India: Mumbai Return

March 12 – 15, 2017

Practicalities:

Accommodations: Travellers Inn – Fort (2600INR/night, booking.com). We happily returned to Travellers Inn where we stayed when we first arrived in India. Our room this time had slightly nicer decor but the best thing was the really hot water shower. The only downside was they did away with the not-too-bad breakfast and replaced it with a toaster and white bread in the common room.

Transportation: We travelled from Canacona to Mumbai via India Rail, 3AC class. We enjoyed meeting our fellow travellers in 3AC (six bunks to a berth). We slept well on the gently rocking train. We arrived at Lokmanya Station, ignored all the rickshaw/taxi touts pestering us as we walked from the train and found the pre-pay taxi stand. While in Mumbai we again walked frequently but also took a commuter train from Churchgate to Khar Station and back to visit with a friend. A real Mumbai commuter experience!

Food: Various restaurants but the one that stood out was the Apoorava Restaurant where we had Bombay Duck (actually fish) and other Mumbai specialties. We also had our tastebuds excited by a pudding (we’ve yet to identify) from a milk shop on a small side street; chai from small shops and street vendors; ice cream to die for from K Rustom’s; chicken tikka …

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Last Meal in Mumbai… OMG! So Tasty!

Reflections

When we originally reserved our room we were only thinking of being in Mumbai to catch our flight home. However, during our time in Fort Kochi we met a wonderful Indian woman artist who invited us to visit her on our return to Mumbai. We were so lucky to have Arti invite us to her home and help us with our last minute shopping. She also informed us that we were going to be in Mumbai for Holi, the Hindu Spring festival.

We arrived on a Sunday when the Holi festival was about to start with evening bonfires (check my Instagram feed for photos). Mumbai seemed almost deserted with little traffic for the first two days of our stay. We arrived early Sunday morning and while having coffees noticed some classic cars lining the street just before leaving on a Sunday cruise. And we were able to view some of the architecture without the distraction of almost being run-over by the frenetic traffic.

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Classic Cars on a Sunday

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Sun Assurance Building

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Another Classic

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Cornered

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Crawford Market without Traffic

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Study in Contrasts

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Which Country are We In?

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CST with Little Traffic Obscuring the View

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More Contrasts. (And what’s with the pink face?)

We started our Monday morning with chai from a small shop near our hotel. While sitting chatting with another customer we got our first dash of Holi colour from a passing man who dabbed our foreheads. Now that we were marked others soon approached us with more colours…

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Early Morning Colours

and the colour continued to build, layer upon layer as we met people on our Holi wanderings.

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Approaching Fashion Street

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Family on Fashion Street

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Rainbow Man at Chowpatty Beach

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Mutual Admiration Society

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Sue Gets More Colour

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Dangerous Youngster

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Even the Dogs

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Coloured and Happy

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Sharing Good Times…

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… Especially with the Kids

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Are We Getting Close to Our Hotel Yet?

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Outside Travellers Inn

Back at the hotel we thought we’d dust off, have a shower… but no! Travellers had organized a Holi party and we were soon being sprayed with water and splattered with yet more colour. After showering though we discovered that some pigments have staying power: the red/pink finally disappeared about five days later!

Colours: India is super-saturated….

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Paan and Incense

So our final few days in India were not solely devoted to last minute shopping. We enjoyed Holi, especially interacting with so many happy people. And of course the food …

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Best Ice Cream Ever!

The people really made our trip to India special. We met so many wonderful, friendly, helpful people.

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Our Friend Arti and Some of Her Artwork

And now we’re home again. We’re missing India. We never got to all the places we wanted to because we kept staying longer wherever we were. Which means we’ll be returning to continue our travel adventures.

It’ll take a few days to recover from jet lag (we’re back halfway around the world) but then I’ll write a final post and attempt to summarize our experiences and pass along any tips for travellers to a most intriguing country.

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India: Agonda Beach (again!)

