India and her exotic ways have treated us to some amazing sites and experiences to date. It is really place where you need to jump in and let it lead you were it may and it has taken us some amazing places! Have also had a air number of hassles with the internet connections and at this stage am waiting to Kathmandu to do a full update, so update should be complete on the 15th May! Sorry about the delay, also been having heaps of fun with the group so have been a bit distracted!
As mentioned in the last update we were headed for Alephey to meet up with our converted rice barge to head out into the backwaters on an overnight cruise. The group had opted for the luxury option and we were not disappointed with our floating palace. We all had our own rooms and bathrooms, but the best part was the large lounge area at the front of the boat, a great spot to sit back and watch this laid back tranquil part of India drift past. Our boat crew where great and soon rustled up a lunch for kings while explaining the simple but idyllic life of the backwater folks. We had the bird books out trying to identify all the birds and the waters teemed with fish. A couple of locals paddled up and tried to sell us fresh water lobster, but after our coastal seafood spree we decided to stick with the local curried fish and veg dishes the chef cooked up. As the sun set we were treated to some amazing photo opportunities with the amazing palm studded landscape making for some great shots. All to soon it seemed we where headed back the following day, having explored the back waters a couple of times, would definitely say that the overnight cruise is the way to go!
Our next point of call was Cochin, a former spice trading port for the British East Indian Company, consisting of a number of islands! We had two full days to explore and a day was spent wandering the streets around Fort Cochin. A visit to the spice market was a colourful wonder and was funny seeing all the Jewish named shops in this now very Indian run spice market! To add to the event it was Bens birthday and so he was dressed up accordingly. With a string of plastic flowers around his head he was difficult to miss and the India folks loved him. Riki and I headed of to sort out a present and a cake. With a budget of 100 rupees or about US$2.50 for presents we took to the market stalls and soon had a great selection of presents ranging from a great pair of brown Y-fronts, a Barbie Doll mobile phone alarm clock and a small bottle of the much favoured Indian aftershave Wild Rhino, Ben was suitably impressed, though the girls advised against the use of the aftershave!
The other major attraction of Cochin the Kathakali Dancers, a ancient form of dance used to tell Hindu folks stories by using hand, face and eye movement and exotically painted faces. We arrived early so we could watch the make-up session, seems a bit strange to most and a couple of the lads commented that it was not quite there thing, but once we arrived and they saw what it involved they were amazed.
After the show everybody decided it was time for a western style splurge and so we headed for Pizza Hut, a bit of s surprise as it may have the name, but India has definitly put its own twist to the theme with some fairly spicy pizzas. Was even funnier when everybody woke up the following morning with a good case of Delhi belly, our first run in with this Indian legend!
At this stage the Indian heat and humidity was really kicking in and so everybody was quite exited that we are heading for Ooty a former British hill station high up with a cool climate. The drive there takes us through some amazing small villages and a couple of funky towns and the twisty road to the top is quite the challenge. We stopped off at Conoor where everybody hopped on board the hill train, now a World Heritage Site attraction. We carried on in the truck and met up at the top as the group enjoyed a 2-hour journey up through the cloud forest and tea plantations by train. Ooty is a pleasant sprawling town with many steep streets and a small amount of remaining colonial buildings. The great attraction is to go hiking in the surrounding hills and meet some of India’s minority tribes while wandering through some great little villages with some great views down to the plains bellow. Our local guide headed of the following morning and the folks had a great day and ended up becoming part of one of the annual festivals in a small village where they found themselves as the honoured guests and got to do some interesting dances.
Riki and I had done the walks on past trips so decided to go for a game of golf on the local course build more than 110 years ago by the British. Steve a man not to fond of walking unless it is chasing a small white ball joined us for the day! Interesting to say the least, we paid up and set off for a quick 18 holes, well that was what we thought. Steve a regular golf nut says he has never seen the likes of this course. Rules in the clubhouse should have given us an idea.
– Rule 1: If your ball lands in a wild boar scrape you may drop out with no penalty.
