Posted by: glenswatman | February 12, 2011

20110201-10 INDIA Kerala

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TUESDAY 1 FEBRUARY 2011 – At 8am the man is waiting to take us to his boat.  It is a traditional style canoe with a canopy and a backrest with a thin mattress resting against it.  Boatman Senna sets off paddling us out to the backwaters (canals).  We immediately meet the incoming house-boats, literally dozens of the 800 on the water, all chugging along with diesel fumes belching out.  Coupled with the fact that few have holding tanks and dispense the toilet and other waste into the water it is easy to see why there is a problem with pollution.  Whilst the occupants will see the village life they are higher up and not as close to the banks as us.  On the other hand we are so low and close that we can see right inside the house which feels a bit intrusive.  In the canal we see all kinds of washing taking place, teeth, body, clothes and dishes with all the water and suds remaining in the canal.  We constantly hear the thwack of laundry being flung against a stone.  We stop for breakfast at a waterside café and are served the stodgy mini rice cakes and sambal and without cutlery have to try out eating with hands skills remembering only to use the right one.  The school children all troop past to the nearby school having arrived on various types of boat, this is often the only access as behind the houses are no roads just huge paddy fields.  On a small boat we can venture into the narrow canals.  They are lined with palms and the reflections are wonderful.  House styles vary from very modern nice looking bungalows to run down shacks.  We see men wading in the water with fishing nets and a couple of small kids on the bank with a small rod and net.  Another lad in the water shows us a snake caught in his net.  Many homes have chickens or ducks and some even have their own cow.  In one area we see a selection of village shops then further out a canoe full of hardware which the man is taking round like a mobile shop.  Progress is very slow in the canoe and after almost 3 hours we are seriously uncomfortable.  We tell Senna that we would like to make it a 6-hour trip and not the 8-hour one suggested.  In fact a 4-hour would really be better as after the first couple of hours things start to get a bit repetitive.  We had hoped to see a lot of birdlife but only see a few kingfishers and cormorants.  One of the canals is chock a block with vegetation so we have to get out and walk whilst Senna pulls the canoe through, in fact we can walk faster than he can row and at this stage prefer walking.  The price is Rs 150 (£2) an hour but we now think it would have been better to take the motorised canoe at Rs350 (£5.20) an hour and do it all in a couple of hours and in more comfort.  We check out the houseboats and find they range from Rs4500 (£65) to Rs10000 (£140) per night for a couple including meals.   In the evening we have been invited to Joy’s partner Santhosh’s wedding.  This begins with an evening meal in his home village near Alleppey attended by over 1000 people.  We meet Santhosh and learn that it is an arranged marriage and he has only met his intended 3 times.  As Hindu’s the astrologer has decreed that it is time for him to marry and that according to the date and time of their births they will be compatible.  We are escorted to an eating area where we have a simple meal.  Attracting a lot of attention we constantly have people coming up to greet us, especially the children.  They love it when we take their photos and then show them the picture on the camera screen.  Joy’s wife Sunilla and their 9 year old son Eby arrive and both speak good English, not surprising as Sunilla is an English teacher.  She tells us the English taught in India is different to ours, much simpler and for example where we would say “we came from …” they are taught “we are coming from …” They are soon moving to a new 3 bedrooms house and when I say that the children will have their own bedrooms she tells me they won’t do that until they are in their teens.  Tonight the press are in attendance as there is going to be a special drama show.  A stage has been erected and a male and female perform what is obviously a very funny sketch about the girl being coy about her feelings for the man.    It is an incredible event and we are really looking forward to the marriage tomorrow.

