Varkala to Kanyakumari to Madurai

January 6th 2010
Published: January 7th 2010
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The backwaters of Kerala are stunning.. we travelled along the bigger waterways as we were in a bigger boat but it was lovely... really beautiful..
So I think the last time I wrote I was in Fort Cochin and it was New Year!. So after our rather low key New Years Eve we headed on the train to Allepey. I have to say that I was not that taken with Allepey - a lot of tourists go there, but really only to travel on their fabulous backwaters - fabulous backwaters… not so fabulous Allepey! So after finding a cheap hotel room above a restaurant and booking our boat trip for the following day I headed out to explore the town….. just in time to see a procession of men, women and children walking down the main street in various different uniforms/plain clothes, with a amateur band playing ‘procession’ style music!! The streets here are lined with stalls selling gaudy coloured plastic bracelets and fragrant smelling spices, locks and chains, colourful vegetables and fruits, hand made combs and various hair parphernalia amoung other ‘stuff’! So the next day we headed for the passenger boat to Kollam. Charlie and I sat on the top deck (technically I don’t think this is allowed because every now and then we were all told to quickly get below dect and back
Sunset on the backwatersSunset on the backwatersSunset on the backwaters

Need i say more about ... the backwaters rock!
to our seats and then after a few minuetes told we can go back up on to the deck!!) I managed to get a little sunburnt, but I would thoroughly recommend this as a way of travelling! It was beautiful and a real treat to see the villages that sit quietly on the backwaters of Kerala. The people wave as you go past, and occasionally you see the tourists who have forked out fot the ‘proper’ experience on a luxury houseboat (about R3000 more than we paid!!) As it was our trip lasted 8 hours and was perfect. We arrived in Kollam relaxed, sunburnt and ready for some food!! I managed to over hear a couple asking a taxi driver to take then to Varkala and persuaded them to let us join them!

Now Varkala. This could be anywhere in Europe! It is gorgeous.. full of tourists and therfore packed with Indians selling everything under the sun! We stayed here for a few nights (at a very reasonable rate.. and finally in a room that was fully functioning/clean/quiet etc - finally!) I did yoga every morning at 8 - 9.30 whilst Charlie slept and during the day I swam
The boat rideThe boat rideThe boat ride

I loved the backwaters - it was so relaxing travelling down these beautiful waterways .. i would definately recommend it as a mode of transport!! (it took 8hrs)
in the sea, chatted to other Westerners, ate over priced but yummy Keralan food and meandered around the stalls looking for bargains! I like this place.. but it is not real India. We decided to do a cooking course and spent 3 hours in a brightly coloured kitchen with a man called Khan who was a lovley Indian chef and 3 Swedes who were also taking the course. We listened, took notes and had a go at cooking chapattis, daal frie, paneer masala, vegetable pakoras and Malai kofta - my favourite.. little mountains of potato with paneer, cashew nuts nad raisins stuffed into the middle! YUM

We met some really lovely people in Varkala and I hope to see them again… I blame Barbara (a lovely Austrian woman) for my burnt face/chest because we got chatting on the beach and lost track of time in the burning midday sun… but was so lovely to meet her and we met up with her friend Micheal and Charlie and the Swedes from the cooking course for sundowners and supper that evening… a lovely few days .. but as I said, not really the real India!.. that was to come…
Now; As

I wandered round Allepey and happened to come across this huge performance!!..nor really sure what it was in aid of!!
I type I am sitting on the roof of our hotel in Kanyakumari - the southern most tip of India. How can I put this niceley? .. let me think… It is not the ‘lovliest’ of places here!! In fact we should have guessed when we were in the train and an Indian lady came through our carriage and suggested we move to a fuller carriage because it was ‘not safe’ for us to be on our own (there were four of us .. but still not safe? - alarm bells should have rung then!!) Kanyakumari is a bustling, noisy, smelly, dirty city of almost 20,000. It is a big destination for Indian tourists and judging by the amount of stalls it does a roaring trade in selling shells - shells on mirrors, shells on jewellery, hanging shells, shells stuck together in fact shells in any formation you can imagine!!

Well the train journey was fine and we arrived at around 7pm in Kanyakumari. The Swiss couple (who we met on the boat from Allepey to Kollam) we are with are lovely and we all got in 2 rickshaws and after an argument with the drivers about where they
Kathakali performanceKathakali performanceKathakali performance

In Varkala we watched part of a Kathakali performance that was being put on .. in a car park!!! weird.. but lovely to see it!
would take us we finally found two rooms for R300 each - the cheapest yet.. and it is clear why!! Poor charlie, it was to be his last night with me and it was not in the style to which he may have hoped!! - let me explain; If I was to paint a picture I would say, ‘ a pink prison’ most aptly describes this hotel! It has rooms arranged on 4 floors with an open section the whole way through the centre of the hotel. The rooms are pink (?) and have two single beds pushed together and a grubby table in them. We have an ‘ensuite’ bathroom consisting of a brown stained basin, a large bucket for washing and the bowl of a toilet with no seat and no flush - another bowl has been provided for this purpose!!! We had to leave a R100 deposit but we did wonder what you would have to do in order to loose your deposit because as it is the room has nothing to break and couldn’t be much dirtier.. to say there is shit on the walls of the bathroom is literal rather than metaphorical!!

