50 things we’ve learnt during our 111 days in India.

1. Your feet will never be clean… No matter how hard you scrub.

2. TukTuk drivers are incapable of telling the truth – either about distance or price or location or gradient of road.

3. Apu never charged Homer Simpson cold tax on his Duff beer… I grew up disillusioned!! (One even tried to cold tax my ice cream – until Jayne asked for a warm one!).

4. As a white westerner, you could go out naked or in a burka and the locals would still look at you in the same way. 

5. Deluxe hotel doesn’t equal hot water…

6. Or wifi…

7. Or cleanliness.

8. You will pay at least 10x the amount for any entrance fee as a tourist. 

9. Delhi belly is inevitable… Embrace it with Limca! 

10. Personal space is a fantasy. 

11. Private buses come in a wide variety… And paying more doesn’t mean better quality or comfort. 

12. Getting up earlier than your neighbour (shop owner or house keeper), means you can brush the rubbish in front of their door to sort out. 

13. Bins are what you put your rubbish next to.

14. You are every shop keepers ‘friend’ or ‘sister’.

15. And when they saw you yesterday, you promised you’d go into their shop today (even if you have just arrived in town).

16. Getting out of a bus or train station through the mass of TukTuk drivers should be an ironman challenge… Or an Olympic event. 

17. You are ‘aunty’ to every child in the country. 

18. Chai tastes better from street vendors than it does in hotels. 

19. Don’t look at the chai pots or you won’t drink it. 

20. Bus stand street food is the best and freshest street food you’ll find.

21. Pharmacies are a hypochondriacs dream, and have everything to sort out any kind of diseases.

22. Piracy is a crime… But it’s bloody cheap and will save the day when you just want to watch an English film!

23. If you’re in a ‘traffic jammy’, it is perfectly acceptable to steal goods from the truck in front. 

24. On a bus, there is always room for one more person…

25. If you wake up wanting to kill someone, don’t leave the hotel room!!! It only gets worse when you go outside…

26. Crossing the road is 2% looking both ways, 4% bravery and 94% crossing your fingers and hoping for the best!!!

27. On a completely empty bus, the next passenger to get on will always sit next to you.

28. It is free to look…

29. But you are a ‘nasty’ tourist if you don’t look in their shop!

30. Cows can, and do, attack!

31. Bus conductors are the nicest, most helpful people you will ever met – unless they’re a woman… Then it’s a camera in your face and a wrong bus!

32. Eyeliner on babies… You never get used to seeing it!

33. Jayne and I on a seat equals 4 Indian women on a seat…

34. 25km per hour on any form of transport is fast.

35. Someone is always sick on a public bus… Chose your seat carefully… And preferably near the front to avoid splash back through the open windows!

36. Standing on a street corner with your arm out trying to get a vehicle to stop is perfectly acceptable.

37. Everyone thinks you are nuts for walking anywhere – even just to cross the road.

38. Eating with your hands gets easier but the temptation to lick your fingers never leaves.

39. Temples are beautiful – but you do begin comparing them to each other eventually.

40. Indian museums have some of the best mis-translated signs ever.

41. Your mouth might get used to the spices but your belly will never get used to the bacteria.

42. A hot shower is what dreams are made of.

43. Trains run on a approximate schedule. 

44. Buses run on a precise schedule – even if it means travelling at speed!!

45. Monkeys are evil – and they know what they want from your bag.

46. For a country that never sleeps, the airports have opening and closing times.

47. Beer after altitude trekking is never a good idea.

48. The Indian head bob is a dangerous move for non-native Hindu speakers.

49. Indian time varies across the states – 5 minutes could mean 1 minute in one state and over an hour in another. Be prepared to run at a moments notice.

