India Part B
Had a late start knowing there wasn’t a lot to do in Bhatlak. Our train was at 17.30 so we passed time by eating and unwinding in our grotty room, hoping that the next place in Mangalore would be a little cleaner.
Managed to get a seat on the train (heaven), every vehicle on the road seems to be packed and getting a seat is difficult. Arrived in Mangalore at 21.00 at Poonja Hotel, immediately we realised this place was going to be a little pricey but after Bhatlak we weren’t really bothered. The immaculately dressed Punjabi doorman greeted us with a smile and opened the doors to an impressive lobby, pristine white marble and air-conditioned, where we checked in. Our bags where then carried to a large clean room with hot water, Sky TV and room service.
A quick splash in the sink and off to the downstairs restaurant/bar for food and beer. The lift stopped and we walked out into a plush restaurant with big grins on our face - It was a delight to see some meat on the menu.
Traditional South Indian breakfast (complimentary) then out to change money and sort our onward journey to Cochin. After a visit to the train station we realised catching a train was out of the question as there was a two week waiting list for a sleeper carriage, we both didn’t fancy sitting on rigid seats for 9 hours whilst Chai Wallahs constantly knocked into us. We were advised if we could find Mr TT we may be able to bribe him. Mr TT was some train official who apparently wears a black suite and briefcase and there’s a ‘Mr TT’ at every station. We couldn’t find the elusive Mr TT at Mangalore’s huge station so we opted for an overnight sleeper coach instead.
A few people had warned us about the coach but if the seats reclined and we popped a couple of sleeping tablets surely we’d be fine. Regardless, we booked the coach for 360rps each and crossed our fingers.
Visited Milagres Church before heading to a cyber cafe, then back home for some food. Had another delicious tea and retired to the high rise bar where we had a few beers and a brandy whilst playing cards.
Room service please! Making the most of this facility we had breakfast in the room overlooking Mangalore, before heading out into the humid polluted streets. Used the internet for a lengthy period not knowing when we would be able check our emails again. On the way back to the hotel we passed a beggar who had been in the same spot the day before. The guy was in a bad way, he wasn’t begging but curled up in the blistering sun, his legs looked badly burnt and his private parts on show. We bought a bottle of water, lifting the man’s head I poured about a quarter of the bottle down the man’s throat and can honestly say that would be the man’s last drink. Slightly depressed by the dying man we perked ourselves up with beer and food.
Rung up home and Mel x from a small phone booth where a young boy decided to have a crap right in front of me. His mum washed his backside with a bottle of water but this kid carried on squatting for some time, he had some serious issues. The dying man had been taken away at this point but his bags of belonging were still on the floor where he had been lay.
Last night in Mangalore was spent in the hotel bar drinking cocktails and eating spicy bar snacks.
Bus ride to Cochin 20.00. As usual the bus was late and pulled up at about 21.00. The bus looked good and we soon settled into our soft leather seats. After about an hour of bumpy roads we figured we must be near a highway. 1.00 am and still no highway but the bumps were getting bigger and abrupt stops becoming more frequent. Realising the back seats were vacant I decided to move to the back and stretch out. I know the back seats would amplify the bumps but I needed to stretch out and I’d soon be asleep, I thought this would be a good move – it wasn’t.
We arrived in Ernakulum at 7.30 and then had to catch a tuk tuk to Fort Cochin.
We checked in to Chiramel Residency, a 17th century heritage home stay. We were both exhausted from the journey but also excited about our new guest house, this place was amazing as the photos illustrate.
After a snooze we headed out into Fort Cochin. We played cricket with the locals and introduced them to the travel guitar. It was immediately obvious that the people here were exceptionally friendly and everyone greeted us with a smile. We met a Tuk Tuk driver called Naz who took us around Jew town. Naz let us both drive the Tuk Tuk around Cochin, I’ve always wanted to drive one of these rascals.
We headed to the Chinese fishing nets on the front where we bought 2 large fresh butter fish and eight large prawns (800 rupees about £10). Our seafood was placed into a plastic bag and one of the local lads escorted us to his outdoor restaurant (Crazy Lobster) where our fish was cooked for us. It was delicious.
