Friday, February 10, 2017

India Part 8: Kochi, Allepey and Varkala

India Part 8: Kochi, Allepey and Varkala

For the final leg of my India trip I went to the city of Kochi in the state of Kerala. From there I went south to the backwaters of Allepey and the tropical beaches of Varkala.

Kochi is an art hub in India. There are many art museums, galleries and street art. It is, along with everywhere else in Kerala, a great place for seafood. There is also and old part of town called Jew Town where there is a synagogue that used to be used by the now absent local Jewish community. One highlight from Kochi was a cooking class that I took. I learned to make a few different Kerala style vegetarian dishes that I will try to recreate when I get home.

Allepey is one of the best places to see the Kerala backwaters, which are series of canals that wind through villages along the coast. Boat tours and houseboat stays are some of the more popular things to do in the area and I did both. I spent the night on a houseboat with three others travelers that I met along the way. The boat included three delicious meals and lots of amazing views from the water. Quite relaxing. The following day we got off the house boat and went on a smaller canoe that could maneuver the narrow canals that the houseboats cannot. The canals were cool but it was the couple of stops along the way that really made the trip interesting. The first stop was lunch in a village where we picked out some fish and had a fish curry. The restaurant had a couple of pet eagles which was very strange. We also talked to a man who was collecting coconut sap for the local toddy shop. Toddy is a stinky, not so tasty, palm wine made from the sap of the palm tree. The final stop was at the boat drivers home where we sat with his father while he did some dishes. After the boat driver did his chores he knocked some fresh fruit out of the trees in his back yard for us to try. They had bananas, coconuts, mangoes and tamarind. Tamarind is usually used as a dried spice but it comes from a small fruit that tastes almost exactly like the super sour warhead candies kids like to eat.

After Allepey three of the four of us went to Varkala. Varkala was a very beautiful beach area with some amazing seafood. As I mentioned before the beach isn't my favorite destination but this area was beautiful. A highlight of my stay in Varkala was renting a moped and driving way off away from any sign of tourists into a small fishing village. My travel buddy and I sat with some fisherman who were playing cards at the beach and introduced us to their albino friend. Everyone in the village was really friendly and wanted to say hi to us. We asked a local kid if there was somewhere to eat and he signaled for us to follow him and he knocked on someone's door and told them we were hungry. It was an old couple who gave us some bread and veg curry. I couldn't really tell if it was just their home or if they sell food to locals. After visiting that random village and beautiful beach we climbed up to the top of a lighthouse and snapped some photos of the area. Varkala was great!

This is my last post for India. It was an amazing experience and I hope to come back some day and see even more of the country. One thing I would like to say about India is that it gets a bad rap for tourism but in my experience nearly none of the negative things people say about it are really true. Next stop Malaysia.   

India Part 7: Mysore, Ooty and Munnar

India Part 7: Mysore, Ooty and Munnar

After Hampi I was headed further south through the state of Karnataka to Kerala. My first three stops were Mysore, Ooty and Munnar.

Mysore is a pretty big city that I stopped at in order to split up the traveling. There is a beautiful palace that they light up at night as well as a zoo that was closed at the time due to bird flu. Other than visiting the palace I ate a lot of good vegetarian thalis and relaxed.

Ooty was up in the hills and provided some nice cool weather. To get there I took a government bus on a winding mountain road that went through national parks and tiger reserves. The ride was bumpy and uncomfortable but the ease of hopping on and off government buses is well worth it in my opinion. Ooty is known for having tea and chocolate factories, as well as beautiful scenery often used in Bollywood films. I tried some chocolates, walked around a tea factory and went for a short hike.  I also got a bit of food poisoning for the first and only time in India when I decided to get some home comforts and ordered a Domino's pizza.

Munnar, the most beautiful place in South India since Hampi, is a hill station with thousands of acres of tea plantations. Although not a natural beauty, the tea plantations are very picturesque. The first day in Munnar I took a trek which went through tea plantations and ended with breakfast on top of a mountain overlooking the tea. The second day I took a tuktuk tour with someone who I met in Goa and reconnected with on this leg of the trip. The tuktuk driver was one of the most colorful people I have met in India which, on top of the beautiful scenery and spotting a couple wild elephants, made the day a very memorable one.  


Monday, January 30, 2017

India Part 6: Hampi

India Part 6: Hampi

Hampi, in the state of Karnataka India is the most beautiful place I have seen in India up to this point in my trip. It is an old city with many ruins scattered around. Another UNESCO site, and one that deserves the title. The ancient ruins, as well as the temples still in use today, give it the look of famous places in Myanmar or South America. However, it is also located in what must have been a giant river many hundreds or thousands of years ago. There are boulder structures scattering the countryside surrounding the ancient city.

The boulders make for great bouldering or rock climbing. I gave bouldering a try for the second time in my life. Bouldering is like rock climbing but it's much lower to the ground and more technical. The goal is to manuever boulders in certain ways rather than climb up a large mountain. It was very fun.