50. It is called incredible India for a reason… But it will, at times, be incredibly tiring!

Travelling – day 112

Got up early to make our way to Madurai airport, knowing that it was only 12km away but also well aware that that distance could take anything up to two hours in India. After packing away our stuff and finally throwing away our socks full of holes, we went downstairs to check out. Having already priced an air conditioned car transfer to the airport, we enquired about the rough price for a TukTuk. The manager sent the bell boy out for us who came back with a TukTuk that quoted us a ridiculous price to get us to the airport. The manager looked slightly embarrassed when I said ‘no’ and explained that I knew full well it was only 12km to the airport and I wasn’t going to pay that much. Some frantic talking and hand gestures between the manager, bellboy and TukTuk driver were exchanged before we got a decent (but not cheap) price. Not sure whether he was pissed off or being creepy but the driver then spent most of the 12km staring at me in his mirrors… Arrived at the Aiport in record time – the roads were completely clear (aside from some pretty massive potholes!) and, having given ourselves an extra hour to get there, we’d arrived in 15 minutes! Also having read the tickets details stating that we had to be at the airport three hours before our scheduled departure time, we felt pretty great that we’d have time to use up our left over INR in some over priced coffee shop inside the terminal whilst we waited… Except the security guard wouldn’t let us in! Apparently the airport was closed and would open two hours before our flight was due to lead – in an hour and 45 minutes time! Had a look around the deserted airport grounds and found a wall in the shade to sit down on. Spent some time looking at the Nepal book and working out which, if any, Everest Base Camp treks we wanted to do. I went looking for the elusive ‘canteen’, only to find a shack selling tea and coffee with some fried goods. Sent Jayne off to investigate the milk hut and she returned with two packets of biscuits – our last breakfast in India!! Got the jam out of my bag and we had a feast of cashew nut biscuits and jam!! Decided to kill some more time, drinking tea and coffee at the overpriced ‘canteen’ before we got into the airport. No problems with scanning our luggage and checking in except that they have workers who lift your bag onto the scales and then take your trolley away for you – felt very unnerving not doing it myself! Had to wait 30minutes for immigration to open so we could go through to the departures lounge. The immigration person was brilliant – asked us where we had been in India. When we got to Ahmedabad (clearly a place no tourist usually ever goes), he stopped us in our round off list of towns and said ‘everywhere. You’ve been everywhere’. A quick stamp in the passport and we were airside… With no shops except for a cafe serving drinks. Headed to our gate where Jayne stole their electricity to charge her phone!!   Didn’t have to wait very long until we were called to the gate and put through a second bag and person search. The woman used a hand held metal detector on me but managed to jab it really hard into my boob!! I tried not to laugh but she looked absolutely mortified and I just fell about giggling. Clearly glad that I wasn’t offended, she waved me on and was laughing heartedly as I told the story to Jayne. Got on the transfer bus that would take us to our ‘plane’… Now, I’ve been on one of these rubber band planes before but probably not in the last 20 years!! Rows of 2 seats by 2 seats for about 100 passengers with 2 propellers being the only means of getting you up in the air!! Actually felt like it was going to break as it charged up the runway and took off. Fortunately, it was a quick flight – time for a speedy food delivery service (where I managed to throw my drink of Miranda – opened – at the flight attendant) and we were in Colombo! The fastest immigration check the other side (I love e-visas), we had a sticker and a stamp in our passport and were officially in the country! Got our luggage and headed out to the arrival hall. Wanted to check with the car rental agency for when Nicola gets here but there was no one there so we went to catch the bus. Unlike India, there was a swarm of taxi drivers waiting but when we said we wanted to get the bus, they pointed us in the right direction – no bus strikes, no broken buses, no cheap prices mentioned!! Stowed our bags in the luggage compartment as requested by the man and jumped aboard. The bus was quite full so we couldn’t sit next to each other but for the price of 110LKR (about 55p) we were on an air conditioned bus driving down the express way to Colombo. Arrived at the central bus station to find that the compartment that we had stowed our bags in was now jammed shut. A few hefty tugs from us, the conductor and the bus driver were useless and we were put back on the bus and driven to the mechanics section of the bus station. Safe to say, we got our bags back but it took 6 men, a crow bar, hammer and a variety of other tool plus a lot of laughing to get the door open!  Gave the guys a tip for freeing our bags which they seemed genuinely surprised with. They even told us which bus to get on next to get to our hotel. Knew we wanted to go to the train station first to sort out our transport to Kandy and to work out train times to Galle for when Nicola arrives. Got chatting to a lovely man at the train station who got us train tickets on a full train to Kandy for Friday (by letting us purchase ‘department’ tickets – not sure if it’s tourist quota tickets or train staff quota tickets!) and who also has a guesthouse in the city. He showed us some photos and we booked two nights with him (and his pool) – can’t wait! Decided to walk the 6km from the train station to our hostel – it was along the seafront for most of the way so it didn’t seem too bad.   Managed to find a new drink in one of the seaside shops to try – it was the most chemically raspberry ade I’d ever tasted – Jayne loved it!!   Continued walking past the huts selling shrimp fritters with the shrimp still whole and cooked right in and various cut up fruit covered in chilli. Arrived at the hostel and checked in. The manager was surprised we had walked from the train station and was really lovely and helpful. Went up to our four bed dorm and had a quick shower before heading out to get some water and find some dinner. The hostel manager had recommended a posh looking restaurant just down the road from the hostel and, too tired to wander around aimlessly, we headed in. Ordered hopper and pittu (both a Sri Lankan speciality) with cashew nut curry – it was amazing.   The waiter was concerned we’d find the sauce that came with the pittu too spicy but it was barely hot! Had a traditional Sri Lankan dessert too which smelt and tasted like Christmas! Stuffed for the extravagant price of 1,584LKR (about £8), we headed back to the hostel, caught up on uploading blogs and went to bed (after fixing the air conditioning that the old guy in the bunk below Jayne had broken!!).

