A Travellerspoint blog

Southern India: Part Two

Fort Cochin-Allepey-Varkala

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So, we arrived in Fort Cochin at 5am having survived a night train covered in cockroaches - covered in them I tell you! Fort Cochin is an old Portuguese colonial town, successively taken over by the Dutch, the British and finally India! Their preparations for Christmas involved some rather attractive bunting. We spent part of the day touring the sites in what we were told was a "Ferrari" (which looked suspicously like an auto-rickhshaw) and the rest of the day wondering through the streets. The highlight of Fort Cochin was the Chinese Fishing Nets (please note the arty photo below) which are posted along the beach. Whilst in Fort Cochin we also decided to embrace the culture and attend a Kathkali performance. Kathkali is a traditional form of dance in Kerala, and is quite something - they tell stories by moving their eyes, pulling faces and positioning their hands in certain poses. They are made up with lots of green face paint (see google for images). I do wonder if it was a bit lost on us, but was entertaining all the same (if not a bit creepy - I will do the eyes for anyone who wants to see when we get back).

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Having quickly exhausted Fort Cochin we headed down to Kerala's main attraction - the backwaters. For those of you who don't know, the backwaters are a large network of rivers and islands which cover a chunk of the south west of India. It is very calm and beautiful and if you are rich, or richer than us, you can hire a house boat to live on for a few days. Unfortunately, our funds would not allow for this and we decided to opt for the home-stay option, which is exactly what it says on the tin: you stay in someones home. Whilst Green Palm Homes was lovely, our memory of it will I am afraid be tarnished by the dodgy pakoras we bought the day before. Our first, and hopefully last (though I doubt it) brush with food poisoning. This meant much of the beautiful scenery and home-cooked Kerelan fare was lost on us as we gingerly sipped from our medicinal coconuts. We made good our escape a day early, a quick hop, skip, canoe, train and cab to our final destination...Varkala. The beach.

Posted by tomkat2010 06:44 Archived in India Comments (0)

SCAD (Social Change and Development)

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Arriving in Tirunelveli tired and bleary eyed, we were picked up and driven to SCAD's main campus at close by Cheranmadevei. SCAD (Social Chane and Development) is a charitable organisation based in Tamil nadu that supports the rural poor, particularly marginalised groups such as gypsies, leprosy sufferers, snake catchers and salt-pan workers. SCAD was to be our home for the next three days.

During our stay our host, Charles, organised several trip for us to visit different projects run by SCAD. These included a local sari-weaving village, where every house had a loom like the one pictured below; a gypsy village where SCAD have built and run a school for the children; a leprosy colony where SCAD have built a health centre and are now building permanent housing; an Agricultural projects where SCAD help farmers and women's co-operatives to maximise their crops through sustainable farming practices. We also toured SCAD's main campus where they have built a Special School for children with mental and physical disabilities; an old people's home; and several Higher Education and Vocational Training Colleges. The scope and scale of the work this organisation does is quite incredible and has to be seen to be believed.

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The highlight of our stay was our invitation to attended the Christmas celebration at a local Engineering College they have set up. This involved most overblown Nativity ever, complete with real donkeys and goats - thankfully the camels were human; a Santa Claus pulling dance moves that could only be described as obscene but seemed wildly popular; and a group of 6 year olds dressed up as Michael Jackson performing a choreographed number to an obscure old pop song called 'Young, Free and Single' (see photo below). Needless to say we 'Friends from Europe' were considered honored guests and paraded in front of the 6000 (yes 6000) strong audience to dance with the headmaster. We also had a traditional Kerelan Dinner with Cletus Babu - the man who started the organisation some 25 years ago.

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A fantastic three days. Huge thanks to Charles and Wilema (below) who made us extremely welcome and went out of their way to show us just a bit of SCAD's work. Not to mention sending us on our way complete with Christmas presents. If you are ever in Southern India I highly recommend looking this organisation up - they have a partner charity in the UK called Salt of The Earth that fundraises on their behalf.

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Now for our final night train (of India) to Fort Kochin.

Posted by tomkat2010 00:51 Archived in India Tagged tirunelveli Comments (0)

Southern India: Part One

Things are heating up: Coimbatore - Ooty - Night Train

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Words cannot begin to describe how happy we were to see our bags on the conveyor belt at Coimbatore airport; after two connecting flights, it seemed like a bit much to ask, but there they were! And thus we had landed in Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu. We noticed the heat immediately, but apart from that it seemed quite similar to the North: still cows all over the road, still erratic and lawless driving, and still calls of "where you from?". We left the airport on the hunt for our pre-booked accommodation- "legends inn" and some food. Legends inn turned out to be a legend indeed- hot water and enough water-pressure to rinse shampoo! We then went and had one of the best meals we've had to date- at a local food-hall-type canteen job. We literally ate our way through the menu. Literally. ( I said it twice for emphasis, see what I did there?). It was amazing, and we felt prepared for our adventure the following day: the steam train to Ooty.

For those of you who aren't aware, Tom's mum (Hi Sue!) went to school in Ooty, or Udhagamandalam as it is known by the locals, which was one of the main reasons we set out to this specific location. The other reason was the hill train (another world heritage site). I could see Tom having flash-backs of his childhood and Thomas the Tank Engine dreams as soon as we got to the platform. It was very early in the morning, and despite that, Tom, and all the other hundred men were dancing about high as kites at the excitement. We boarded the train. Luckily, we were in a carriage behind the Southern Railways Train Inspector conducting his yearly appraisal of the mountain railway, so all the staff were on their best behaviour. We were also right at the front, the best spot for the views! The fat controller blew his whistle and we were off!

