A Travellerspoint blog

Kochi and Mysore

It is nearing the end of our trip and I have to admit I am slacking on my writing and posts. Part of it is the major travel days and part of it is the on and off again access to the internet. So maybe more pictures less detail depending on the issues I face with loading and the limited bandwidth they got over here.

Kochi
Our itinerary got changed and we all knew this starting this part of the trip. We would only be spending literally 24 hours here. We had to ride a boat back for an hour and then a local not the most comfortable bus for another two hours...I can't remember.
One bonus was that we were now staying at guest house owned by Intrepid and was the place "original" tours (the category of travel above ours as we were on a "basic" trip) would typically stay since the one for the basic trip was being renovated. Later I plan to do an entry with all the quirks we witnessed on our trip in India and accommodations will play a part in that however this room was set and legit all the way around. Electricity, Aircon, comfy bed, HUGE room, hot water, internet from my room and the first shower curtain I have ever seen in the 30 plus days I've been traveling HA!

Kochi has a diverse, multicultural, and secular community consisting of Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs, Konkanis and Buddhists among other denominations. Today, the population of the city is a mix of people from all parts of Kerala and most of India. The city's pan-Indian nature is highlighted by the substantial presence of various ethnic communities from different parts of the country. Kochi was the scene of the first European settlement in India and therefore has many influences from Portugal and the Dutch.

After a welcome drink and room assignments we went to this very modern European/American style art cafe.
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The entrance was a gallery and the cafe had the yummiest brown bread sandwiches coffee (the real deal not Nescafé crap) and chocolate and banana cream pie!!!
After this huge and tasted meal I opted for a shower and rest instead of walking around as all the traveling was wearing me down and we were suppose to go to a cultural dance that evening. Thom on the other hand walk around a bit. Took some pictures of the oldest church in India St. Francis
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Went to the docks and tried out the Chinese fishing nets
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That night at the cultural center we saw a dramatic Kathakali dance performance, a 17th-century classical dance drama that originated in Kerala and is famous for its elaborate costumes and makeup.
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The next morning we had the most crazy day of transportation. We left at 3:30 AM to get to the airport, took 45 min flight, on SPICE JET
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then an airport bus for an hour and then a really nice coach bus for 3 hours. This was in place of an overnight train as seats could not be secured. DAAAA!

Finally at Mysore

That night it happened to be Sunday and that is the night they light up the Mysore Palace and temples for one hour.
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It was beautiful!
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On top of that it was so nice to see so many families dressed up and out together. Many times in India people want to take your picture too.
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That night we had a nice dinner with one beer Fosters actually on tap,
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and Megan and I got mixed drinks.
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The next day Chetan took some of us on a little drive through the county to see a temple. Along the way we saw oxen pulling carts.
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Workers in the rice fields
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And brightly painted houses.
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Keshava Temple
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After the temple, chai (of course) and lunch we hit the vegetable and flower market in Mysore.

This kid was quite the salesmen and we couldn't resist his charm so we took a seat in his stall while he showed us how he made in sense from scratch and let us try out all his different scented oils.
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You also see colored powder everywhere which can be used to paint on canvas or the body. Thom got a sample pack.
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Flower Market
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Some guys gave us roses in our hair and asked to have his picture taken.
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Then I went with Paige and Belinda to the sweet shop where we bought different kinds to share and try. They are extremely sweet almost too much for me mostly soft doughy pieces made with lots of sugar and condensed milk.
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That night was another nice dinner and I actually had wine, only the second time since we have been here.

The next morning Thom, Megan and I went to the Mysore Temple. Now you can't take photos inside so I am stealing some from the Internet as it was just gorgeous. One of my favorite.
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The architectural style of the palace is commonly described as Indo-Saracenic, and blends together Hindu, Muslim, Rajput, and Gothic styles of architecture. It is a three-storied stone structure, with marble domes and a 145 ft five-storied tower. The palace is surrounded by a large garden.
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Elephants out side the Palace
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Well it's back on a bus to Bangalore, then overnight train to Hampi.
Things are winding down.