Wednesday 27th January 2016

Madurai – day 111

It was a nice easy start to the morning. A proper, working, hot shower and some space to move around. The constant beeping of trucks and cars on the main road outside our room didn’t even faze us. We had a little over 24hours to go in India and the anticipation was building. 

We strolled down the street and had breakfast at the British Bakery & Café. It was quite impressive watching the staff go about their tasks – one fella was kneading some dough to within an inch of its life and then meticulously measuring it out on a scales; one lady took to her task of creating jelly to the extreme and was only rivalled in intensity by the chap beating the egg whites. The grilled cheese sandwich was amazing, the fresh bread slices were the size of the plate. The cappuccinos we ordered were sent for approval by the manager before sending to us. They had a lovely rippled heart and rosetta latte art poured across the top. We polished the respite off enjoying a slice of black forest cake. We joked about how we could stay there all day and pretend the museums and temples were shut. We could read our books and gorge on cream and caffeine. Oh the irony, we should have stayed.  The temple down the road has 4 massive and ornate ‘gates’ at each side and as tourists are not allowed in, we walked past two of them and headed down the streets and towards the Gandhi Museum. We passed over the bridge we trudged across yesterday evening and marvelled again at how they went about their lives in the river and banks – washing, swimming (nude 😳) bathing, cleaning food and utensils, playing cricket, drying sarees, feeding cattle and goats. The day was about to go horribly downhill and turn as putrid as the water that flowed under the bridge. We didn’t yet know it however.   We said we’d try and pass in Katherine’s trousers to be tailored in to a skirt in one of the many shops we’ve passed along the way. Each one kept sending us back further away from the museum we were so close to seeing. It contains the blood spattered clothes that Gandhi himself wore when he was assassinated. Finding a tailor that would do the work was an ordeal and we eventually drew out the design of the trousers (at present) to the skirt (future design) on paper. We were sent off to buy some fabric and were charged 3times more than what we were told it would be. Go figure, four months in India and we still couldn’t haggle them to reasonable amounts. 

Fabric in hand, the tailor went crazy with his measuring tape, yellow chalk and before we could shout stop he had cut the fabric in the wrong place. The intrusive gentlemen from the garage next door had decided to tell the 2 tailors we wanted shorts, not a skirt and the agro between the 4 of them meant even I walked off. Returning with a big bottle of Mirinda (luke warm, not paying cold tax) the “skirt” was finished and was a shambles. I reluctantly paid them the pre agreed price for the Home Economics project they handed us. Having a little teary moment by the garage across the road, we had reached our limits. They never apologise. They will not get out of your face. You try and be polite and they treat you like scum and something they can abuse. No wonder that there were three separate jumper punch moments from shitty little kids before we even got back over the bridge. 

Oh but wait, it still gets better! We stood at the corner of the road, with a pair of locals. Neither of us able to say a word to each other in case we broke down again, when a TukTuk driver undercuts the bus, the back left wheel dips in to the drain and the rickshaw tilts so much that I had to jump out the way, the lady in the front seat pushed Katherine to the curb ( so as not to be hit full force by the metal frame of the cab, a small mercy that she was knocked over rather than hit) and the two guys and myself started laying in to the fucker of a driver. Shop owners from all over the street came over to assist all four of us and bollock this driver out of it, not before a pointless – but stress relieving – kick to the back of his yellow tricycle of death. 

