Sorry for the delay between posts…we had it all done the other day but the internet was too slow and we had to leave. We're in India now and have just finished the first of two tours here which was around Southern India. We've seen and done so many things in the past two weeks so prepare for a long read!
So first carrying on from where we last finished...
Tuesday 8th October, there was only one other girl from our tour that was left in Kathmandu so we met with her and went to The Garden of Dreams. It was basically just a lovely garden away from the hectic Kathmandu streets where you could just lie on the grass and read your book. So we stayed there for a bit and then went for a bit of pizza for lunch and then Sam and I went to the post office to post home our things. We got a cycle rickshaw there and back, the driver even waited for us and it took over an hour to do, it wasn't a simple process...or cheap! We then went for a final meall in Kathmandu as we were leaving for India tomorrow.
We had an early breakfast as the flight was at 9.30am then got a Taxi to the airport, a much quieter drive as rush hour isn't until 9am. We queued a very long time to get through the passport check, something which seemed so simple then flew Kathmandu to Delhi. We had 4 hours to wait here but there were lots of shops, WHSmith, M&S, The Body Shop and there was a McDonalds! So we went there for some lunch however with no beef products on the menu the choice was limited! We then flew Delhi to Cochin with a stop in Chennai arriving at about 7.30. Then an hour taxi ride to the Home Stay where we were staying in Fort Cochin. Lovely man who owned it giving us plenty of ideas on what to do and our room was really nice too.
Breakfast the next morning was interesting. Rice cakes with curry and each morning it was a variation of this. They were all traditional Kerala breakfasts but eating curry first thing in the morning was just a bit weird!
We had 3 days before our tour started in Cochin and as the tour included another day in Fort Cochin we were very wary as not to do too much as we didn't want to repeat everything a few days later. So for these few days we just tried to relax. We spent a lot of time sat on the beach watching the Chinese Fishing Nets which was actually pretty interesting! We had some lovely meals there and everything is so cheap! A meal with drinks (non alcoholic as they don't really drink it there so nowhere really sells it) would cost five pounds for the two of us and thats including ice cream for pudding! We also watched the sunset a couple of nights but got caught in a massive down pour of rain so had to make a run for cover!
On the Sunday the tour of Southern India was starting so we met at a hotel which was for luxurious compared to what we've been staying in and met the group and guide in the evening. There is only seven of us this time, another couple from Bristol, two Australians and a Swiss. Went for a lovely meal in a small restaurant, Saj (our guide) clearly knows the best places to go! After the meal we managed to find somewhere that sold Kingfisher Beer so we went for a drink with the other couple, the rest of the group had only just got there that day so were ready for bed!
The next day Saj, our guide, took us around Fort Cochin. We went to St Francis Church (the oldest church in India), the Jewish synagogue and the Dutch Palace where there was a museum inside. In the afternoon we were able to do our own thing but then in the evening we went to watch a show of traditional Kerala Dancing. We also saw them putting on their make up before the show. The dancing was really good, a lot of the dances involved the dancers using different expressions in their faces, particularly the eyes and eyebrows. We then went for another fab meal, curry again of course!
The day after involved our first experience on an Indian train. We were in the first class bit so thankfully it had air con as its a very humid heat in the South. First class wasn't like English first class though, there was no free food and drinks! There was food that you could buy but Saj said not to get any as it can sometimes even make the Indian people ill so our stomachs definitely wouldn't be able to handle it! We arrived in Calicut in time for lunch at very nice restaurant, it was part of a rather posh hotel but the prices were still so cheap! We then had a two hour bus journey on a very windy road up the mountain to Kalpetta. On the way up we saw a bus that had crashed and very nearly gone off the edge but there were some posts that had stopped it from doing so! We were staying at very nice place, was more like a homestay than a hotel but they cooked us a lovely buffet that we had for dinner.
Wednesday we started by going to Edakkal Caves which involved a half hour walk up a steep hill! There were lots of monkeys about which were entertaining to watch. For lunch we went to an incredible bakery. They did massive vegetable samosas with lots of filling in for only 10p and they were delicious! We then went for a walk to a tribal village (watching out for elephants on the way) and saw all sorts of different crops and plants. Fields and fields of rice crops, banana trees (theres around 20 varieties including red and green ones), pepper trees, all sorts. In the evening there was a massive thunder storm, the whole sky was lit up and buckets of rain came down.
Next day we drove to Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, stopping off at the same bakery as yesterday so that we could get more pastries for lunch! The place where we stayed was right in the centre of the Sanctuary, in the evenings you weren't allowed to wander about as it wasn't fenced off so any of the animals could get you! We went on a jeep safari and spotted wild elephants!! We also went to an elephant sanctuary and watched them being fed, the monkeys were close by though for any left over food! We had a fab buffet of curries for tea as well as some chicken that had been on the BBQ!
