Kerala is a state on India’s tropical Malabar Coast. Did you know: Kerala has the highest life expectancy at birth (74.9) during 2010-14 among all Indian states. wikipedia.org
Narda writing Terrell writing
20 – February
Our hostess is an Indian Jessica. Softly spoken, sweet, helpful and intelligent, with long dark hair and a gentle friendly face. So, we’re good. This place is a large, very clean 2 bed-roomed flat. The showers are hard-core India, buckets with scoopers, but you get the technique after a while and the water is hot. We have internet most of the time, have hooked the telly up to the computer via HDMI, and happily watch Peaky Blinders every evening.
Today another bus ride. We found our way to the big bus depot near the railway station and got into a bus. The seats looked comfortable and there was plenty of room. Problem was, it didn’t seem to be going anywhere in a hurry. A few folks started to get off, so we followed them onto a second bus. This one was going somewhere. The conductor asked us where we wanted to go, and we said “just to end”. He looked very puzzled. So we said we didn’t really mind we just wanted to see things. By this time a few other passengers were watching with interest. One had a little English. Terrell then offered that perhaps we should see some waterfalls and a kangaroo. Small smiles starting appearing on the passenger’s faces. The guy with a little English took the matter on his own hands and spoke very rapidly in Hindi (smiles got larger). He probably said something like “just sell them your most expensive ticket, these guys have no idea what they want”. Anyway, it worked out. We paid 38 Rs (about 50c) and off we went. Well, it was a pretty hot day, but an interesting ride. When we saw a town after about 45 minutes, we got off and walked to a sweet shop, bought some fudge (can’t beat it!) and caught another bus back home. The driver of this one was a maniac, running red lights only to pull up sharp to pick up old ladies. It was the fast ride home and we collapsed into our cool house, and had cold showers.
This place has been fun. Totally not touristy; no one tries to pressure sell anything, which is a welcome change. We almost feel local. We have our milk and yogurt guy nearby to whom we can almost say “the usual”. And we have two favourite restaurants, one has occasional air-conditioning and the other has clean red chairs. So you have to weigh it up. We take turns. They both sell really good fruit juices and shakes. Terrell likes pomegranate. My favourite is grape juice, but not fermented….this seems to be a completely alcohol free zone. I have not had a drink for a month. Actually the only time I had a Kingfisher beer (largish bottle) I threw up violently the next day…and have had on-and-off funny tummy ever since. I don’t think it was the alcohol, but I have this association stuck in my head! Right now I’m on my 4th course of antibiotics after a second hospital visit. Feeling good now.
Right now we’re watching “Peaky Blinders” season 4. Highly recommended. I think it’s on Netflix. And we’re reading two books by Yuval Harari, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”, and “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow”. (thanks Sacha and Georgia). Read them if you can. We are fascinated, such an interesting take on everything.
We like staying at Airbnbs; close as we can get to living at home somewhere else. Firstly, we unpack everything – set up our little home, buy some groceries, try to find some English channels on the telly and feature our nest the best we can. We start looking at Google Maps to see our surroundings then go out and explore. We met our ‘neighbour’ a girl from the State of Washington in the USA, here on a Fulbright scholarship for some medical thing.
After discovering there was quite a close beach we grabbed an Uber there for the usual less than a buck-fifty (USD) to Valiathura Beach. It looked amazing until we were on the actual beach where we discovered human poo all over – perhaps there is no loo for the fishermen than inhabit this area. The pier is quite amazing, but it was closed to the likes of us as it was under repair. We did see folks fishing off of the end of it but a local guard type of dude said we could not go out on it.
As often is the view in this area there were the many fishing boats waiting for something – perhaps for fish to jump out of the water. When we were there, in the mid-afternoon, the locals were huddled under tents, which if we were wise we would have been too instead of walking in the mid-day sun. We took a tuk tuk along the beach in hopes of finding some groovy beach-side restaurant but ended up in a small shop feeling lost in the middle of nowhere and took another tuk tuk back home.
Another day we went to the local zoo; The Thiruvananthapuram Zoo; entrance fee of 30 rupees (45 cents USD). I thought it looked a lot like the Honolulu Zoo. We have only been to one other zoo in the past twenty-years, La Aurora Zoo, Guatemala City about ten-years ago. The Thiruvananthapuram Zoo is one of the oldest of its kind in India, being put together in the 1830s or so. If you are widely interested in knowing more check out their webpage. We spent most of the afternoon there – see our clip, on YouTube for footage of this nice park. We also went to the Napier Museum but found it rather boring though inexpensive (10 rupees – 15-cents USD).
We walked the few blocks to the main temple attraction but did not go inside as one needed to be of the local religion of the temple to peer within…the fact that we are both quite enlightened did not seem to pave the way to their celestial consciousness.
We grabbed a bus over at North Gate to, Kovalam, the most popular place in Trivandrum and no doubt the main reason folks go there.