More annoying TukTuk drivers later we were back at the hotel sitting under the shower trying to wash away the salty tears, sweat and dirt of yet another city that we’d sooner forget. Reluctantly agreeing we needed to eat we ordered the same food at the same restaurant (to avoid complications) and we watched tv/ read books (no prizes for who did what) and went to sleep for the last time in India. Tomorrow a flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka… A flight to freedom!

Tuesday 26th January 2016

Travelling – day 110

Knowing that we had an ‘easy’ four hour bus journey ahead of us out of the Western Ghats down to Madurai, neither of us were in a hurry to get up, pack our bags and leave the guesthouse. However, the family with young kids decided that everyone in the guesthouse needed to be woken up at 6.30am so we got up and slowly did our list of jobs before leaving. Paid the incredibly smiley and helpful guesthouse owner before being waved off by his wife and adult son. Got about 5m out of the guesthouse before we bumped into another couple of guests who wished us ‘happy travelling’. Is led to a slightly excitable Jayne who was delighted to be considered a traveller and not merely on holiday – must be my ridiculously dirty feet that gave it away!!! Arrived at the bus station and, after trying to convince us to stay at his hotel, a guy reluctantly pointed us in the direction of our bus. We had to cross under a police check point as we were now, technically, entering a new region of India to catch our bus. Managed to find the right one, we put our stuff near the front and settled down with some fried stuff from a nearby shop. Turned out to be idly with chilli and vegetable shaped into donut shape and a sort of daal hash brown. The journey down the mountain was significantly nicer than any of our recent bus journeys, mainly because the driver didn’t think he was part of the Formula One team and he actually understood that there may be other vehicles on the road! The journey was surprisingly painless except for the women who seemed unable to put her legs anywhere but on Jayne’s feet and the one woman who began rubbing Jayne’s leg affectionately… A quick swap around of seating arrangements made it better for everyone!! I finally finished ‘The Hobbit’ (my repetitive New Years resolution for two years now!) whilst Jayne finished here ninth Wheel of Time book.Arrived in Madurai and walked the 2km to our hotel. Checked in and, seeing that there was a Decathlon store in town, we decided to go shopping to replace some of our clothes and our cheap, nasty sunglasses with something a bit more appropriate for the Maldives. We decided to walk the 10km to the shop to get a chance to see the town although the sights were pretty few and far between – a dried up river bed, a pile of rubbish, a burning pile of poo… You get the idea!!! Arrived at the store and stocked up on hiking t-shirts for me (that actually fit!), socks for Jayne (without holes!) and two pairs of polarising sunglasses. Asked the cashier how to get back to town, to which he replied ‘turn right’ – he was surprised that we hadn’t come in a TukTuk. Tried to ask about buses but he was new to town so had no idea. We went down to the bus stop and tried the tested ‘stick your arm out for every bus and one will stop’ technique. The third bus stopped and we jumped on although we had to change buses at the next big bus station. Asked the enquiry desk who pointed us in the right direction and said ‘bus 700’. As we waited, a TukTuk driver came up to ask us where we were going, offering to take us anywhere for 100INR – turns out he was stood in front of the bus we needed but didn’t tell us! Fortunately, he had a change of heart at the last moment and told us to jump on just as the bus was pulling out. Got back to railway station and had dinner in a little place just a couple doors down from our hotel. Think the waiter was genuinely surprised when we said we’d be in India nearly four months and were able (and willing!) to eat with our hands.   A quick flick about on Facebook when we got back to the hotel before sinking into the softest bed I’ve ever tried – Jayne was in heaven. I hated it – It was like sleeping on a slightly depleted water mattress…

