Tuesday, March 10, 2015

India Part 3: The South

We arrived in Mumbai in the morning and needed to take the local train into town to get to our hotel. The Mumbai local trains are infamous for the organized chaos you experience while taking them. You have to find the right platform, make sure it’s the right train, figure out which stations you are coming into, and, once you are at the right station, you need to move fast to get off the train before it starts to move again. Luckily, everything went smoothly for us, excpet that the train we thought would take us all the way to our hotel’s neighbourhood stopped halfway and we had to ‘alight’ (fancy British word for getting off a train or bus) and find another one. Since I am a natural master of deductive reasoning, we found the right train and carried on. But I’ve spent too much time talking about trains! We got to our hotel, and it was exactly what we expected. Nothing amazing, but in a fantastic neighbourhood (called Fort) near to some NICE food spots (very important). That evening, we hopped on a bus after figuring out the numbers (different from Roman numbers!) and went to Chowpatty Beach on Marine Drive. My first impressions of Mumbai were GOOOOOD! It was the first Indian city we were in where I didn’t have to watch out for cow poo on while walking down the road, and it truly felt LUXURIOUS. Marine Drive was lovely, and Chowpatty Beach was a hub of evening activity. We got some food from a group of stalls set up on the beach and watched the families relaxing and playing on the beach. 

Chowpatty Beach

We walked back along Marine Drive and laughed at the awkward couples trying to be typical young couples but in a place where public displays of affection are not exactly approved of. The next day we walked around Colaba, which included walking by the India Gate, the Taj Hotel and Leopold’s. 
India Gate

In the afternoon we hopped on the same bus going down Marine Drive to see Ghandi’s old residence. now a Ghandi museum. This was the Ghandiest thing we did while in India, and I think we were both glad to have made the point to go there. The next day we opted just to walk around A LOT all over town. We walked to the Central Train Station, then we walked to a temple, then we walked to Dhobi Ghat, a slummy looking place where a huge percentage of the city’s laundry get done, and we walked to a mausoleum, then we gave up and went home. 
Dhobi Ghat

Alcohol isn’t cheap in India the way it is somewhere like Thailand, so we actually didn’t do much drinking! I promise! The next day we had a train in the morning. We had a gruelling journey ahead of us. We got off the train at 4am, waited around a train station in some other city until 6am, then took a second train toooooo

Hampi! The journey was totally insane and we were crazy for planning it like that, but it was so worth it. Hampi is like nothing I’ve ever seen…it looks like the set of The Flintstones. Instead of trying to describe it, you just need to look at the photo. It was beautiful. We had a bit of a trek to get to our guesthouse, as we’d booked one a little far away from the main action. Again, so worth it. We were surrounded by peaceful rice paddies and boulder piles. 

We rented out a scooter every day we were there and just drove around. I also drove the scooter, and nobody got hurt! We did a lot of lazing around doing nothing, but one day we got really adventurous and rented bicycles and biked around all these old ruined temples and stuff in the area. That was pretty interesting and fun, although a little on the sweaty side. Our days in Hampi kind of blend together in my memory, and the photos are really more effective than any of my words could be.

ruins in Hampi
 When time was up, we headed out to catch our sleeper bus. This was a silly bus, and we had an unpleasant experience…the bus stopped at like 3am, they made us all get off, and wait around for 30 minutes, then made us get on ANOTHER bus. WHY!?! There was no explanation, of course there wasn’t. Anyway, we did eventually arrive in

Goa! But we didn’t arrive at the right place exactly. We got off the bus and onto another bus to a placed called Margao, and then got on ANOTHER bus to take us to Palolem, which was at last, our final destination. We alighted from the bus and were instantly bombarded by guys trying to hustle up some business for their guesthouses. We were prepared, and decided they seemed nice enough and had the right price, so we followed them down the beach. After a bit of negotiating, we ended up with an adorable little beach hut for an INCREDIBLE price about 50 meters from the water’s edge (more like 25 at high tide haha). Then we kicked into full blown beach mode for the next 4 days, leaving our beach beds only to go to a restaurant, bar, or to another beach. It was grand, we were so relaxed we forgot to take photos, sorry! 