March 1 – 11, 2017

Practicalities:

Accommodations: Romance Huts; 1700 INR/night; (agoda.com). We returned because we enjoyed our previous stay at Romance Huts. Better yet we discovered what great food they serve.

Transportation: We took an overnight 2AC train ride from Mysore to Karwar. From there we took a local bus to Canacona then an auto-rickshaw to Agonda Beach. A total of 16 or 17 hours travel but well worth it.

Food: We returned to some of our favourites: Monsoon, Madhu, Velvet Sunset and Duck n Chill. We also tried Dunhills at the southern end of the beach, which had a tasty watermelon martini, but we thought the food rather bland and overpriced compared to other restaurants on the beach. We also visited Zest twice: excellent smoothies (and perhaps the best Chai Masala I’ve had yet but we thought their breakfasts were overpriced. We tried an oyster dish at Suryas on Galgibaga Beach which was pretty good. But the best seafood by far were the meals we had at Romance Huts. Although they don’t have their own restaurant they do serve food for their guests. All three meals we ate there were amazing.

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Tracks in the Sand

Reflections

Agonda Beach drew us back like a giant cleansing magnet. Fresh air, clean ocean, few motor vehicle horns, ocean breezes and very few touts hassling us to buy buy buy.

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Some Popular Activities: Running and Posing

Days blurred together as we simply swam, walked, read books, ate and drank fresh juices and lassis. We did, however, move off Agonda Beach a couple of times. To go to other beaches!

We rented a scooter twice. Riding along the relatively quiet roads on this part of the coast was a pleasure; especially enjoying the cooling breeze (at a leisurely 40kph). The first day we rode north to Cabo de Rama, an old fort on a headland. Vast and rambling there’s little left other than a freshly painted church, the wandering walls, a couple of buildings returning to the land and a few cannon laying around. We went down to the rocky beach and then back up to enjoy the superb views from the high headland.

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View South from Cabo de Rama

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and North

From the fort we rode south, past Agonda and on to Palolem Beach, a long time popular beach in Goa. Compared to Agonda it was much busiers. Tour boats crowded the area near the road access, businesses crowded the foreshore and the crowded beach seemed narrower than Agonda’s. Plus we noticed obviously drunk Indian men leering at Western women, something we’d heard about but never seen before. We actually had one massive fellow strip off right in front of us and flop around in the water. Sue did enjoy a bit of shopping at Palolem but otherwise we did not find it that appealing. More appealing were the back roads surrounding it.

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Boats on Palolem Beach

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Palolem: Church, Boat, Yoga…

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and a Shark!

Another day we rented a scooter and first motored south to Galgibaga Beach, renown for its turtle population. Once again the drive was pleasant as I sought out smaller roads rather than the highway that Google Maps recommended. The beach was huge and pretty much deserted. We didn’t spend a long time on the beach as it was a very hot day and there was little shade. The surf was bigger than Agonda’s (so big it almost ripped my swim shorts off when I tried riding a wave). We walked around the point to see the river mouth and then stopped for lunch at Suryas in the shade amongst the trees.

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Galgibaga Beach looking North

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Ond Lane Bridge on Coast Road

We had plenty of daylight left so rode north and on to Cola Beach, just north of Agonda. The dirt road in was a bit rough but well worth the bumps to get to the beach. Cola Beach has a nice enough ocean beach but also has a fresh water lagoon on its backside. Swimming in it was a sweet change of pace, even though it was lined with resorts (I’m sure the people in the resorts appreciate it when the day-trippers leave in the evening).

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Cola Beach

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Lagoon from the South…

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Panning…

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Panning…

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to the North

Swimming and floating are still two of our favourite activities and we did lots while at Agonda Beach. Sue also regularly attended morning yoga sessions at the Velvet Sunset with Amber, shortly after our morning beach walks. What else?… sunsets, watching the bats, Kings and Kingfishers, relaxing… ahhhh…

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Bats

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Many Bats

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One of my Popular Activities

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India: Mysore

February 26 – 28

Practicalities

Accommodations: Aditya Hotel; 1400INR/night (bookings.com). The Aditya was a small step towards luxury. As Sue wasn’t feeling well I thought she’d be spending more time in the hotel room. The Aditya features an elevator, room service and a downstairs restaurant (all used). The staff were helpful and the room spiffy. An interesting aside: this was the first time in India that we had artwork in our room.

