27 January 2010

The end is nigh

Well our lovely traveling time is nearly up. We have had a fantastic 15 months on the road and we can't believe it has gone so fast. It will be great to see everyone again but very hard to drag ourselves away from the fabulous Palolem beach and get back to a cold, grey February in the UK! We have got a month back in Blighty though before the dreaded work starts again, so we'll be able to spend some time with Si's family in Wyrley as well as my family in Torquay and we'll then have a few weeks to get ourselves sorted out and moved back into the flat in Birmingham.

We have really enjoyed being back in Palolem. It definitely wins our award for best Indian beach.

It has just the right mixture of laid back and chill out attitude and some great bars and restaurants. We enjoyed going to the open air cinema again. It is in a fantastic location and setting, even thought the film (Paranormal Activity) was a bit poor. Unfortunately the Silent Disco was canceled on Saturday apparently due to problems with the police, so that was a shame as we really enjoyed our silent boogie last time. Off to the open air cinema again tonight to see Zombieland.

Well it it has been a tough last week here in Palolem. We have been swimming, sunbathing, doing some light shopping, catching up on out last few paperbacks and enjoying having the full range of cable channels. All the restaurants we have been to here have been really good, especially the Cheeky Chapati and Magic Italy. We also had some in-restaurant cow related entertainment the other night. They just couldn't keep this particular cow out of the restaurant and it was fascinated by the open kitchen!
They seemed to have more luck tempting it out of the restaurant with a chapati than by poking it with a kebab skewer. I'm all for fresh produce but a cow actually walking into a restaurant of it's own accord is pretty strange! Perhaps they need to install a cattle grid.

We will miss the whole Indian beach experience. Vendors wandering up and down the beach will sell you anything from a sarongs, to fruit, to stone elephants, to massages, to henna tattoos, to boat rides and fish, to drums and stickers. You have got kids on tightropes, beggars, Indian women swimming fully clothed and Indian men swimming in huge shrieking groups all with inappropriate small brown pants on! The beach cows are always entertaining and will occasionally have a fight with the beach dogs. I don't think it will be quite the same back in Torquay. We will miss it all.

19 January 2010

Bright lights big city Bangalore

In total we'd not even spent 24 hours in Bangalore but it felt like it had been a lot longer. It was slightly disorientating and felt a little surreal to be somewhere that was so much like home but still very much in India. Bangalore felt even more developed and westernised than Mumbai and Delhi, there was even an M&S!

The strangeness was probably amplified by the hotel that we stayed in, a place called the Silver Square. They'd tried to set it up like an ultra modern boutique hotel, all the ingredients where there but they somehow got it completely wrong. Adding to the general feeling of wrongness was the fact that the hotel had been built above a nightclub which was so loud it shook the entire fabric of the building. The night we were there it was a Thai, Mongolian hip hop night! No . . . we never knew such a genre existed either.

Thankfully they had an 11 o'clock curfew so we escaped to the cinema to catch the new Sherlock Holmes film (well worth a watch) whilst the hip hop heads where shaking the furniture across our bedroom.

One of the consequences of Einstein's theory of relativity is a phenomenon whereby the faster you move the slower time goes. Normally you can't perceive the effects of this as it is minuscule unless you are traveling close to the speed of light. However; thanks to the insane speed that our tuk-tuk driver blasted us through the streets of Bangalore to Yesvantpur train station we experienced this effect at first hand! The distance from our hotel to the train station was only about 8km but it felt like the journey was never going to end. We never knew that it was possible for a three wheeled rickshaw to travel so fast . . . or so dangerously. We lost track of the amount near misses that we had but some of the more notable ones included: a near head on smash into the front of a bus, a near miss with a crowd of guys that were trying to push start a van (which we also narrowly missed) and the near flattening of a school girl who was crossing the road. The insane driving is one of the few things we're not going to miss when we get back home.

18 January 2010


When we arrived in Mysore on Friday afternoon we were treated to a partial eclipse of the sun. I managed to bag a bit of a ropey picture without burning my retinas out!

Apparently, due to the relative positions of the Sun, Moon and Earth, this was the longest duration eclipse that will be experienced this century. The only annoying thing about it was that if we'd stayed in Varkala we would have been in the area of totality and have been able to have seen the ring of fire (you can insert your own vindaloo gag here). Unfortunately we knew nothing about the eclipse until we arrived in Mysore, they really couldn't have done a worse job in promoting it. Particularly when you think back to the fuss that was created back home when there was the total eclipse in Cornwall in 1999.

Mysore is the historic home of the Wodeyar maharajas who ruled over this part of India from the mid 16th century until independence in 1947. The main focus of the town is Mysore Palace, the maharaja's former home and seat of power.

The palace was designed by the famous British architect Henry Irwin and completed in 1912. The original wooden palace that it replaced burned down in a kitchen fire in 1897. Because of this the maharaja's wife insisted that no flammable materials were to be used in the new building so it is constructed from stone, cast iron and stained glass. This gives parts of the interior the appearance of one of those grand Victorian / Edwardian era London train stations. It sounds a bit odd but it was really spectacular. Unfortunately you're not allowed to take photos inside so we can't show you how it looks.

