Goodbye India

Our last month in India took us on a whistle stop tour of Tamil Nadu and to ultimate relaxation in the Andaman Islands.

 Our final hours in Kerala were spent in between trains in Trivandrum and rather than carry our packs about in the heat we retreated to the cool of a cinema. The film was not really suitable for the boys (Tomas remarked that he “wouldn’t let his Nana watch it!”) and we couldn’t follow the whole plot not understanding the Tamil dialogue but it was a great experience to be caught up in the enthusiasm of the audience who cheered each time, the star, Ajith Kumar appeared on screen.

 Our next stop was Kanyakumari, the Southern tip of India. Whilst geographically satisfying to stand at this point there was little else to recommend it. Unless you like your hotel rooms decorated in the style of early ’90s teenage boy; black, grey and red colour scheme complete with Spider-Man ceiling fans.

We took a straightforward night bus to Kodaikanal in the Western Ghats where we revelled long walks in the cool mountain air and enjoyed the many playgrounds and town’s quirky tourist attractions. As well as the local street food specialities of roasted corn and bread omlettes.

Next stop Madurai. Home to the huge and fascinating Meenakshi temple and tastiest curry we’d had in a long time.

We spent a happy few days pottering around Pondicherry. From our fantastic guesthouse in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram we strolled along the seafront, explored the different markets and learnt about the beautiful Kollom that decorate the pavements here. Not to mention stuffing ourselves on the French delicacies this ex-colonial town has to offer.

 Chennai was pretty forgettable save for the fantastic food we found in a canteen near our dingy hotel. It was so good Nick had two breakfasts.

 An early morning flight took us to the Andaman Islands. Where we downed devices and savoured the lack of wifi. We chilled on the gorgeous beaches of Havelock and made our own fun with washed up paraphernalia. We walked through rich jungle and I got the pure pleasure of taking George snorkelling above a coral reef for the first time.

Next we shifted down another gear and cycled our way round idyllic Neil Island. G and T got up to mischief with the two resident boys whilst Nick and I enjoyed the company of other adults. Our highlight was a boat trip to a nearby island to snorkel and fish (and in G’s case jump off the prow of the boat into the deep water).

 For our wildlife fanatic’s fifth birthday we went hunting for snakes at Wandor on South Andaman. Much to his delight (and our relief) we found a particularly venomous one with the help of a serendipitous meeting with a reptile expert from Madrid Zoo. Our accommodation at Wandor was superb; peaceful and serene.

 Calcutta came as a bit of a shock. Full throttle, high volume India. The most unhelpful people we had encountered and the most frustrating bureaucracy. Plus I got a night time visit from a small rodent.

 Despite all this we really enjoyed our time there. The boys got to ‘play Holi’ with neighbourhood children. We soaked up the atmosphere across the city as we walked around the flower market and ghats. The boys particularly enjoyed Khalif Street pet market with its multitude of birds and fish.

We visited the marble palace, Victoria Memorial and Kalighat Temple. We marvelled at the Calctta traffic Police’s white uniform and had a great evening catching up with friends we had made earlier in the trip.

 So there we have it. The final leg of our Indian adventure. We got round a lot of the country in our 131 days. We slept in 22 hotels, 9 guesthouses, 3 night buses, 3 homestays, 2 beach huts, 1 sleeper train, 1 ashram and a desert.

 We learnt a little bit of Hindi and made a lot of friends. We got through several pairs of shoes and several more pairs of sunglasses. The boys had their cheeks pinched approximately 900 times. We ate a lot of curry. And we fell in love with India. Watch this space I’m sure we’ll be back.

Advertisements

We saw Mysore

‘If you haven’t been to Mysore, you haven’t seen South India’, so says the Lonely Planet. If rather conceited, it is certainly no overstatement. With its glittering royal palace, bustling bazaars and relatively relaxed pace of life, Mysore was indeed well worth the twelve hour sleeper train journey from Hospet.

IMG_9032

We enjoyed our four night stay in a budget hotel just off Gandhi Square, from which we explored the city’s highlights including: Mysore Palace, a stunning and opulent royal residence of the former maharaja (rebuilt by a Brit in 1912 after the original building was gutted by fire in 1897); Chamundi Hill and the Sri Chamundeswari Temple, the Hindu temple that sits at the 1062m summit of the hill; and the obligatory trip to Mysore Zoo and the Museum of Natural History. Alas, we we didn’t get to visit the Sand Museum! Shame, I know.