Posted by Kelly Rose 07:56 Archived in India Comments (2)

Homestay

Well another train... This one was a short one though only about an hour and a half in seats.
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We then took tuk-tuks to a bus station/boat launch and waited for our boat to take us to our homestay.
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Alappuzha , also known as Alleppey, is a city in Alappuzha District of Kerala state of southern India. The name Alappuzha is derived from the geographical position and physical features of the place. It means the land between the sea and network of rivers flowing into it.
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The backwaters in Kerala are a chain of brackish lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian Sea coast (known as the Malabar Coast). Houseboat or Kettuvalam rides in the backwaters are a major tourist attraction. Though we did not stay on one we did see many on the water even though it is not high season.
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We met Mr. Gopal who was who Thom and I and some others stayed with. Him along with his wife and his neighbor and his wife would be serving us meals while we stayed here. They greeted us with a kind of lemonade and his wife blessed and welcomed us with little flowers and marked our foreheads with a light pink dot of spice.
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The houses are right on the water and it is quiet and so beautiful and relaxing.
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They served us some pakora which is fried chilies in chick pea flour with toast and bananas as a snack. Then we settled into our really nice rooms while the rest of our group took a ferry across the water to settle into other local family houses.

We relaxed and then had a great home cooked lunch as well as chai and cookies at 4:00
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Then we all met up together to do a walk and canoe ride through the channels. Mr. Gopa knew so much about all the plants from the different count trees to wild herbs used for all kinds of thing like cooking and medicine.
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One of the major feature of this land is the region called Kuttanad, the 'granary of Kerala'. Kuttanad is also known as the rice bowl of Kerala and is one of the few places in the world where farming is done below sea level.
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We met up with the neighbor who is such a great guy I feel horrible not catching his name. He was a jack of all trades helping to cook, serve and guide our canoe.
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A town with picturesque canals, backwaters, beaches, and lagoons, it was described as the one of the places known as "Venice of the East"
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The people we saw along the way were great and friendly.
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That night we had a great meal all together with homemade rice pudding for dessert.
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It was such a great experience!
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Posted by Kelly Rose 09:57 Archived in India Comments (4)

Madurai to Varkala

We arrived in Madurai by train and had a man with a cart take r bags as we walk a short distance to our Hotel. After some showers and freshening we did a brief city walk. The people here seemed way more friendly and overall smiled back more. People didn't seem as pushy to get us into their stores too which was nice.

Meenakshi Amman Temple is a historic Hindu temple located in the southern bank of river Vaigai in the temple city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. It is dedicated to Parvati who is known as Meenakshi and her consort, Shiva, named here as Sundareswarar. The temple forms the heart and lifeline of the 2500 year old city of Madurai
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There are four towers or gopurams on the outside- There are ten gopuram supposedly all together the tallest of which, the famous southern tower, rises to over 170ft and was built in 1559. The oldest gopuram is the eastern one, built by Maravarman Sundara Pandyan during 1216-1238
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Each gopuram is a multi-storeyed structure, covered with thousands of stone figures of animals, gods and demons painted in bright hues. The outer gopuram presents steeply pyramidal tower encrusted with plastic figures, while the inner gopuram serves as the entrance to the inner enclosure of Sundareswarar shrine.
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We were able to go into part of the temple but could not take any photos. Off With the shoes once more. I've gotten use to it and actually it was very clean even though you are walking on stone floors. It feels right. It was likening walking into something from Indiana Jones with many stone and gold figures and shrines. People were coming to pray and make offerings and there was beautiful chanting being heard throughout as we walked.

Sam, Chetan and Dhilip
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As we started to make our way to a nice roof top restaurant for dinner we had to pause for there were shrines being returned to the temple. So a small crowd formed as a camel and decorated elephant lead the way for some highly decorated shrines went whisking through the temple's main entrance.

The next morning I woke early and had some great chai with Chetan at two places. Here is an example of how some places in the South serve it so you can pour it back and forth to mix it.
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One was this great place right across the street that was busy all day passing out chai and some fried snacks. Had a bit of those for breakfast later.
We had the rest of the day to wonder and Thom and I went for a morning walk to the tailor market to get two of my shirts patched up.

Later that night we went to a South Indian restaurant and Thom and I each had a dosa these big triangle crepe type things served on banana leaves with yummy chutneys to dip it into. My favorite was of course the coriander and then the tomato in second.

That night we took a very late train to Varkala.
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It was by far the worst train we have ever been on. We new it was going to be un- conditioned, fair enough, that wasn't the bad part really, it was just low budget dirty, had mattresses, no curtains gross.
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I felt almost a little bad for the newer people that joined our trip as this was their first overnight train. On top of that unfortunately Neil and Diane the couple from New Zealand had one of their small bags taken right from under their eyes as we were all trying to settle into our beds. Luckily none of their important documents like their passports were in it but they did lose their camera :-( Strangely enough the next day we found out that the officials had found their bag and had sent and contacted Monty our last guide about it as it had his information from the last part of our trip in it. Monty also said that he was sending them a flash drive with all the pictures he had collected and took from our part of the trip with him to them as well---LOVE that guy!!!

