IIndia has stolen our hearts. Our first trip to India in January 2006 was a great success. We visited North India, Rajasthan, Agra and Varanasi (see travelogue). Rajasthan is India's most colorful and exotic state. The fairy-tale palaces, the massive forts and ornate clothing of the population are a feast for the eyes. Rajasthan evokes the image of classical India. The country where Hinduism in its traditional form survives. We were touched by the kindness of the population and were determined to come back to India.
We chose for a trip to the South of India. After the necessary preparations at home, we are ready. At Shoestring a Dutch travel agent, we book a 23 day tour: Thali and temples in the tropics. A tour through the states Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
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English is not our native language, so we apologize in advance for translation- spelling- and grammar errors.
We have to be at Schiphol airport Amsterdam at 5 o'clock in the morning! Jan Daalmeijer, a friend of us, has kindly offered us transport to the airport Schiphol! Fortunately we are on time. We fly with British Airways from Amsterdam to Chennai with a stopover at London Heathrow.
When we approach Heathrow the aircraft can’t land immediately. The result is that we fly 2 extra laps low over London. Our first excursion! We can clearly see all the tourist attractions and the Thames. Unique of course but we're concerned because we do not want to miss our flight connection to Chennai.
Fortunately that doesn’t happen.On our flight to Chennai, we sit close to two fellow passengers of the Shoestring group. The rest of the group (8 persons) travels separately from us with Lufthansa. At half past 2 in the night we arrive in Chennai. We are transferred to our hotel for a short night. The rest of the group stays in a different hotel, apparently there was not enough room for us all.
Around 10.15 am, the rest of the group arrives at our hotel and we meet our guide for the first time. We do not stay in Chennai but travel straight to Pondicherry. Traffic in Chennai is chaos.
We drive out of town and visit our first temple of the journey. Forgotten the name of the place, but it was a nice temple where unmarried women and girls walk around the temple and make offerings in the hope that they will find a good man so they can have a happy life.
We have lunch in a vegetarian restaurant where many local people are. Always a good sign if a restaurant is frequented by Indians themselves. It is very busy in the restaurant. Waiters are continuous running forth and back to refill the dishes, clean the tables and serve new dishes. Food in India is delicious. The restaurant serves Thalis, a large aluminum tray with a banana leaf on it. On the tray are small containers with a pickle, dahl, curd, vegetables and a (sweet) chutney. Rice is thrown at the centre of the dish. You also get papadums or chapatis.
In the restaurant we get information from 2 Dutch (!) HBO students who launched a project designed to help tsunami affected fishermen to earn some additional income. At a later moment this journey we’ll go with these fishermen out to sea. During the tsunami, many fishermen's cottages are destroyed. They got new homes. The new houses are build with money of western aid organisations and are for safety reasons build at some distance from the sea. But as often happens when no locals make the plans, the plan doesn’t meet the needs of the fishermen. They live for many generations from, with (the dangers) and at the sea. So they do not want to live in houses far from the sea and return to their old (destroyed) villages.
En route we stop at a temple. Even more interesting than the temple is a man who climbs incredibly fast in a coconut tree. We also see a poultry farm, many ibises, palm tree plantations and small huts.
Finally we arrive at our hotel in Pondicherry. The hotel is considerably better than our previous hotel in Chennai. Our tour guide - Muthu - gives a briefing on the tour in the lobby and displays information about excursions. We have to get used to his Indian English; funny but also very special and at first difficult to understand.
Our suitcases are brought to our room. After a quick shower we leave the hotel for a walk in the centre of Pondicherry. Many people on the street, different colors, smells, noises and lots of richly decorated temples.
IIn the evening, we drink some wine. We know that wine is almost impossible to get in India, so we brought a few liters of wine with us from Holland.
Slept well. Breakfast with warm toast. It's not very expensive by our standards.
There is excursion organized to Auroville, but we will not go. We want to spent some extra free time in Pondicherry; a former French enclave. You see many French influences in the city, French street names, croissants and policemen in French-style uniforms. We arrive at a Sunday market. We wander through the streets and watch the people. Some people are sleeping in the street.
We see a funeral procession for a young child. First we think it is a kind of cheerful celebration until we see the child laid out on a stretcher. People scatter petals around.
We find a delicious French / Indian eatery on a rooftop terrace and eat with gusto.
We pass a temple. There are many emotional people at the entrance of the temple. Offerings and a bin with fire from the temple is placed in a small car. The car is covered with many flower garlands. People explain that there is a long journey to make. The next morning around 5 am, families from this neighbourhood will have a punja on top of a hill. The car is bringing the offerings and the fire from the temple to that place. Nice people.
We leave after breakfast at half past 8 a.m. We first look at a temple in the town Kumbakonam. We visit a village and , and a fish market. The people are very nice and they don't mind that we take a picture. We also visit a second temple.
Today is a long travel day but the driver is good and the bus is comfortable. There is so much to see outside! Ox carts, filled with branches and sand, many huts of mud and palm leaves, small lakes with lilies, broken roads with lots of dust and sand. People at work on the land.
We had a delicious vegetarian lunch. We felt 3 rain drops, but otherwise it's lovely weather, not too hot too.
The temples are beautiful. All the temples are open for visitors as long as you enter the temple barefoot.
At the end of the afternoon we arrive at the hotel in Tanjore. A reasonable hotel. We do ask another room because there has been a leakage and the room therefore smells very musty.
We eat in the hotel. After dinner we go with a few others members of the group to the bar of the hotel for a drink.