Transportation: India Rail – 2AC to Bangalore (an overnighter): comfortable and convenient. From Bangalore we caught a slightly upscale bus to Mysore (more comfortable seats than the usual). And the inevitable auto-rickshaws. Bangalore has a pre-pay service which is handy.

Food: We ate breakfast and a couple of dinners at the in-hotel restaurant. One evening we walked to the Parklane Hotel and ate in their second story, outdoor restaurant, which was pleasant enough. Another evening we tried the restaurant at Mannars Hotel next door; they had a slightly larger menu than our hotel.

Reflections

Mysore figured on our list of stops early on, mainly due to reports of it being a good spot to purchase sandalwood carvings and some other crafts. However, with Sue not feeling well we cut back on our being out and about in the heat.

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Essential Oils in Market

I did visit the local bazaar and while I found it very clean with lots of funky stalls and interesting spaces I soon tired of the hustlers trying to take me to see ‘special silks’ or ‘one-of-a-kind’ sandalwood carvings. I had an interesting discussion with one young man selling essential oils but was interrupted by a tout for other stores. I claimed I had no money with me and finally let him to take me to a couple of shops. Out on the street a couple of days later I pointed out to Sue a store he’d taken me into and yet another hustler said “Oh, no. Not a good place. I recommend…” We soon parted ways with him.

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Lit Carriage

The Mysore Palace featured large on our list of to-do things in Mysore and it was all it was promoted as. We first saw it on a Sunday night when it was lit by thousands of light bulbs for just half-an-hour (only on Sunday evenings!). Crowds of people had gathered with their cameras and cellphones for the event. We were just in time. A couple of days later we did a tour of the small portion of the palace open to the public. We rented audio guides, which were helpful (although Sue’s broke down early on, luckily mine had two headphone jacks). The palace’s ornate decor (including ivory inlay work, wall murals, heavily carved ceilings and doors) was impressive. Slightly less impressive were the elephants outside in a very basic covered area where baksheesh was demanded for photo ops. Signage in the palace decreed that the royal elephants spend their free time in a park but this apparently isn’t so. We also saw several camels used for rides.

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Lit Palace

Although Mysore was hot, like everywhere else, there was little dust downtown as the streets were all paved and I also saw little garbage. In the mornings a cooling breeze helped. Many of the streets were wide, colonial style boulevards with trees and monumental buildings lining them. Best of all the drivers were not using their horns often. At times it verged on blissful quiet.

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Palace Cat

Were we burning out on the heat and noise/air pollution? Yes. After much discussion we decided to head back to Agonda Beach to chill for a while.

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India: Pondicherry

February 22 – 25

Practicalities

Accommodations: Nest Guest House; 1100INR/night, (bookings.com). We loved the Nest: a small but very clean and stylish room and very quiet. Sure, it was at the top of several flights of stairs but it was worth every step. The staff were super friendly and helpful (in our books that goes a long way) plus the shower was capable of pouring out hot water.

Transportation: Well… we finally got to experience what most Indians experience when they ride a train: super density. Luckily it was only for a few hours. Amazingly the locals maintain a sense of humour and compassion despite the crush. Babies and bags got passed overhead and people laughed as they swung themselves up into the overhead luggage racks or squatted down on the floor. Once off the train we were at the mercy of auto-rickshaw drivers (Sue finally broke down and ran from some pesky drivers until she found one she liked). And, of course, the mad bus ride… swerving and honking and even exchanging insults with another bus’s conductor. This was our day to be assaulted by the worst of Indian transportation habits. We did have a couple of very considerate auto-rickshaw drivers, however, so fear not, they’re out there. They’re the quiet ones hanging back.