So now we are in Varkala and it is just the taste of tourist relaxation I think us who already traveled through the North have been waiting for. Varkala sits on India's Keralan coast and the sandy bay here is protected by soaring cliffs.
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The beach sits below the rock face whilst the town itself sits prettily along the cliff edge above, a string of laid-back bars, restaurants, guesthouses and hotels.
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Sitting on the sand and watching the sun dip below the horizon is the perfect way to end a day here.
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Thom's dinner
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We had lovely coffees and chill out time here on and off.
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The second day I got a message and facial and Thom got a message. I got two hours worth of services and spent about $60 with tip. A little more personal then those we are use to in the states but still really nice none the less...he he he.

August 15 was also India's Day of Independence so Paige Megan and I all opted for checking out a local ceremony at a nearby school.
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Thom opted for checking out the fishermen bringing in some of their early catches.
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Overall it was just the nice relaxing two days we needed and earned I would say. Tomorrow we leave really early and will be doing a homestay with a local family.

Posted by Kelly Rose 08:21 Archived in India Comments (1)

Part Two: South India

Chennai and Mamallapuram

Everything transportation wise with getting to and from the airports and flying from Kolkata to Mumbai and then to Chennai went really smooth. The flights were only about two hours each so while it was a pain to not have a direct flight it was still ok. The problem was that Thom was getting really sick especially when we landed in Chennai. All our major medicine and the first aide kit were packed in our bigger bags and there was no where in the airport terminals that sold pharmaceuticals. When we did finally land Megan and I got the bags and headed top the prepaid taxi counter so we could get a ride to our hotel. In the notes it said it was only about a 20 minute ride but it turned out to be almost another hour.

When we did finally reach the Hotel we knew we were going to to miss our group meeting that was at 2:00. Our new guide Chetan left a message for us that he should be back at 9:00 and would check in with us. It was about 6:45 and when I got Thom upstairs he had a really bad fever and was burning up. I got him some pain medicine to reduce the fever and water that I added electrolytes to. I was pretty nervous because the hotel manager said that if we wanted a doctor we would have to go to the hospital and I kinda wanted to avoid that all together if we could especially since we hadn't even met our new group leader yet. Luckily after Thom got some medicine in him his fever was starting to come down so I figured he would be ok. That night I took my sheet and slept opposite of Thom with fingers crossed that I wasn't going to catch this next. Before we left Kolkata our friend Peter seemed to have had this too.
It was 9:30 and I was already dozing when Chetan called to apologize that they had gotten detained and got back late and we agreed it would be fine to meet in the morning.

The next morning we had to be ready at 6:45a.m. Eeek! It wasn't too bad. I had taken some Capri and Ibuprofen just to be safe since my stomachs hadn't been co-operating the past week anyway and so I felt fine. Thom was looking a lot better as well so that was good. We met Chetan who seemed great and found out that two other guys Dhilip and Sam would also be accompanying us as Chetan was helping to train them for Intrepid. Yay! Neil, Diane and Megan were still with us and join us were two girls and two guys each from Australia as well as one girl from UK, another lady who teachers English from Canada and one more girl from Canada now living in Australia.

We had a small bus with just us and the ride that was suppose to be 2 hours was only about one-one and a half Sweet! Thom slept most of the way.
As we were driving we could see the ocean on one side. There was little traffic and people generally drove with in the lines of the road. So much more chill than North India.

One typically can understand by simple sights and sounds, the big air of difference between Southern Indian with rest of the parts of the country. The basic culture of south is essentially Dravidian culture, quite different from North India's Indo - East European culture.

We arrived in Mamallapuram and at our very very basic hotel above this really great local restaurant. We were only staying one night here in this small town.
Mamallapuram dates back to the Tamil Pallava dynasty in the 7th-9th century. The structures here, mostly carved straight out of granite, are among the oldest existing examples of Dravidian (South Indian) architecture.