Monday 25th January 2016

Kumily – day 109

Woke up with no alarms and decided to have a chilled out day, relaxing the hammocks on the rooftop. We ate the left over bread and pastry goodies that we had been given during yesterday’s hike for breakfast and drank copious amounts of water and Sprite as we sprawled out. As I caught up on writing and uploading blogs, Jayne got busy organising routes and making plans for Sri Lanka. Slightly mad moment when Qatar airlines sent me an email asking for my passport and bank details – which resulted in several emails and Skype phone calls to verify that it was, in fact, a genuine request. Managed to get verification and sent off the required documents with minutes to spare of their 48 hour time frame! Were joined on the rooftop by a couple of lads – I thought they were German, Jayne reckons they were Polish. Either way, they looked truly pissed off that we were sitting in two out of the three hammocks. We chatted about what we wanted to see in Sri Lanka and the islands we wanted to visit in the Maldives. Jayne also looked up some dive centres in both places. I popped down to the toilet and when I came back, one of the guys had taken my hammock – apparently literally jumping in it as soon as my head had disappeared down the staircase. Jayne was all for me demanding it back but I decided to be the bigger person – so much so that they both looked incredibly shocked when one of them went downstairs and his hammock was still vacant when he returned – fuckers!! Went up to the next level of the rooftop to watch the bats fly over head again.   It is absolutely amazing to see so many bats fly together in such a neat and tidy way! Went back to the Coffee Garden for dinner – there aren’t many restaurants in Kumily and out of the ones we have tried, it has far and above been the best so didn’t want to try the only other restaurant left. Having not eaten all day (albeit some crisps) we had a feast of cucumber salad, bruschetta and vegetable lasagne before rolling back to the guest house. Sunday 24th January 2016

Kumily – day 108

Got up stupidly early to get ready for our full day hike in the Western Ghats. Not really sure what to expect – we had been told to expect a hard hike and to dress in dark clothes. Both dressed head to toe in black, we looked like a pair of ninjas as we walked to our starting point.   Whilst we were there 15 minutes early, one of the couples were 15 minute late and the third couple never showed up! We’re given a pair of very unsexy and uncomfortable gators to wear over our socks and trousers because of the large number of leeches that apparently find their way into every little crook and cranny of your body!   We were also given a black rucksack (to match our ninja ensemble) which was full of breaded snacks and water to last us throughout the day. With the lovely thought of leeches in mind, we set off with two guides and an armed guard… Slightly disconcerting was the armed guards nonchalant attitude to holding his rifle – over his shoulder, swinging it from the barrel, repeatedly dropping it in the mud – didn’t seem like it was going to work even if it was needed. Started off by walking through the village located near the entrance to the sanctuary. Was really nice to see the local tribes going about their daily business and we saw two cadet groups pass us, both groups looking incredibly smart in the uniform with their trousers tucked into their socks to protect them from those deadly leeches!! Came out at the other end of the village, crossed a stream and were then ‘officially’ in the jungle! The scenery was amazing and the sounds of the jungle were all around us as we searched for bison, sambar, wild boar, langur, elephants, leopards and tigers which live in the 777 square-km wildlife sanctuary.   Not sure whether the armed guard thought I wasn’t up to the hike or if something else was concerning him but he kept calling to the guides to let us stop for a rest. Think they realised I didn’t need to stop every 100 metres when I refused to sit down on a seat (flat rock) that they had found me. After about 2 hours of uphill climbing, we stopped for breakfast, tucking into our wide variety of bread and pastries whilst flicking off the leeches from our gators – they were tiny!!   Got chatting to the other couple in the trek who were from Bordeaux in France. Julian is an emergency department nurse and Fanny is an occupational therapist. They have only been in India for a week but was kind of nice to see that they were having the same experience that we have had with the locals. Continued our uphill climb (no longer hiking at this point – I quite literally wanted to start crawling on my hands and knees at one point!) until we reached the top of the mountain pass – incredibly hot and sweaty!  Took a few photos of the viewpoint before walking through long grass (which made me feel a little uncomfortable based on how much noise there was coming from inside the grass!) to another viewpoint looking down on the valley below. A little bit upsetting that we could hear music coming from one of the hotels in town which slightly ruined the calm natural environment of the mountain. After another rest, where the guides spent time trying to take sneaky photos of all four of us before giving up totally and just posing directly behind us with their sticks, we headed back down the other side of the ridge.   Found tiger paw prints in the mud and, after the guide examined some tiger poo nearby, it apparently had been in the area recently. The guide equally did the same examination of elephant, bear and wild dog poo which made me think of the book ‘The little mole who knew it was none of his business’. Continued hiking up and down through the forest, spotting massive 300 year old trees that seemed to go on forever and the elusive Malibar butterfly resting on a tree. The guides pulled up flowers and crushed leaves along the way to show us natural ginger, wild mango, lemongrass and other food items that the local tribes use constantly in their cooking. Arrived at the 26 square-km artificial lake (created by the British in 1895) and walked around its shore line, watching a group of elderly tourists do bamboo rafting (and appeared to be hating it!). Stopped for lunch in a look out tower that was situated by the lake and, whilst everyone else went to sleep, Jayne and I kept a look out for wildlife; Jayne – birds, me – anything that moved!!!   At one point, Jayne tried to sneak us onto a bamboo raft but the armed guard wouldn’t let us so we went back to our position for wildlife spotting. Jayne saw a number of beautifully coloured birds, which she took loads of photos of and I was convinced I saw trees move in the distance but no animal appeared.   We set off again and walked back thought the sanctuary towards the exit. Not sure if they had taken us on an easier route or whether we walked quicker than they had anticipated this morning but they were keen to take us on little diversions off the path to try and spot some wildlife. Managed to see some wild Ox which were huge!  Had a hilarious moment where the French couple kept calling them bison and, as Jayne tried to explain that they weren’t bison, the armed guard got really agitated and kept repeating ‘they’re not bison, they’re wild ox’ every time he heard the word bison! As we wandered back down to the starting point, Jayne heard a noise above her head and we spotted 2 giant squirrels. Jayne was beside herself with excitement at seeing them but the guides, guard and other tourists couldn’t quite understand her excitement. They were happy for her to spend ages trying to take photos of it, despite it cleverly trying to hide itself behind a tree trunk.  We kept on walking and about 50m down the path, we saw another 2 squirrels! Headed back to the bamboo hut to return our rucksacks and gators before walking into town to use the ATM and get a celebratory beer – today marks the last Indian UNESCO site to be visited. 28/32 sites done during our trip with 2 being closed by the time we got there due to cold weather and the other 2 being national parks in Assam which we didn’t have time or money to visit! Headed up to the rooftop to drink our beer and watch the bats fly over head. Clearly we were being over ambitious getting a beer each – after a day of altitude trekking and being dehydrated, beer wasn’t the best option. We were both feeling rotten after half a bottle and gave the rest to someone else staying in the guest house!! Went down the road for dinner, both with massive headaches. Fortunately, the food made us feel slightly better as we shared cucumber salad, bruschetta and vegetable lasagne. Headed straight to bed afterwards, headaches easing off but leg muscles feeling slightly sore and abused!!

