Southern India - The Final Destination

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December 28th 2008
Published: January 10th 2009
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The beach at MamallapuramThe beach at MamallapuramThe beach at Mamallapuram

The first sight of the sea for over a month. It was not that good to swim in but to paddle was fine.
The trip around Southern India was to be our final journey after 7 months travelling. Time has flown by as we have had such a great time. We had to get to Chennai from Kolkata for the start of the trip and although the flight was OK we actually turned up at the wrong hotel as things changed last minute - this put the grumpy old git Gary in a bad mood straight away and this was only enhanced by the porter who only pointed to where our rooms were and expected a tip. Not a hope in hell as we were actually carrying our bags and could find the rooms very easily. When we finally met up with our new travellers we were hot and bothered , but it was great that we had a good mixture of people. From the trip itinerary we would be spending Christmas Day on the beach in Varkala and New Years Eve in Mysore with our anniversary in Kochi which was all to be very exciting. When we looked into it further, yes we would be on the beach for Christmas Day but only after a gruelling overnight train, New Years Eve would be spent on another overnight train and our anniversary was to be on an overnight bus, as the planned overnight train was cancelled. That aside we were not going to let that put a dampener on the holiday spirit. More about these trips later.
We left Chennai to go to the coastal town of Mamallapuram - this is the first bit of sea we had seen since Mumbai and the first place we felt safe to eat seafood / fish since Vietnam. The thought of having fish from Indian rivers such as the Ganges puts "one off a tad". The place was great , hot and sunny and the shopkeepers were on strike as there were plans to move the bus stop out of town. We moved around town with no fear of people trying to sell us stuff - it was really refreshing. We had an orientation trip around the associated rock carvings and lighthouse and we decided to splash out some cash to visit a shore temple, which turned out to be a complete waste of money as we could have got just as good photos from outside the barrier fence.
The trip was going well, but one member of the group could not use a rucksack and as such had the biggest wheelie suitcase in history. She had more clothes for a 3 week trip than we did for 7 months. We thought that the choice of luggage might not be the best for Indian Railways and trains. We will see!! On the following day when we had a very long day train to Madurai and it was clear that the best thing for train travel is a rucksack - dragging a bloody great suitcase upstairs, over tracks and into carriages is far from ideal. Fortunately for the lady concerned there was always a helping hand from the love struck tour leader.
Madurai is famed for its massive colourful Hindu temples and to keep them in the tip top condition they need to be painted every 12 years. You've got it!! We managed to see them "whilst they had the decorators in". The huge temples were covered in scaffolding fashioned out of bamboo and hessian - hardly beautiful. Bugger!!
Gary has a tendency to wake up early, go out of the hotel alone and get fleeced by traders and Madurai was no different. He was looking for a
Merry ChristmasMerry ChristmasMerry Christmas

