Well, it has taken this long to get to a place that has a decent quick internet connection. Yay for broadband!
The trip so far has been all it promised on the tin - exciting, hot, cold, wet, dry, frustrating, stinky, fabulous etc. etc. etc.
We started in Fort Cochin which was fantastic - we listened to the Lonely Planet and didn't bother with Ernaukulam (mainland side) which was def the right thing to do - it was utterly chaotic and without any of the charm of Fort Cochin. As Sian and Steve said, we'd meet Israeli ex-soldiers in India but didn't expect to do it straight off the plane at the Kochi airport! Shared a cab (extortionate "government" rates) and were relieved to get to where we were going. Fort Cochin is tiny but has a good range of things to do and see plus really good food! Saw some Kathakali theatre too which was highly entertaining - the makeup took as long as the show did to put on (we opted to watch only the last ten minutes of that particular process!). Hilarously in Cochin alcohol in restaurants is not the norm - we had to order beers that arrived in teapots and were on the menu as "chef special B"!
From Cochin we headed south to Alleppey and did a backwater cruise. We stayed at a lovely little guesthouse, Gowri, who organised the trip for us. It was a little more expensive than the Govt run ones but the boat was a whole lot nicer. The guesthouse was a really good place to meet other travellers too and pick their brains about where to go etc. and our beers that night were "watermelone x 3"!
The backwater cruise was amazing - the boat was like a mini floating palace with some of the nicest accommodation we've had thus far! not to mention the on-call staff, food cooked fresh for you etc etc. Great unwind after the hectic few weeks before we left London-town. My favourite bit was going through the narrow canals that are populated on either side watching kids going to school, women washing clothes (while the men stand around doing sod-all, seems to be a theme over here!).
We didn't stay again in Alleppey but headed straight for the local ferry to the nearest "big" town where we could take the bus. Hmmmmm. For someone who doesn't like windy roads, being at the back of the bus or other people being sick, this wasn't my favourite experience. As with flying, however, it is not possible to be ill whilst terrified out of your wits!!!! The first bit on the bus was quite entertainig but 4 1/2 hours of it was waaay too much, esp when a little boy spewed all over several seats. Then it started raining and the shutters needed to come down. yik! But it was worth it to get to Kumily/Periyar national park - it is right up in the hills on the border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It was rainy while we were there, unfortunately, but absolutely beautiful and really cool. A nice reprieve after the coast.
The first day we were there we did a tour of a spice and a tea plantation which was really interesting. The smell in the tea factory is bizarrely more like marijuana than tea though.... Connemarra tea factory may not be well known in the West for a reason?! On our second day we got up and headed off at 5am (I was in trouble - had dreamed the alarm going off not once but twice and made S get up and dressed.... oops!) on our "jeep safari". Brekkie was included, Indian style, when we got to the base lodge deep in the park. Then we donned "leech socks" and headed off. Thank goodness for the bloody socks is all i can say, we were crawling with leeches everywhere. Everyone got bitten (except Simon but he'd managed to do it the previous day and we hadn't known why he was bleeding like a stuck pig!) - I managed to get bitten on my head, a delightful experience alltogether as leech bites don't heal over without medical help and my hair was matted with blood. lovely! But... we saw Elephants - 12 of them including a one week old baby one! it was magic!
From Kumily we headed to Madurai (again, by bus - a much nicer experience than the first so maybe i needed the first time round to get hard?!). Madurai is a total and utter cesspit, the only positives being the Ghandi museum, the pretty amazing temple and the hotels that cost the same as guesthouses elsewhere! Otherwise it is squalid, stinky and full of some of the more infuriating touts around!!! Still, it was a good stop off and not an uninteresting one either!
On then, by train, to Bangalore in class "3AC". The train was impressive and we got in early enough to reserve ourselves on a train to Hospet, for Hampi, that night. There was no AC available but we were happy to try sleeper class, everyone having said that was their favourite (all of you responsible for that statement, you are in BIG trouble!). Bangalore was fantastic and in retrospect, we should have stayed there overnight. We splurged (still a quarter of the price of a brunch at giraffe) on a breakfast buffet at a swanky hotel then hit the shops. It was a really nice day and a totally hassle-free city. Really enjoyed wandering aroudn there then we headed back to the hotel bar to watch the NZ/Aus ICC cricket semi-final. We had a threshold of number of wickets fallen by 9.20pm as to whether we stayed in the hope we would need to fly to Mumbai for the final (!) or go catch our train and the Kiwis let us down just in time to catch our train. Unfortunately it would turn out....
That train ride was one of the worst experiences of my life. (okay, its been pretty sheltered it would seem but i was NOT a happy girl). Rats, cockroaches, beggars galore (mostly mutilated children who managed to engender extreme pity and rage all at once) including one who masturbated quite frequently. Also a hippy girl from Germany who (between vomiting out the window) rambled on about the commune she lives in near Pondicherry and the search for hte oneness of being ra ra ra. Not impressed.
We arrived in Hampi and it was raining, mud everywhere and the usual stench of urine. Disgusting! Worse still Hampi was hosting a local festival (one every 50 years!) and most places were booked out. We did manage to find decent accommodation though and the world seemed a brighter place after some food and a sleep.
Hampi is pretty cool, and definitely worth seeing - the ruins are impressive as is the landscape and the atmosphere (at least in the back streets away from the festival!) are relaxed and you can chill out at any number of cafes. It did seem very artificial though which we hadn't expected: the whole place is set up almost purely for tourism and the ruins are being rebuilt all over the place. Kind of like an historic disneyland. A bit bizarre. Plus its dry which was irritating! We went over to the Hanuman (monkey) temple which was incredible - the views were amazing and spent a lot of time watching the washing/bathing scenes in the river.
From Hampi we headed to Hyderabad where we are now, lured by the promise of a city like Bangalore according to the LP description. Its not. The only plus is the fast connections. The city is huge, polluted, with not much of interest to see and the usual wee/poo-ers everywhere. I do not understand the need for men here to use the streets as toilets all the time! We leave tonight for Aurangabad, our base to explore the Ajanta and Ellora caves which we're really looking forward to.
So far - positives - food, national parks, scenery; negatives - public urination etc.! and hassles and gawping. Oh, and sleeper class trains.
Will update more as soon as we encounter another good connection!