Hellooo! Yes, sorry I am still alive. I have had a few e-mails of concern so its nice to know you care! I am currently in Kerala in Southern India. I have done a bit of tooing and froing since I last wrote. Turns out I got bored with Goa! Yeh the beaches were nice but that was it...there was nothing else to do, so once I'd lazed around for a few days I got bored and headed back to Mumbai to all the hustle and bustle of the frantic city. Its the end of the season here as its in the middle of the hot season...which really is hot, so there aren't many tourists around. This has made it quite difficult to meet people and also explains why I got bored down in Goa. On one of the nights in Goa I stayed in a beach hut. By the time id got in it had started to rain and by the time I was in bed there was a full on storm going on outside. I was just beginning to settle down and go to sleep, after convincing myself that the hut wasn't full of cockroaches and spiders and that I would live to see daylight, when I felt a dripping on my foot. I might as well have slept outside...my bed was soaked! Needless to say the nextday I moved to somewhere a little more concrete!
In Mumbai I did all the sights- Elephanta Island, the gateway of India, The Prince of Wales Museum, the hanging gardens, Gandhi's house, Chowpatty beach, the laundry (which is very amusing), CST station, the university blah blah blah I won't bore you with the details, but it was good. Lots of people about and lots of people wanting to talk to you. From conversation with many Indians that I met in Mumbai (there were a distinct lack of westeners) 4 main cultural differences recurred. Firstly they do not understand the concept of Atheism. 'No religion' does not register with them. Secondly, they don't understand that I don't like beer...especially Indian beer- everyone likes Indian beer! Thirdly they don't understand why people don't live with their parents until they're about 30, even if they're married and why when I work I don't give all my money to my parents (Im sorry mum and dad, this isn't a tradition that has rubbed off on me!). Finally the fact that I am 21 and not married I think must make me some kind of ineligable bachelorette.
A place I stayed in is worth a mention. I had previosuly written that I had lived a relative life of luxuary. That was until I checked into Maria's lodge. Accomodation in Mumbai was more expensive than anywhere else Iv been because its a big city, so IO was keen to keep it 'budget'. The Lonely Planet (which has been my bible) mis guided me by describing Maria's Lodge as 'immaculately clean'. Yes on arrival it was a bit dingy, but for a few quid a night what do you expect? The first night I managed to convince myself that it was all in my head, but by the second night my suspicions were confirmed- Bedbugs!! I didn't sleep until 5am because I couldn't get the itchy nasties out of my head! (And out of my bed!). Needless to say first thing the next day I was out of there, moving to somewhere that was double the cost. I met a couple of English travellers the next day at the train station who had also stayed there and had the same problem. They were keen to get on the first train out of Mumbai!
Thankfully my stomach has made a full recovery. I have been on top form for a while now and have even managed to stomach Indian water, and food from the road side stalls (which is sooo good, especially at breakfast!).
I got the train down from Mumbai to Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala. It took 30 hours which makes my feeble 11 hours from mumbai to Goa look like an afternoon tea break! I manged until 26 hours before I had to ask myself "if I was nearly there yet?" and spent the remaining 4 hours loosing the will to live. Managing to get to 26 hours is a vast improvement from the days when I used to ask mum and dad that same question after only 20 minutes. Spending 30 hours in a confined space with lots of people, no washing facilities and an air conditioning system circulating a heavy scent of B.O. wasn't the greatest. Still, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger! I now believe I will find any journey tolerable.
From Trivandrum I took a day trip to Kanyakumari, the most southern tip of India. Hooray for me making it all the way from Nepal to the very south! Unfortunately it turned out to be India's answer to Skegness, with everything from candyfloss to shells with names on to horse rides along the beach on offer (they don't like donkeys here...you're only as donkey if you've had bad karma in a previous life!). Its supposed to be a sacred site of Hindu pilgrimage as it marks the site where 3 seas/oceans meet- the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. Needless to say I was a little disappointed.
From there I took a local bus (god help me!) to Alleppey which is where most of the backwater tours start. The public bus was a good experience. Here in India I feel a bit like a leppar. I can't work out if its because Im female or white...probably both. On the bus, men do not sit next to women (and visa versa) unless they are a relative or friend. Despite the seat next to me being fee, men insisted on standing, or squeezing onto benches with other men. When women got on the bus, they did take up the seat next to me. Another example is one morning I got breakfast from a street stall. I was eating my breakfast and waiting for my Chai (the best tea ever!) and whilst I waited I stood with everyone else at the stall. A few moments later the man who had served me grunted at me and motioned for me to move to the other end of the serving area. Confused I did as I was told. When I looked around all the other people were men, so the only explanation I can come up with was that I was not allowed to eat with the men. There were no other women around so I couldn't confrim this, but stood and quickly finished my Chai stood on my own in the corner! (which was a mistake...drinking hot drinks quickly in very hot weather makes you sweat profusely. Lesson learnt!).
In Allepey I hired a house boat with a Norweigen girl and an American guy and we cruised for a day and night around the backwaters of Kerala (google image it, or look at my pics). The rivers and canals are surrounded by palm trees, paddy fields and small villages. Absolutely beautiful. So peaceful and relaxing. We had a cook on the boat who prepared traditional Keralean (not too sure thats a word) food for us and we stopped by a local fisherman to collect fish caught that day from the river, for our tea. There was only one bed inside so I slept out on the deck. It was amazing. We then woke up at 6am to watch the sunrise. Unfortunately it was a bit hazy but it was still beautiful. The backwaters have by far been one of my favorite and most memorable experiences of India. I didn't want to leave!
I did however have my first spider nightmare whilst on the boat. I woke up in the middle of the night dying for the loo. I couldn't decide whether to go in the bushes, or go to the toilet and risk waking everyone up. I decided the toilet was the safer option....but there it was, in all its glory and absolutely massive beast of a spider starring up at me, with all its 8 eyes from the bottom of the bathroom wall. I was so scared it took me about 10 minutes to pee, and then I didn't flush as I was too scared that the noise would make it scurry around! (Im sorry about all the details, but you have to understand this was a highly significant event for me!). So I made it back into bed and securely tucked my mosquito net around me from all angles to make sure the beast couldn't attack me in my sleep. I woke up and on return to the loo it was still there. The cheek of it! One of the guys who worked on the boat said he'd killed it, but when it later crawled out of my rucksack I remembered the golden rule- Do not believe anything an Indian man tells you.
So thats me up to date. Only 2 more days in India before I head off to Thailand for some new adventures. Still, a lot could happen between now and then. I still have one more public bus to catch!
Apologies for the general lack of photos with me in. That is mainly because here it is VERY humid and I spend much of my time looking like a big shiney, sweaty minger with hair like Monica from fRIends when they go to Hawaii!
Thanks for the much improved effort in keeping me up to date with stuff, much appreciated. Keep up the good work.
Big sweaty hugs,