We were there at the end of the tourist season with only a few bikini-clad folks left on the beach. Not that I took photos, just of Narda with her umbrella. It used to be a nude beach, I think the only one in India, but then they banned nakedness as perhaps not having clothes on is unnatural for hunters and gathers that we homo sapiens are. After all we were born with clothes on and we should keep them on. At the southern end of Lighthouse Beach is a striped lighthouse with a viewing platform which was closed, we discovered after walking to the end of the beach and up the hill to it. Always a fun thing to do on a hot day. We didn’t make it to the palm-backed beaches of Hawa Beach and Samudra Beach but chose to get the next bus back to the city which thankfully was an air-conditioned bus. It was double the price setting us back 40 rupees (sixty-two cents, USD for the two of us for the hour ride) but well worth it.Overall, we liked Trivandrum and would suggest it as a place to be for a week or so. The zoo stands out as the best but just taking random buses and smiling at the locals is quite a cool thing to do. And there are lots of temples; we were actually in the temple area of Trivandrum.
There is a wall to go through, separating the highly-evolved temple consciousness dwellers/visitors with the rest of the dregs of humanity. Surprisingly we were allowed through. I was happy to see only vegetarian restaurants within, so us evolved animal-loving folks can feel good all the time about ourselves.The only time we went to the other side of besides the beaches was to go to a restaurant suggested to us. It was the most expensive one we have been to in India, Villa Maya Heritage Restaurant, about $12 per meal which is more than three times what we normally pay. Looking at their website; http://www.villamaya.in/ we learned, weeks later, that TripAdvisor rated it as the third best restaurant in India and in the top 15 in all of Asia. Perhaps we should not have complained that at $12 a meal it was expensive. Maybe we are rated amongst the top dozen or so most clueless tourists. Nevertheless, the food was tops and so was the place and service.
We usually go to Vrindavan Restaurant, a block away, for lunch they have such yummy dishes as Tomato Uttapam which is basically a pancake with tomatoes or whatever shoved in / veg fried rice, pomegranate juice and pineapple juice all for 226 rupees ($3.48 USD) breakfast is 126 rupees ($1.94 USD); of course, that is for the two of us.
Narda became ill, again, (no photos of the event) so we went off to the hospital and got more medication. It was her fourth dose of antibiotics and hopefully this time will be the last. It was our third hospital in India so far; less than two years ago after her motorcycle accident in Cambodia when we went to a few hospitals between Cambodia, Thailand, and finally Australia. We are making the rounds of Asian hospitals. Tomorrow we start heading north again; 5 days in a beach town called Varkala, highly recommended by Bren, and then 2 weeks in an Airbnb in Kochi. So we’ll keep you posted.
27 February ~ 3rd March
A very spectacular place, huge cliffs and wild beaches.
I say wild, because more than once I was smashed face first into the sand by a monster wave. Still the water was warm so we ventured in a few times. Our ‘resort’ was south of Varkala, a little remote but very pretty. We upgraded to a balcony room upstairs with a gorgeous 4 poster bed surrounded by swishy mosquito nests and white curtains. With an archetype view of a palm fringed beach, we were happy. Mind you if you looked straight down, there was a busy little fishing village with lots of red fishing nets being rolled, not much evidence of fish being caught, but what do I know. This was actually pretty interesting for us to watch; and everyone with friendly smiles. By and by we discovered the main part of the action, North Cliff. This is a wonderful narrow road along the top of the cliff, lined with restaurants, shops and guesthouses; everything your heart would ever want. We some great meals here, enjoyed the specie sunsets, and took (Terrell 🙂 many photos. Can see why Brendan has spent so much time there.
See our video
We took an Uber to Varkala for 900 rupees (less than $14 USD) for the two-hour ride. Our driver was on his first run with Uber and was quite happy that we gave him a 100-rupee tip at the end. He was young and wild (aren’t they all?). I had looked up the death rate on roads in India a few days earlier which was an error in judgement. Narrow roads with speed, what could be more thrilling? Often, we would go through a built-up area with signs of 40 Ks for the speed, but not us, we flew through doing 60-70, passing motorcycles, tuk tuks, trucks, even buses. What is nerve-racking about some Indian drivers is they believe in karma, ‘if we die, it was meant to be’. Our driver may not have had a death wish, we never asked.
We arrived in Varkala noonish – walked to Varkala Beach and to the closest town and wandered until we had no idea where we were. Of course, that is nothing unique. We grabbed a tuk tuk home and had dinner at our local restaurant here at the Guru Ayurveda Retreat Centre. It sounds much grander than it is. There is a small building with a sign advertising rubs and stuff, though we did not see any activity.
On the rooftop of our building there was a ‘yogi-centre’ though I saw no activity for the week we were there. The internet was slow as it is in most places in India. Slow meaning a five-minute video I would leave overnight and if lucky it would appear on Facebook and YouTube by the next morning.
Our room was good though, large, balcony, great sunsets, OK bed – not awful but for India not too hard, OK shower, if used between 7 – 10 am for warm water.