Food: We happily ate several times at Daily Bread, just behind our hotel (excellent coffee and breakfasts). Not so great was Anada Bhavan (which appears to be a chain); we think we both suffered upset stomachs after eating their greasy noodles. On the upside were: E’space (cocktails at their rooftop bar); Xtasi (excellent pizza); Madame Santhi (great intercontinental fusion in a rooftop setting) and Artika Cafe Gallery (relaxed space and great juices).

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Large Chandelier in Roof at Madame Santhi’s

Reflections

We originally chose to visit Pondicherry as it’s close to Auroville, where the brother of a close friend has been living for over 40 years. And then we read about what a fun enclave of French culture Pondy is and decided to spend a few days there.

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Evening on the Seafront Promenade

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Memorial to Mahatma Gandhi

After our claustrophobic and agitated journey there (as noted above) we relaxed in the sea breeze from the Bay of Bengal while walking the seafront promenade. The historic French Quarter’s quite chill; most of the touts and traffic occur around the main streets. Sadly the heat and a bit of stomach upset got to us both and we didn’t get around as much as we would have liked to. However, we didn’t just hole up in our room (as comfortable as it was)…

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Night Street Scene

We spent our first day relaxing and rejuvenating. Some wandering around the old French Quarter, lazing around the park and a night time dash towards the bazaar.

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Flowers at Bazaar

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Flowers Along a Residential Street

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‘Pom Pom’ Flowers on Tree

But it was our second day and our visit to Auroville that truly dazzled us. I felt as if I’d walked into an episode of Star Trek. Auroville, an intentional community, began building in 1968. It’s citizens come from around the world, including large numbers from India. It interacts/connects with the surrounding communities, providing work and healthcare for its neighbours. We were truly blessed in that we had an inside connection. We not only saw the Matrimandir from the outside (as most visitors do) but we were guided in to sit for a few minutes in the wonderful calm inner chamber. A beam of sunlight came through the dome’s centre, passing through the world’s largest optically correct sphere, to finally light upon the stones in a water feature at the base of the sphere. The sound of slowly dripping water only added to the calm of the softly glowing upper chamber. Surrounding the sphere are smaller meditation pods, each with a distinctive colour theme. The Peace zone surrounds the Matrimandir: concentric rings of stone and garden, including an old, old Banyan tree (ever expanding). Beyond this centre housing, schools, health centres, galleries, workshops, gardens and nurseries radiate outwards. Currently the permanent population is over 2000, some of whom are third generation inhabitants. It is possible to be a ‘guest’ at Auroville and to volunteer. Most visitors only see the visitor zone with its Information Centre, boutiques and a viewing platform for the Matrimandir. Beyond this zone, however, is a huge expanse of re-forested land with homes and busy workshops, keeping the community thriving. I came away from our visit with more questions than I had before we arrived, but also feeling hope and optimism for the future of intentional communities and their effect on our troubled world.

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Matrimandir at Auroville

A few more photos of Auroville can be found in my Instagram feed.

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Yes

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India: Thanjavur

February 20 -21, 2017

Practicalities:

Accommodations: Hotel Valli; 770INR/night + tax (bookings.com). Kind of a strange hotel; David Lynch might use it for a film. Located at the end of a lane inhabited by metal works and welding shops. Large and sprawling but very few guests. Looks like its heyday was back in the 60s or 70s. Clean enough but faded. Slightly musty smell in the room. Friendly staff who seem petrified of their manager (owner?). Close to train station.

Transportation: We arrived in Thanjavur from Mandurai via state bus. Comfy enough for the few hours we were on it. Some nice stretches of tree-lined road broke up the hot and dusty delta plains. Once in a while we hit divided highway, or smooth asphalt, but much of the trip was on secondary highways.

Food: We ate reasonably priced breakfasts at the hotel. Our favourite spot, however, was Bombay Sweets which not only featured a bakery but excellent meals at good prices. Spotlessly clean and with great service it was a busy place. Once again I was bowled over by a thick, tasty lassi.