Our next journey was going to be so much more straightforward than the last two and we were totally prepared for it. We took our night train down to

Alleppey (or Alapuzha), our first stop in Kerala, God’s own Country. Our main objective here was to explore the backwaters. Most people do this on a beautiful, all-inclusive houseboat. 

Because we were on a budget, we figured that was waaaay out of our price range (we were right too haha) and opted for a day trip on a canoe instead. Our guesthouse arranged the whole thing and we were off the day after we arrived. 
our canoe

Alleppey was really cool. Kerala is an elected communist state, and they are REALLY communist! There are also A LOT of Christians there, and between the Communist things and Christian things it really feels incredibly different from anywhere else we went in India. So we got paddled around the waterways where people live and work and it was beautiful and lovely and there was so much to see.

 The tour finished off with lunch prepared by our boatman’s wife at their beautiful house in the middle of a bunch of rice paddies. It was a lovely day! 
rice paddies around his house

There didn’t seem to be a whole lot to do in Kerala other than see the backwaters. I kept wishing there were some guesthouses outside of the town and along the banks of the water so we could just sit and relax and watch the world go by, but there wasn’t. The next day we took another bus (a long ride again) to

Munnar! Munnar is a Hill Station up in the Western Ghats. It’s tea fields. It’s so much tea! We arrived at night and were happy to find a cooler climate (higher altitude yay!) and disappointed to find really expensive hotels. Our first day there we just wandered around in some tea fields (we MIGHT have been trespassing, whatever) and ate some AMAZING food at a restaurant that we visited two more times before we left. 

tea everywhere
The next day we went for a guided hike up higher and onto some mountains. Unfortunately, the visibility was terrible and our views were not as extraordinary as they should have been. But it was still a nice day and we learned some things about tea. Did you know that black, green and white tea all comes from the same plant? Did you know that the tea plants in India were just transplanted from China? Did you know the British are literally obsessed with tea to the point where the whole country should have gone to some kind of therapy for it? So many interesting things about tea. 

So-so view from the top

 I think on this day we also went to the tea museum. It was a little odd (there were dead animals hanging on the wall!) and propaganda-y (LOVE THE TEA COMPANY. THE TEA COMPANY WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU. DO NOT QUESTION THE TEA COMPANY), but they did have an active tea processing exhibit that showed all the steps between tea leaf and tea bag, so that was cool. On our third and final day in Munnar, we hired an auto to drive us up to Top Station, and to stop at some of the attractions along the way. We were happy because the sky was clear and blue when we started up. We got almost all the way up there before we turn one corner and the sky was suddenly grey and cloudy. Just like that. So again, our amazing view was ruined, but luckily I’m very imaginative so I could figure out what it probably looks like when it’s clear. Unfortunately my camera can’t do that and the photos are terrible.
From Top Station

We came back down and to cheer ourselves up we rented a paddle boat and went out on this beautiful lake for a bit. Then we ate some food and saw some crazy honey bees. 
paddle boating

Our last mission in Munnar was to stock up on spices. The next day, we caught a short and pleasant bus ride to:

Kochi (Cochin)! Our last stop of our epic pan-Asian journey. We walked around the touristy Fort Kochi area, saw the famous Chinese fishing nets, the Portuguese Basilica, the Dutch Palace, Jew Street, and one last temple (but our first/only Jain temple!). It was a super multicultural day. 

Jew Street?
Then we finished it off with THE BEST SHRIMP CURRY that has ever existed probably, and then Conor headed off to the airport. The end of an era!!! The next day I moved into a hostel so I wouldn’t be so lonely. I had a few very idle days planned for myself. My visit to Kochi happened to coincide with a huge international art festival taking place, and I spent a couple days just walking through the huge exhibits. During the evening I would go to cultural shows, and was able to take in a puppet show, some dancing and some martial arts. 

Kathakali Dancing
I also managed to squeeze in an Ayurvedic style massage. Turns out I don’t love Ayurvedic massages. They are oily and gentle, and I prefer less oil and lots of pressure. But it was worth trying out. On my last day in Kochi I went on a mission to find specific items to take up to Abby’s house in Lucknow. I needed a cake pan, deli meats and blue cheese. Once these items were found, I went “home” and relaxed. The next day I flew to Lucknow to meet Abby! That’s for next time