My Trips: India 2007

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Kochi, India to Singapore and onto Bali, Indonesia

A taxi takes me across Kochi to the airport where I catch a late night flight to Singapore. I’m restless during the flights and I don’t get much sleep. There’s little legroom on this budget flight.

As Singapore airport I get my first taste of Southeast Asia – efficient, clean and punctual, well at least compared to India. Goodbye India and hello Southeast Asia. After changing terminals I blink curiously at the first taste of the modern world I have seen in 2 months.

My second flight to Bali is much more agreeable with great service and food. The airport is cheerful also. The airport officials are friendly and I don’t get quizzed about my purpose in Indonesia and certainly don’t have to prove my onward ticket, like Trailfinders in the UK insisted I would.

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Final thoughts on India

These are my last few days in India, before I head to Bali and spend 5 or 6 months in Southeast Asia.

I’ve loved almost everything I’ve experience in India. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they’ve appreciated their India experiences more and more after they had left. But, I think I have got the most from my visit whilst I have been here. There have only been a few bad moments, but many more good ones.

India is a tough place to travel. There are lots of hassles and issues such as poverty and oppression are hard to see and deal with/ignore everyday. However, amongst the filth and frustration and moments of amazement that make India what it is.

I would recommend a visit to India for anyone who has a little backpacking experience, but I don’t think it’s a good first time backpacking destination. You need time in India though. A few weeks isn’t long enough to get into the flow, which is essential to appreciate this amazing country.

My favorite moments of India have been

  • Chatting to the locals – when you get past the tourist chat Indian people have a lot of good things to talk about. I am always fascinated with their options about India, and their perception of the world outside of India. Their perceptions are normally a big surprise.
  • Food – I’m a Brit, so more accustomed to India food than most, but almost everything I have eaten and drunk in India has been fantastic. In particular the vegetable samosas have been a highlight. I have recently been eating breakfast and lunch at the street-stalls. My stomach seems to have no problem with that – it’s mega cheap, and it’s normally possible to get a good conversation going with the locals. The best restaurant food was at Mountain Palms on Patnem beach, where I stayed for 10 nights at Ramnath’s excellent beach huts. His chefs are great. My favorite Indian food experience has to be at Ali’s house in Agra though. Traditional Indian home cooking, and nobody could stop eating until they were fit to burst. Thanks to Ali’s wife and mum, fantastic. I have also fallen in love with Indian chai.
  • Colours – perhaps no where offers the amazing contrast of grey/brown dirty, dusty roads and lanes with vibrant fruit & vegetable stalls, or groups of women wearing saris of every colour of the rainbow. Even road signs and buses are often so brightly painted that I can’t help but stare.
  • Children – in India the kids love to wave (and some of the adults do too), and I love to wave back. The young kids love to come up and talk, trying out their English. Unfortunately a lot also try to get money and pens from you.
  • Goa – it’s not typical India, but it’s a wonderful place to relax and enjoy elements of Indian life, whichever of those you chose to participate in. Goa does have a magical spirit, and you can experience that if you interact with the locals.
  • Kerala – the backwaters are a fantastic, unique experience of traditional, and often fairly isolated village life. Where canoes replace cars, and traditional crafts still dominate modern money making practices.
  • Taj Mahal – A wonderful monument, set in wonderful grounds. I, and a few friends, also had a great time at the market in Agra – real, tourist free, Indian life.
  • Varanasi – A bit of a gem. I’d read much about Varanasi, and found the city itself dark and a bit joyless. But, my dawn ride down the Ganges, away from the touts and hawkers was a spiritual moment.
  • Orchha – The palaces were impressive, but my favorite moment was standing in the Hindu temple in town, and being swept away in my life’s most spiritual moment.
  • Mumbai – I ended up there simply in transit, and had one of my best cities stays ever. I didn’t want to stay much longer than a few nights though.