Saturday 23rd January 2016

Kumily – day 107

Having had half a beer and a sip of red wine last, I may have passed out as soon as my head hit the pillow (bloody travelling is totally ruining my ability to manage my alcohol!!), but I woke up around 3am unable to get back to sleep. Jayne couldn’t sleep either so we both tossed and turned until it was a reasonable hour to get up, washed and dressed. Decided to walk to the entrance to the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary and work out where we needed to met for our full days hiking tomorrow. Stopped en route at a French restaurant where we had local vanilla coffee and French baguette sandwiches filled with coleslaw and fried chicken. They weren’t anything like French baguettes but after nearly four months without French bread, they were pretty good!!!  Kept walking through the town, admiring the new hotel being built to resemble a tree house compete with wobbly bridge to get into reception and avoiding the taxi jeeps speeding back and forth to the park entrance. Saw a black monkey sitting in a tree near the entrance of the park, watching us with great curiosity – clearly to see if we had anything worth climbing down and stealing! Also saw 4 or 5 wild pigs run through the hedged fence in someone’s garden – at the speed they were charging we half thought a tiger would be coming crashing through the hedge seconds after them! Couldn’t see the place were we are supposed to meet tomorrow so we headed back to the tourist information centre to double check. Turns out we were at the wrong park entrance! Ten minute walk in the opposite direction and we found the bamboo hut that will be our meeting point at 7.45am. Decided to have another lazy day back at the guest house, using the hammocks on the veranda to take a must needed rest. Spent the rest of the afternoon planning our next travel steps and booking our flights between Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand, Myanmar and Australia (with a little detour for Jayne back to England). Can’t believe we’ve managed to get ourselves organised and booked our flights to places I’ve only ever dreamed about visiting! Went up to the roof top to watch the bats ‘fly home’ for the evening. Saw one turn around mid flight which led to a silly conversation about the bat forgetting its handbag – maybe you had to be there!!! Celebrated our successful day (and our Visa cards taking the strain without too much complaining!) by treating ourselves to a nice meal at the ‘posh’ restaurant in our road. I had cauliflower cheese with brown bread whilst Jayne ate an Israeli mezzo of hummus, falafel and pitta bread. Chatted about our upcoming travel plans and the need to up our training regime if we are going to seriously consider doing the Everest Base Camp Trek in Nepal. Had an amazing fruit platter for pudding – a quarter of a pineapple, watermelon, orange and banana – which is the first time in ages we’ve had so much fresh fruit.  Friday 22nd January 2016