ALLEPPEY 2

WEDNESDAY 2 FEBRUARY – At 7am we meet Joy and Padreep to go to Santhosh’s house.  We are have breakfast, interestingly served on obviously recycled plates.  My piece of oblong cardboard is clearly a milk carton.  We meet Germans Lotte and Volkar who are friends of Santhosh and also going to the wedding.  They join us in a car along with Padreep and Joy for the 3 hour journey to Thrissur.  Dozens of other guests fill coaches.  En route Joy insists on stopping for some beers and another stop for coffee.  Arriving in Thrissur we walk into the wedding hall and sit near the back but someone comes and insists that we take the front row.  Santhosh is already on the stage along with a few other key figures including a very old priest who looks a bit like Ghandi.  Bride Preeti arrives and the rituals begin many involving fire, oil, petals and food.  Once married they have flower chains put on and walk in circles around a fire.  After the ceremony people are called up onto the stage to have their photos taken with the bridge and groom and we are the first.  It must be good luck or some kind of respect for foreigners to do this but embarrassing for us.  Later on there is a separate hall where a meal is served.  First you get a banana leaf then someone pours water on it and this you use to wash the leaf.  Food servers then serve rice and about a dozen small helpings of different sauces.  Four paper cups appear flavoured water, buttermilk, rice pudding (delicious) then a kind of milk vegetable rice.   It is all delicious and we do very well eating with just our right hand.  For an hour or so after guests mingle in the courtyard and we have our usual crowd of kids plus some adults to talk to.  There’s a band on one of the buses with drums and this encourages a group of men to start dancing.  The newlyweds appear and set off in a decorated car after which everyone leaves.  Lotte and Volkar are staying in Thrissur so we take two other passengers in the car.  Joy’s 2 year old Ishann has been staying with Sunilla’s parents in Fort Cochin and Joy wants to pick him up on the way back.  He also wants to buy fresh fish so we get another look at Cochin.  By amazing coincidence Joy recognises his next Couchsurfer, a Belgian lady, walking down the street.  At Sunilla’s parents we stop for a drink and meet the family.  Taking the coastal road south we pass many prawn culture ponds.  In a small village we come to a halt when a religious parade blocks the road.  Literally thousands of people are parading from the church carrying icons and accompanied by bands.  Unfortunately it goes on for over an hour with no end in sight so Joy has a word with the policeman and gets him to clear one half of the road so we can get through.  After dropping the 2 passengers we stop in Alleppey at Joy’s main treatment centre.  It also has accommodation and he invites guests Turkish Vermeire and Katrien from Belgium to join us for dinner.  We are taken to his home where Sunilla has a spread of Kerala fare waiting.  The Belgians have had a bad experience pre booking a car and driver for their holiday but Joy has changed their opinion of Indians with his kindness.  Somehow we manage to make space to do the meal justice but 3 lots of curry would be impossible for us every day.  The car has gone so we get a ride back on motorbikes.  It is after 10pm when we arrive back exhausted but after a fantastic day.

ALLEPPEY 3

THURSDAY 3 FEBRUARY – It is a “luxury” bus to Harripad, Rs25 (36p) with reclining seats, some reclined whether you like it or not!  1 hour later we make a quick change to the bus to Mavelikara Rs7 (10p).  Couchsurfer Raghu meets us at the bus station.  He cannot host us but has a friend who is creating a homestay by the river he says we can stay there for free and cook for ourselves or bring food in.  He puts us in a rickshaw whilst he leads on his motorbike.  The track runs out and we have to walk the last part on a narrow riverside path.  Rohini Mony is a very welcoming lady.  We sit on the roof top terrace chatting, we have arrived sooner than expected so she has her helper quickly preparing our room.  We suspect that they will want us to promote her homestay and will be happy to do so once things are finished – we are then surprised that she says it is finished.  The lack of shower in our room, no power socket and a very hard mattress make us think she will find it hard to get guests.   Raghu rides out and brings back lunch, chapattis, vegetable curry and fried fish.  When Raghu leaves Mony suggests an afternoon nap but the constant wailing from a nearby temple and the cow’s moo-ing make things difficult.  It turns out there are neither shops nor restaurants nearby making it difficult to get food but Mony seems to have taken it on herself that she will cook for us.  Raghu returns in the evening and we take a walk along the riverbank and find them setting up for a Hindu festival.  We tell Mony about it and she says we can go up later but she goes to bed at 8pm instead.

MAVELIKARA

FRIDAY 4 FEBRUARY – Steve has a bad cold so based on that we will stay here a little longer.  Mony cooks us oats which we think is breakfast but an hour later she produces some sort of big flour cake topped with coconut to be eaten with fried bananas.  It is really filling and we are fit to burst but she insists we eat it all.  Raghu said he would return at 10am and Mony has arranged for a car to arrive.  Raghu doesn’t arrive and we have no idea where we are supposed to be going in the car.  Although the people speak basic English it is often hard to understand and we never know what is supposed to happen.  Certainly just hanging around is normal as we observe them doing the same looking is as they are waiting for something but nothing happens.  Anyway Raghu arrives around 11am and half an hour later we set off in the car with Mony’s driver.  It is not far to Krishnapuram Palace (Admission Rs 10 + Rs 25 for camera).  The building is all made from wood and of a very unusual design.  Even the doors have no hinges but the wood is carved to fit into recesses.  On the way back we pick up a take away meal, total price for us all is Rs 210 (£3.10).  Turns out to be the same meal Raghu brought us yesterday chapatti, vegetable curry, fish and onions.  Steve is really struggling with a cold so we phone ahead and make plans to stay here tomorrow and relax before moving on Sunday.  In the evening Mony produces the same meal we had for breakfast.  Expecting to get Delhi belly I now find myself constipated due to all the heavy stodgy food we are being served.