(A note from Wikipedia “Varkala is the only place in southern Kerala where cliffs are found adjacent to the Arabian Sea. These Cenozoic sedimentary formation cliffs are a unique geological feature on the otherwise flat Kerala coast, and is known among geologists as Varkala Formation and a geological monument as declared by the Geological Survey of India. In 2015, Ministry of Mines, Government of India and Geological Survey Varkala of India (GSI) have declared Varkala Cliff as a geo-heritage site.”)
If we stayed here again we would stay on the Varkala Cliff which is where the restaurants and most of the hotels are. We found a good hippie-type coffee shop, Coffee Temple, though the Mexican food we ate was not very Mexican. India has the best food, when it is Indian dishes, but going for anything Italian (mac and cheese), Mexican, etc. forget it. Perhaps Chinese food is good as every place offers it but we have never tried any. Be sure to say, ‘not too spicy’, otherwise you will have a mouth on-fire. A week where we were was too long, as we had to do long walks on the beach everyday (rough life we live) to get to the cliff about forty-five minutes away.
The water was warm, and we would have a bit of a swim most mornings or evenings or whenever we could get our lazy asses into the sea. There is a meditation/yoga/Ayurveda place at every turn. We got some creams and lotions but did not participate with the massages – they are the same prices as Australia.
03 – 05 March
Alappuzha (or Alleppey) is a city on the Laccadive Sea in the southern Indian state of Kerala. It’s best known for houseboat cruises along the rustic Kerala backwaters.A nice train ride to Alleppey. We sat with a young couple, a Brit and a Colombian, who somehow made their way into second class aircon, because the other carriage “was full”. We had a great conversation with them, lovely kids on a 7-9 month trip though India, S.E. Asia, ending in the Philippines or “whenever our money runs out”. When we arrived we had lunch with them at a VERY dodgy little place. I think the bill was under $2. The next train station meal was our cheapest ever, 2 coffees, idly, and banana fritters; all for 66 cents. But that was Kochi, more later.
The accommodation was crap. Fantastic view, but nasty hot little room. No shower and hot as hell. Oh well. We took a lovely boat ride through the backwaters which are amazingly beautiful. Left at 6.30 am, just getting light, so the intensely heavy traffic of large houseboats had not yet started. This was a difficult stop, mainly I think because of the heat. The temperature is only about 34, but lots of humidity with it; we’re not used to it.
Narda held an eagle on our breakfast stop – they said the bird had lived there for the past sixteen-years.Our morning boat ride, leaving at six-thirty am was peaceful as the many boats had yet to hit the road. There was just the two of us and the driver. We could have laid down – but we would have fallen to sleep so we sat up – see our groovy boat below.We paid 400 rupees ($6.15 USD) per hour and did four hours. In 2016, Centre for Science and Environment rated Alappuzha as the top cleanest town in India. Everything is by its own standards. Not quite the same as tidy-towns in Australia. There are still enormous amounts of trash along the road, in the river. Everywhere. Perhaps compared to other towns it was clean.The view from our porch at Malayalam Ayurvedic Lake Resort (http://malayalamholidays.com/) was amazing, the room was awful – small – dirty – no air conditioning – shower barely spits out water, and the manager was not friendly. There is no ‘amazing breakfast’ as stated on their homepage. They order out from a nearby restaurant. Not sure why it is referred to as a resort. And as was the case back in Varkala, the Ayurvedic trip was highly advertised but we did not see any sign of activity. The hotel or ‘resort’ next door had signs all over advertising the same thing but again no one around doing such activity. The view below is a couple of minutes from our ‘home’. Sitting on our porch we watched houseboat after houseboat go by – see our video clip, a lot was shot from our porch.
We saw this boat on one of our travels – a couple of kids had taken a lot of plastic bottles (and there are a lot in the water) and made a raft out of them. Unfortunately, I did not have my zoom lens on at the time.We met some folks from Belgium and Narda spoke Dutch with them and we went off looking for a place to eat. The nearest restaurant was on an island and we found a row boat ferry to go across on. On the way back Narda paddled us across with the owner – see the end of our video. Luckily there were no houseboats in our area at the time. https://youtu.be/E_bsE2HDYIc
It was a bit of a walk from where Malayalam Ayurvedic Lake Resort was to the main road – along a dirt track, along a canal, up the road and a fifteen-minute ride into town where we found some restaurants from ‘Lonely Planet’ that were at best adequate.
Two days was enough for us in this place and we were happy getting the train out of there to Kochi.
05 – 19 March
Staying for two-weeks at D’Homz Suites, YS Lane 2, Yuvajana Samajam Road, Kadavanthra P.O., Kochi, Kerala 682020, India. Hosted by Arun at +91 93 876 62 000 Highly recommended – http://dhomz.business.site/
Off again, this time an uneventful train ride. Despite the beauty, we were happy to be on our way. We are now residing in a beautiful little modern apartment. Fully airconditioned, washing machine, the whole thing. And a real SOFT bed!!!!! It is so nice. We’re here for 2 weeks, an Airbnb, time to get sorted, get clean, get rested, Terrell to get his blood sugar back down. He’s even joined the local gym. We just may never leave. So if we don’t turn up in April, this is where you will find us.