IMG_9074

Our trip to Mysore was made all the more pleasurable by the arrival of our friends, who we’d first met in Goa a few weeks earlier. Bridie (4), her Mum and Aunty joined us for a few days and, whilst the children enjoyed playing Mr & Mrs Dolphin (it made sense to them at least), the grown ups were afforded some time for retail therapy at the Silk markets and Sam and I took up their generous offer to babysit and enjoyed our first Date Night since departing Brighton. We all enjoyed squeezing four adults and three children into various rickshaws to see the sights.

IMG_9050

Finally, this short post on Mysore wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the camera-shy yellow cows and, without question, the finest Indian breakfast I’ve ever eaten. The former, we were informed, was due to Makara Sankrati, the festival of harvest held a week prior to our visit. We only discovered their camera shy nature when Sam and Tomas were charged by Daisy, much to George’s and my amusement.

IMG_9044

Whilst the latter came about by a chance recommendation by a local gentlemen who pointed us in the general direction. After 15 minutes wandering the back allies of Mysore, we were soon tucking into wonderful Masala Dosa and Vada.

IMG_9029

Don’t worry be Hampi

As we approached Hampi we were greeted by an incredible landscape. Paddy fields and banana plantations interspersed with surreal giant boulders sitting on top of each other at improbable angles (I still have no idea how they came to be here and need to pick my Geologist Uncle’s brain).

2015/01/img_8863.jpg

We’d heard a lot of positive things about Hampi but spent the first day feeling somewhat underwhelmed. Hampi Bazar is the kind of traveller enclave that offers respite from the onslaught of Mother India. However after a month of easy living on the beaches of South Goa we were over the same same but different chill-out vibe.

We had breakfast at the rooftop restaurant of our guest house and loved seeing all the beautiful birds including parakeets and kingfishers as we looked out on the river.

We had a wander round the nearby sites on our first day, giving us time to recover from the sleeper bus journey. We visited the Virupaksha Temple. With its troop of resident monkeys and Lakshmi the temple elephant this was lots of fun for the children.

2015/01/img_8906.jpg

In the afternoon I had a spontaneous haircut looking out over the Tungabhadra river. It may not be the best style but it is definitely the best view I’ve ever had during a haircut.

2015/01/img_8910.jpg

The next morning George and I wandered down to the ghats to catch Lakshmi the elephant have her morning bath. We were told she would be there about 8.30 but in fact arrived nearer 10. It was worth the wait. She seemed to really enjoy her bath and George loved feeding her bananas and having a smooch (blessing). I really enjoyed the one to one time with my boy as we shared bananas and chai and watched the world go by.

2015/01/img_8941.jpg

We spent the rest of the afternoon touring the ruins in an Auto Rickshaw. This is when I fell in love with Hampi. Trying to imagine life in its hey day when it was a bustling commerce hub and home to 500,000 people. The boys had fun running around playing hide and seek and being explorers. George got a driving lesson from Sadiq our tuktuk driver.

2015/01/img_8953.jpg

The sites in Hampi are spread over 36 square kilometers so it is easy to explore in relative solitude, unusual for India where tourist attractions are often overwhelming with the number of people. The grand elephant stables were a highlight for the boys. We stumbled on an art class at the Vittala Temple, it was really lovely to see all of their watercolour paintings of the impressive stone chariot.

2015/01/img_8996.jpg

We had fun over the river in Anegundi. It shares the remarkable landscape and ruins of Hampi but remains a sleepy village. The boat across the river squeezes on motorbikes with the passengers and one wonders how it can possibly stay afloat.

We had a fab thali and the boys played with the cafe owner’s daughter. After lunch we explored the ruins of army barracks and elephant stables. I enjoyed seeing the contrast between these stables and the ornate ones across the river that housed the royal elephants and the boys enjoyed chasing lizards.

2015/01/img_9009.jpg

It was great fun to be the only people around, scrambling over boulders, humming the Indiana Jones theme tune as we went. A couple of local boys tried to sell us baby birds but we declined, it wouldn’t be a very jolly life for them in our backpack!

The streets of Hampi Bazar are car free. There are rickshaws and the odd motorbike but the kids could play and make friends without us worrying they were going to get run over.

I’m happy to say that after a couple of days exploring the ruins we really enjoyed our time in Hampi. And would definitely recommend it as a great place to go with children.

2015/01/img_8982.jpg