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June 17th 2009
Published: June 19th 2009
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Arriving in Chennai our new tour leader takes us on an orientation of the city - it is so different from the north I’d been used to - everything seemed calmer, for a start no constant horn blowing and the streets are cleaner (not clean but cleaner). In our short time here we visit Kapaleeshwarar Temple with its rainbow coloured structures and then on to the “National Shrine of St Thomas Basilica” - an extremely white Christian cathedral built over the tomb of St Thomas - 1 of only 3 places in the world built on remains of disciples. We leave the city to the more laid back beaches of Mamallapuram - a small fishing village where we head out on bikes to visit the local sights such as the World Heritage site of the beautifully weathered 7th Century Shore Temples and the massive bas-relief rock carving known as Arjuna's Penance, and lunch at a beachside restaurant. Next we travel to Madurai which is crammed full of bazaars, pilgrims, cycle-rickshaws, beggars and street markets. Whilst here we visit the Sri Meenakshi temple and the Gandhi museum before heading further south to Varkala on the Malabar Coast. A beach resort set up on a cliff with a beautiful beach below where we take the opportunity to swim in the lovely warm sea. We relax for a couple of days spending time in the many cafes and restaurants looking out over the glistening Arabian Sea. More relaxation time follows as we take a trip to the Kerala Backwaters and stay with a local family for our Homestay, enjoying traditional Keralan home cooking. The afternoon is spent exploring the island observing the different facets of local life, strolling under palm trees, we weave in between the rice fields and watch the sunset before climbing into 3 narrow river canoes, along with the locals, to enjoy the winding backwaters. Our guide starts singing a local song and the locals in the boat join in singing the chorus. Locals along the riverbanks also join in, which is kind of eerie seeing that it is now dark and although we can’t see them their voices carry across the water to our canoes. Watching the moon rise as we go it is an amazingly serene experience. Our next destination is the city of Kochi which possesses a fascinating blend of Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and English influences. Being spread over several islands we use the ferry network to get around. The evening is spent taking in a cultural performance of the Kathakali Dance where the first hour is spent watching the actors put on their heavy make up. We then head to Mysore via Bangalore where after an orientation tour we sit on the rooftop of our hotel supping Gin, soda and lime - couldn’t find any tonic water! The next day we view Mysore Palace - one of the most stunning places I‘ve visited in India - unfortunately you’re not allowed to take cameras inside, however, I did manage to take one picture with my phone camera without being spotted by the numerous staff - who would have confiscated my phone if seen - hence I only risked one shot. We head to Hampi next - a beautiful ancient temple town settled on the banks of the Tungabhadra River. Staying in a beautiful, peaceful location each room has its own comfy hammock and the restaurant looks out over rice fields and rocky scenery. We spend the evening climbing many steps to the monkey temple to watch the sunset. The next day we hire bikes and explore the numerous ruins of the 14th century Vijaynagar Dynasty. Finally we head to Goa to once again chill out by the sea and shop in the many Tibetan markets. We stay in the Calangute beach area, a popular destination for Indians to holiday. Their beach activities are somewhat different to ours - they don’t lie around sunbathing but mainly stand around in groups on the beach or swim - many still fully dressed - in the sea. The weather is getting extremely hot so it is good to know I’m heading north again back to Delhi for my next trip to the northern regions of India.

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