I also did something I had been putting off due to lack of experience and fear of traffic; I rented a moped. Most people in India rent mopeds to get around and I felt like I had missed a few experiences since I did not feel too comfortable doing so, however, Hampi had little to no traffic and was the perfect place for riding a moped. Riding around on country roads through the boulders, rice paddies, rivers, lakes, temples, small villages and towns was the highlight of Hampi for me. Also, Hampi was very photogenic so I have a lot to share here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

India Part 5: Goa

India Part 5: Goa

Ok, so I have never gone on a beach vacation. It is not something that ever appealed to me since it seemed to me that people who go on vacation at the beach generally just sit on the beach all day for the entirety of their vacation. Goa a very popular beach spot that is supposed to be quite different from a lot of popular tropical beach paradises. With so much time on my hands I figured I would give it a shot.

You may notice I have very few pictures of Goa and very little to say about the place. It was just a beach. A beach that is popular among hippies, Russians and Israelis. Trance music is very popular. And yes, people do just spend the beach vacations sitting on the beach, running into the water once every two hours and drinking a lot of tropical juices. It wasn't awful. It was boring, a good kind of boring, but boring. I only stayed for six days after being recommended an entire month. I guess I learned that, although I can enjoy myself on a beach, it isn't something I would go out of my way to do again.

Friday, January 20, 2017

India Part 4: Mumbai

India Part 4: Mumbai

India Part 4: Mumbai

Getting around in India has been more of a pain than I had expected so I decided to take a flight from Udaipur to Mumbai. The price wasn't too bad and the flight was an hour and a half compared to ten or more hours on a bus/train. This meant that when I arrived in Mumbai I had a full day ahead of me and I was quite rested.

Accommodations in Mumbai were much more expensive than the other places I had been to so far so I opted for a budget room found through Airbnb. I stayed with a couple of sisters, and their two cats, in the Bandra area. Bandra isn't one of the main attractions of Mumbai but it was pretty cool walking around and seeing daily life in the outskirts of Mumbai. There was also amazing food in Bandra.

Some of the highlights of Mumbai were the docks, the Gateway of India and the beaches. Another sort of silly highlight for me was seeing some giant bats in the trees outside of the place I was staying. These bats were the size of house cats, not something I had seen before in my life.

The docks were a place I just wandered into sort of by accident. There were no other tourists in there so I later looked it up and saw that it was in fact a destination that tourists can and do visit. It was mostly working fishermen doing all the things you'd expect to see working fishermen doing. People were fixing nets, sorting fish, de-shelling shrimp, fueling up boats and eating lunch.

The beaches that I was saw were not your typical vacation beaches (but I do hear there are some nice beaches to hang out in Mumbai), rather it was just a beach on the edge of a very large and busy city. It was cool to see the bridges and the locals who hang out on and around the beaches.

Mumbai is known for having its extremely apparent wealth gaps and that was something that I did notice despite not going out of my way to see the infamous slums.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

India Part 3: Pushkar, Jodhpur and Udaipur

India Part 3: Pushkar, Jodhpur and Udaipur

For the rest of my tour through Rajasthan I went to Pushkar Jodhpur and Udaipur.

For me, Pushkar was the highlight of Rajasthan. I originally planned to just spend one night in order to split up the trip between Jaipur and Jodhpur. As soon as I arrived I realized that this holy city was a place worth exploring so I decided to stay an extra night. It is a very small place but everything about it stood out from the moment I arrived. I now wish I had stayed even longer.

Pushkar has 1000's of temples which must make it one of the mostly densely templed places in the world. This is what gives this extremely holy city the deeply spiritual feeling and vibes that you experience while walking around. It is also a particularly popular place for Isrealis to vacation or move to long term. Many signs are in Hebrew and there is lots of Isreali food which I did enjoy at a local restaurant owned by some Isreali expats. The owner of the hostel I stayed at drove me out into the countryside to meet the Aloo Baba. This is a holy man who has only eaten potatoes for the past 18 years. It seems people bring him potatoes and other non-edible treats quite regularly. Other than that I ate lots of vegetarian food in this strictly vegetarian society. The food was really good, and that is coming from someone who cannot go an entire meal without meat outside of India. I also walked around some temples and the holy lake that the city surrounds.

My next stop was Jodhpur, the blue city. Overlooking the city is an ancient palace that is now only used for tourists. From there you can really see the blueness of the city. Like most places in Rajasthan there was a lot of great food to try, mostly street foods. I walked around the fort, a few temples and just explored the city.

From Jodhpur I took a bus to Udaipur where I spent a couple nights before my flight to Mumbai. Again, Udaipur was filled with ancient forts, palaces and temples. It is also a popular romantic destination for couples. Lots of rooftop restaurants overlooking the lakes where some famous palaces are located.