– Rule 2: In the event of your ball landing in a cowpat you may also drop out with no penalty, though you must retrieve your own ball!!
And then there where the hills, I always thought the hill stations got their names from being on top of the hill, that is totally untrue, its because the golf courses are the hilliest you could possibly ever imagine, it was about 8 holes in when we decide that beer was required to finish the day a and so one caddy headed off to the local wine shop to get suitable refreshment. At the end of play Riki won the day, but both me and Steve think that it maybe a Kiwi counting thing, Steve had broken one club, and I was all for doing the walk next time as is far easier than trying to play golf! All up we had lost 13 balls, but a good time was had by all.
That evening we headed to the original governors house for a night of dining in true colonial splendour. Now a super fancy hotel and restaurant it was a great way to appreciate how the colonial rulers must have lived in the ‘ good old days’!
Next on our route we headed for Halibut and its amazing temple, different from the crazy Dravdian painted temples this was amazing sand stone rock carved temple. Made up entirely of interlocking stones and not using mortar it is an amazing feat of construction. The entire main temple complex devoted to Shiva is held up by 1100 carved elephants and has 15 bands of symbolic carvings running across the walls, our local guide explained all its details and meanings. After s quick bite to eat we hit the road trying to get as far as possible for the day. We ended up free camping in a coconut plantation. This was our first bush camp and there where a couple of fairly nervous folks who had not done much camping before and to set up in the ‘wilds of India’ was all a bit of a shock. Soon though once everybody had seen how it all worked and how comfy it is if it is done properly, everybody was having a great time and settled down for a great sunset with a couple of beers. Everybody had wanted a western style health meal so a huge veg stir-fry was on the cards. As we settled down various locals wander in to say hi and ask where we come from and to insure we had everything we needed, its great travelling through these friendly parts and added to our bush camp! Everybody woke up the next morning raring to go after to the surprise of most a great nights sleep. Free camping adds a great dimension to this style of trip!
The plan today was to head for the coast and after a quick group chat was decided to head for Agonda beach and camp on the beach, this was quite a change of tune as initially most were not interested in this option but after the first camp everybody was well up for it.
Imagine an almost deserted beach, couple of palm trees and setting up camp on the beach and then having roast lamb, baked potatoes, fresh salad and a selection of butter covered veg! This with either fresh coconut juice or a bit of the local Freny (local fire water) made from the sap of the coconut tree. Every evening while we where there the local still man wandered down climbing up to the top of the coconut trees to collect the days sap to ensure a constant supply of fire water We spent an amazing 2 days free camping on the beach. On the first morning the local fishermen offered to take us out in their boat and search for dolphins. There is something special about heading out to sea and the mind blowing experience of jumping overboard and swimming with the dolphins was amazing, we also had time to stop off at a couple of small deserted coves as we made our way back towards camp. While we were on the beach another overland truck pulled in with a married couple on an 18-month trip from Germany who had come through Iran and Pakistan. It was great to sit and chat, they possibly may follow us through Tibet and China, but time will tell!
All to soon for most it was time to pack up and continue north up the coast, our next destination was the beach of Baga in the centre of the Goa province. A major package holiday destination and not quite the place we would normally stay, but is a great spot for exploring Old Goa the Portuguese capital during colonial days. Most of the group where horrified by Baga and its surrounding sun beds, bars, umbrellas and large pink toasted English package holiday tourists. Soon everybody agreed that the best thing to do was to hire scooters and head of up the coast and explore all the small villages. We had a great day and the small beaches, villages and restaurants made for a great day out. This will be the last of he beaches for us and the next salty water we will sea will be when we cross the Caspian sea from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan in many months time. Next stop is Mumbai ( Bombay) my favourite Indian city. With its colonial past, massive population, Bollywood movie scene and a vibrant friendly people its great to explore. We arrived fairly later in the day and headed for Leopold’s a institution and danced the night away, is sad in a way as the two Steve’s, Katie, Nicky and Klaus will be leaving us here as they are returning to the real world as they only had 3 weeks leave available. Katie and Anna joining us here for the next legs and will be interesting to meet them!