Kumily – day 106

Woke up (relatively) refreshed and spent the morning catching up on essentials like washing underwear!! Took our time getting ready, enjoying the hot bucket shower and space in the room to actually both move at the same time. Headed up to the roof top veranda and ate some bread, jam and Nutella. Used the fact that all the guests were out for the day to abuse the wifi to get up-to-date with blogs and uploading photos to various cloud spaces. Chatted with the owner of the hotel for a bit, in which he spoke about how he has found that Indian tourists have become increasingly lazy over the past few years. In fact, one family refused to stay here because there was no restaurant attached – even though there are several a few doors down in either direction. Apparently it was too far for them to walk… Once we’d finished doing our ‘work’, we went for a leisurely stroll around the town. Aptly described as the Disneyland-in-the-ghats by the Lonely Planet, it is a town full of western and Indian tourists with the shopping choice to match! I’m always surprised at how many shops can be in a row, selling exactly the same stuff and make any kind of money – row upon row of spice shops, dried fruit and nuts, home-made chocolates and ‘Indian’ clothes that I’ve never seen an Indian person wear, line the streets opposite the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. We walked around for over an hour, trying to find somewhere to have an early dinner, getting ourselves lost in the back streets and finding the main road within a couple of turns! As we walked, we saw coffee trees growing by the side of the road – I have to admit, I never thought they looked like that! But it was great fun finding the berries that had fallen on the floor, cracking them open and finding 2 coffee beans inside!! Ended up returning to the place just down the road to have some food. Paid 220INR for the smallest glass of red wine (it was a hobbit glass!) but the food was amazing so it kind of made up for it! As did the Westlife music playing in the background!! They also had the cutest resident kitten in the restaurant who spent most of the evening curled up on Jayne’s lap. She is a self-confessed dog person, so it was really nice to see Jayne melt at the affections from a cat… I might still be able to get a kitten one day!! Shared a cold beer whilst watching ‘The Chronicles of Riddick’ being projected onto the restaurant wall and listening to a near-by tour group be loud and irritating – smugly enjoyed the fact that the waiter then quoted them 20INR extra for their beers…