The Airbnb stays are the best. You really get a local home. In Pune, it was REALLY local; kinda scary entrance, lots’ of black mould, but it turned out to be a cosy little flat, Indian style. The Trivandrum flat was an apartment at the back of a family’s house. The daughter took good care of us; checking that we were happy at least once a day. We became a little known to some of the store holders nearby, which is also nice. Kochi tops it though. We have everything here. TV works with Netflix, aircon, a very soft bed, a nice little space in a block of flats with a doorman. The thing that makes the Airbnbs different from hotels (and we have stayed in many on this trip) is that they are in non-touristy areas. So, no hustle, no sales pitch, everyone just going about their lives. And we can get all the mod cons easily; western meals when we feel like it. Though today we discovered Curd Waadah. Not sure about the spelling, and it was not on the menu. Two balls of ricey stuff, in a bowl of raita, with some spicy crunchy bits. We’ve already had it twice. It costs about 75c. Yum.
Yesterday I spent half the day sitting in a dentist’s chair, having my front teeth fixed. Looks pretty good even if I say so myself. The day before we saw “The Shape of Water” in first class chairs. Very enjoyable. The mall, called Lulu, was very modern and new, full of the same useless shops you see in these malls everywhere (Marks and Spencer, The Body Shop, Apple, Tommy Hilfiger) but to its credit it had a large supermarket in the basement and a half decent food court.
Kerala is a curious mix of Christians and Communists. Currently the communists are in power; they support the trade unions support free education, medical etc. They are freely elected, displaying their red hammer and sickle flags everywhere. The association we make with the Soviet Union is a bit unsettling for us, but in Kerala, folks are happy. Then there are the Christians. There are so many beautiful churches, obviously well supported financially. Our local church is Catholic, St Joseph’s. Our dentist (more about him later) belongs to the Syrian Christian Church which is the biggest I think. Apparently it was started 500 plus years ago by Syrian missionaries, but has no links with modern Syria. I guess communism, in its purist form, has a lot in common with Christianity. Anyway, every morning there were church bells (the first at 5.30am!) getting folks there for the first mass at 6.30. The church was packed. Several hundred folks there every morning, sometimes more than once a day. I did enjoy hearing the mass hymn singing in the cool (ish) morning air.
Last night we walked in an area very nearby, with lots of new high-rise apartment, all the occupants taking walks in the cool of the evening. The walkways were well marked, even with a bike lake; almost felt like Holland, but way too hot. It was a surprising little area, very liveable I think.
Kochi is the old city and the new Kochi is Ernakulam, about 7Km from Kochi. We took a ferry from there to Fort Kochi and to Vypeen see our groovy video at https://youtu.be/cjj53vrp9FY
and our talking to fishermen at Port Cochin with their Chinese nets (“shore operated lift nets”), The unofficial emblems of Kerala’s backwaters see video at https://youtu.be/OwTxHu-wKhs
We saw hand washing clothes in dhobi khana, run by Tamils – see the description from Wikipedia below
Veli Street in Fort Kochi – Dhobi Khana – The first sight that greets you inside the gate is an array of men and women ironing clothes with these songs providing a musical background. Most of them are old and grey haired. Pass through into the next portion of the three-acre compound of the Khana, and you see 40 wash pens lined up in a row. Although a huge washing machine stands in the first wash pen, no one seems to use it. This is what might possibly be the only Dhobi Khana (community laundry space) in Kerala, existing in the city successfully for many decades, thanks to a fair number of Kochi citizens who prefer their clothes washed by hand. The origins of the dhobi khana lie in the colonial period, when British officers brought many Tamil villagers to Kochi to work as washermen. This Tamil community was first organised together in the 1920s, and came to be known as the Vannar community and has retained its cohesive identity over the years. At present, there are about 40 families in the community who use this Khana. Each cubicle with wash pens and water tanks is allotted to one family. 75-year-old Murugappan, who started doing this job when he was 15 years old, says that they still rely on traditional, elaborate procedures for washing clothes.