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Bombay Sweets

Reflections

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The ‘Big Temple’

Thanjavur won out over Tiruchirappalli as part of our leap-frogging to Pondicherry because we could pronounce its name. Just kidding. We actually were going to go to Trichy (as it’s known) but then a couple we met in Munnar recommended Thanjavur because of its World Heritage designated Brihadishwara Temple which celebrated its 1000 anniversary in 2010. Unlike the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai the ‘Big Temple’ (as it’s known) has little colour. The huge complex, built of granite, is stunningly monochromatic. The towering vimana is 66m, built over the inner sanctum. Although a functioning temple we could have entered the inner sanctum but chose not too (I feel intrusive as a non-Hindu agnostic). However, just walking through the entrance hallway to the sanctum felt very special. We felt very peaceful as we walked around the temple and its grounds, in part because there were few people, but it’s so big it’s easy to find one’s own space (mostly in the shade!). The large Nandi sculpture, carved from one piece of stone, created its own big patch of shade.

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Entrance Gate

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Looking Back towards Entrance

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Cows on Temple

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Cows on Wall

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Head of 25 Ton Nandi (Cow)

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Not a Cow

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Huge Waterspout

We also visited the Thanjavur Royal Palace, a fading structure but with the enthralling Saraswati Mahal Library (one of the oldest in Asia) and many rooms filled with ancient sculptures. Our first stop was its cinema to watch a short film. The best part was the ten a/c units mounted on the walls blasting out cool cool air! We considered staying for a second viewing of the film. The library museum, the only part of the library open to the public, featured some remarkable books handwritten on palm leaves and some intricate, miniature works. Also on display were bizarre physiognomy prints by Charles LeBrun which compared the faces of various animals to those of humans (with great exaggeration).

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Lovely AirCon Units!

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Thanjavur Palace Tower

Although the temple was magnificent and we were glad we’d stopped in Thanjavur, the heat, dust and loud honking of vehicles was getting to us. We spent some time figuring how to get out of town and on our way to Pondicherry. Eventually we decided on the train as the best option. We shall see…

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and a…. Cow!

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India: Madurai

February 18 and 19, 2017

Practicalities

Accommodations: BG Residency 1350INR + 15%tax (bookings.com)(thought I should start showing the tax as it adds up). We were only able to book a Deluxe Double for our first night and they gave us the same room for our second night at the regular Double price so we wouldn’t have to move. Great location, close to the temple; great room (clean, modern, lots of electrical outlets, biggish flat screen, good WiFi, super bathroom).

Transportation: We travelled by bus from Munnar. The usual exciting mountain roads; wonderful landscape – especially coming down out of the mountains onto the sudden flat plain. We transferred buses in Theni. Got let off in some obscure spot by the river in Madurai. Then ripped by an auto-rickshaw driver taking us to our hotel (150INR for a maybe 50-75INR ride; said his name was ‘James Bond’ – watch out for him). Our auto-rickshaw out to bus station on edge of town cost us 150INR, (the correct price).

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Chai Wallah

Food: The restaurant below BG’s provided a great Indian breakfast (free with the room): lots of it and tasty. Plus we got to watch their chai wallah at work. Ate twice at the Hotel Supreme’s rooftop Surya Restaurant: excellent dosas, great view of the Meenakshi Temple and a nice evening breeze.

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View from Surya Restaurant

Reflections

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South Tower

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Close-Up View

We visited Madurai for a couple of reasons: it made sense in terms of breaking up our trip to Pondicherry and, best of all, we saw the Meenakshi Temple. The Meenakshi Temple is one of the best examples of Dravidian architecture in India. All the towers (gopurams) feature ornate, highly coloured carvings of celestial and animal figures. The South Tower, the highest, is 50m tall. We first saw the towers from the Hotel Supreme’s rooftop restaurant and then walked to the temple as the sun set. The pedestrian streets around the temple were packed. We spent some time wandering through the amazing Puthu Mandapam, the ancient, pillared former eastern entrance hall to the temple, now a bazaar. It felt timeless walking the narrow aisles, surrounded by the dusty old pillars and sculptures. The florescent and LED lights don’t even detract from the timeless quality. Here tailors work at old sewing machines making garments, bags, scarves etc. I ordered two shirts that first evening and picked them up the next day. I haggled a bit but was happy to have two handmade shirts from such an atmospheric place. Sue bought numerous bags as the prices and quality were so good.

