, we went to see the palace lit up, and take photos. The crowds were pretty big. Not crushing, but we had trouble staying as a group. We then stopped in at a restaurant our CEO recommended for dinner. I shared a palak paneer with my roommate – a disappointment sadly. It was too spinachy. 🙁


On safari

On safari
Mudumalai, India

Mudumalai, India


Breakfast this morning was provided by the homestay. They brought up a toaster with bread, a bowl of boiled eggs, idli (some bread dumplings for soaking up curry), a lentil curry and bananas. We then set off to our wildlife stay in Mudumulai in our bus. We stopped at a tea plantation, and a factory outlet to get some green and black tea. At our lunch stop, the CEO told us the hotel we had planned to stay had had some electrical problems and only 3 rooms were ready, so we had to switch to another hotel. The new place seemed great – Nicole and I had a double bed each (albeit hard as a rock), and a patio overlooking the trees. The interior was exposed slate coloured bricks, and a fake fireplace. After setting up our rooms, we had a jeep safari of the wildlife reserve. Which was basically driving the roads around the interior of the park, and having the driver stop to point out deer in the far distance. We got to see peacocks, a mongoose, wild boar, dholes and spotted deer fairly close. Then as the jeeps were starting to do circles, all of a sudden, another jeep beeped its horn a couple of times and raced ahead of us. Our driver said “elephants” and started speeding after him. It was pretty clogged with people in cars and jeeps, parking and reversing and trying to get good view for their passengers. One of our jeeps raced into a clearing and one of our guys jumped out to get a photo, while the drivers yelled at him to get back in. We managed to get a couple of photos of the herd, but they were mostly obscured by trees. After our success with the elephants, we headed back a little early and were told dinner was provided by the hotel, 500 rupees for a buffet. Sure… It was awful. The worst food I have had all trip. They brought out vegetable soup which was tasteless apart from the chilli, vegetable friend rice which we had for lunch, vege noodles, which were apparently three minute noodles mushed with some wilted zucchini. Even the paneer masala – the paneer was burnt and rubbery – all three pieces of it in the entire serving bowl. After the lacklustre meal, we sat around a fire pit and chatted before getting the bus into the main part of town to see a festival, which was a celebration by the Panir people we had visited earlier in the day. The festival was a lot of fun. We had kids mobbing us asking our names and country of origin, while we watched men dancing in a conga line, and constructing a shrine to take to the temple later. They had fireworks and music, and carnival games. Then they started a drum circle. The rhythm was incredible, and the people playing were so passionate and lost in the beat. Some young boys started dancing, and before long they had a group of people jumping and shaking around. Of course, I couldn’t help but join them (at the insistence of a couple of women standing beside me and watching me sway to the thumping beat). It was so much fun! A couple of boys included me in their circle, and I’m not sure who was copying who, but I danced for a while with them. Until someone got a bit rough and a disagreement started in one corner, I exited to stay out of it. The watched the rest of the festivities for a bit, until we got bored and tired so headed back to the bus. We drove through a crowd, who cheered us as we left. Very funny night.


Climbing mountains and second monsoon

Climbing mountains and second monsoon
Kalpetta, India

Kalpetta, India


This morning we bussed to the train station for Kozhikode. The train station was much cleaner than any other I’d seen so far. They had metal seats on the platform, clean bathrooms, and drinking water fountains. No one lying on the ground. There weren’t as many stalls to buy food, but the ones that were there seemed permanent shops. Once we boarded the train though… The interior was worn, with mission brown leather seats, bashed and battered metal frames, and yellowed windows. The previous trains were a little more up to date, but not much more. 4 hours I spent snoozing or listening to music, then 2 hour drive to Kalpetta, through the hills. It started raining, which made for pretty scenery, but fog obscured our view from a lookout area. Our accommodation was a “homestay” but it was more like a small hotel or BnB. We had rooms off a common sitting area, ensuites, and our food and drinks were provided. Dinner was served buffet style, with Kerala paratha, my favourite bread so far. Curries and rice and banana with curd for dessert. Next day, we bussed to Edakkal Caves which is believed to be a shelter of neolithic people. It had a steep incline to the entry, then 200 steep steps (rock and man made) to the top, in quite humid weather. The caves were pretty, but the main attraction was the carvings inside the uppermost cave. It seemed like geometric patterns, until our guide pointed out human shapes and faces. The cave itself was made by several huge boulders holding another rock overhead. It made me nervous when I looked up, wondering if it would come down on our heads. We were dripping sweat in the cave, so most of us were a bit over it by the time the guide was explaining the carvings. We then visited a tribal village, where the indigenous people had been relocated from the forest. It was basic village houses, and then grew their own crops. We were introduced to the female village leaders, who had fringe hair cuts and stretched ear lobes with discs. The guide also pointed out that many villagers had wider noses like people of African descent. We were scheduled to go to another village and do archery… The clouds were looming and we were all tired, but we put on our rain coats and started to trudge down the path. The guide was well ahead with one guy, and the rest of us dragged behind. We heard the rain before we saw it… exchanged a look, and ran back towards the bus, yelling to let us back on. Our local guide and the fellow had not realised, but the rest of us **** bolted back without them. Our CEO was trying to call the local guide on his mobile, while the bus took off (we thought without them) but the driver did a u turn and picked them up. So much for that. We went back to the hotel, where I finished off a book I’d borrowed from another traveller. Tomorrow on the move again.


