Friday, May 31, 2002

South India Tour - Kerala

31 May - Ernakulum (Cochin)

Had to get to the station by 5 am for an early train. The train ride was lovely; there were farms everywhere, very green and lush. The soil was red so it was making everything even more pretty. The red tile roof houses were very neatly kept. Reached Ernakulum around 11 am. Stored majority of the luggage in the luggage room and went to the Cochin Guest House near the railway station. It was a nice simple place to stay. 
Race Boats
Walked around a bit, had lunch (not too good) and then took a tour of the city and dance program through the touring company in the Guest House. At 2:30 pm we took the city tour. It was nice in theory but practically mismanaged. First they boarded us on the wrong boat so we lost our front row seats. Then they had more people than seats, so we were left standing. At least it was breezy during the boat ride. First we saw the Wellington Island, an artificial island. Then a major port – there were a lot of ships there. Saw a number of race boats. They were very different looking, very ethnic to Kerala. The scenery was all quite nice.

Chinese Nets
The first stop was the Jewish Synagogue. Walked less than 1 km through a lot of shops to get there. It was very small but very beautiful. Really a historical keepsake. There were Chinese tiles on the floor, no two were alike, and there were Bulgarian and Italian lamps and chandeliers. The synagogue was made in 1585. Only I went to visit – Papa and Bhaiya stayed on the boat. Back on the boat, we stopped next to see the Chinese nets – one of the most photographed of all things in Cochin. Saw the Bogota palace from far. Came back from the tour around 5:30 pm and went straight to the Cochin Cultural Center to see Kathakali. The tour was highly mismanaged.

We got in time at the cultural center to see the dancers get ready. There were two dancers – both male. They were gracious enough to let the audience see them get ready. The makeup was elaborate and they were applying it themselves – flawless! The whole thing was quite different for me as I expected the classical dancers would be more respected and someone would apply their makeup….maybe its part of the dance to know how to get ready yourself. 

Kathakali Dancers and Us
The dance theater was very small – maybe 50-60 seats. We sat in the front row. The dances were narrated by a man otherwise they would be just motions. It was very expressive dance – the facial expressions were unbelievable. It was a great cultural experience. The dancers showed all the different movements involved in Kathakali. Dances were all based on stories. We got to take some nice pictures with the dancers. There was only one thing that bothered me after a while of watching the dance – the music. It was too loud and there was no real melody, so it was just wood against wood. Could get really hard to listen to.

Dinner was tasty uttampam and then it was sleep time!

1 June – Ernakulum to Trivandrum (Thiruvanthapuram) and Back Water Tour

Today was backwaters tour day. But first breakfast – really good coffee! Waited for the bus (Maruti) and then picked up 3 more people. It took us about 45 mins to get to Allepy. There was a boat with the rower in it. All six of us sat on one boat. The boat ride was just beautiful. The banks of the backwater were lined with coconut trees all going in different directions. We stopped at one location/someone’s house to see some craft the locals make with coconut husk. The lady there showed us how they make rope from it and necklace.  I did end up buying a necklace and serving spoon.

We stopped at another place where the guide showed us the shrimp farming. I don’t care from shrimp, but the local area was just beautiful. We then started our way back to the original spot. The tour was all great, except in some places it was really dirty and smelly. Everything was being disposed of in the water. And then there were several places where people were trying to reclaim the land – not a pleasant sight. There is no oversight for these things in India. 

The driver drove us back to the hotel like a mad man. Crazy driving! Had a good saapad (lunch) and then since we still had some time, we went to the handicraft store. I bought a coconut monkey! Went to the railway station, took our luggage out and waited around since the train was late. Since it was getting late already there was really not much to see outside. Reached Thiruvanthapuram at 10 pm. Checked into Mancaud Tourist Paradise – just an okay hotel.

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

South India Tour - Ooty

29 May – Ooty

Arrived Coimbatore at 2 am. Stored our luggage the cloak room and went to find a shower. The waiting room showers were a little stinky, but I had to take a shower – there was no choice, I was feeling yucky. These kind of places always make me wonder how Indians can be so pious yet not have good hygienic places for showering and bodily functions. Just shows how contradictory they are.

Took the Chennai express to Mettupalyam to catch the toy train to Ooty.  We got there in good time, but there was still a mad rush to get into the train. There was no designated seating.  Indians are like that – no decency for women or old people…just mad rush to do things. As much as I love India, these things really tick me off. The train did leave on time. Bhaiya got the window seat, as expected.

It was all an uphill ride. I feel for the poor engine that has to drag us all up to the top. The strange thing was that the engine was at the back – pushing the train instead of pulling. We were almost in the front. It was a wonderful ride, great view and just beautiful experience (the ride and the view!).  The hills were all lush with tea gardens, there were many flowers on the way.  The coconut trees and palms, just gorgeous, gave way to pine trees as the altitude increased. The first stop was Conoor where many people got off. At this place the steam engine was switched to a diesel one since the altitude will be increasing a lot more now (Ooty is about 7000 ft. high).

