Saturday, 30 January 2010

Kerala: Fort Cochin

Saturday 30 January: Netravathi Express sleeper north to Eranakulam with pretty Fanny Anduret who is heading to Gokarna beach on the Karnataka coast for a month's course in Theatre studies.
hort ferry-ride to Fort Cochin - no fort but lazy mix of Portuguese, Dutch and British Raj colonial styles. Huge cantilevered Chinese-style fishing nets line the shore while further inland whitewashed churches hide from the packs of cruise-liner tourists, groomed and tagged with coloured number badges like mixed-breed show dogs at a county fair.
At St Francis Church you can see the tombstone of Portuguese seafarer and explorer Dom Vasco da Gama who died of malaria here on Christmas Eve1524.
Pictures of Fort Cochin.
Monday 1 February: Semi-sleeper overnight bus (43rd mode of transport) to Madurai in Tamil Nadu state en-route to the tax-free former French colony of Pondicherry - hopefully to see the first round of the Six Nations rugby championship, especially Scotland v France on Sunday.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Kerala: Varkala

Thursday 21 January: At just 200 Rupees (about £2.70) a night, Yoga India House's basic twin-room with separate shower open to the blue palm-filled sky and spotless western-style loo fits the bill.
Great range of Arabian Sea seafood in the cliff-top restaurants - from big ugly weak-jawed but tasty Kingfish or Mahi mahi and delicate Pomfret to plump Tuna, sleek speckled Sea Salmon and snub-nosed Barracuda, Red, White and Black Snappers and gaping-mouthed Red Groupers, Red Mullet, smooth-skinned Butter fish, magnificent Blue Marlin and Shark - not to mention Crab, Lobster, Tiger, King and White prawns as well as Calamari and Octopus.
Enjoyed my relatively expensive (530 Rupees) La Reserve red, the great food, golden beach, rugged waves and a few Kingfisher Strong with Kaveh who liked the ice-cream, chocolate and banana based desert Hello to the Queen that you find on Indian menus.
Managed to catch a temple festival featuring Hindu men adorned as deities,
some with huge flower-pot costumes, a parade of kids with candles and a string of decorated elephants.
Saturday 23: Day out to Kovalum's lighthouse beach with rougher waves and groups of Indian youths gawking at pink geriatric package-tourist flesh.
Tuesday 26: Day trip to Kollam for canoe-boat (42nd mode of transport) tour of Munroe Island's backwater canals. Saw canoe-building - planks jointed and lashed together with coconut-fibre rope then sealed with cashew-nut oil, rope-making from coconut husk fibres and various spice plants.
Thursday 28: Away day to Trivandrum zoo. Like most other places in India the old colonial name is still used rather than the new official name - Thiruvananthapuram - wonder why?
Goodby dinner with Swiss girl Fanny and Kaveh who was flying back to language school in icy Tajikistan via Bangalore, Delhi and Almaty in Kazakhstan.
Photos of Varkala and around.


Wednesday 20 January: Mid-morning when voluptuous French Fanny opened-up a fine ruby-red I knew I was in for a treat . . . and I got it in the form of the berry-fruit flavours of Grover Wine's Cabernet Shiraz.
India's IT capital -
there is no need to dwell in Bengaluru (Bangalore's official name) - give the Hard Rock Cafe a miss, throw away your guide book and simply take the 285M bus from platform 23A of the City Bus Stand to Doddaballapur for a short rickshaw ride to Raghunathapura village and Grover Vineyard. But, e-mail Fanny Olivier in advance to visit the vineyard and tasting room.
Bought a Grover La Reserve at Spencer's supermarket in MG Road (Mahatma Gandhi Rd) in Bangalore. Established in 1992, incredibly, Grover's don't yet have a license to sell alcohol!

Photos of Bangalore area.
After dinner and few beers - a mad dash with Kaveh to just catch the 9:40pm
Kanyakumari Express sleeper down south to Varkala in sleepy Kerala.