We see red wine on the map. When we order, the wine turns out to be a kind of cocktail. The only resemblance with the wine is the red colour! Ingrid sees a rat. Later more people see rats rushing around. One of the curtains is moving, and yes, the rats have a highway behind the curtain! Some hilarity and feet are hold high. On leaving the bar we inform the man of the hotel of their uninvited guests behind the curtain. The man just smiles and says that he knows that there are rats, pointing toward the corner with the moving curtains. He doesn't see the problem they don't harm people.
After breakfast we go to the great Shiva temple nearby. We are blessed by an elephant. The temple is beautiful. There are a lot of pilgrims with shawls in various colours. Black, orange and green. We roam around the temple for a while and are fascinated by the sincere manner in which the pilgrims live their religion.
The people don’t mind if you take a picture of them. A great feature of the digital age is that you can show the picture directly. Everyone is called in when you show the picture . They all have great fun and laugh a lot. We see many beautiful things, but also a lot of dirt lying around.
We buy 2 bananas from a sweet old lady who sits somewhere with just a few bunches of bananas. The bananas cost a few cents, but we only have a note of 10 rupees (16 cents). The lady can’t change, and so she wants to give us the bananas! We don’t want that we insist to buy the bananas and so - as her alternative - she provides us with a whole bunch of bananas.
We go for lunch to a exclusive and expensive restaurant to Indian standards. The price - aproximately 9 euros for two persons - is still very low to European standards!. For that money you get soup, a plate with bread, rice, and 11 (!) Sauces, 2 oranges, 1 lassi, and 2 coffee!
This morning we also go to a Brass founder village. We look at the casting of the metal but this kind of events are wasted on us. We rather want to wander around in the village itself. Nice! We have some hotel soaps in the bus. If we give them to a mother with child she jumps of joy!
In the evening we sit by the pool. Mhutu loves to chat about life in India.
Today we take a public bus to the banks of the river Kauvery. That was fun! Loud music in the bus, an angry whistling conductor, and many beautiful people walking like ants in and out of the bus by every busstop! The bus is driving with brisk speed.
We stop at a holy place by the river. The river Kauvery is considered by the Tamils the southern Ganges. People are bathing in the river (and an elephant!). Worshipers make offerings to the gods. The elephant is coddled and crops. Occasionally his trunk appears above the water. He visibly enjoys. A wonderful spectacle of people who wash themselves or do the laundry.
On a site near the river the most extraordinary things happen! Men who have a kind of blessing pronounce and sprinkle water, jars with strings around them with unknown content are cherished, blessings with flowers! Fascinating to see. Many rituals.
After our visit to the banks of the river Kauvery we take a tuk tuk to the great temple of Tanjore. We get a tour by a priest.
In the afternoon we have a delicious vegetarian lunch. 2x thali and a 2 liter bottle of water for 2 euros! On to the next temple, the temple of Ganesha (the elephant god). We have to climb many steps to reach the temple but it is worthwhile.
In the hotel is a internet connection. Nice to get messages from the family at home.
In the evening we go to a Bollywood film! It is nice. The people are excited, they bawl, cry, clap, laugh; all human emotions are spread out. It is also a very long film and we do not understand what the actors say of course. Therefore we do not stay until the end of the film.
After the movie we go to Vincento. A very nice restaurant with good food but also with very slow service.
At 8 o'clock a.m. we leave our hotel. Today we will drive to Kodaikanal. A long trip. Kodaikanal is situated at 2300 meters altitude. Many Tibetan refugees have built a new life in Kodaikanal. We make a stop at a week market. There are lots of goats, sheep and people who like it that we take a picture of them. We buy masala spices.
Back to the bus. Sometimes we fall asleep, yet there is plenty to see outside. First, no spectacular scenery, but: temples, people working in the fields, thatched huts, people who live on the street, and suddenly somewhere a cremation.
In the afternoon we have lunch. Quite a long ride. The last part of the tour the scenery changes into a beautiful landscape with mountains. Many flowers, monkeys and donkeys.
We arrive at the hotel at 4:30 p.m. We are tired. That's why we take it easy for the rest of the day. We still have some wine so we drink a glass on the balcony of our room and watch the film and the photo’s we made until now in the camera.
In the evening there is a camp fire and a dinner buffet in the hotel.
On the program for today is a trek through the mountains. 7 km up and 7 km down. At first Ingrid didn’t want to go but she has changed her mind. We leave early in the morning to see the sunrise. The trek would be "very easy" according to Muthu our guide but it turned out that we had to walk on a narrow path along a deep abyss in dense fog. You can barely see where you walk. And so after already a few minutes walk, the first of our companions decided to go back because they were afraid. And indeed walking along this road was not responsible We sought an alternative route and ultimately we and 4 companions of us had a beautiful hike.
We drink lemon tea at a little kiosk at the roadside where the tea was on the stove. We go along streams, over tree roots, we climb and descend. We arrive at a viewpoint for the sunrise, but there is not much to see because it is still foggy. Nice to see the clouds come along! When we walk further the weater improves and soon the sun is shining on it’s best. Only at the top of the 2300 meters high mountain it stays foggy.
After we finished our trek we take a taxi to the Tibetan Brothers, a wonderful Tibetan restaurant. We had a delicious meal. Ultimately, we still had a walk of 20 km today!
Back at the hotel we drink coffee and decide to take a walk around the lake. That was not a great idea, because our legs were tired, the circle around de lake is much bigger than expected and there are no terraces near the lake! In short; 5 of the last 6 km were too much.When we return to the hotel we take a power nap and order some french fries. We have no energy left to go out again. We go to bed early; next morning we have to get up early. Nice hotel, this Raj Hotel. Spacious rooms, nice people and cheap. Our 3 servings of fries costs 60 rupees or 1.10 euro!