“First we soak the clothes in water mixed with detergent for some time. Harder clothes are washed by beating them on the stones. To remove stains easily, a pinch of chlorine is also used. After that the clothes are rinsed twice in fresh water,” he says. “For starching cotton clothes,” he adds, “we still use the traditional method of dipping them in rice water. No modern day starches can give so much crispiness as rice water does.” “Then, women from the family hang these washed and starched clothes in the sun. We dry the clothes for almost 5 hours,” he says. Interestingly, no one here ever uses clips to keep clothes from falling off the line; instead they all use a technique of tucking clothes b etween the ropes in such a way that they are never disturbed by the wind. We use charcoal irons for ironing the clothes. Some of these irons were brought from Sri Lanka decades ago,” Murugappan explains. Murugappan says that this process has remained unchanged for at least the last 40 years. “Then, women from the family hang these washed and starched clothes in the sun. We dry the clothes for almost 5 hours,” he says. Interestingly, no one here ever uses clips to keep clothes from falling off the line; instead they all use a technique of tucking clothes between the ropes in such a way that they are never disturbed by the wind. We use charcoal irons for ironing the clothes. Some of these irons were brought from Sri Lanka decades ago,” Murugappan explains. Murugappan says that this process has remained unchanged for at least the last 40 years. https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/kochis-historic-dhobi-khana-run-tamils-may-soon-be-hung-out-dry-44636
Our area is Panampilly Nagar, an upmarket residential area just 1 km east of M.G road, the epicentre of Kochi city. Many areas in India end with the word Nagar which means town, city, or suburb. We have found several good eating places such as Gusto Foods Donut Factory, across the road from us is ‘The Best Bakery’, around the corner is ‘Choice Bakery’ and anyone who has eaten Indian sweets would know how good they are. Even a diabetic needs to have a ‘sample’ now and then.
We found our closest shop ‘The Food Mart’ with the basics we need, St. Joseph Road. Past the church that wakes us each morning at 5:30 with bells ringing then soon after singing. Across from the Food Mart was my daily spiritual centre, the local gym. Not fancy, but with all the necessary equipment to make me look fit if I would spend more than half an hour and do so every day for the year. This cycle is for two-weeks. I missed two days, one because when I was mixing boiling soup in the blender the top flew off and gave me large burns on my arm and stomach – quite painful for a few days, and the other when we went to the countryside with Narda’s dentist for the day. Fitness centres are an important part of my life because they represent continuity in my life. I started them in Baltimore (Towson actually) in the mid-1970s and my travels are a record of gyms I have been to. My favourite was last year’s in Ringkøbing, Denmark. Every morning Narda and I would ride our bikes to the fitness centre overlooking the fjord. I have had membership or went to gyms in China (at Dalian International School – almost every day for three years), lots of years in NYC, upstate New York, Adelaide, Hawaii, and so many places in between. Forty-years of doing the same thing – machines have not changed that much, just fancier. I still listen to Mississippi Blues, Dylan, Janis Joplin. It is like I started in the 1970s and never left. Everywhere around me is an extension of then – after all I am seventy and should embrace the 70s and of course the sixties. The world around us changes and we have those scattered experiences called life, but we pretty much stay the same. The gym gives me a place to momentarily stay the same as I was long ago. It is a nice place. Narda and I go twice a week to one in Adelaide, but it is this thing for old people – we stretch then do machines and weights then more stretches – really geared toward old people but I like it. Daily I do my weights in my shed, so my escape is listening to music and weights. Narda’s escape is travel and books – I escape with her too. Maybe on my tombstone I will put ‘escaped’.
The largest shopping centre we have found here is LuLu Mall where we have seen films twice. Yesterday we saw ‘The Black Panther’. Both times we got the first-class seats in which we stretched out and we stood for the National Anthem at the start of the films. Food is ordered and delivered at intermission, which is often abruptly in the middle of a scene – then lights go on and food ordered and delivered all for fifteen-minutes or so. There is a good food cart at the LuLu Mall as well as the Hypermarket. In the photo below the top images are for one theatre -where we paid the extra buck for a reclining seat, the other is where all the seats are luxury and we are standing for the national anthem at the start of the flick. Come on Australia, lift your game, we want luxury seats for five bucks, and of course, meals for three to four dollars for the two of us, and add the Uber for 100 rupees ($1.50 USD or about $1.75 Aussie dollar) for a half hour ride. OK airport runs are more here. We had to cough up almost ten-bucks USD for the hour ride to the Kochi Airport but in their defense that was double the price as Uber seems not to be allowed at the airport to collect people and we paid for their return. From JFK to our home in NYC it used to be about $75 then they want a tip on top and that was a shorter ride.Everywhere in India, every shopping centre, airport, train-station, hotels… they have airport-type of security and I must show my defibrillator/pacemaker implant each time and get searched individually – always a nonsense. Aside of that we have enjoyed the air-conditioning and cleanness of large shopping centres and while seeing how out of place they seem to be with so much poverty around them. It is so in your face here – homelessness is bad anywhere but here there is so much of it, and such difficult living conditions compared to the west. Following futurists such as Ray Kurzweil and Harari and the folks at Google/Apple/Microsoft/Facebook and their mates is wonderful but they have not lived in India, some have not visited here – that the world will be oh so much more modern in twenty-years; I don’t think so… getting people basics would be good without all the technological marvels constantly predicted.
