Friday, 17 August 2012

Incredible. Intense. Inspiring. INDIA!

So here I am, after a fortnight of adventure I'm home and back at Sunshine Towers and ready to share the amazingness of my experience in India with you all.

WARNING: This will be a pretty long blog post in the form of a mini and simple diary, complete with a few pictures! So pop the kettle on, grab a biscuit or three and I hope that you enjoy the read...

Wednesday 1st August : Relief

After realising just one week ago that I actually need a Visa for my trip to India, (Yes I know, how ridiculously silly of me!) I nearly kissed the postman when I received it just one day before leaving for the airport. The excitement then set in BIG time!

Thursday 2nd August : On the road

An early start leaving Nottingham in the car with my Dad. It was beautiful watching the sunrise as we drove through the Peak District en route to Manchester Airport. A lovely way to start my adventure to Kerala, India. 

Friday 3rd August : Fort Cochin

A couple of hours from the airport and giant wooden spider-like Chinese fishing nets, fresh fish stalls and ferry rides greet us at Fort Cochin. We enjoy some freshly caught and cooked tiger prawns from one of the local street cafes and take a short ferry ride across to one of the nearby islands to stroll down the beach.

Saturday 4th August : Kettuvallam cruise

We made ourselves at home for a day and night on a traditional Kettuvallam (a house boat) and enjoyed the stunning scenery as we slowly cruised through the famous backwaters. Alappuzha (formerly Alleppey) is home to Vembanad Lake, India's longest lake, which provided us with stunning scenery, tranquil cruising, a refreshing swim and mouthwatering food!

Sunday 5th August : Moving on to Munnar

A 4.5 hour drive inland, up winding roads, past rainforest, tea fields and waterfalls takes us on to 'Tea County' - Munnar. Stunning, lush, green scenery surrounding the busy commercial town provides a bustling atmosphere full of incredible sights, sounds, smells and people.

Monday 6th August : Eravikulam National Park, Mannupatty Lake & Top Station

A beautiful day exploring the surrounding sights of Munnar. This included trying to spot the famous Nilgiri Tahr (a rare mountain goat), struggling to comprehend the sheer amount of tea plants within these hills, taking a pedlo around Mattupatty Dam's lake & getting overexcited about spotting a wild family of elephants en route to Top Station where we could see over into the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu.

Tuesday 7th August : Thrissur (formerly Trichur)

After another 4.5 hour drive back out towards the coast we arrive in the city of Thrissur, the cultural capital of Kerala. The afternoon was spent exploring the busy city, and included discovering more elephants! This time within the grounds of the enormous Vadakkunnathan Temple. Colourful murals fill most of the walls of the schools, colleges and academies within Thrissur, which is home to the head quarters of three state academies, the Kerala Sahita Akademi (literature), the Sangeet Natak Akademi (music and drama) and the Lalit Kala Akademi (visual arts).

Wednesday 8th August : 5p Train journey

My first experience of Indian trains and I can't quite get my head around how cheap the tickets are! For 38 rupees we travel from Thrissur to Calicut - that's about 5p! The trains are millions of carriages long comprising of several different classes including sleeper (fold down bunk bed type seats), AC 1st and 2nd class and second class (basic seats with rusty UFO looking fans on the ceiling). The scenery is beautiful as we pass through lots of villages and towns interspersed with beautiful exotic greenery!

Thursday 9th August : Kadalundi Village

Experiencing local village and family life first hand was priceless while we were lucky enough to be able to stay at a friends wonderful family home. The surrounding beaches, the rivers, the food, and the people are indescribably amazing. An experience that was so very random yet most valuable, inspiring, and heartwarming at the same time!

Friday 10th August : Landslides, Waterfalls and Thali's

A drive up into the neighbouring hills outside of Kadalundi provided some humbling sights where landslides caused by the monsoon rain had sent rocks and trees tumbling through villages and destroying houses. On the other side we discovered gushing waterfalls and forest areas rich with Cocoa trees, Papaya, Chilli plants and Banana trees. We also experienced the most delicious home cooked food at a friend of our hosts' house. A day full of mixed emotions.

Saturday 11th August : Calicut craziness

A visit to the beach at Kozhikode (previously called Calicut) meant we had to endure the mental traffic of the city for a few hours first before we could enjoy a paddle, some kite flying and being exposed to stalls selling jars of pickled everything (from eggs to mango!) It never seized to amaze me how many people, cars, scary buses and auto rickshaws there could be in one space at the same time!

Sunday 12th August : The day of the train

From 09:15 to 18.30 we made the ladies carriage on the train from Feroke (near Kadalundi vallage) to Varkala our home for the day. It wasn't the most comfortable train journey in the world but we met some lovely ladies en route, including a nun who wanted to feed us bread and jam! And wow! was it worth it when we arrived at Shiva Gardens in Varkala that evening. A wonderful homestay where we had our own apartment, hammocks, yoga sessions, an array of cliff top restaurants and a glorious view and access to the beaches below just a short walk away.

Monday 13th August : In love with Varkala

A perfect Monday. Two hours of Hatha Yoga, a fresh fruit salad and banana lassi for breakfast, a swim in the huge monsoon sea, some sunbathing and reading, chilling in a hammock, an evening stroll to watch the sun set over the sea, and all finished of with a candle lit Indian seafood dinner and beer served out of huge ceramic mugs.

Tuesday 14th August : Hello Holiday

The couple of days spent in Varkala were definitely the 'holiday' part of my trip to Kerala. Spending time in hammocks, on beaches, padding, reading, eating and relaxing. I fell in love with the atmosphere at Shiva Gardens in the sleepy chilled out beach town and yet somehow felt that we were missing the down to earth, every day lifestyle of the real India that we discovered in our previous destinations. A beautiful place to stay and relax nonetheless and I imagine the beaches are even more spectacular when the monsoon season is over.

Wednesday 15th August : Last night in Luxury

Another colourful train journey from Varkala to Cochin, this time included sharing some of a friendly families lunch tiffin, talking to an old chap who had lived in Manchester & Wembley back in the 80's and experiencing the sleeper class carriages first hand. This, for me, marked the start of my journey home as we headed to the Saj Resort Hotel, a swanky place we booked near the airport for our last nights in Kerala. Greeted with an entourage, a golf buggy to our poolside hotel room and a fruity welcome drink we lapped up the almost unnecessary luxury before the long flights ahead of us.

Thursday 16th August : Discovering Dubai International Airport

Due to my flight from Cochin leaving late, I ended up missing the connecting flight at Dubai which was to take me back to Manchester. Luckily they were able to get me on the next flight but this did mean I have about 8 hours to fill in the airport. Terminal 3 was mahoosive! I spent my time exploring and taking in the architecture, water features, palm trees and squillions of shops and stalls that fill the huge space. As frustrated as I was not to be on my way home I can safely say that there are definitely worse places to pass time!

Friday 17th August : Home

And so here I am reflecting on the past couple of weeks in a bit of a daze. This post is all but a snapshot of what I experienced in Kerala but I hope it helps give you a taste of the kind of the people, excitement, colour, intrigue and intensity that just a small part of India has given me.

On the flight home I watched 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' and this quote rang very true to me but in the most positive way you can imagine when exploring a new country. It seems like a fitting line to end this post about my adventure in India...

'India is a constant assault on your senses and on everything you've taken for granted.' - Judi Dench

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