Despite the fact that we've been in India for nearly four months, the one thing that we still can't get used to is being asked to pose with local tourists for photos as if we were some sort of celebrity. At Mysore Palace it was mad and almost had to resort to running away at one point.

The other thing that happens quite a lot is that people ask us to take their picture with our camera. Here's a lovely relaxed shot that Liz was asked to take . . .

Thankfully we were a little less hassled when we went back to the palace on Sunday evening. Every Sunday the palace is illuminated with ninety six thousand bulbs.

For the first time in a long time we're staying in what would be considered an "international standard" hotel. After over four months in B&Bs, guest houses, homestays and huts it makes Hotel Regaalis feel like the Ritz. It's the first time we've seen carpet since we were in Jordan and the first time we've seen clean carpet since we left home!

Oh yeh . . . and we saw Gandhi too . . .

15 January 2010

Luminous cows!

Just when you think you've seen all the crazy things that India has to offer it will surprise you with another curve ball. Today in Mysore we encountered luminous cows . . .

Please note that this is not the result of any computer jiggery pokery, they really are that colour.

14 January 2010


Varkala is a small beach resort on the Kerala coast about 100km north of Kanyakumari, the southern most tip of the Indian sub-continent. It's a really nice laid back kind of place that's strung out along the top of the crumbling cliffs that line the back of the beach.

The atmosphere is really nice and much more like Palolem and Anjuna than the package resort hell of Candolim.

We've had a bit of rubbish weather whilst we've been here. However, we feel we can't complain too much over a few days of cloud and a bit of rain when it's been -22 degrees C back home!

We've not done any sight seeing whilst we've been here. Other than a bit of aimless wandering around the cliffs and a spot of sun bathing we've spent most of our time trying to re-arrange our flights home. The booking agent, Terminal A, have the worst customer service of any on-line ticket agent that we've ever used. Getting the money back on our canceled flights is proving to be quite painful. So if anyone asks what our top travel tips are, not using Terminal A is right up there with don't forget your passport.

We've again met up with Leigh and Nicola who were also in Varkala at the same time as us. This was the last time that we'll see them and we were a little sad to have to say goodbye as they've been great company whenever we've crossed paths. They're shortly going to meet up with Leigh's parents who are flying out for a few weeks to do a similar trip around Rajasthan to the one we did with Paul and Sarah back in November.

08 January 2010

The Venice of India

Having just left the St Ives of India we now find ourselves in the, self proclaimed, Venice of the east (yes, another one!). We've come to Alappuzha (Alleppey) as it's the gateway town to the infamous Kerala backwaters. The backwaters are a network of rivers, canals, waterways, lagoons and lakes that are on the west coast of India, sandwiched between the Arabian Sea and the mountainous Western Ghats.

Our guide book made Alappuzha sound like some quaint little village, when in reality, it was more like Dudley and bore no resemblance at all to Venice! Thankfully we've had a really nice place to stay called Venice Castle where we've been making the most of having a TV for the first time in while.

In order to explore the backwaters we had originally planned to rent one of the rather swanky looking house boats for an overnight trip.

However, the cost was a bit too high so we ended up downgrading a little to something more in our price range . . . a canoe for four hours.

Our canoe trip through the back waters was very pleasant as we floated through the villages, observing local life and relaxing in our little boat.

It was a very relaxing little jaunt, or it was, until we encountered a monster head-wind on the way back. Our oars man couldn't make any headway so I was forced to break out the spare paddle and give some assistance otherwise we'd still be there now. He wasn't the most smiley guide we've ever had . . .

As nice as it was we don't really understand what all the fuss is about. A trip to the Kerala backwaters is one of the things that often crops up on those "10 things to do before you die" sort of lists. It's definitely worth a visit if you're passing but we wouldn't recommend that you went too far out of your way to come here.

07 January 2010


We spent our last evening in Fort Kochi at a kathakali show at the Kerala Kathakali Centre. Kathakali, which translates as "show play", dates from the 1600's and is usually a dramatisation of one of the Hindu epic myths such as the Ramayana, the Mahabharata or the Puranas.

There's no dialogue in the play so the story is told through movement, hand gestures and facial expressions. Prior to the show starting the compare gave a crash course in some of the standard gestures and expressions so that we could understand what was going on (it didn't help much!). We also got to see the elaborate make-up process which transforms the actors into the various gods and deities.

The performers are accompanied by a singer who narrates the story and some drummers, whos main function appeared to be to try and cause some form of permanent hearing damage to the audience. Being as the stories are narrated/sung in Malayalam we were given a cheat sheet which explained the plot - some princes lost their wife in a dice game, had to kill the wife's captor and wash her hair in his blood to set her free (que lots of gore and entrails).