My least favorite moments have been

  • Sunali – the border town between Nepal and India offered practically nothing. But, I, and the people I was with with made the most if it, and with a little help from the hotel manager, who got us beer, we ended up having a great night. Good can come of all that seems bad.
  • Riff off prices – Prices get jacked up so much that I often found myself paying more for things than in England! It’s ridiculous how much some people push things. A couple of times I got caught out and paid to much, but normally would just walk away, in the hope this will held the situation for the next tourist.
  • Beggars – Persistent beggars can make INR100 per day, in a few hours. A hospital administration working in India makes INR50 per day. India has a massive beggar problem, and many tourists fuel it. There are many worthy recipients of donations (those who have lose limbs, lepers, etc.) but many are simple lazy. Sorry, but it’s true. Every hard working person I met in India was doing well for themselves…
  • Taxi drivers – money grabbing idiots. Either they don’t have any change (in which case I make them get some) or they deliberatly go a way they are not permitted, and when turned away by the police they try and increase the fare. They are the drivers, they should know where they can drive. Not my problem….
  • Delhi – I just didn’t find much interesting to do. Maybe next time?

Thanks India, I’ll see you again soon.. 🙂

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What I do and don’t miss of home

I just finished drinking a cup of coffee, which I realised is something I miss from home. So this got me thinking about what I do and don’t miss from home.

  • I miss my girlfriend, but I’m meeting her in 2 weeks, and then we travel for 5 months together 🙂
  • I miss checking my emails in the morning over a coffee. I check my emails here every few days, but it’s not the same.
  • I miss sleeping in my own bed, but I love waking up in a tropical beach hut, or with in a new city, town or temple to explore.
  • I love reading when traveling, but I don’t miss television.
  • I miss having my own transport, but I love watching foreign landscapes whizzing by on an Indian train.
  • I miss surfing, but I love swimming in warm tropical waters.
  • I love the cheap cost of living, but I miss the convenience of fixed prices (I don’t like having to haggle).
  • I miss my big music collection, but I love hearing forgotten albums on my MP3 player.
  • I don’t miss English winters, but I do miss a warm comfortable bed on surprisingly chilly tropical nights.
  • I do miss catching up with my friends and family, but it makes it more exciting when I get home.

I love traveling…..

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Backwaters of Kochi, Kerala, India

I decided to have another Kerala backwaters experience. After an early street-side breakfast a mini-bus picks me, and a few others up, and takes us 30 minutes away. We get on board a traditional houseboat and start cruising around the backwaters. The waterways here are not quiet as interesting as those of Alleppey, but the houseboat is lovely.

We stop and take a look at a small factory that converts mussel shells into calcium for use in pharmaceuticals. We carry on cruising and stop for a fantastic Keralan lunch. After we drive a little way further and jump in canoes. Our driver punts around some quiet narrow backwaters. The canoes are my favourite backwaters vehicle; quiet, leisurely, and able to reach right inside the intricate canal network. We stop to see how canoe husk fibres and made into string, and we also stop for a coconut, yum.

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A small India, and souveners

Whilst walking I spot a German couple I chatted with at Patnem Beach in Goa. We talk for an hour about the various things we have been up to. India is a massive country, but even here you can bump into the same people again. They are staying in Ernakulam, which I didn’t really understand as it’s a ugly bustling city. Anyway, we were talking about souvenirs and I realised this is my last chance to get any. I also realise that I don’t have any from India, just Nepal.

After a quick walk around I buy a wooden Ganesh and a lovely elephant. Now my backpack will be even heavier. Once I get to Bali I hope to send a package home. I suspect my girlfriend will quickly have a few things to send back also.

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Chinese cantilever fishing net in action

After seeing hundreds of Chinese cantilever fishing nets in the backwaters, and none of them in use, I finally see one being used in Fort Cohcin. They only catch a few small fish, but it seems to be fairly efficient.

I stop a fish mongers and have a quick chat. The big fish in the front is an Indian Salmon, which costs INR600 (£7, $14). The biggest fish are at the back, and they are king fish. There are several restaurants nearby that will cook any fish you buy and bring to them. I might give it a try some time.