Saturday, 16 January 2010


Friday 15 January: Boulder-strewn landscape with a ruined city, ancient temples and thriving Hampi Bazzar on the banks of the fast-flowing Tungabhadra river.
Virupaksha Temple with its erotic carvings is the focus of the village while Vittala Temple is the tourist highlight with its hefty stone-carved chariot that would take a team of elephants to shift. Nearby are Royal palace and watchtower remains and the magical
Tungabhadra where traditionally crafted coracles - woven with palm fronds covered with rice-sacking and painted with pitch - still ply their trade as fishing boats and passenger ferries.
Monday 18: Strolled along the river bank to Vittala Temple, took an UNESCO eco-friendly electric 'golf-buggy' (40th mode of transport) to the road junction, walked back to the scary coracle ferry (41st mode) to climb to 'Monkey Temple' on top of Anjanadri Hill. Great day out through rice paddy-fields, banana plantations and palm groves.
Tuesday 19: Great views from Mathanga Hill and thali lunch at Shiv Moon restaurant, typically chapatis, rice, dhal, a couple of vegetable dishes, spicy chutney, cool curd and sometimes a desert. Entertained by black-faced, long-tailed Langur monkeys dancing on the guesthouse roof.
More commercial than when I was here previously - the curse of UNESCO World Heritage Site status I suppose. Despite or maybe because of the ban of meat dishes and alcoholic drinks, Hampi is still an extraordinary place to visit.
Pictures of Hampi.
Bus back to Hospet for dinner and an ice-cold Kingfisher at Manasa restaurant, before boarding the 8:10pm Hampi Express sleeper to Bangalore.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Goa: Palolem

Saturday 9 January: Train arrived in Margao late, so autorickshaw to Metropolitan Park bus stand for local bus to Benaulim beach and a night at Rosario's Inn. Joined forces with American student Kaveh who I first met in Aurangabad Youth Hostel then again at Mumbai train station. Originally from Alabama, he's in India on a six week break from a language course in Tajikistan.
Sunday 10: Moved further south to a beach shack in Palolem, full of backpackers and stalls selling tourist trivia. Relaxing beach, good sea food and reasonably priced Kingfisher Strong - India's tastiest beer so far. Also, bacon breakfasts, Marmite, fish and chips, English football on TV (postponed due to bad weather!) and a dish I've not seen on a menu for years - Lancashire hotpot.
Photos of Benaulim and Palolem.

Thursday 14: Back to Rosario's to catch Friday's 8:00 am Howrah Express from Margao to Hospet for Hampi.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Mumbai (Bombay) and Nasik

Thursday 7th January: Bus, slightly off the tourist trail, to the holy city of Nasik in the heart of Maharashtra State's grape producing area. Based on the California model Sula Vineyards produce fine reds as well as a late harvest Chenin blanc desert wine. Jammy with blackberry and honeysuckle overtones the Zinfandel red particularly suited my palate - cheers!
Nasik pictures.
Friday 8: Mahangari Express to Bombay, officially named Mumbai, and Fredrick Stevens's magnificent Victorian CST station, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. He also designed the Gothic London St Pancras station where,
in June 2009, my journey began . As dusk fell I took a quick walk around central Mumbai - Gateway of India, St Thomas' Cathedral, High Court and University before boarding the Konkan Kanya Express sleeper to Margoa and the beach scenes of southern Goa.
Mumbai pictures.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Ajanta and Ellora Caves

Sunday 3 January: Arrived 11:00 am at the delightful Hotel Plaza in Jalgoan. Caves closed on Mondays so time to relax and review my trip plan. The Indian government has just changed the visa rules - no re-entry within two months of exit - and as I only wanted to be in Bangladesh for three weeks - I need to rethink. Probably spend more time in India before heading north to Nepal and Annapurna in Spring when the Himalayas warm up a bit.
Tuesday 5: Local bus to the Ajanta T-junction then green eco-friendly bus (38th mode of transport) to the caves - not really caves but rock-cut caverns sculptured out using hand-tools, some dating back to 2 BC, to produce temples and monasteries - some decorated with carvings and frescoes.
Photos of the Buddhist caves at Ajanta.
Local bus onto a brick-hard dorm bed, and breakfast, at the Youth Hostel in Aurangabad.
Wednesday 6: Day trip to Ellora Caves where Buddhist, Jain and Hindu rock-hewn temples and monasteries line the river bank. The most magnificent is Kailasa Temple 'built' by a reduction process - chiseling out a cliff to 'expose' the ornate temple within - great planning!.
Returned to Aurangabad by shared jeep taxi (39th mode) for dinner and a cold beer.
Photos of all three styles of cave at Ellora.
Kailasa Temple is the biggest rock monolith in the world and both sets of caves are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.