Yesterday we were sitting on the steps of a light-rail station trying to determine where to go or what to do on a hot muggy day, a man walked up to me, handed me a drawing of me, then walked away. Narda says it looks like me, I am not so sure – too old looking.Narda wanted to go for a walk this morning. I usually go to the gym but thought, ‘OK a short walk then the gym’. We left before eight am and got back after twelve. Typical of us. No one would want to travel with us, we are too indecisive and changeable. I thoughtfully brought our camera thinking I would get a snapshot of a train track nearby that I wanted for a poem I had written recently. We walked along a canal, wandered down a street that was a dead-end but had a good conversation with a couple of locals who lived there. We said we were looking to go for a walk along the river, sea, lake, lagoon, whatever there was that appeared as a body of water on our phone-map of the area. As usual they asked where we were from and after a bit of chatter sent us back the way we came from and suggested we go left. We saw a sign for the local yacht-club, asked if we could have a coffee but as we were not members we went without but found a bridge
up the river that looked interesting and headed off in its direction. We found a narrow footpath along it and after crossing had conversation with some more locals who said further ahead we could find a backwater boat tour place. We walked for another hour or so, had a tea, walked some more and came across the Kundannoor Bridge in Nettoor, on Panangad Island which is a part of the Maradu Municipality. The Varapuzha bridge on NH 17 is a cantilever bridge spanning the Periyar river between Varapuzha and Cheranallur. It was the longest bridge in kerala Kochin backwaters… oops looked it up in Wikipedia and just kept going.
We found a boat operator. The owner said 3500 rupees ($54 USD) we said, ‘no way’ and after some haggling he came down to 2500, again we said ‘no’. Then there was 2000, and finally the absolute final offer of 1500 rupees. We walked away, sat down, talked some more, I said I only had two five-hundreds on me (we didn’t include Narda’s holdings) and after a bit of time we all agreed on 1000 ($15.40 USD). Which was still high for us as we had paid 400 rupees per hour in Alleppey a couple of weeks ago. I read some reviews, and the main complaint was how expensive it was. One person said they had managed to negotiate down to 1500 rupees – sucked in mate, we outdid everyone.
The boat trip was spent on Vembanad, the second largest lagoon in India. We love boat trips, and this was up there with the finest of them. The driver spoke good English, said he was a school teacher, geography. He liked his cricket and knew Adelaide as a crew ground place. We went past a couple of famous cricket player’s homes including one who is referred to as the ‘god of cricket’, Sachin Tendulkar.
Cochin is believed to be one of the finest natural harbors in the world. It is an exquisite combination of modern and traditional of intense nostalgia and high revelry. It is one of the most visited backwater destinations. It has been voted as the top ten beautiful places to visit in a lifetime.
We saw Chinese Fishing Nets on Fort Kochi Island and another island and here there are again. The Chinese fishing nets found at Kochi are unique to the area and make for a very popular tourist attraction. This is the only location in the entire world outside China where such fishing nets can be seen in use. 10 meters in height, the entire structure is a fixed land installation which is used for unique and unusual method of fishing. Set up on the bamboo teaks are held horizontally with the help of huge mechanisms which are lowered into the sea. These nets are made-up of teak wood and bamboo poles and each net is handled by four men. If you missed our video above here it is again https://youtu.be/QM
There are several ways to explore Kochi: tuk tuks, Uber, buses, the metro – we did them all. The metro is being built, one route is complete (the others in years to come – there is construction – i.e. holes in the middle of streets and concrete towers everywhere) – we took it from Maharaja’s College, which for now is the end or beginning station, depending where one is, to Aluva, which is a city in its own right. we spent an afternoon wandering this busy area negotiating a sandwich in a restaurant – negotiating in the sense that we had to have several translators help us define what we wanted and still we got something completely different than we had expected. We sugared up our disappointment at a cake shop next door where I gave my body a break from its normal boring no-sugar routine. The complete trip taking about 45 minutes set us back 50 rupees (about 75 cents USD or a buck in Aussie currency). There are guards everywhere and signs not to take photos but we did manage this one above.
Another attraction of Kochi, Jew town is the center of city’s spice trade and is also a busy port area. Located in the Mattancherry area, it is quite popular for housing shops, selling (possibly) antiques. The streets are lined with colonial-styled buildings giving it an old-world feel. Actually, the Jew town is a street between the Jewish Synagogue and Mattancherry Palace. We drove through the area and went to a large herb barn or whatever they call them.
Where we live at D’Homz Suites is really good: air-conditioning (in both the lounge and the bedroom), balcony, kitchen with everything we needed to make meals, good shower, large TV with HDMI input so we could watch our Netflix series, elevator, washing machine… the streets were difficult as most are in India. We are constantly in fear of our lives (really). However, a few blocks away there was a walking street that went for several blocks so that became part of our daily walk.For a week our weather map said it would rain and storm but not until our last night did it rain since being in India. A monsoon-type of rain, worthy of sitting on the porch and watching.
Kochi was great. We are now on a train from Delhi to Shimla in the Himalayas. Our next stories will be our time in the Himalayas.