MAVELIKARA 2

SATURDAY 5 FEBRUARY – When we arrived Mony said we could stay as long as we wanted so we will linger today to give Steve a chance to get over his cold.  Late morning Mony is going to the market so we ride along and get to see her 3 other houses in town, each visit involves lots of sitting around doing nothing.  We ask if we can get some food for lunch but she insists she will cook, unfortunately the food does not improve.  As the day goes by we start getting hints about us paying for staying.  We tell her we are happy to pay for the food but that Raghu had said the accommodation is free.  Mony says she is not in Couchsurfing and Raghu did not tell her this.  Conveniently Raghu’s phone is turned off today.

MAVELIKARA 3

SUNDAY 6 FEBRUARY – It comes as little surprise that in the morning we are presented with a large bill.  Mony wants Rs 400 per night for accommodation (above average for a village even had her place been set up properly) money for 3 days of food even though we have not had that much plus Rs500 for the ride out to the palace also overpriced.  We say we will leave money for food and give her considerably more than what we felt it was worth.  Write a letter for her to give to Raghu telling him all about it and tell Mony she will have to take the rest up with him.  She starts to argue and is not happy when we say we are leaving now as unbeknown to us she has arranged her car to take us to the station, for the inflated price of Rs300.  She tells us it is Sunday and we cannot possibly get a rickshaw and if we do it will cost Rs200 so we must take her car at 8.30 or we will miss the first train at 9.00.  We walk out at 7.45am, reach the bridge and get a rickshaw within minutes for Rs60 (90p).  We buy a ticket to Varkala, Rs28 (41p) and shortly after board the 8.10am train. We have inadvertently got onto the sleeper carriage that should cost extra but will pay that when the ticket inspector comes around.  During the day the bunks are converted into seating but we can easily how claustrophobic it would be at night with 3 bunks on each side of the compartment.  Vendors sell hot and cold drinks and food at reasonable prices.  Now that we can calm down we talk through the events and after realising this morning’s lies about the transport we think maybe Raghu and Mony were in it together.  It is a shame and frustrating as we would not even have detoured to Mavelikara had it not been for Raghu’s invitation, oh well we will have to chalk it up as an India experience.  It takes 1 ½ hours to reach Varkala station and an Rs 60 (90p) rickshaw ride gets us to Skylark Guesthouse run by Couchsurfer Faith.  She has been totally up front and told us that out of season Couchsurfers can stay for free but in season she will give them a discount from Rs500 to Rs400 (£6) per night. There is a kitchen we can use, free wi-fi and satellite TV.  We drop the bags and make the 6 minute walk to black beach then along the cliff top.  It’s quite a shock to suddenly be in tourist land.  There are dozens of restaurants serving western food and drinks.  Walking along we check out accommodation options as Faith only has space for 2 nights.  The main beach is where the lifeguards are and where the police keep gawkers moving along to enable western women to feel comfortable wearing bikinis.  We find a number of room options that will suit but before committing will take a walk to the northern beach tomorrow.  Feeling full of curry we enjoy a simple egg and chips lunch on the way back.  In the evening Steve sits on the roof terrace watching football on TV whilst I make us of the Internet.  We’ve bought a pineapple at the nearby fruit stall for Rs28 (41p) and this makes a light supper.  John & Cate are watching TV with Cate a big Chelsea fan who enjoys talking football.

VARKALA 1, SKYLARK GUESTHOUSE Rs 400 (£6) http://skylarkguesthouse.hotels.officelive.com