After we got settled we met downstairs for of course some chai. (LOVE that stuff) Thom while better and no more fever,still wasn't one hundred percent and decided to just eat some yogurt or curd rather and some plain rice and rest at the hotel. So I joined our group and Chetan for a city walk. First we went to one of the second largest single stone relief carvings in the world.
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Then we saw "Krishna's Butterball" a huge bolder that looks like it should roll or fall but doesn't.
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Then we took a short walk to the Shore Temple
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The Shore Temple is so named because it overlooks the shore of the Bay of Bengal. It is a structural temple, built with blocks of granite, dating from the 8th century AD.
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The Shore Temples configuration of the two Shiva shrines with the small Vishnu shrine in between illustrates an attempt to balance the different, competing religious requirements.
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Goats munch on flowers decorating a car
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Next we took a walk down to a restaurant overlooking the beach for lunch.
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My favorite Cows on the beach!
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They catch tons of fresh fish prawns and lobsters daily and the restaurants will actually bring you out a platter of what was caught and you choose exactly which fish you want.

Afterwards the group took another short walk to the 5 Rathas
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Pancha Rathas is an example of monolith Indian rock-cut architecture dating from the late 7th century.

Each temple is a monolith, carved whole from a rock outcropping of pink granite. The five monolithic shrines are named after the Pandavas and Draupadi. Four shrines have pyramidal roofs. The shrines represent diversity of Dravidian architecture of the time and it is likely that their original design traces back to wood constructions.
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And a stone elephant :-)
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We took the cleanest and most friendliest train ride to Maduri. It was 8 hours during the morning/day but we had sleeper cars so we could stretch out and nap.
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I am a little behind in the blog right now as we didn't have wifi in the last few places so I will try to catch up on Maduri and now Varkala

Posted by Kelly Rose 03:15 Archived in India Comments (1)

Kolkata and Goodbyes

One more overnight train to Kolkata.
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Monty warned us that this train makes a lot of stops and that some were through some not so nice areas so we really needed to be careful with our bags. That being said it was actually the easiest of our overnight train trips to date. The platform wasn't overly crowded and we were leaving earlier then before so it was still light out.
The compartments in the train were probably the cleanest as well as the bathrooms, they actually had some kind of air freshened that made it smell like cherries, go figure.

We were able to see many rice patties and water buffalo before it got dark.
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When we arrived in Kolkata we waited patiently while Zonty arranged two Vehicles to transport us to our hotel. It is kind of bittersweet as it was to be our last night together as a group. After this night everyone would be going their separate ways. Some people like Megan from Australia and Neil and Diane from New Zealand would be continuing to the South with Intrepid where we would also be meeting new group members and a new guide. We are hoping he is as fantastic as Monty has been. Others were staying in Kolkata a few extra days and then traveling to Mumbai and Goa on their own.

We settled into our rooms after the train and showered and had a funky breakfast delivered to the room. Then we met as a group to do a quick city orientation walk. Those of us traveling to the South agreed we were kinda tired of the chaos of the North and were looking forward to some beach and yoga time. We new we weren't going to have much time here so we just went for the walk and then decided to go back and chill out before dinner.

We stopped with the group and had some yummy samosa which are not Girl Scout cookies but rather yummy fried pockets of potato veggies and a little spice. I do love it when Monty points out the safe places to try some street food.
We all felt bad when one of members Peter felt really ill. He looked really bad and was burning up so he went back to the Hotel to rest.

Kolkata reminded me of streets in NY in a way with sidewalks, street vendors, billboards and tons of yellow cabs.
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We walked passed the memorial for Mother Teresa
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And the Queen Victoria Memorial
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There is this park that Monty said to check out the couples sitting together. You see many people are still forced into arranged marriages and this is where a couple sometimes will meet in secret and then eventually they fall in love and runaway together.

We had lunch just Monty, Thom and I and then we relaxed at the hotel. Well, I did as I fell into such a deep sleep. Thom decided to go back out and try to find a card for us all to sign to give to Monty to say thank you for everything he had done for all of us.

That night was actually one of the two times Muslims celebrate Eid so no one would be serving alcohol out of respect. Therefore Monty arranged for some beers to be delivered to the Hotel so we could have a toast before we went out and a drink when we got back.
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We all met in Monty's room and presented him with the card and tips and thanked him for all that he had done. He was a real friend and not just a group leader. Some cheers and beers and then we headed down stairs for a cab ride to the restaurant
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Poor Peter was too sick to join us but was there in spirit and name.
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After a nice dinner we stopped back in Monty's room one more time to say our goodbyes to those who would not be continuing on. Monty and Megan would be sharing a cab with us the next day to the airport.
We woke up early and the four of us got a cab and right till the end Monty hung out with us. He was boarding a different flight so we said our goodbyes there as Megan joined us on our flight to Mumbai and then eventually Chennai to begin our Journey through South India.

Posted by Kelly Rose 03:43 Comments (1)

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