I also do this blog at our India site which is located at http://neuage.org/india and is often more up to date than this as we are too busy exploring where we are or reading. Currently Narda is reading, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” and I am reading “Homo Deus A Brief History of Tomorrow” both by Yuval Noah Harari. I have already read the book Narda is reading. We love these books and recommend them to everyone. Any time left, which is little I post my photo textual work at https://plus.google.com/u/0/collection/E_6JaB
I post my daily thoughts at http://neuage.org/2018/
Wednesday 24/01/2018 Agra
We were up at five am after not sleeping well all night from waking up constantly to be sure we were awake at five am. We had our phone alarms on (my wake-up ring tone is a Dylan song ‘She belongs to me’ and Narda is enough to drown out a freight train) plus the hotel was to bang on our door but we were up before then. Still we worry.
We got a tuk tuk to the train station that even at 6:30 am was crowded with zillions of people all over.
We had a nice chat with a couple of police people while we waited. They helped us get on to the correct carriage, which in our case was first class seats for the two plus hours. See below.
The train seats were comfortable – not Amtrak comfortable but Indian good. Our first train on this three-month trip. We got breakfast served (cornflakes, milk, coffee, and a hot meal of eggs and something which we declined as we had breakfast at the train station. An uneventful couple of hours with some reading done. Shambhu, our tuk tuk driver for the next three days greeted us with our names on a sign and we settled into Hotel Sheela near the Taj Mahal and after eating at the hotel we slept. The hotel is quite basic, we had booked the basic room for $23 USD for two nights, but apparently it was too basic for us uptown folks (no hot showers, and small) so for $53 USD we got a hot shower and a larger room for two nights. We thought the beds in India were going to be too hard, so we brought a couple of blow-up mattress and a pump which puts our luggage over weight for internal flights. The beds so far are good, thick foam, after two stays we gave them away to Shambhu.
With Delhi we were tossing out blogs a day, videos, photos galore, now we are too busy to do any such thing. Or we were, I am writing this on the night train to Jaipur, with Narda, and everyone else in our carriage asleep. When we get there I will be stuffed, but then I should sleep, Narda will be reading her Kindle for the rest of the night. The last couple of days have tested every fibre of this seventy-year old and I am sure Narda-the-younger feels exhausted also. Of course, she has been asleep for the past three hours on the berth above me. And this morning I woke her at eight am, so we could get out the door; such is the life of an old person.
We did the Taj Mahal thing Wednesday morning, a very foggy morning – barely saw it. An hour later when sun decided to shine and chase away the fog we got a couple of photos. It is somewhat impressive, the fact that it has lasted so long is a testament to something.
I have always liked cows, from living on a dairy farm in Australia to not eating them since my parents may have slipped something onto my plate in the early 1950s and throughout the early 1960s that may have had cow chunks in it, cows have been an interesting topic of observation for me. My email image of the past ten years has been with me walking alongside a cow in Goa. In Delhi, Agra, and now Jaipur I have had many photo ops with cows. So many in fact that Narda has put me on a cow-band. I will include a couple here just to remind myself of these days.
Shambhu was recommended to us by Narda’s work colleague, Brother Rob. He has been using his services and those of his family for a period of about 30 years as he made frequent trips back to India. This family of tuk tuk drivers has become very special to Rob, and he has many great stories to tell.
We visited Shambhu’s village. One of our favourite visits, ‘the real India’ he said. The video below is a bit blurry, something I blame on very poor internet for uploading but it does give an idea of this village. Shambhu is getting married in a month and he explained the process to us. His brother arranged a girl from the same class; in his case the ‘shoemaker class’. They meet at McDonalds. He asked if she like him and with an affirmative she asked if he like her, and thus began their romance. They met one-another’s families and when we met Shambhu he was in the process of building his new home; an add-on room to his brother’s home. There will be no floors, outside of what the earth provides, he has the bricks and has started digging out the sandy soil for a foundation. They have a well for water for their area, provided by Brother Robert, who brings students from his school in Australia. It will cost some 50,000 rupees to build his new home; about $776 USD. Shambhu is working hard with this tuk tuk business to raise the money. If he can not build his house in the next two months he will lose his bride as her father wants her provided for. She is 19, he is 25. He is also raising funds for the marriage. I forget how much it is but it is supposed to be a three day affair with a horse and bands and lots of celebration. Travel gives us such a different view of life-styles. Narda and I met on the internet, from the day we physically met at the end of 2000 until now we have rarely been apart. My marriage proposal was one night when, in the middle of the night, not even knowing whether Narda was awake or not, I said, ‘let’s do this thing’. That was it. I could not even use the word marriage for a long time. We did the deed with family present at the end of a pier, and I called it ‘JettyDay’. At the time I didn’t have a car, I was a single-parent, a few bucks in my pocket, and I didn’t even give her a ring. What a contrast to an Indian hitch.