Thursday 21st January 2016

Back Waters – day 105

Woke up at 5.30am as the temple next to the guest house felt it was a good time to blare music out… Whether it was a call to prayer or a religious festival, it was not greatly welcomed by either of us! Begrudgingly got up and ready, shuffling out to get breakfast which included a very strong coffee! Seems like we weren’t the only ones woken up at the hour as the other three residents in the guest house ‘restaurant’ seemed equally shattered and half-asleep. Ate my omelette and toast in silence whilst I looked on in disgust as Jayne made herself a banana, strawberry jam and omelette toast open sandwich. IMG_5255Grabbed our bags and made our way to the State Water Transport Boat jetty. img_5159-1We had been told that the boat would leave at 9.30am so we were both feeling a bit nervous when 9.25am rolled by and there was no sign of a local ferry… Needn’t have worried. img_7402-1At 9.27am, the boat turned up, unloaded its passengers, turned around, we got on board and at 9.30am it was on its way to Kottayam! The journey across Vembanad Lake was peaceful and intriguing. img_7420We were able to see some close-up village life as the boat zigzagged its way through the backwaters from island jetty to island jetty. It was a very scenic and leisurely way to get between the two towns, taking nearly two and a half hours to go 25km.img_7445There were some stunning water plants in full bloom that the backwater birds used to nest in and I spotted a water snake amongst the greenery. img_7412-1Arrived at the temporary alighting point (as they are building a bridge over the canal and have a floating pontoon blocking the canal) were we were offered a TukTuk to take us the rest of the way to Kottayam for an extortionate price. img_7405Fortunately, the boat conductor had told us that we could walk up the road for 200m and catch a local bus which we did after being told by the TukTuk driver that we weren’t allowed on the bus as it was for ‘locals only’. Arrived in town and managed to find our way on a bus that was leaving for Kumily, 50 minutes before it was due to depart! Gave us time to organise our stuff, go to the toilet and get drinks/snacks before heading off on the four hour trip back up into the mountains. Jayne watched a film on her iPad whilst I enjoyed the view as we meandered a lot slower up the hillside than our bus yesterday. Still a few hairy moments when the only thing between us and the bottom of the cliff was a few blades of grass but this bus driver at least had the decency to pay attention to the road and its bovine obstacles!! Arrived in Kumily and were immediately greeted as we got off the bus by a guesthouse man trying to get us to book with him. Amusingly, it was the guesthouse that we had already made a reservation for and, once we told him this, he insisted on walking us to the guesthouse, talking to us along the way about the coffee, tea and pepper plantations in the village. Arrived at the guesthouse, checked in, dumped our bags in the room and headed up to the roof terrace to drink local coffee and get a sales pitch about the walking tours offered by the guesthouse in the nearby Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Since we have five nights here, they weren’t too pushy when we said we wanted to think about it and we sat watching the sunset. After it got dark, there was a stream of bats flying across the roof of the guesthouse, apparently returning to the grape plantations to spend the night. It was quite magical watching thousands of massive bats fly overhead for about 30 minutes, all in a narrow lane rather than spread out across the night sky. Went to the nearby restaurant for dinner, where I had the nicest cucumber salad (I’ve been craving cucumbers for ages!!) and Jayne got a hot & spicy pizza (which was hot but not spicy!!). Got into bed to discover that the bed was perfect for us as a couple – Jayne’s side was really soft and my side was really hard. Hopefully we’ll both get the good nights sleep we desperately need!!

Wednesday 20th January 2016

Alappuzha – day 104

I had slept well… Jayne not so much… So the dynamics have reversed from yesterday’s bus journey!! Got us checked out, Jayne having a disagreement with the hotel manager over the lack of promised hot water that we’d paid for. 20 minutes, with a 200INR refund but no apology later, we crossed the road to the bus station. I took charge of finding us a bus to take us all the way to Alappuzha and, after getting on a bus that had no spare seats together (and then getting off!), managed to find a surprisingly empty bus with the seats near the front with the most leg room ever! Got Jayne into a seat, stored our bags and then went looking for Bovonto (the Indian equivalent to cherry Coke) to cheer her up. Failed miserably in that task, only being able to find imitation Limca and mango juice. As soon as I got back on the bus, the bus driver pulled away from the bus stand and we realised quite quickly why this bus was so empty in comparison to the other one… We’ve had our fair share of loony bus drivers in India but this one was on a whole new level! He wasn’t a fan of the wacky races – he was the inspiration for them!! Spent a significant amount of time bracing ourselves against the bars that separated the passenger section and the drivers section, going back and forth between looking at the road to anticipating crashing and not looking at the road!!!IMG_5232Watched ‘Tangled’ on the iPad to try and distract ourselves as the driver spent more time chatting to the conductor rather than keeping his eyes on the road. He, very kindly, stopped for a while in a bus station so Jayne could use the toilet before he continued driving in his manic way, over taking TukTuks to then cut them up immediately afterwards when he slammed on his breaks to stop to let off or collect passengers. Arrived three hours later, miraculously in one piece, in Alappuzha and made our way to the guest house down the road from the bus station. IMG_5237Dumped our bags and headed out to check the ferry schedule for the next day before jumping in a TukTuk to take us to the beach. Had heard that Kerala beaches were supposed to outshine the Goa ones, we found this one to be quite dirty and disappointing.IMG_5245However, it had sea, sun and sand which is all we really wanted after two days of travelling. We walked up and down the coastline watching locals get very wet as they paddled (fully clothed) into the water, mis-timing the waves and getting soaked from head to toe. Watched a father try to help his young daughter jump over the waves, only to drop his phone and then her trousers, which got washed away. Grabbed an ice lolly as we walked back into town, passing by a car park that had a cricket match going on whilst a group of ladies were learning to ride scooters. Was interesting when one of the women had trouble turning and ended up in the middle of the cricket match. Back in town, we got some dinner before returning to the guesthouse to use the wifi and head to bed.

Tuesday 19th January 2016