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Tailors Aisle

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The Bag Man

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Metal Work Aisle

We visited the temple the next day. Warning: you can take your mobile phone in and use it as a camera (for 50INR) but otherwise cameras are prohibited (which means most of my photos of the temple interior are on my Instagram feed in the sidebar). We entered via the Eastern gateway, the traditional way to enter, passing through the long, high-ceiling hallway lined with vendors stalls. We then saw the Meenakshi shrine, with its splendid gold covering glowing in a ray of sunshine. We stopped at the Pond with Golden Lotus to sit and watch the crowds pass by and then walked the inside perimeter through the long, wide, high halls. The peace and quiet, especially after the hubbub of the city streets, saturated our souls. Apparently the temple is so constructed as to deaden sound. We couldn’t enter any of the inner sanctums but had brief, tantalizing glimpses of the Hindu crowds inside. Finally we visited the Hall of 1000 Pillars which houses an art museum, filled with sculptures of deities. We returned later in the day to once again walk around the outside of the temple, viewing the high towers and enjoying the street life.

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East Gate Entrance

It was hot and dusty when we visited Madurai. Although there are other sights to see we just didn’t have the energy. We retreated to our hotel in the afternoon and had refreshing showers and a break before returning to the streets around the temple. We did a bit of shopping, both in the old bazaar and also at an official khadi (homespun material following Gandhi’s principals) shop where we bought more scarves and fabrics. Sue also found another beautiful tunic top in a multi-storied garment store near the temple.

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Street Crowds near Khadi Shop

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Street Cows

Despite the crowds thronging the temple (it receives 15,000 visitors daily, 25,000 on Fridays) we enjoyed our time in Madurai. Despite warnings about auto-rickshaw drivers scamming for business we seldom felt hassled and most touts accepted a firm ‘no’. And having such a comfortable room made our stay all the more pleasent!

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India: Munnar

February 13 – 17, 2017

Practicalities

Accommodations: JJ Cottage; 850INR/night (bookings.com). JJ came highly recommended both by guidebooks and by people we met on the road. We phoned ahead and Eric, our host, saved a room for us. We loved our wood-lined room and toasty hot shower (handy in the cooler, high altitude climate). Eric also arranged two excellent tours for us.

Transport: We arrived in Munnar on a state bus from Alleppey. We were at the back of the bus, feeling all the sway and bumps of the twisty mountain roads! While in Munnar we did a tour to Chinnar Park via taxi, with R.P.S. Holidays, that was a much better deal than with any of the tour/trekking companies. We rode a local bus to Top Station; also a much better deal than any of the other options and lots of fun (reminded me of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride!). And we walked often, both in town and the countryside.

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Cows Wreaking Havoc with Traffic

Food: We ate several times at SN Restaurant, just around the corner from JJ’s: good food and prices. Also twice at Sarya Soma Restaurant, downtown; we loved their Keralan Veg Plate.

Reflections

We chose to go to Munnar to escape the heat and humidity of the coast. We’d heard good things and, as a tea drinker, I wanted to see the plantations and buy tea from the source. We also desperately needed to do some serious walking.

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Happy Walkers!

Walking was our first activity. We signed on for a full day trek with Sri (recommended by a fellow traveller. 1000INR). Our group of 8 gathered at 7am; walked out of town and into the hills, climbing steadily through tea plantations and then high grasslands. The pastoral tea plantation landscape is very picturesque. Workers trim tea plants at about waist level, for easy harvesting of the tea leaves (only the top leaves are trimmed, several times a year). Sri explained that the tea plants are all the same variety and that the difference between black and green tea is in the processing. Silver Tip tea is, as the name sounds, the very tip of the leaves, carefully hand harvested.