The class thing takes awhile to get one’s mind around, but we have heard people mention it wherever we go. People will tell us on first meeting, ‘I am of the Brahmin Class’ which I believe is a priest class and they feel they are at the top of the heap. It seems strange to identify with birth as the totality of one’s place in life. Of course, it is easy for me as a white male from a western culture (with my duel citizenship of USA and Australia) to say one can achieve whatever they wish. I sure have. I realise I need to get over myself and understand how society has limited people by race, gender, place of birth, belief systems. I always thought by now, 2018, the world would be more homogenous. Maybe religion would be replaced by doctrines of love without doctrines. We would treat each other equally. I think it is getting worse. America First as well as anyone else who proclaims themselves first is putting us back into the class systems. Everyone is to get in the back of the line. I must be careful when I think a tuk tuk driver is over-charging me 150 instead of 100 rupees ($2.33 instead of $1.55 USD). A cup of coffee in most shops in Australia is about $4 (204 rupees), a beer in a pub starts at $8 (408 rupees). Our daily budget for food in India is $20 USD (sorry about switching between USD and Australian Dollar) for the two of us which is about one meal if we are doing it on the cheap in Australia. We feel good about ourselves giving a beggar a twenty rupee note until we realise we just gave away 30-cents. India is tough on a western consciousness.
Narda even played a bit of cricket with the children.
Shambhu and his sisters made us a meal. We were concerned about getting to the train on time. He kept saying we would be there on time, and he did do it. Was I feeling uneasy being waited and eating a meal surrounded by about twenty children. I said feed them first and we were told there was plenty for them. What I saw didn’t seem like it. The meal was cooked in their kitchen, a small open fire on the ground with a few vegetables. Letting go is such a difficult thing. Perhaps this is what I will learn in three months of being in India.
We were told that the school situation was good for people with money, they could send their children to a private school. Public school was a different story. Teachers are paid a salary. They do not show up, except a couple of times a year when there is an inspection. When we were there on what should have been a school day, children were all over the place. We went up to the roof and 360 degrees around us there were children on the rooftops waving to us. We did not share a language but they were smiling and we all laughed together. Narda taught them a song – see the clip below.
Village visit =
Shambhu took us to the local market with everyone smiling and saying it was OK for me to take their photo. We didn’t buy anything, no one seemed to worry. Around historic sites it is a different story with so many people asking for money, selling tours, trinkets, pity. What would I do in their situation? I have had my hardships, tragedies, failures, and success in life but nothing compares to the stories we get and the situations we see. I feel I get beggar fatigue. But I feel somewhat good about animal life in India. I am sure I will go on about this too many times. Unlike cultures of animal-eaters (goody-two-shoes vegetarian for decades me gets a bit judgemental in this space) the animals in India receive more respect. Cows are holy. They wander everywhere. Nutritionally their life is crap as they forge for themselves among the garbage, but they get to live their lives, hangout with each other. The calf is not separated from the mother at birth so we can steal the milk, pigs and chickens are not forced to live in such totally unnatural conditions where they can barely move, let alone socialize, so we can slaughter them to get fat on.
We had no intentions on purchasing a carpet – what would we do with an expensive new rug in our home that we are trying to get rid of stuff from? We watched how rugs were handwoven, months of works, and such an array of amazing colours. Then we thought of our home back in Adelaide. A bit dated, needing new style, something different than our Chinese collections of things dotted around, then we remembered how we have no second thought of replacing a camera or computer for a thousand dollars every few years; phones, television, constant car/caravan servicing, etc. A handwoven carpet should last for a long time. We were told it also would help several families.
This is the carpet we bought. We will now need to redecorate our lounge; oh wait, the house, the next day we bought three more: two for our bedroom and one for the hall. We need new curtains, we will paint the lounge when we get home, maybe even some new furniture. It is amazing what one can do a month after saying no more spending on the house.
the two for our bedroom: handwoven months of work,
Carpet – here is a video we took of them making a carpet:
We went to a music store where we were given a sitar concert and Narda was taught how to play a sitar in a few lessons. Of course, they wanted us to buy one but we didn’t.
We went to a marble shop and saw how marble pieces were inserted into tables and things. Tuk tuk drivers get a small commission for taking tourists to places like this. There is no pressure to buy anything; we did go nuts at the carpet place, but other places we just look and make it clear for the start we are not buying. They are happy to show their wares and the tuk tuk driver gets something and we learn from everyone we meet and there is always my ever-present camera taking photos or video. I made a rather uninteresting video which can be seen here Marble factory
Agra Fort video
Agra Fort is in the city of Agra. It was the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty till 1638, when the capital was shifted from Agra to Delhi. Compared to the Red Fort in Delhi it is much more spectualar. The fort in Delhi was going through a reconstruction cycle but even without that the Agra one is bigger and better. It was India Tourism Day so we got to have our photo taken with some foreigners. Narda got them all to do a round of “Aussie Aussie Aussie” and them to say “oi oi oi”. I did not get my camera up in time to record it so just imagine it.
Video Clips are HERE