Tag Archives: India

Our three Month Asian Adventure. India and Sri Lanka,

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After months of planning and deliberating the day has finally arrived when we embark on our three month journey through southern India and Sri Lanka. Starting in Kerala and its capital Trivandrum to the coastal resort of Varkala. Onto the Keralan backwaters near Kottayam. Travel by the famous toy train high up into the Western Ghats to the hill stations of Ooty and Coonar. Then onto the state of Karnataka to visit the UNESCO site of Hampi and it’s temple complex. Then travelling back south via Mysore, Bangalore, and into the state of Tamil Nadu and to the cities of Madurai and Trichy. Then back to the coast and to the town of Pondicherry “pronounced puducherry”. Then following the coast northward to Mallhabpuram. Then taking an hour long flight from Chennai “formally Madras” to Sri Lanka; “more on that later.”

We have arranged our trip the same way as we always do like keeping one eye on the cost, like staying in budget hotels, and travelling around on buses and trains. For example our current hotel The Safire Residency “grand name I know” is a basic no frills budget hotel, which is very clean, has really friendly and helpful staff, all for Just £23 for three nights.

We had saved for our flights and our accommodation. Which incidentally is an average of £20 per night for the whole trip. But in respect of spending money we are just living on the money we would live on in the UK. “In case you are wondering about work fortunately we are both retired. Transport costs are also amazingly cheap for example our journey on the toy train, “which incidentally takes around four hours up the mountain ” is just 0.79p for two people, and no that’s not a typing error.

Trivandrum

We decided to stay in Kerala’s capital city for three nights as there were a couple of things we wanted to see in the town, before moving onto Varkala, on the coast. Trivandrum does not have a great deal of things to-do but a couple of recommendations are:-

Indian Coffee house a coffee shop chain run by a series of workers cooperative, visit the one near the train station, as the building which it’s in is like a tower, with a spiral slope inside with all the tables along the wall.

Napier Museum situated in the botanical gardens and near to the zoo. Built at the end of the 19th century, a very ornate and colourful structure, housing a collection of ornate wood carvings and ceremonial masks dating back to the 15th century. A must see is the ornately carved temple chariot.

Sri Padmanabhasswamy Temple A very ornate temple, but unfortunately closed to non Hindus, but worth a look. Also it’s worth walking around the nearby streets and perusing through the many shops in the area.

Top Tips

On arriving at the airport make sure you go to the pre-paid taxi kiosk in the arrivals terminal to avoid being over charged by the taxi drivers outside. Also as the rupee is a closed currency, which means you cannot buy them outside of India, you have no alternative than to use the currency exchange booth in the airport. But just change up enough money to get you from the hotel into town as their exchange rates, are quite frankly, extortionate.

Getting around the town is easy, as there are many tuk-tuks plying there trade, the cost of which is very small. Also there are plenty of restaurants around most of which are pure vegetarian. We found an excellent restaurant near to our hotel called Aryaas it’s situated in the Aryaas Hotel and I can thoroughly recommend it. The food is good, and it’s very cheap. For example we had a vegetable biryani “one is enough to share”, two side dishes, two types of bread and a tomato salad, all for just £6.95.

We had planned to get the train to Varkala our next destination. So we went to the station to survey the situation and to buy our tickets, but unfortunately it appeared you cannot buy tickets in advance. As we were leaving the station we were approached by a nice friendly taxi driver and struck a deal to take us door to door for 1200rs around £13, which for a one and a half hour car journey was a bargain in our book.

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India trip overview and travel tips

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Well is been a few months since we have been back from India so I thought it was about time I wrote about our trip as a whole and to supply some tips for anyone who is thinking on a extensive trip around the country, and to also say some thanks to the many helpful people we met on the way. The first thing I would like to say to anyone who is going to travel around the country for the first time like us is don’t imagine that anything you are used to in the western world will be the same in India, like the roads, transport system, way of life and the infrastructure it is total and utter chaos in a nice way I might add, the people are wonderful and so very helpful, but if you approach your trip with a very open mind, expect the unexpected you will not go far wrong. 

Roads

Driving or being driven in India is just like being in a surreal version of Mad Max or a demolition derby without in the main any contact, add to this the conditions of the roads “I use the term roads loosely” with potholes so big you could loose a small child down with conditions similar to driving off road. Add to all of this that there appears to be no driving laws at all, even the traffic police have no control as we discovered when a uniformed officer tried to stop the traffic to let other vehicles cross the junction but no one took any notice and he was nearly run over, quite how many people are killed or injured in a year one only wonders. With all the above in mind don’t let it put you off as it can be quite hilarious at times, just try to relax and enjoy the trip. 