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The funniest thing about the train was when we would come to a station. All the passengers, and I mean all the passengers, tumbled out onto the platform for photos and to get some chai. Then within a few minutes the whistle would go and everyone would pile back on. The other funny thing about the train was when we went through a tunnel: all the passengers (except us and the inspector) got really excited when we went through a tunnel- lots of whooping and whistle blowing. The scenery was incredible, though I must admit that I missed a bit as was unable to keep my eyes open, but we had been up since 4am so will blame that. The journey lasted about 5 hours, and for most of it we were pushed by a steam engine; it switched to diesel for the last leg.

I think it would be fair to say that Ooty will have changed somewhat since Sue was there, but we enjoyed the sense of its colonial past-cocktails at the Savoy (what what!). We visited the botanical gardens and Doddabetta viewing platform, the highest point in the Nilgiris, and of course, St Hilda's School, where we had tea with the Principal! After two days of mountain air, and cool evenings (I ordered a hot water bottle!) we headed back south squished on to a local bus - which was great fun. We then boarded our sleeper train to Tirunelveli. I use the word "sleeper" loosely in this case. At several times we awoke to a noise that we thought must be some kind of thundering alarm or even an earthquake, but no, it was the man below snoring. He was really, really loud.

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Posted by tomkat2010 21:35 Archived in India Comments (3)

Northern India Part Two

"Please, it costs nothing to look!"

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Trains in India are enourmous. Ours rolled into Jaipur on time and fortune favoured us with a two berth cabin to ourselves. Katie's ability to sleep anywhere came in handy and both got a good night aboard the Jaisalmer Express. Jaisalmer is a remarkable fort town on India's Western frontier - a giant sandcastle of a place in the Thar Desert. We had booked a camel safari in Delhi - a compulsory activity in this neck of the woods. Camels were great, each had it's own personality; we named them Cecil and Celia, both had cut-glass English accents - strange given they were Indian Camels. Watched the sunset over the sand dunes, fighting off the advances of a portable off-licence man who had obviously been following our progress.

The highlight of the Fort itself were the remarkable Jain Temples. Jains are a funny bunch but they sure can chisel. These sandstone temples knocked us out. Jaisalmer is also known for a bit of weaving and after eyeing up the local wares we settled on our store and went in for some rock-hard bartering. 'Al Pacino' proved a worthy opponent, but after some frenzied calculator activity and associated Panto we came out victorious - they even threw in the packing - or so we thought. Next stop post office where we were informed our neatly sewn up package also had to be sealed in wax. Fortunately, the local waxmonger just happened to be loitering in the back office and for a small fee was willing to fire up his candle and seal the deal. Package on route to UK by a curious mix called Sea Air Land (or SAL).

On to Jodphur, the blue city. First stop and principal attraction the Mehangarh Fort - without a shadow of a doubt winner of the world's best audio-tour and super-camp warm up act: the audio-tour headset distributor. We learnt so much. The city itself lives up to its billing - it is blue. Our other highlight was Shahi's Samosa stand, our first delve into street food proper and our second - they were good. Somosas were washed down with India's best Mango Lassi from a small joint just off the market - a local place, for local people.

Every rickshaw you pass in India tries to give you a lift. One guy, on hearing we were from England, spontaneously burst into "You from England - I'm Alan Partridge A - haaaa". Fabulous.

A comment on cows. They are everywhere and are afforded the greatest respect. Whilst we more often than not have to beat a hasty retreat back to the curb to avoid being ploughed down by a hooting auto-rick, a cow will comfortably nap in the middle of a busy intersection with all manner of vehicles from bikes to huge lorries carefully negotiating their way round (and doing their best not to wake them)

That's it for now - flying South tommorow.

Posted by tomkat2010 08:46 Archived in India Comments (1)

Northern India

Week 1

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Hello All and welcome to blog entry number 1. We have arrived in India after a safe and comfortable journey (Thank you Virgin Hostess who extra leg-roomed us). Delhi. Bloody Hell. Never mind the frying pan this was a baptism of fire. There is no easing in, you are thrust into the Delhi throng, 16 million deep. We felt much better once we had found our feet, and our hotel, and decided to hire a driver for the first part of Northern India.

After seeing the Delhi sights, nearly getting run over (this is usual), and negotiating the snazzy new metro, we were more than ready to go. First stop Agra and the Taj Mahal. The Taj is exquisite and it is here we discovered our celebrity status - star guests in the family portraits of several Indian tourist groups.

A pre-arranged rendezvouz with Bristol friends Charlie and John in Jaipur was next up and hugely normalising - tey had been equally bedazzled by Delhi. We arrived in Jaipur by way of our 3rd (or maybe 4th) World Heritage Site in as many days, Fatehpur Sikri, one of India's great lost cities, and the Monkey Temple, a temple full of monkeys. Katie said it stank. Fortunately, I can't smell - an impediment from birth that is proving quite a boon at the moment. We ended day 4 on the roof of our Jaipur hotel, The Pearl Palace (highly recommended) watching children fly kites from the rooftops as the sun set.

A lovely day out with John and Charlie followed, enjoying Jaipur Palace and the Amber Fort, though it was agreed the Pink City is in fact nearer Peach. After parting ways with John and Charlie we headed for our first taste of Bollywood - Gooptal 3 - at the world famous Raj Mandir cinema. Katie noting the dance moves for later. It was then good-bye to our excellent driver Mukesh. Tonight we hit the trains.

So far India has been an interesting but fast-paced and challenging ride for Tom. No-one will speak to Katie directly so for her it has been a breeze. TBC.

Posted by tomkat2010 01:01 Archived in India Comments (0)

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