Traditionally kathakali shows would last from early evening until dawn, thankfully we only had to sit through a small exert from the Mahabharata that lasted an hour.

05 January 2010

The St Ives of India?

Fort Kochi lies at the tip of a small peninsular that juts out into the Arabian Sea from the south west Indian state of Kerala. The town feels a little bit like an Indian version of St Ives. It's full of wonky old buildings, craft bazaars, antique shops and has a bit of an art and gallery scene going on. There's also loads of little tea rooms where you can get a fresh brew and a slice of cake. They've even managed to get the bad service spot on so that it's just like being back at home!

Kerala has a reputation of being the most laid back state in the whole of India, where everything slips into second gear. This easy going nature is all very well but it appears that the staff in the restaurants take it a little bit too far, getting served anywhere is nigh on impossible. On Sunday night dinner took so long at a restaurant called "Upstairs" that it may have well have been breakfast by the time they got round to serving it.

Despite the fact that you can't get anything to eat the laid back Keralan attitude does make Fort Kochi a nice place to spend a few days. The cantilevered Chinese fishing nets that line the northern tip of the Kochi peninsular are probably the most recognisable sight in Kerala.

The nets, which take at least 4 people to operate, where bought to the area in the 15th century by Chinese traders. We spent a bit of time yesterday helping out (or should that be hindering) on one of the nets. I thought I'd let Liz get on with the heavy manual labour whilst I had the much more tiring job of taking a few photos . . .

Earlier in the day the guys on the net had caught this funny little fella called a frog fish, so called as he gives a frog like croak when prodded!

Kochi is also home to St Francis Church which dates from 1503 and is thought to be the oldest European built church in India.

Vasco da Gama, the legendary Portuguese explorer, died here in 1524 and was buried in the church for 14 years before being moved back to Lisbon.

Earlier today we went over to the eastern side of the peninsular to the district of Mattancherry. Whilst there we paid a visit to Mattancherry Palace, a Portuguese built palace from 1555 which was a gift for the raja of Cochin. The palace is home to some much revered Hindu murals, one of which features, to quote our guidebook, "Krishna using his six hands and two feet to engage in foreplay with eight happy milkmaids" . . . a nice trick if you can do it! Unfortunately the part of the palace with the said mural was under renovation and out of bounds (making a complete waste of our six and a half pence entrance fee). The area around Mattancherry Palace is also known as Jew Town as it is where the Jewish traders set up their businesses in the 1500's. At the centre of Jew Town is the ornate Pardesi Synagogue.

The interior is decorated with a gold pulpit, glass chandeliers and hand-painted Chinese tiles. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take any photos inside.

We've also bumped into Leigh and Nicola again whilst we were here and have arranged to meet them again in Varkala next week.

01 January 2010

Hello 2010

I don't think that we would have chosen to stay in Candolim once the Sunburn music festival had finished. The town is like Torremolinos, the beach is a bit bleak, its not particularly scenic and the rusting hulk of the River Princess isn't exactly inspiring. Unfortunately we had paid for a weeks accommodation in advance and didn't really want to waste the money by going somewhere else. Particularly as the room rates are usually double or treble the normal price over the festive period. Luckily our hotel was really nice and had a swimming pool, so we've spent the last few days since the festival just relaxing there and avoiding the ugliness outside whilst we wait for new year's eve.

We did venture out for a pub quiz one evening where Liz managed to win us some free beer thanks to her specialist knowledge of the West Country. We didn't do particularly well in the main quiz but luckily the bonus round was about Torquay's most famous resident, Agatha Christie, so Liz had a rather unfair advantage over the other punters.

We didn't have the most auspicious of starts to new years eve. We went to the local internet cafe to sort out the accommodation for our next couple of destinations, only to find an e-mail informing us that the final leg of our flight back home has been cancelled. Hopefully we'll be able to cancel the first leg, get our money back and book something else. Otherwise we'll have the pleasure of being suck in Istanbul airport for 24 hours.

After dinner we planned to spend the evening at a nightclub called Butter. However; we decided to go somewhere else when the guy on the door informed us that the entry charge was 3400 rupees, which is almost fifty quid!

We instead ended up at a bar on the beach called Boat Shack. They had turned part of the beach into a temporary nightclub by laying a dance floor, stringing up some lights and sticking a massive sound system on the sand.

Entry was free and it only cost £1.30 a pint. Much more in-line with our back-packer budget.

We ended up having a great night. Most of the shops and restaurants had closed early and the workers had hit the beach to party hard to the latest Hindi and bhangra hits. It made a nice change to be out somewhere in the evening where there were more locals than tourists as it made for a really different night out. I don't think we've ever seen quite such enthusiastic dancing from a huge group of men . . . they we're going absolutely mental!

Come midnight there was the usual assortment of dangerous low level fireworks followed by something called burning the old man (a little bit like a Guy Fawkes character who was set on fire).

The Sunburn festival and new year's eve have been great but we're quite looking forwards to getting out of Candolim and onto to our next destination.

Happy new year to you all!