The ride up was again beautiful, the train especially looks gorgeous at curves when you can look back and see the rest of the train behind. We reached Ooty around lunch time. It was raining there. First we had lunch – typical Tamilian meal on a banana leaf – two veggies, sambhar, rice, pickle, and paapad. And of course we ate with our hands! (It was all for about Rs 50 for all three of us – darn cheap!) Initial plan was to stay over in Ooty, but finding a place was a little hard and then Papa was having some back issues, so decided to go back to Coimbatore the same day. 

So for the time being, Bhaiya and I went to the Botanical gardens. It was laid out beautifully in a meticulous way. Only problem was that it was raining. But despite that it was crowded! Ooty Lake was not that great – big pond of dirty water. People were boating and all but I was not in the mood at all.  There were rides and a lot of shopping to do.  Bought some Nilgiri eucalyptus oil.

Took the bus down to Coimbatore from Ooty. The driver was amazing, I commend him for driving on such narrow roads. The drive was beautiful.. Reached Coimbatore at 6:30 pm (4 hrs. later). After looking at a few hotels near the station, we checked into Karinji Lodge. It was okay. After a little rest went for dinner – dosas – yum! Went to bed early – it has been a long day.

30 May - Coimbatore/ISHA

After morning breakfast of idli and coffee we went to ISHA meditation center, headquartered outside Coimbatore. It took about hour and half to get out there. The main part of the ISHA center is a huge dome with a shivling in the center. It is a very quiet and peaceful place. We meditated for a while and then came out. ISHA does not promote religion – only self-realization. Had some orange juice and then walked back to catch the bus again. Had some time, so ended up eating imli (tamarind) from the trees around us. The ride back was different as the city was awake. It is a huge city. Had dosas for lunch and then looked for an internet cafĂ©. Came back to the hotel for a siesta and went to walk around the market – good stuff to buy! Had dinner and went to sleep early as we have to get up early tomorrow also!

Sunday, May 26, 2002

South India Tour

25 May  - Traveling to India to Mumbai
Flew to Amsterdam from Detroit.  Service was good and food was tasty.  We would meet Bhaiya at Amsterdam, as he was coming from Columbus. The airport was nice, as usual so many gift shops.

Boarded the plane from India and arrived in Mumbai at 12 am. Took a taxi to YMCA.  For some reason we decided not to take the AC room – bad idea! We were not used the summer in India yet. Also there were common bathrooms. Next time a better hotel would be a good choice.

27-28 May - Mumbai
The next day Papa and Bhaiya went to the railway station to get the Indrail pass. I stayed back at YMCA.  Breakfast was good as well as the service. Donated three suitcases of old clothes to the staff. Read the newspaper, watched the multitude of Hindi channels (so different from USA) till Papa came back without tickets. They needed some papers so then we all went to Thomas Cook to get tickets. Service sector in India is generally bad and it takes a lot of time to get anything done in time.  We really wanted to get the Indrail pass since we can get tourist quota and priority in making reservations even it is one day before.

Well, finally with tickets in hand, we checked out of YMCA and went to the train station to catch the Kanyakumari express to Coimbatore.  In the train Papa and Bhaiya made all the detailed plans for the next month. It’s good they are working together – so I don’t have to! Train food was good except for the little hotness.
Mumbai - VT Station

Friday, May 24, 2002

South India Tour

India 2002

This was a month long trip to India. I had not gone to India for over 7 years and it was now after my divorce that thought it was time to visit relatives again. I was not going to travel alone, so Papa and Bhaiya went with me. Since Bhaiya was also going, he wanted to do some major touring. So we decided that for one month we will see South India and end our trip in Hyderabad, where Bhaiya’s brother in law lives and then Papa and I would continue up north and he would go back to USA.

My original goal was to visit some universities and visit the chemistry departments there. I wanted to know how the female faculty get their jobs and how they survive in such a male dominated field in India.  Well all that went out the window when Bhaiya decided to go.  No problem – I am game!

The trip was all planned out. For this part we would need to get the Indrail pass or we would never make all the train connections.

Mumbai - > Coimbatore - > Ooty - > Ernakulum (Cochin) - > Thiruvanthapuram - > Kanyakumari -> Madurai -> Rameshwaram -> Trichy -> Thanjavur -> Chennai -> Tirupati -> Tirumalai -> Chennai -> Kanchipuram -> Chennai -> Bangalore -> Mysore -> Bangalore -> Hampi (Vijaynagar) -> Bangalore -> Hyderabad (Bhaiya was gone back to USA) -> Bhubaneshwar (Konark and Puri) -> Varanasi  -> Dehra Dun (rested and travelled to close by cities and then from Dehra Dun -> Haridwar -> Delhi ->  Mathura -> Agra -> Delhi

It really worked out quite well.  There were some hitches on the way, but otherwise we saw everything we planned for. We missed a few things because we did not research enough to see what else we could see in certain places. We just went with the main attractions from experience and some tour books.  But overall I would say it was a successful trip.