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Published: April 14th 2010
After having completed the first stage of my trip in Africa, I left the wonderful City of Capetown on the Thursday night, knowing I wouldn't arrive in Kochi until Saturday morning. In truth it was a crappy journey with a 12 hour stop over in Qatar which I would not care to repeat. Upon arrival in Kochi it was very hot and humid but the airport transfer had arrived as instructed (unlike in Nairobi). However, he didn't have a clue where the place I was staying was so we spent an hour driving to Fort Kochi, and an hour and a half driving round Fort Kochi asking every man and his dog for directions. I arrived at destination very tired about 6:15 in the morning and went straight to sleep.
I spent the next few days mooching around Fort Kochi not really doing very much as it was spectacularly hot and humid, I ate some very good food which was also dirt cheap (an evening meal in an ok restaurant rarely costs more than about 1.80 sterling). I spent a good deal of time wandering round past colonial mansions, and checking out the Chinese fishing nets which are big wooden structures that look like spiders that 5 blokes lower into the water and out again not usually catching many big fish. The next day it was time to do something proper, as after 2 days of taking it easy I was starting to get bored. I decided on doing a boat trip round the backwaters, this meant taking a hour and a half bus ride to Alleppey, where I would get my first taste of driving on Indian roads (think blind overtaking, constant horn hooting, ad entire families on a single motorbike with one helmet between them. I befriended a German bloke on the bus and we headed to the boat where a multitude of people seemed to be trying to sell us the same thing, we ignored them and headed to the ticket 'office' ourselves and embarked on the boat for what would be an 8 hour cruise. The backwaters are serenely beautiful, with just the sound of the boat and birds we gently drifted through luscious palm lined corridors, through untouched villages, accompanied by kingfishers and a very hot sun. We stopped for lunch a place where food was served on a banana leaf with no knife, fork, or spoon anywhere to be seen. However at 50p for a tasty meal there would be no complaints. As the afternoon extended, storm clouds had begun to gather and around 16:30 an almighty thunderstorm was unleashed, with spectacular lightning and torrential rain descending around us. Fortunately, it cleared up a little by disembarkation time and the storm had subsided into a minor drizzle. Next was the difficult task of finding the bus home (the alphabet is different here which makes me illiterate). Fortunately a friendly local points me in the right direction and i'm off back to Fort Kochi. Here I take a rickshaw to where I'm staying, and once again the driver gets completely lost after insisting he knows where he is going.
The following day its time to leave Kochi for the mountain tea plantations at Munnar that have been highly rated by anyone that has been. Unfortunately, its a 5 and a half hour bus journey up a rather treacherous windy mountain road, anyone whose been skiing will know all about this. Miraculously we arrive in Munnar unhurt just as the sun is about to go down. From the town you can see the tea plantations in the hills all around, a very healthy shade of purest green, and perfectly looked after which gives the hills a neatness I've seen nothing like anywhere else. I jump in a rickshaw and show the guy where I want to go, he says no problem and proceeds to drive me 5km to a random guesthouse his mate owns way out of town. When I complain that I won't be going in and this is not where I asked to go he has the cheek to complain that its a long way back to my original destination! "Its not my fucking fault that you drove me all the way out here is it?" Then upon arrival at the correct destination he tries to complain that the fare is low, unbelievable! Thing then improve, as as soon as I arrive at the home stay I'm handed a cup of tea and informed the others are all about to order food to be delivered, result.
As it happens there are two Australian girls at the place who are planning to hire a car to take them around the following day. I'm invited to join, making the cost per person even lower. The next morning I'm up at the crack of dawn to see the light over the tea plantations at sunrise, it does not disappoint, but after 10 minutes I'm back in bed asleep. We go for some breakfast where I'm served what looks like a party hat made of bread and some tasty broth. Our taxi then arrives and takes us up to the top station, where we can see over the plains of Tamil Nadu and some pretty amazing mountain scenery. The tea plantations at the top are some of the highest in the world, and we stop for some photo opportunities on the way down, we also stop at a lake where your voice echos across the valley when you shout. Also on the way down we stop and go on an elephant ride. I wasn't too sure about this as it seemed abit harsh on the elephant, and as expected the elephant did not seem to be enjoying the trip that much at all, while the guide shouted at it whenever it stopped. I won't be doing any more elephant rides. After stopping at a good local place our driver recommends for lunch (I'm getting the hang of heating rice and curry with my hands now), we head to the tea museum which wasn't especially interesting but worth a visit whilst in the area, and the chai we had there was excellent. We returned home pretty tired for more tea. However, that evening things became a little strange as our host asked if we could eat in out rooms as some people were coming, this was very odd as having 3 happy guests in the room surely wouldn't have caused that many problems. Anyway we made the best of an odd situation and had a laugh all the same.