After breakfast (scrambled eggs at Chiramel) we decided to book a backwater book tour for the 17th of Dec. and hire bikes for two days. We rode out to the backwaters, the scenery here was particularly nice and the roads relatively quiet. In the evening we watched a martial arts exhibition and then a theatrical play. The martial art was impressive but the theatrical play known as Kathakali was a nightmare, loud, boring and confusing it dragged and we didn’t really understand what the hell was going on. We arrived at the play 1 hour before the start and watched the cast apply their costumes and make-up not realising this was probably the highlight of the play. The 17th century Kathakali act is recognised as one of the best theatrical performances in the world – I’m no arty farty theatre buff but I find this hard to believe.
Cruised around and found a rooftop restaurant, needed a beer after that performance, we ordered our food (fish in banana leaf and a pizza) but was a little upset as they didn’t serve beer.
After our meal we tried to find a bar with little joy until a jolly Australian pointed us in the right direction (XL bar).
Decided to make the most of our peds so we headed south to Allepey. A two hour drive through lush backwaters stopping off at small villages to chat to the locals. Everyone waved at us and the lads would high five us as we drove past (our hands hurt at the end of the day). We stopped at one place and got mobbed by between 20 and 30 school children all wanting to shake our hands, we struggled to pull away because the children were all over the bikes.
We managed to escape the mob but needed to stop for fuel, we asked two local lads where the petrol station was, they offered to show us the way and jumped on our bikes. The lads wanted to take control of the bikes so we decided to let them have a quick blast. It was one of those moments where I regretted saying yes immediately; the lads flew through their village beeping the horns, me and Lloyd hanging on for dear life. The next thing I knew we were in a ditch having knocked down a plastic fence, the young Indian just managed to gain control of the bike, at this point I took control and he jumped on the back laughing. We bought fuel from a back street shop, chatted to the locals for a bit before finishing the trip to Allepey.
Had lunch in Allepey and checked the beach out before returning home to Fort Cochin, stopping off only once to see a snake charmer tame 4 cobras from his baskets, one which lunged at him. I’m sure getting bit wasn’t part of his act.
Ate at Crazy lobster one of our favourite outdoor restaurants. We were like locals here now greeted with handshakes and shown to our seats, there’s definitely a homely warm feel about Cochin.
After an early breakfast we caught a Tuk Tuk to the bus stand then a bus to Allepey where we would meet our contact Mr Yoshi who had helped organise our backwater boat trip. After meeting Yoshi we had to catch another Tuk Tuk to a jetty where our house boat waited. The boat was ace, we had our own captain, a cook and deck hand, the cook could speak English but the other two struggled. We were soon drifting through the backwaters which were unbelievably peaceful and surreal. We stopped at a small fish farm where we bought a couple of huge tiger prawns; at first we’d mistaken the prawns for lobsters - they were that big. Cruised for a while then stopped for some lunch mooring up in between the backwaters and paddy fields, the table was full of food which we attempted to finish, both feeling like we swallowed a bag of cement we retired to the deck where we sunbathed whilst waving to local people living there every day life at the water’s edge.
After hours on the water we moored up again but this time for the night, we had been reassured by the locals that the water was ok to swim in and snake free so without hesitation we both dived into the warm but refreshing water.
After an hour we returned back on board our vessel, we looked out into the water and guess what we saw? – A snake swim pass. We shouted the captain; he just laughed and said ‘no poison, no poison’. Poison or no poison it was a snake and if I’d seen it in the water I’d have had a heart attack.
Our cook was busy rustling up another huge meal which was spectacular, the tiger prawns, chicken, rice, Indian bread and other tasty dishes. The only downfall was that we had guests for tea, about 10 lizards, about 8 cockroaches and hundreds of insects above us, the ceiling was moving. The small insects and gecko’s weren’t a problem but the cockroaches were rapid and could fly, one of the b******s hit my face whilst I was tucking into my tiger prawn, we managed to kill 4 of them but they put up a good fight, tough little devils. Had a few beers and chilled on the boat, playing guitar and harmonica, the deck hand was asleep in the kitchen and he kept sleep talking which was amusing.
Didn’t sleep very well as it was hot on the boat and at around 5am the local temple started to blast prayer chants from its speakers. This continued for about four hours, I like to learn about religion and different cultures from around the world but there’s no need for loud chanting at this time of the morning. If you want to prayer at 5am that’s fine but Jesus think about your neighbours who’ve had to stop up drinking and feasting all night. All in the entire boat trip was a great experience and one of the highlights of India.