Trains 

During our trip we had four train journeys planned. We booked our tickets using the Cleartrip.com website also we got a lot of useful advice from the “Man in seat 61” website, also we viewed various videos on YouTube in regards to the seating so we though we were pretty well set. Our first journey from Jaipur to Ranthambore was quite pleasant seating was just as we had researched, we met a very nice Indian family and had a very pleasant journey. There were plenty of food and drink vendors walking up and down the train selling all sorts, samosas, dosa’s, fruit etc. toilet facilities were not bad, not the conventional toilet pan variety I might add just the hole in the ground sort, it seemed quite strange standing there doing your business and watching the train tracks fly past you underneath. The downside to this system is when standing at the train station waiting for your train to arrive the strong smell of human excrement is overpowering, I say no more. Our second journey was a different story all together. On boarding the train at Ranthanbore to Agra “which incidentally was two hours late” it became immediately apparent that our trip was not going to be quite as smooth. The train had started its journey some 24hrs or more from where we had boarded all the compartments had their curtains drawn and it was extremely dark and this was at miday so there was no natural light coming in, we also discovered that the three of us were split up even though the tickets were all booked together, the girls were at one end of the carriage and me at the other also I forgot to mention that someone still had their bunk made and was in asleep in my seat “sounds like the three bears story”, so because of this we all decided to sit together on a not very comfortable isle seat. After a while I needed to give my numb backside a rest and decided to walk along the train, so with action camera running off I went. On reaching the end of our carriage I could not believe my eyes, you see in the area in between the carriages were the toilets and washing facilities, I witnessed a Indian chap stripped to his pants having  a wash, other people asleep on the floor, a card school in progress and the most disgusting toilet facilities I’ve seen, we all could not wait to get off. So the decision was made that to endure three hours on a train under these conditions was bad enough but we all felt that an overnight journey would be to much to endure, so our trip to the Hampi was cancelled who as it turned out to be a good thing, see below. 

Domestic Airlines 

Whilst we were in India we had four internal flights booked, two with Indigo and two with SpiceJet. Our flights with Indigo were excellent, we knew what they were like from previous experience, but our dealings with SpiceJet was somewhat different. Our first flight from Cochin to Bangalore was ok but not as polished as our Indigo experience, they seemed to be less organised and professional, they even tried to charge us excess baggage on arrival at the check-in desk even though we had paid for our excess in advance. The next problem was the fact that our flight from Bangalore to Hubli was changed to a little know military  airport called Belguam as the runway was closed at Hubli for resurfacing, which was not ideal as Belguam airport was some two and a half hours further on by road making our total journey from Hampi approx six hours by road, and if anyone has travelled by road any distance in Indian would know can be a nightmare. So we decided to add a couple of more nights to our stay in Mysore and change our flight from Bangalore to Hubli to Bangalore back to Mumbai for our  connecting flight back home, but as I wrote in my post on Bangalore the day before we were due to fly to Mumbai SpiceJet cancelled our flight altogether “great” but thankfully we managed to get a flight on the same day with trusty Indigo.

Hotels

And special thank you to all at Stanley Wilson Travel for our transport in Cochin and Munnar.

Useful Websites:

Bangalore

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After our nice relaxing four nights in Mysore it was time to move onto Bangalore and this was not without more problems “it seemed that everyday we have been in India something has gone wrong”. I received an email from SpiceJet to say our flight from Bangalore to Mumbai had been cancelled and was instructed to call them for an alternative. So I called and was offered none as there were no flights going to Mumbai on the day we wanted to travel, great! So with with refund processed and iPad in hand we managed to get a flight with Indigo airlines at the same cost thankfully.
The journey back to Bangalore took around three hours,. Before leaving Mysore we checked the website that we had used to book our accommodation with to refresh our memories to make sure that the apartment which we had chosen was the one we were getting. On arrival things seemed to be in order as the outside of the apartment block was just as the photos on the website. Once we checked in the staff took our luggage and started to trundle up the street, “not a good sign”. We walked about 100m up the road to a different block altogether. Inside it was nothing like what we had booked, It wasn’t very clean, everything was shabby, it was dark and it had no terrace, the room we had booked specifically stated it had a terrace, we had even stopped on the journey from Mysore and bought some wine and beers so we could sit on the terrace and relax. I informed the manager that this was not the apartment we had booked an we were not prepared to stay unless we got the one we wanted, he told us that there were no apartments with a private terrace, only a communal one I explained that the images on booking.com clearly showed a terrace and a far better apartment than the one we was in but he wasn’t going to budge. I was not prepared to debate the matter anymore and called booking.com who thankfully sorted it out so we was not going to get charged. “Like I said always a problem” so iPad in hand “again” we booked a stay at the My Fortune Hotel which looked very nice indeed, and on arrival thankfully it was,
The guide books state that there is not really a lot to see in Bangalore “we only visited as we had to change our plans, the main attraction seems to be the palace. So on our first and only full day in the city we grabbed a Tuk Tuk and headed for the palace. On arrival the palace grounds was buzzing with activity as it appeared that their was an Indian wedding going to happen later in the day. Everywhere was very brightly decorated with bunting, flowers and large statues of elephants and Hindu gods, it was spectacular. We all thought it must have been someone important or very rich, as there were people setting up large spotlights to illuminate the outside of the palace, some guys setting up a remote controlled helicopter with a camera attached for arial filming, we also saw a TV crew setting up vehicle with a huge satellite link dish on top, and the colours of dress especially the woman’s sari’s were spectacular. After we watched the proceedings for a while we went into the palace.
Once inside it was all a bit of a disappointment, pretty bland really, nothing like the Mysore Palace, but we are glad we went as we would not have witnessed the build up to the the Indian wedding.
After our visit it was time for a coffee so we headed back to the MG road “most cities in India have a Mahatma Grandi road”.
Whilst we were having coffee I was trying to arrange a taxi to take us the next day from our hotel to the airport for our flight back to Mumbai. I telephoned the driver who had brought us from the apartment that we had originally booked as he had given me his number, but unfortunately I had difficulty with getting my requirements across, so I gave up. Fortunately for us a very nice Irish chap who had lived and worked in India for some for years had overheard my conversation and put us on to Meru Cabs. So I gave them a call, spoke to a really nice lady who spoke good English and made the booking, a very professional outfit indeed. You get a text to confirm your booking, a text about twenty minutes before the cab arrives then another when it’s outside, the distance to the airport is some 40km and on arrival the meter read 840 INR about £8.40 just amazing.
I had quite a long conversation with our new Irish friend and during our chat I asked if he could recommend a place to eat for later that evening, when he told us a place called the Thirteenth Floor down the MG road. Now the thirteen floor is just was it implies the thirteenth of a block which has a couple of restaurants and a club. We decided to eat one of the restaurants called Ebony , it turned out a very good recommendation, the view over the city was amazing, the food was very good and the prices very reasonable indeed.
Well Bangalore was the last city on our trip before we fly back to Mumbai.

In my next post I will say thank you to some of the many helpful people we met on our travels, and post,  hopefully some valuable “Top Tips”

Kerala Backwaters

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Kerala Backwaters

After our disaster on booking a nice houseboat in Halong Bay Vietnam last year we decided that this time we were going to go to the view the boats first hand, so we took a a car to Alleppy where most of the boats leave from to view the boats with our own eyes, unlike Vietnam where we booked through a travel agent who showed us a wonderful boat but when we arrived at the dockside it was a different matter “the camera does lie”.
After looking through quite a few boats and not finding anything that we liked, we were getting somewhat dejected, but the last boat we viewed at the end of the dock was perfect, the boat was operated by a company called Swan Tours and was just great, really quite upmarket, nice crew all in uniform, bedrooms were very spacious, kitchen wimage image image image image image image imageas very clean just perfect. Initially the captain wanted 140000 INR but our cab driver said always take off 6000 INR, so I offered 80000 INR and we settled on 100000 INR which we were happy to pay. We booked the trip for the following day and duly arrived at around 10:30am for our trip through the idyllic backwaters of Kerala. After around an hour and a half of cruising we docked at a fish market which initially was puzzling as the price we negotiated included all meals, but it was explained that if we wanted too we could purchase so thing else in addition to the fish supplied on the boat like some lobster or some crabs or prawns, so I opted to buy some prawns, well I say prawns the ones that I bought were amazing and I can honestly say that I did not realise that prawns grew that big as they were like small lobsters and at approx £9 for two they were an absolute bargain as I’m sure back in the UK if you could get them they would be three times that. So back on the boat and some more cruising we docked for the night and was treated to a feast, so many different dishes the prawns that we bought were delicious by the way we were totally stuffed. In the morning we were treated to an equally good breakfast then set off back to the dock at Alleppy. I would certainly recommend booking a tour Swan Tours as the boat and crew are top class.
Top Tip if you want some beers or wine on your trip then purchase them before hand in a local government shop as nearly all the boats do not supply alcohol due to religion and supply only soft drinks, but they are happy enough for you to bring your own.