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Alleppey and onto Fort Cochin, Kerala, India

Up at 6am as I an being eaten alive by something. My room has a mosquito net, but I don’t think it’s mosquitoes. Bed bugs maybe? I dunno, but I’m up early. After a quick fuss around the room I’m out the door and I take a walk. Alleppey is quiet and I like it at this time. I head up to the bus station, which is not so quiet. I take a seat at a road-side chai stop and have a couple of cups of coffee and a fried banana, all for 15 pence, bargain.

Back at the guesthouse I’m a bit lost as they guy there says that the next train is not until 1pm, about 3 hours away. I decide to try my luck anyway. At the railway station I buy a ticket and have to wait about 5 minutes for the train, perfect.

At Ernakulam I grab a tuk-tuk and head over the Fort Cochin. The driver gets stopped at one bridge and makes a big fuss with the police. He turns back saying to me about another bridge. Over the other bridge and we finally make it to the peace and quiet of Fort Cochin. The driver makes a fuss about the extra distance, but I think it has been a ploy all along, and give him an extra INR20. It has been a long drive to get here. I think I’ll take the ferry back.

Fort Cochin is my last stop India. In 4 days I fly to Bali. My hotel of choice here is full, but after a quick walk around a lady directs me to man who has a nice place and a single room for INR200, bargain.

After a few walks around town I realise there is not so much to do here, which is fine, but I have 4 days to fill. I know I can take a backwaters trip on a houseboat at a reasonable price, and I need to catch up on my writing, so I should be fine. When I start traveling with my girlfriend in a few days I won’t be able to spend quite as much time writing, so I’m keep to get everything up to date.

Fort Cochin is a nice place though, and the riverside location is beautiful.

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Lazy day in Alleppey, Kerala, India

After breakfast with the locals at the bus station, I catch up online, and take a walk to the beach. The beach in Alleppey is surprisingly nice. It’s quiet and undeveloped, except for a few guesthouses nearby. There is an old pier, which looms like it was last maintained when the British left India.

I grab some street side snacks and watch the fisherman for a while.

Back at the guesthouse I get chatting with the owner and his friends. They are nice guys, and we talk about a lot of things. They love chatting up the visiting girls, and seem to have a lot of success with them.

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Backwaters cruise from Kollan to Alleppey, Kerala

Up early, a quick walk around and breakfast at a Indian coffee house with the locals. I decide to take the backwaters cruise to Alleppey.

I jump in a tuk-tuk, and after a little confusion, I get to the lakeside jetty. There is only one boat with any activity, but no one seems keen to check tickets, so I get on, assuming it’s the right boat.

It turns out it is the right boat, and we start cruising. Right from the start the scenery is stunning. After chugging across lakes we enter the rivers and canals. The scenery is constantly changing between empty fields, small homes, and boats with people fishing or transporting goods.

After a few hours we settle into the canals proper. There are lots of villagers waving. This looks like an idyllic place – living on an island, with everything you need, a canoe for transport, and endless sunshine and fish. I’m tempted to get off the boat and somewhere to stay on an island!

We pass several houseboats which look lovely, and a perfect way for a couple or group of friends to spend 24 hours, floating on a beautiful waterway with stunning scenery. Unfortunately I am traveling on my own, and these houseboats cost INR6,000 for 24 hours. My cruise today has cost INR300. I’m happy with the cruise today, it’s much better that a bus or train. I might take a canoe ride tomorrow in Alleppey, to see more traditional backwater life up close.

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Kollam, Kerala, India

After the long train ride (18 hours) I step off into Kerala. Kollam is a busy town, which, surprisingly, doesn’t irritate me after several weeks of relaxing at the beach. I quickly get into a very reasonable hotel, the room is just INR150, back to normal prices, and probably the cheapest room on my trip so far.

After a quick walk around I realise that there is not much to do in town, so tomorrow I will head over to the lake and jump on a boat towards Alappuzha, for a Kerala backwater experience.

I don’t have quite enough time to do everything I want to do in Kerala. So, I’m going to freestyle it to the last hour, and see what happens 🙂