Kochi kochi coo

Kochi kochi coo
Kochi, India

Kochi, India


Breakfast at the hotel on the rooftop, saying our goodbyes and then a bus to the airport. Along the way, we stopped to get some other passengers, who are the other half of the southern tour. An Aussie family, a Canadian couple and a Welsh guy. I think we have a couple more to join, but I guess we won’t know until we’re there. 3 hour flight to Kochi, a small airport, where we exited onto the tarmac and into busses to the terminal. We found our transfer guy, and the tiny shuttle bus, (another girl and I squished into the back seat) and an hour’s drive past home loan adverts, car dealerships and shopping malls into Fort Kochi, where we were staying. Our flight was so delayed, we went straight to dinner at a restaurant for our meeting, and organised to see the Chinese fishing nets the next day instead. The next day, we visited the Dutch Palace, which was a rather plain building that was knocked down and rebuilt with the Portuguese, Dutch and English invasions. The inside was a kind of museum, that was a bit dull. The only interesting thing was a mural that looked similar to Indonesian artworks I’ve seen. I was also told I was cute by a bunch of giggling Indian girls. We then went to Jew Town to the 400 year old synagogue. Again, nothing spectacular, but it was interesting to see the influence. There were quite a few shops around the synagogue, and we had some fee time to browse. They had some beautiful antiques that I was dying to take home… Especially some old wooden hinged boxes for papers and memory keepsakes. Then St Francis Church. Vasco da Gama, the first European explorer to set sail for India, was initially buried in here until his remains were returned to Portugal in 1539. Again, knocked down and rebuilt several times. Again, very plain. Lunch was at the same place we had dinner. They served us a Kerala thali – a selection of food – on a banana leaf. So delicious. It was vegetarian except for fried fish. Yum! I couldn’t eat it all. After that, a couple of the girls were talking about going shopping back at the Jew Town, so we caught a tuk tuk and went from looking for small brass Ganesha (Hindu elephant god). We found a couple, but Nicole and I went to a shop I was looking in before for a big Ganesh. It was beautifully made. She helped me negotiate a price, and ask about postage at the post office. The seller was lovely and packed it up for me, and even asked for a selfie with us. In the evening we gotta tuk tuk to a performance of kathakali dancing (the Keralan tradition dance form). Before the show we watched the performers put on their makeup in the courtyard outside the hall. Considered one of the oldest dance forms in India, Kathakali is a combination of drama, dance, music and ritual. It reminded me of the Japanese Bunraku with the colourful makeup and symbolic hand gestures and exaggerated movement. The characters with re-enact stories from the Hindu epics, Mahabharatha and Ramayana. We watched one particular scene where a demon was trying to seduce a prince. As we left the theatre, it was raining, so we got tuk tuks to the restaurant, but then we had to walk home. The hem of my pants were soaked and muddy. Luckily I could zip the legs off.


And back again

And back again
Delhi, India

Delhi, India


We packed our bags to fly to Delhi. An hour by bus, and then luggage checks galore when we arrived. I saw Twix for the first time in aaages, so I snacked on that and a cup of corn kernels with butter and salt, while we waited for our flight. Of course, it was delayed, but not too badly. A couple on the tour were leaving for Mumbai, instead of taking the flight back with us, so we said our goodbyes at the gate. 1.5 hours later, we were back at my favourite hotel – La Vista. It’s certainly the worst in the tour. The others had much more room, less air con and fan noise and much cleaner. But they didn’t have wifi in the rooms, or if they did, it was paid. We went to dinner at the same place we went to on our first night. This time we knew what we were ordering. The food was adequate, but the mango kulfi was really nice. After that, we had drinks on the rooftop of the hotel.