We did stand out a bit!!
laundry guy and came back with a promise of a tailored pair of trousers which he paid an exorbitant amount for (in rupees), but the thing was that when he picked them up, they did not fit and the quality was really bad and this released the beast, Grumpy Gary again. He took them back, got them remade and they were still crap. Lesson learnt, don't let Gary out on his own.
Christmas eve was upon us and it was the overnight train to Varkala and overall it was a quiet affair with one person even going to bed by 2100 hrs. Indian trains do not allow the drinking of alcohol on board so it was hardly going to be a wild night. Everybody was just looking forward to the beach and the 2 day rest in the sun and it was exactly what we got. The hotel was good, the beach was better and the relaxation was complete. Varkala village sits upon a cliff overlooking the sea and is idyllic and a great place to grab a beer and watch the sunset. Christmas dinner was to be a special night, in a recommended restaurant, the problem was there was some pretty loud local music in our ears, some extremely dodgy dancing and the fact that it was almost Boxing Day before our mediocre food came. In the end people had to be woken so they could eat their dinner. Not to worry the alcohol helped us through the evening.
After Varkala we went to the Kerala Backwaters where we were to stay with a local family. The transport there was by train and boat. This was going to be a special part of the trip as we all knew that the backwaters are spectacular, so were slightly disappointed when the location we picked up the boat, was filthy and there was a dead dog floating in the "pristine" waters. Not to worry, we are on holiday. The boat trip to the accommodation was relaxing and we could see the potential in the area once we had left the jetty. The group was to be split into three houses so we thought 4 in each - but no, we as a couple would be in a house on our own. We were starting to fret as our foreign language skills are poor and we thought we might have to make smalltalk with the family. The experience was great but a little off putting as no-one in the house really spoke much English so there were many pregnant pauses. The owner constantly repeated the words he did know in English and then pointed at them, meals times were a dream with the owner stating key words like banana, water, wife, chicken and son. It was never going to be a great conversation!!. Waving goodbye to the family it was back onto the boat to find some more dead floaters - birds and fish only this time. A public bus was to take us to Kochi where we stayed one night and then we were to pick the newly arranged overnight public bus to Mysore. The group, realising it was our anniversary chipped in for a Chocolate cake which they presented to us just before we got on the bus which was not ideal, but we thought we would save it for when we got to our destination. The nightbus journey was never going to be ideal and within a couple of hours we had to stop as the brakes were overheating (almost on fire) which was a bit disconcerting. Once we had stopped for 30 mins we then proceeded onwards through the dark until we had a puncture and needed to change the tyre - of course the drivers did not have a torch and it was always going to be a painful experience. Fortunately as seasoned travellers one of the group had a head torch so we could get going again. Currently 2 hrs behind schedule the bus driver misjudged a hairpin bend and scraped the bus into a wall. As bad things come in threes we thought that was the jinx broken - apparently not!! The best was yet to come, (Imagine the next phrase being spoken by a policeman with an English accent) "At approximately 0300hrs the bus was taking a right handed bend with a slight incline. The driver failed to notice the sign stating that there was a check point ahead and was surprised to find a metal obstruction across the road. He applied the brakes but was travelling too fast to avoid the large metal barrier. The bus piled into the said barrier narrowly missing the policeman who was gesticulating to the driver, with his hands up. The bus stopped some 150m further on and the driver was arrested and held until the police inspector had arrived on the scene. Several hours later a private bus was hired to take away the poor unfortunate group that travelled on the aforementioned bus".
It was a great adventure and Gary got to show off his manly skills by making fire as the place we stopped was very cold indeed (approx 10 degrees) Soon the small fire was an inferno and it was still going as we left for Mysore although there were no reports of a raging forest fire on the outskirts of town. What a cracking anniversary and the cake was saved and eaten - delicious.
The highlight in Mysore was the Palace which is by far the best we have seen in India and the lowlight was the fact that there were no restaurants anywhere near the hotel, although we could have bought copius amounts of alcohol and car tyres. We left Mysore by bus to Bangalore where we would pick up the overnight train to Hampi. The train was due to leave around 2230hrs and this was New Years Eve so we went to really nice restaurant and had a meal before boarding the train. We stacked up on alcohol even though we knew that it was technically not allowed on the trains. Alcohol stashed in Pepsi bottles looked about a subtle as a St Bernard dog with a barrel of rum around its neck. That aside most were game for a good time, the train was relatively empty but those Indians that were on went to bed straight away where as the foreigners (us) just got pissed. As we progressed in our discrete drunkenness the noise levels rose and it was not long before the guard turned up and accepted a "tip" to not say anything. It is a marvellous system. The youngest member of the group was an 18 year old Swedish girl who seems to like a drink - Vodka and Coke. She mixed them 50/50 and there was no surprise that within 45 minutes she was pretty much unconscious. She certainly is a cheap night out!!! All made it to midnight to see in the New Year and then the non drinkers went to bed almost immediately and a few stayed up, including us two. By 0130hrs it was all over and by 0630hrs we were in the town of
OK - so it is a posh tentOK - so it is a posh tentOK - so it is a posh tent

It still had a squat toilet and cow dung floors
Hospet where we picked up a taxi to Hampi.
Our accommodation was across the river from the temples in Hampi so we had to negotiate a walk in to calf length water, a narrow set of steps to get onto the very small boat. The previously mentioned wheelie suitcase certainly came into its own again. Once again someone had to help her, and this time through gritted teeth it was Gary.
The accommodation was fantastic, small cottages with external hammocks over looking paddy fields. A great place to relax on New Years Day. Hampi was one of the highlights of the South India tour as there were temples, bike rides, scrambling over rocks and fantastic sunsets. From here it was full steam ahead to Goa and the end of the trip and the end of the holiday, but first we needed to take an early taxi (0500hrs) to pick up a day train. The 60mins taxi drive was an eye-opener as you really get to see loads of people having a crap at the side of the road, when the headlights hit them. If only we had our cameras handy. We arrived in Goa late Sat afternoon and the place was still packed with the New Year crowd. Cheap booze, lots of sun and loads of Brits - it could have been Benidorm!!
It was an emotional goodbye to the last group and obviously the wheelie suitcase, but we still had 6 nights at a Eco friendly yoga camp before returning home. When we booked this we thought that due to the time spent in India we would have developed "spiritually" and would appreciate the yoga perspective - in reality this was not the case and we (mainly Gary) thought what the bloody hell are we doing here paying a fortune to sleep in a tent and then pay extra to get into funny positions and chant OMMMMM. It was a lovely place, off the beaten track, away from the throngs of trance parties and close to some excellent beaches. It was not necessary "us", but it was a great to relax prior to the stresses of returning to England.
Over the last 7 months we have travelled to fantastic places and met some wonderful people, but for us it has to come to an end.... for the meantime. This is our last blog for this particular trip and we hope to provide many more on future adventures.

Additional photos below
Photos: 36, Displayed: 30


St Thomas's church Chennai St Thomas's church Chennai
St Thomas's church Chennai

St Thomas is buried under this church
Nativity scene at restaurant in VarkalaNativity scene at restaurant in Varkala
Nativity scene at restaurant in Varkala

Seems to be missing baby Jesus.
The downside to Varkala beach The downside to Varkala beach
The downside to Varkala beach

So much trash just dumped off the cliff.

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