Organised trip – September 2013 – Part one

I’m on a 3 hour bus journey from the bottom of the blue mountains to Mysore so taking the opportunity to send first of many updates.

Although it’s only Wednesday and I’ve only been here 4 days we’ve packed a lot in so it feels like we have been here a lot longer!

Arrived into Kochi on Fri morning, 4am UK time having been on the strangest night flight ever. We changed at Doha where the temp was 40 degrees at 1am! The humidity was incredible, thankfully we didn’t spend much time in it. The flight was 99% Indians and 95% men which was quite strange, we definitely stood out! So at 2am we took off but instead of turning the lights out for sleep they served drinks, so I ignored them and put ear plugs in went to sleep anyway. Then got woken up at 4am to be asked if I wanted fish and rice!!! Who has fish and rice at 4am. Needless to say we arrived with having little sleep and feeling pretty spaced out.

Spent most of our first day milling about. It’s super chilled out down here, not unlike Thailand. Very different from the north, the infrastructure is much better and although the driving is still mad they at least have tarmac roads.

Tried to source a local sim which I have now got but still doesn’t work. You have to fill in a form, hand over your passport to be copied and a passport photo to get the sim. You then have to wait two days for it to be activated and then call to verify who are. I’ve done all that and it still doesn’t work so got to go back to shop at end of trip to verify again. So for now it’s email and text via whatsapp when I have WiFi.

Kochi is a great town, population of 3 million but it never feels crowded.
So we saw the Chinese fishing nets, you might have seen them on Rick Stein, fascinating old fishing method with all the fish stalls in front. One of them even had a baby shark.
Then on to the palace and fort before heading to new part of town where the apartments overlooking the backwaters cost £300k. There is a lot of wealth in South India, particularly Kerala where literacy rates are 100%.
Had a very exciting tuktuk journey back with 4 of us in a tuktuk made for 3. Tuktuk drivers are mental, they weave in and out at great speed, pull in front at junctions and think nothing of taking a bus head on then pulling in last min. So 4 giggling screaming western women must have made him want to drive quicker.
They do a lot of filming in Kochi and two people from our trip we’re offered 10quid to star in an advert. They said no because they were asked to be the older couple!

Spent next two days up in hills at height of 1600m which was a lot cooler and cold at night. The weather so far has been a bit patchy. First night we had monsoon rains which were that loud it sounded like there was the most powerful shower running in your room. It’s warm though so shorts and t-shirt most days.
The mountains are spectacular, very green and lush and not at all what you think of when you think India. Low mist hangs over the top which the sun tries to breakthrough so you get a really lovely light across.
Tea plantations were really interesting, it’s a bit of a process to get it from the plant to our tea cups so I now look at tea in a whole new way. The best tea so far is masala tea, little bit spicey but very refreshing. Sent a photo on Twitter of all the medicinal benefits, learnt a lot!
Then got toy train up to 2200m, it’s called the toy train because it’s much smaller than the proper railway but to be honest it wasn’t that different from arriva trains wales. Weird but we did start to feel the affects of the altitude, walk up one flight of stairs and you’d be a bit breathless. Up there we went to the botanical gardens which although pleasant enough we spent the two hours enjoying being local celebs. We would have an Indian come up and say excuse me, one photo? So we’d stand there with a couple of Indians have our photo taken. Then other people would see what was happening and join in. At one point we had 30 surround us. What surprised was how open and affectionate the women were. Last year we hardly saw women and when we did they were incredibly shy, here they seem more confident. They throw their arms around you and at one point when I was just standing there one lady said, no madam but your arm around my shoulders, oh ok. We’re still not sure why they target us as there are two German girls in their 20’s who are far more glamorous but we’re enjoying it!
The kids also want their photo taken all the time, they don’t have cameras so they get you to take one on yours whilst they strike bollywood poses, you then show them which sends them into fits of giggles, it’s very funny.

Yesterday we travelled down from 1600-800m to the jungle, although it’s more like forest. 36 hairpin turns with 100’sm drop. Spectacular views, like nothing I’d seen before but the road signs we slightly unnerving. Things like, call for free ambulance…. Best or worst one was call for free mortuary van. We had 36 opportunities to get a photo of these but only managed one half decent shot!

After that excitement we spent afternoon by the pool. It was built with rocks and surrounded by mountains, by far the best pool I’ve seen.
Yesterday eve we had our first elephant encounter on a night safari. They just roam around which is amazing to see. We didn’t see tigers but lots of deer, wildboar, monkeys and mongoose.
The place we stayed in was a dorm style so 8 of the women all stuck together for one night but actually it was fine. You had to be escorted at night from the dorm to the restaurant because wildlife is free to roam. We didn’t see any but they showed us video clips of animals that had been filmed drinking out the pool and roaming around. Very impressive place. In 6 years they’ve reintroduced almost all wildlife back to the 36 acres whilst having space for people to stay and observe it all. They even offered me a job of 100 a month, free accomm and food!

Today we travel to Mysore listed as the most spectacular city in south India. You may have seen this on Rick Stein too. Tomorrow overnight sleeper train and then to pondicherry where they filmed life of pi. Apparently they speak French there and we’re hoping we can get champagne. No alcohol tax in pondicherry so beer will be 60p for a 660ml bottle.
Beer is mainly kingfisher but we also came across British empire which was ok.
The food has been incredible so far. Quite spicy but mostly just tasty.
Meals vary from 75p in a local cafe served on a banana leaf to £7 for a 3 course meal in a palace, yep a palace it was really cool. Beer is also good and cheap, well mostly. Luckily our guide has quickly clocked onto the fact he has a group of drinkers so sources cheap beer and of course  rum rather than paying increased prices at our accommodation. Which reminds me, Sam and I had an exciting journey to get beer. Our local guide stopped the bus and said right now we’ll get beer who wants to help. After a few hours stuck on a bus I was mostly glad to have a walk so Sam and I offered. We went down the main road avoiding lorries, tuktuk, people, bikes and whatever else and if that wasn’t dodgy enough we turned right down a side street into what looked like the entrance to the slum. There on the left was a little opening with a man sat in a room full of booze. Local guide goes to hatch orders beer and hands bottles and bottles back to us. Locals are looking at us a little bemused and one said hide it, don’t carry in public. With only one small bag we had to hide them up t-shirts and walk back to the bus. Apparently it’s not illegal but if the police see you they will stop and prob ask for a bribe!

So all going well so far. Like last time I can highly recommend India, it’s very different this time much more relaxed but you still get to see plenty of authentic Indian life.

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