MONDAY 7 FEBRUARY – Using the Internet I have found what looks like a great deal at the Haiwa Residency. Normally Rs1300 + tax it is Rs900 but pay for 2 nights and get one free making it Rs600 a night.  It is hard to find so we end up walking the length of the cliff top again.  We stumble upon a German couple in a Mercedes panel van motorhome and enjoy hearing about their trip.  The Haiwi quote Rs 500 (£7.50) for a nice balcony corner room available in 2 nights but first we would have to stay downstairs.  Luckily the person from the balcony rooms appears and when questioned says she is staying for another week.  Backtracking we begin checking hotels that we initially thought would be out of our price range thinking we will go up to RS1000 for something really nice.  Thiruvambadi looks superb and has a pool and ocean view so we are surprised when we are initially given a price of Rs900 for their cheapest room but cannot it until after 12.00 o’clock.  Walk north to Odiyam Beach where the fishermen are hauling in their nets and encouraging tourists to help them.  This is a small fishing village with very little accommodation and most is very expensive.  We know we have found what we want so return and chat to Asook waiting for the room to be free.  It takes ages so we order meals.  The mushroom pasta Rs 110 (75p) is delicious.  The downstairs corner room is simple, modern and clean with a balcony that has a gate leading onto a lawn.  We speak to the manager and negotiate a lower price of Rs700 (£10), without breakfast, for a longer stay.  We return to the main beach and sit watching the world go by.  There are lifeguards and bikini police so it all feels very comfortable.  Steve takes a dip in the Arabian Sea, got it wrong last time when I thought it was the Indian Ocean.  It is very hot but windy and clouding over so quite humid.  Return to Skylark and try to play Scrabble whilst watching “Slum dog millionaire”.  In the evening the cliff top looks and smells beautiful.  The cafes have fairy lights and the shops are burning incense.  At Café del Mar I order a slice of coffee cake, Rs40 / 60p and get a huge slice that would feed two, if I were to let it.  We talk to Justin and Katie who have flown from England for a wedding in Goa and are now extending the trip.  All the restaurants have fish on ice outside and a huge marlin looks very impressive.   We are easily talked into sharing a marlin steak meal at Rs 200 (£3) and it is absolutely delicious.  As the restaurants here place all their tables facing the ocean with just two seats behind them it is easy to get chatting to your neighbours.  Richard and Carol are from California but now live in Tirivannamalai and invite us to visit.  They are very knowledgeable and we tell them we are fascinated by how the men are constantly adjusting their dodi’s (long cloth skirts), flapping them around and making them short then long again.  Carol explains that this is a sexual thing to attract the opposite sex.  Back at Skylark we have a letter from Raghu saying he arrived at Mony’s at 8am and was very cross with her for asking us for money – do we believe him?

VARKALA 2, SKYLARK

TUESDAY 8 FEBRUARY –It is a short walk to our new home and we quickly settle in then sit out by the pool.  Linda & Roger from Detroit have recently retired, bought a motorhome but want to mix this with backpacking.  She has an I-Pad and talks me through the features including the pros and cons.  It is great to be able to do some real swimming and I manage 30 laps before getting cramp.  For lunch Steve has a special rice with fruit and nuts plus ginger tea and with my rice pudding (with nuts, fruit and cardamom seeds) and chocolate milk shake we spend all of Rs170 (£2.50) and these are tourist resort prices.  Mid afternoon Norm and Chris from England appear, early retirees we have much in common and exchange our info on South America with theirs of Northern India.  Our evening cliff top walk gets off to a slow start when we are tempted into the Woodlands restaurant built over the ocean to catch the sun set.  By the time our pizza arrives the sun has gone below low clouds.  Continue our stroll and end up at Café del Mar having dessert and beers and chatting to John & Cate.  As alcohol is forbidden they serve it in huge mugs with the bottle covered in newspaper.

VARKALA 3, THIRUVAMBADI BEACH RETREAT Rs 700 (£10)

WEDNESDAY 9 FEBRUARY – Café del Mar offer a buffet breakfast for Rs 150 (£2.25).  Sitting there for about an hour we get through cereal, porridge, toast, eggs, tomato, curry, juice and coffee and shan’t need to eat again today!  Try to relax on the beach but we have eaten too much and it is really hot, even cooling off in the ocean you are hot by the time you walk out and lie down.  Afternoon by the pool is perfect as there are umbrellas for shade.  Back at Skylark we meet Cate and John for happy hour drinks and gather information on the north of India.

VARKALA 4, THIRUVAMBADI HOTEL

THURSDAY 10 FEBRUARY – Our morning walk takes us beyond Odiyam Beach but only see a temple and small village houses.  Walking past the houses we see an old lady weaving palms for a new roof and one house with a very attractive garden full of flowers planted in assorted plastic carrier bags.  Old men squat together playing cards but there are so many rubbished cards in the grass surrounding them it would be easy to cheat.   Stop for breakfast at Lakeside restaurant but it is not great.  Spend the rest of the day by the pool.  The local Hindu News has a photo that surprises us.  There is a photo of the Clipper Odyssey ship docked in a port nearby; we went on this back in 1999 from Darwin when it was called the Oceanic Odyssey – what a coincidence.  I chat to Frieda from Sweden she is here with her husband and 2 children.  They are on a 6 week holiday and during the week their daughter attends the local Swedish school, Rs10000 (£150) a week, then at the weekend they go off to visit somewhere nearby.  For our evening meal we go to Abba restaurant having now realised that they play all the Abba music.  My Chinese sweet and sour prawns are delicious but Steve’s bacon sandwich is poor but that comes as no surprise.  Asook brings an extra mattress to our room so tonight I should have a comfortable sleep.

VARKALA 5, THIRUVAMBADI HOTEL

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Responses

  1. Hi Steve and Glenn, Good to see you are still well. We can relate to the horrible treatment of dogs in India, this being one of its really nasty traits. We saw something similar on Neil Island. After nine trips to India, that may have been enough. Doug and Jeanette


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