After breakfast the next day it was time to leave Kerela and head to Mysore in Karnataka, the southern administrative capital of India under the Raj. I took the bus down the mountain back to Kochi, and just after arrival when I was just killing time in the waiting room somebody turned on the rain. And how it rained! This went on for an hour or so, turning the main part of the bus station into a rather large paddling pool. There was also lightening, which was striking so close that every time it struck a nearby building there was a deafening crash, forcing you to cover your ears. After ths I jumped on the night bus and managed to steal some sleep before arriving in Mysore at sunrise the next day.
Upon arrival in Mysore I was hoping to leave my bag in the left luggage place in the bus station before taking the bus to Hampi the next day. Unfortunately, Lonely Planet had lied and there was no left luggage place at all so I had to get a hotel after all, not impressed although the sleep was welcome. By mid-morning it was time to go check out the Maharajah's palace, apparently the second finest in all of India. It did not disappoint, as it s one of the best palaces I have ever seen. Its actually a reconstruction as the original wooden structure burned down in 1897 and the replacement was built at no expense spared. It was incredibly hot and you had to take your shoes off which mean running over some scorching concrete at times. After the palace, we headed for some lunch (by this point I'd made friends with a nice French bloke who was also in town for the day), then we headed to the market which was quite a sight as in the narrow corridors were bordered by huge bright colourful stalls selling spices, incense, fruit & veg, and flowers. The smells were also incredible and made a nice change from cowshit on the streets. After this we took the bus up the hill and for some temples and a great panoramic view of the city. After this it was time to get on the next night bus to Hampi, the home of the monkey god Hanuman.
This bus was not as comfortable as the one the previous night and very little sleep was achieved through the relentless horn hooting swerving and blind overtaking. It's odd in India that buses seem to travel fastest of all the traffic bar some motor bikes, rickshaws are the slowest, then ordinary motorbikes, and then cars, so much time is spent getting annoyed while the bus diver angrily relentlessly hoots at some selfish fool who won't move out of the way. We arrive in Hospet (shithole of a town next to Hampi) at 06:30 when a rickshaw driver explains I must go with him as there are no buses until 8. Not 5 seconds later a bus pulls up with a conductor yelling 'Hampi, Hampi' so after wishing bad Karma on the rickshaw man I jump on the bus and half an hour later we're in Hampi. I check in and go to sleep.
The day is spent doing very little, I have 3 full days in Hampi so do nothing of note on the first bar a late afternoon excursion to some nearby temples. The first place I go to is incredible, its a well preserved temple complex, and I'm the only one there which makes it almost magical. The second temple I went to was up 1,000 steps on the top of a hill with amazing views of Hampi Bazaar and the sprawling surrounding runs. At this point I should point out Hampi was once a city off 500,000 but was sacked in the 16th century and never recovered. The next day I decided hiring a bike was a good choice as the place is vast, I bump into a nice bloke from London who is doing the same and we head off to on of the highlights of Hampi which has a stone chariot and ornately carved granite pillars which all pay a different not when you hit them, really cool. We spend the day leisurely cycling from sight to sight stopping to drink coconuts when possible as its very hot. By the end of the day I will have drunk 4 litres of water, 3 coconuts, 3 cokes, 3 mango juices, and I'm still dehydrated! A great day sight seeing is then complimented by sitting in a cafe all afternoon by the river drinking mango juice and doing little else. The next day I'm over sight seeing and have a chilled day picking up a few bits and bobs before taking the night bus to Goa in the evening. I'm in Goa now, its ace, will update again in a week or so, hope all is good back home.
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