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Into a Tea Plantation

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Tea Flower

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Rockin’ in the Tea World

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Mechanized Tea Clipping

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Plantation Patterns

Reaching the highest point of our walk we stopped for breakfast (supplied by Sri’s wife): chappaties, curry and pineapple slices. We sat and ate gazing at the surrounding peaks and down into the plantation covered valleys. The weather was perfect for our trek: a light rain shower as we started (our first in India) and a mix of sun and cloud the rest of the day with refreshing breezes.

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Pepper on the Vine

On our way down the other side of the hill we passed through several spice plantations and Sri pointed out the various spices and fruits: cardamon, nutmeg, vanilla, cloves, pepper, mango, papaya, bananas, pineapple and jackfruit (I’m sure I’ve missed one or two!). We bought pepper from a small farm: .5kg/350INR. We walked down paved and dirt roads, small and wide trails and rock faces and stopped for lunch part way down. By the time we finished our walk I could feel it in my legs. But it felt good. Popping out on a main road we were met by a jeep that drove us back to Munnar (yet another exciting ride on the mountain roads!). Overall it was a wonderful, informative walk in good company.

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Harvesting Pepper

Our second day we didn’t feel up for major hiking so simply walked out of town a few kilometres to Aranya Natural, a Srishti project set up to aid differently-abled people. We toured their fibre dying and paper making workshops and fell in love with their products. It was hard deciding which scarves to buy and how much elephant dung paper we wanted.

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Photographers! Phhht!

Sue has an unfulfilled dream of seeing elephants in the wild. We’ve seen them up close at temples and working but never in the wild. We know it’s hit and miss seeing wildlife (we’ve both worked as kayak guides taking people out who really want to see whales but seldom do). We looked at our options around Munnar and decided to try a short trek in the Chinnar Wildlife Refuge. We were up and out the door at 5am. We were driven there by Panani in a taxi. He also provides multi-day treks and showed us videos he’d taken of elephants and an amazing video of a tiger he’d seen on a trek. As the day broke we passed through a sandalwood forest (all fenced in to protect it), saw some deer and stopped to chat to workers harvesting sugarcane. At Chinnar we were met by our guide, an employee of the wildlife refuge. We spent several hours walking in the woods, lower in altitude (and warmer) than those around Munnar. We saw no big animals but many birds, including a small owl. Our guide was an expert birder, spotting birds where we would have seen none. We also saw monkeys, scampering through trees far below us. Although slightly disappointed we’d seen no large wildlife we had a great walk and did see a variety of colourful and interesting birds. Our drive back, in daylight, was very enjoyable with stops to see a small sugarcane processing operation and a waterfall. The road itself was very picturesque, winding through tea plantations and often lined with poinsettias.

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Sunrise over the Hills

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Sugarcane Worker

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View in Chinnar Wildlife Reserve

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Staredown

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Little Water, No Elephants

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Roadside Monkey and Baby

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Boiling Sugarcane Pulp

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Our Driver: Panani

On our last day we caught a local bus to Top Station, a former high altitude transfer station for tea moving from train to ropeway, to move tea down the mountains. Our bus ride was fun; the windows were large and wide open providing great views of the hills and valleys. The traffic, sometimes congested around tourist attractions, added to the excitement. We had to wonder why anyone would go for a horseback ride on the road with the zany traffic. But we saw many happy people on horses.

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View from Top Station

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Signs in the Market

Munnar is a small town and easy to wander around in short time, although one has to watch out for the auto-rickshaws and buses. We shopped for tea and spices and poked around the local bazaar. We were tempted to stay longer (we only added two days to our original plan of three) or move further out into the countryside but with four weeks left in our South India journey and lots left to see we decided to move down out of the hills to Madurai, in Tamil Nadu.

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Auto-Rickshaws Laying in Wait

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