So as soon
New friends!New friends!New friends!

In Varkala we met lots of new people and had such a lovely time.. but not really like India.. it could have been anywhere!!
as we arrived in this luxurious hotel we decided the best thing was to leave our stuff and go and explore the town (in the dark!!) The 4 of us (we are still with the Swiss couple - Flurina & Pierino) set off to find the coast where the Arabian sea meets the Indian ocean. We smelt it first and then found it! We took a picture and then went to find somewhere to eat! (this is the first, and I hope only, part of the trip which is more about ticking a box than enjoying the destination - i.e. we tick the box to say we have stood on the southern most tip of India! I defiantley don’t consider myself the type of travellor who just wants to tick a box but in this case there is no other reason to come to this place!) So we all settled for a ‘shack’ type arrangement to eat and had another dosa (my third of the day!) it was ok.. the one outside the station at Varkala was better, although the owner clearly wasn’t impressed that two tourists had walked into his establishment and after telling us we couldn’t play cards

Charlie and I took a 3 hour cooking course in Varkala and learnt how to cook traditional keralan dishes.. it was such fun.. but VERY hot in the kitchen!! this is me trying to make Chapattis!!
the bill was brought before it was asked for ! which seems to happen a lot in India - they prefer you to eat and leave as quickly as possible! So after eating and wandering around the hot, smelly and rather, dare I say it, ugly streets of Kanykamari, we headed back to our prison room to play cards.

So, this is where Charlie and I find ourselves!! And this is the place we are to part ways. It has been lovely having Charlie here for the past 17 days but alas it is time for him to go. So after a 6.20am start In order to watch the sun attempt to rise over a foggy haze from our hotel rooftop (surrounded by Indians doing the same from their hotel roof tops!) we headed for an indian breakfast of puri which were very good and then to the station to part ways!. So. Charlie has gone. But I am not alone!! The Swiss couple have decided not to stay on in Kanykamri (I can’t imagine why!!!) and so the 3 of us are continuing up the East coast of India to Madurai. I am relieved not to be on my own, espeically as the train arrives in Maduari very late at night and that is not always safe when on your own trying to find a hotel! So I am feeling sad to say goodbye to Charlie, but relieved to have the Swiss couple with me, and ready for the next part of my adventure… North India here I come!!

So. That brings me up to date. Here I am, on the roof top. They are playing battleships and I am typing. In a while we will go to the internet so I can send this, and eat and then try to occupy ourselves for another 3 hours till our train!

Well it is now the following day (i couldn't get to the internet yesterday to do my blogging!! - can i say it like that?). The train Journey was ‘interesting’ - we didn’t have reserved seats so we spent some tie hanging out the door and the rest of the time pressed up against about ten Indian men in a small corridor of the train .. but a very happy journey! We chatted and answered endless questions and found out about various places we should visit etc. Every time I travel by train I love it a bit more! You really see the country .. and the people are so eager to chat to you and find out everything about you as well as tell you everything they can about their own country. I particularly enjoy the train journies because i always end up in long conversations with the locals! Admittedly I understand only about 50% of what they ask me , but I have found that an occasional nod of the head and ‘uh huh’ gets me by!! If you are by an Indian man or woman for more than 2 minutes you are guaranteed to be asked, “name?” then, “from where?” and from then on the conversation flood gates are open and will only be closed when one of you leaves the train!! And I like that. It makes a nice change from London where you assume the person next to you is a nut job if they so much as look at you let alone talk to you.

So I spent the night with Pierino and Flurina.. and when I say I spent the night with them, I mean that literally!! They are lovely and we all shared a double bed in a small hotel room in Madurai. It was cheaper than getting two rooms and I am so grateful to them as it has saved me some money but more importantly has meant that I am not friendless in this rather large city!! I must also say that when we arrived in Madurai a lovley man who we’d been talking to on the train showed us to a cheap hotel that he insisted was ‘lovely, good’… well.. it was very sweet of him however there were cockroaches in the bedroom - and on the bed and when we opended the door to the bathroom the floor literally moved!! So needless to say we traipsed back down the stairs and into the noisy night to find a different place!.. our new place is clean and the bed even has the plastic cover on the matress still!!!

Madurai is known as the ‘temple city’ and so when we woke up this morning we headed off to Sri Meenakshi Amman Temple (beautiful, coloured gate towers.. and an elephant who puts his trunk on your head and ‘blesses’ you for a small fee!!) Tirumalai Nayak Mahal (a rather empty palace!?) Thepakulam (a monument of some sort in themiddle of a lake) and Vaigai River (a river where the water has been replaced with rubbish, cows and grass!!) And now as we wait for our train to take us on to Pondicherry (Pierino and Flurino are coming with me -yay!) we are back in the hotel room where we can at least play cards, eat and drink.. there is literally NOWHERE to sit for any period of time in India.. you can’t just hang out here.. it is very annoying!! .. so as awful as this is, we have got some street food and playing cards and will pass some time here before going out to eat and then catch a late train.

(I wanted to put a few more photos up but it is not possible here so i will try to do that later.. )


28th December 2011

too good from b'lore

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