Arrive back at the jetty at about 9.30 and made our way back to Fort Cochin, checking back in at Chiramel Residency. After a power nap we retired to the XL bar for food and drinks (tandoori fish and fish and chips), quite a few beers and cards then called it a night.
After breakfast at Vasco’s we’d come to a decision that we should get a proper motorbike. Riding a bike in India is extremely popular but not without its risks and considering we both don’t ride in the UK we knew that the chance of having an accident was quite real having seen a number of accidents whilst being in India. The British classic ‘Royal Enfield’ seemed to be the favoured bike for young Indian lads and it makes a racket when you fire it up, so off we went to hire two for the day. I sat on the large bike and took the stand off, the immediate thing I noticed was the bikes weight, it was like a tank. The second thing I noticed was that the brake was on the left foot, this wasn’t too much of a problem; it’s not like I’m use to breaking with my left or right foot. The guy then told us that he would never ride one of these machines because of the small windy roads and overall handling difficulty. He pointed over at a sportier looking bike and said ‘try that’, I sat on the 180cc Pulsar and it felt a lot more comfortable. He fired it up and told me to take it for a blast, I really didn’t want to in front of him but before I knew it I was screaming down the road with a big grin on my face. We hired two Pulsars (350 rupees, less than a fiver) and both headed off. Yes we stalled it a couple of times but after half an hour we felt like one of the local lads weaving effortlessly through the congested roads. We drove all around Cochin, on the highways, off road and through the backwaters before we hit what must have been one of the most congested areas in India. Both managed to battle through the traffic and pulling up at the ‘Crazy Lobster’ restaurant exhausted but content with our performance on the bikes.
We dropped the bikes off in the evening and headed to XL bar for food and drink. We saw Paul an Irish lad we’d met a couple of nights back, he introduced us to his pals Irish John and Tony. We played cards with them, knocking back beer after beer and then on to brandy’s. It was yet another lock in but then we got turfed out at midnight into what seemed to be a ghost town. It was Tony’s birthday at midnight, he was 41 so we decided to take our liquor to the park and like teenage kids we stopped there. We were all sat on a large climbing frame with a pack of dogs below us; the police cruised past at about 1am and we had to remind ourselves that we were adults and there was nothing they could do, I think the police slowed down to amuse themselves - 5 British lads drunk on a climbing frame in the early hours of the morning. Staggered home only to find we were locked out, the doorman eventually opened up but insisted we should pay him for his duties, I don’t think this would happen in any other country. I gave him the equivalent of about 30p and he seemed happy we sneaked into our room like naughty boys, both slept like babies.
Last day in India, upset to leave this crazy country but excited to explore our next stop – Thailand. We used most of our last day viewing photos of India and updating the blog, exchanging money and paying Asher and Abraham for the accommodation and packing our stuff for an early flight to Bangkok. We’ve seen a lifetime of things in three weeks on this fast paced coastal trip of South-West India.
Favourite area Fort Cochin
Favourite accommodation Chiramel Residence (Fort Cochin)
Favourite beach Om Beach (Gorkarna)
Favourite person Captain PG (Backwaters)
Favourite food Butter fish and prawns (Fort Cochin handpicked and cooked at Crazy Lobster)
Favourite drink Ice cold Kingfisher beer and banana milkshake (Gorkarna)
Favourite moment High fiving the local kids on motorbikes (Fort Cochin)
Worst area Bhatlak
Worst accommodation Kola Paradise (Bhatlak)
Worst beach Alleppy Beach (Alleppy) there was a lot of construction going on
Worst person Indian man on the train trying to steal my sea
Worst food Indian snacks from Pai restaurant (Gorkarna) = food poisoning
Worst drink Rose milkshake from Pai restaurant (Gorkarna) = food poisoning
Worst moment Projectile vomit in Gorkarna (it was like a scene from the exorcist)
Favourite area Fort Cochin (Kerala)
Favourite accommodation Camilson’s Resort (Benaulim, Goa)
Favourite beach Palolem (Goa)
Favourite person Manuel (waiter, Poonja Int. Hotel, Mangalore)
Favourite food Tandoori tiger prawns (Palolem beach, Goa)
Favourite drink Tom Collins cocktail (Poonja Int hotel)
Favourite moment Swimming in Jog Fall’s lagoon (Bhatlak)
Worst area Bhatlak (a dirty ghost town)
Worst accommodation Kola Paradise (Bhatlak)
Next stop = Thailand :)