Day after we drove to Mysore. We were there for two days but only one night. We experienced a banana leaf lunch, thankfully for me no banana was involved! The banana leaf was your plate and they brought rice, papadum and some veg curries and then you are to eat it with your right hand only! We visited some temples, Mysore Palace, a silk factory which was amazing to see. It was a working silk factory but we were able to wander about wherever you liked, health and safety wouldn't be too happy about that in England.
Saturday night we were on a sleeper train. Again we were in the first class air con carriage. Each section had 6 beds, 3 on either side and the middle one folded up so that you could sit on the bottom one before you went to sleep. Both me and Sam were on top bunks, they were pretty tricky to get into but once we were on we actually slept ok! We arrived in Chennai at about 8am the next morning.
We saw a fish market with all the freshly caught fish and then the church and then we drove on to Mamallapuram, a few more tourists here. So far we have pretty much been the tourist attraction everywhere we go with people coming up to us asking for pictures with us just because we are white! It's very strange but I guess we'll have to get used to it!
The next morning we hired bikes and a guide took us around the temples in Mamallapuram as there is no distance between the places so it's pointless getting a bus! It was good fun once you got used to the bikes! In the afternoon we went to the Internet café and whilst we were in there there was what sounded like a big parade down the street with big fireworks exploding on the street. We had no idea what it was, turns out it was a funeral. In that area they parade the dead body down the street as if they were still alive sat on a chair…strange! In the evening 5 of us went to a restaurant that's in a new hotel that's not open yet. It's a very nice looking hotel and so the food was a bit more expensive than normal, still only 6 pounds for a 3 course meal! The food was absolutely delicious and well worth the money!
We had 8 hours of driving on the 22nd to Madurai however so stopped off at Pondicherry on the way and went to the famous French bakery to get some food for lunch! After dinner we went to see a ceremony at the Meenakshi Temple. This is a collection of colourful hand painted temples and was one of the nominees to be in the Seven Wonders of the World.
The following morning we went back to the Meenakshi Temple and a guide showed us around explaining everything in lots of detail. There was a real elephant there that blessed people, it took the coin from you in its trunk and then tapped you on the head and then gave the money to its carer. Very clever! We had another banana leaf lunch which was even bigger this time and still just as cheap. In the afternoon we had a cycle rickshaw tour around Madurai. We went to the Gandhi museum, saw places where they bind the school notebooks, saw where they do the laundry by hand and the banana and aluminum markets. A really fascinating trip round!
Next day we drove to Periyar National Park. We had a tour around Abraham's Spice Garden (which is in a BBC garden programme 'Around the World in 80 Gardens'!) and then went on a boat ride on a very big lake to hopefully spot some wildlife. We were lucky enough to see the Nilgiri Langur Monkeys which are now endangered so it was good to see them all with little babies! In the evening we went to one of the highlights of the trips for me, an Indian cooking class. It was amazing to see and experience all the spices that they put in their food, most of which we'd struggle to get in England, hence why India's curries are so much better! It took us 2 hours to make but was well worth it!
The trip was coming to an end but there was still so much more to see! We went around a tea factory and then drove to the Kerala Backwaters where we were to stay at a home stay. We had to get a boat across to the island as there are no roads connecting it. Most of the backwaters are reclaimed land so it's always a battle to stop the houses from tilting as the land sinks back into the sea. They were such nice people that ran it, they took us for a walk around the village which included walking through so very wet rice fields (mud and water up to our knees!). The family cooked us an amazing water buffalo curry. It was soooooo nice.
Next day was the last day of the tour. We had a late check out of the home stay and then drove back to Cochin. We went for one final meal together and then all went our separate ways.
Our flight to Dehli was early the following morning and Saj had helped us get a hotel nearer to the airport which we had to get a bus to. The bus station was about 20 minutes away on a ferry but he insisted on coming with us to make sure we were on the right bus. He was such a nice guy, one of the best guides we could of hoped for, answering any questions the group had (and there were a lot), he'd always go the extra mile to do something for you and he even rang us at our hotel to make sure we got there okay!
So now we've made it to Delhi and start our next tour tomorrow. Thankfully it's a lot cooler here and not as humid! It was always around 30 degrees in the south but the humidity made it 10 times worse!
Hopefully we'll be able to update you all again soon so it won't be such a big block of writing! Sorry for the repetitions in the photos. They're from both mine and Sam's cameras so there will be a few the same but it takes a while to upload them, never mind going through them all!