Boating on the Ganges in the oldest living city

Boating on the Ganges in the oldest living city
Varanasi, India

Varanasi, India


The train was delayed, so we were trying to make ourselves comfortable in the rather cramped quarters until about 1:20pm. As we were leaving the platform I noticed a man lying on the ground. Nothing unusual in India, there are usually people curled up and sleeping next to bags and on mats. But he was by himself, not on a mat, on his back, and flies were going up his nose. Again, might just be a case of locals can hack it… But his chest isn’t moving, and the flies are now in his mouth… I called to the guide, and pointed him out. After I kneeled to check for a pulse, the guide spoke to the shop keeper who said the police and a doctor had seen him, pronounced him dead, and they were just waiting for the morgue to come and take his body. He was lying there, fully exposed. So very sad. The hotel we were staying at was right near the station. Very posh looking (for our budget anyway), and clean, tidy, nice. The shower even had a shower curtain. But it didn’t stop the water from spreading all over the floor. At sunset, we wound our way through alleyways and streets to come to a ghat (steps leading down to a river) on the Ganges. We boarded a wooden boat whose motor made my teeth clatter and my vision blur with the vibration. There were collections of mismatched buildings all along the bank, and women were selling little silver platters with flowers and a candle to float on the water. We stopped to watch the prayer services: loud singing and swinging of candelabras and ornaments in synchronised dance by the priests. The Ganges is a holy place for the Hindu people, and it was interesting to see the pyres along the river at certain points where people were cremating their relatives. All Hindu Indians are cremated at the riverside, and their ashes spread in the river. It was about the same colour as the Brisbane River. The next morning we got up early to go back to the Ganges for a sunrise cruise. It was a bit longer, and more revealing than the sunset version. The lighting was much better for photos, but also for showing the clouds of garbage and dead animals gathering around the stationary boats, tied together and anchored. People were doing their washing, slapping the clothing against the steps, and many doing some sort of purification prayer, splashing water over themselves and submerging themselves repeatedly. One of the guys on the tour organised for us to do a walking tour, as we didn’t have other plans for the day. The guide filmed documentaries and lived part time in Denmark. Interesting guy. He took us to the oldest house in Varanasi, with steep stairs and bats in the ceiling. And the house of the man who created Hindi to unify communication between the Indian kingdoms which had various dialects. It was quite hot by the end, and we went back to the hotel, and went on a walk to a different cafe for lunch instead of the hotel restaurant. They had enchiladas, and burritos on the menu… Very interesting. After lunch, the others went on a silk factory tour, but I opted to stay in the room and get some sleep, and check emails etc. We met for a farewell dinner at the Hotel Surya. It was top quality food and quite reasonably priced. I had a vegetarian thali, which sampled 3 curries, raita, rice, naan, and rice pudding for 300 rupees ($6).


Of cows and cooking classes

Of cows and cooking classes
Orchha, India

Orchha, India


Today we had a sleep in until 10am, when we had an optional ride in a cart drawn by cows. Very unhappy cows. Cows that had little hesitance with ******* and ******** anywhere. And then flicking their tails to share the love. It was fun. All the village came out to laugh at us and wave. Some of the girls had back problems with the bumps, but it was fun going through the countryside. I did have to wash a couple of spots of poo from my feet, trousers and camera, but worth the 200 rupees. Then we packed up and 2 hour bus ride to Orcha. Orcha palace sunset and Hindu temple – to be continued The next morning, we went to the same restaurant where we had dinner the previous night, because we had spotted the banana and nutella pancakes on the menu. It was soo good with masala chai tea and the prices were ridiculously cheap. We walked back to the hotel to pack up our bags for check out. Our CEO had organised a cabin for us to dump our stuff for the day, until the train tonight. I meant to organise a massage, but I spent it chatting to people and updating Facebook and Instagram instead. In the evening, we went to a cooking class at a lady’s house, Rajni. She was very helpful, sitting on a low stool in front of the group using a gas stove and providing us with paper and pen to scrawl each ingredient as she called it out and added it to the pot. We taught us how to make masala chai tea, okra curry, potato and chickpea curry, eggplant curry, bundi raita, vegetable rice, conker berry chutney (sour and spicy, very delicious), puri (a kind of bread that puffed up with a big air pocket in the middle when dunked into the oil) and chapati. We then had a buffet dinner of the resulting dishes. Very tasty, but I was very aware of the amount of oil and salt called for in each recipe. Unsurprising that India’s biggest killer is cardiovascular disease (followed by respiratory disease from the pollution). Then back to the hotel to get the bus to Jhansi and take our overnight train to Varanasi. We arrived early, so our CEO set us up in a waiting area, where I started talking to some Indian girls, and getting an impromptu Hindi lesson. I also gave them some Japanese words to take away. The train itself had really narrow corridors. In each bay, on one side there are two bunks facing the corridor, and the other side is an alcove, with six bunks, three on each wall. I got the top bunk. It was a military effort monkeying my way up and down. I had a small rack to keep things up high with me, but other than that, it was a narrow, hard space to sleep. Two sheets and a blanket were provided, and at least it was air con. I was lucky to be up high, so my feet could overhang without people brushing by all night.