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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India: Alleppey

February 9-12, 2017

Practicalities:

Accommodations: Lotus Homestay (booking.com) 450INR; tucked in off a small lane and down a shady drive Lotus is very peaceful; it has two chill zones (one at ground level another on the second floor); they can provide breakfast, arrange for tours (our backwaters tour was wonderful – see below), yoga, scooters etc. Azi will arrange it all for you (and with the biggest smile).

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Azi at Lotus Homestay

Transportation: We arrived via India Rail from Ernakulam Junction South Station; 30INR for the two of us.

While in Alleppey we took a backwaters tour, 850INR each (included ferry to and from guide’s home, breakfast and lunch at guide’s home, and hours of being paddled through the smaller canals – totally, wonderfully peaceful).

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Backwaters

And we rented a scooter for a day through Lotus; 350INR/day plus fuel (200INR).

Food: Thaff’s – a small restaurant that always seemed pretty busy, with a mix of tourists and locals. Good food, reasonable prices and friendly staff.

We had one breakfast at a small shop we happened to be passing (very good) and another at Lotus (also very good) plus an early dinner at Beach Hut on Marari Beach (good food, reasonable and on the beach!).

Reflections

The main reason most people come to Alleppey is either to go on a backwaters tour or to transit to the backwaters to stay in a homestay. We were starting to feel overwhelmed by the heat so elected to book only 3 nights but ended up staying 4 (mostly because our sniffles returned and we wanted to relax and let them pass).

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Canoe with Canopy

Our first full day we went on a tour, arranged through Lotus Homestay. It was perfect! We didn’t want to do the full-on houseboat, overnight tour (expensive and motorized) or even a mid-sized boat (motorized and unable to enter the small canals). So the combination of the ferry ride out and back gave us a view of the lake and some of the bigger canals, while the paddled canoe took us into the peaceful small canals. We saw a variety of other watercraft, homes by the water, birds and the lush greenery overhanging the water. The water looked pretty clean. Which makes sense as people bath and do their laundry in it. The slapping of wet laundry on flat rocks was the loudest noise we heard. We were served excellent breakfast and lunch at our guide’s home. Although we stopped once for refreshments there were no stops for handicrafts or any other ‘push’ pitches. When we re-entered the big canal we were greeted by the sight of dozens of large houseboats scurrying about, motors and generators (for the air-con units) roaring. The ferry rides were fun too as we mixed with the locals going to and fro on their main transportation link.

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Lead Guide Nandu

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Doing the Laundry

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Peeking at the Tourists

 

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Kingfisher

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Houseboat on Lake

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Houseboat Congestion

On our second day we wandered around town. Alleppey’s busy but not too huge. We checked out the variety of goods offered in the small stores; although, I did visit a larger store, the local Titan watch shop, just to check out their selection. I managed to walk out without yet another new watch. Sue, however, spotted a beautiful kameez in front of a clothing store; she went in to find out if they had her size. Soon I was being summoned in for a viewing. It’s indeed beautiful; orange underneath and a stunning blue/white over top. A bit later we inquired what the tall brass stands we frequently saw in stores were: coconut oil lamps.

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Downtown Temple with Lamp in Foreground

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Sue with Her Coffee Man

Our last day we, for the first time in India, rented a scooter. Right away I felt a bit nervous with Sue on the back without a helmet. But off we set, immediately getting semi-lost as I missed a turn at a roundabout. We eventually got back on track when we reached the seashore and I checked in with Google Maps. We took a back-road, rather than the main highway, to Marari Beach. The various bumps, holes, speeding bikes, cars and domineering buses kept me focused on the road.

We parked the scooter close to the beach and walked out to see the beach extending north and south for miles. Umbrellas and chairs faded off into the distance. Most to the people on the beach were Indians, out enjoying their Sunday. The waves broke right at the beach with a drop-off of a few feet just off-shore. We floated and swam in the bathtub warm water. With plans to head inland to visit the highlands, and escape the heat, we knew this might be our last beach until we’re heading back north so we made the most of our day, even staying for dinner on the beach.

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Marari Beach

The ride back was just as exciting as the ride out. At the end of the day I felt slightly sunburned and bug-eyed. But, it was a good road to have our first scooter ride on. Maybe one day we’ll graduate to a Royal Enfield…

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Full Moon (Snow Moon!)

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India: Fort Kochi

February 3 – 8, 2017

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Evening Beach Scene

Practicalities

Accommodations:

Fort Garden Residency; 900INR/night; through booking.com; the first place we’ve ever given a 10 point rating to!; Thomas, our host, was friendly, helpful and informative; his wife Susan makes delicious Indian breakfasts (and has a cooking course); the location was near the seafront and the historic centre but down a small lane so very peaceful; they have two chill areas – one inside, one outside; our room was clean and we had a shower with hot water (if needed!).

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Fort Garden Homestay

Food: Kochi is tourist friendly and has a good selection of restaurants. We recommend:

Kashi Arts Café: terrific breakfasts with real thick toast; wonderful juices and lassis; good coffee

The Teapot: heaven for tea drinkers

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The Teapot

Tibet House: rooftop cool; their mint lassi is to die for; tasty momos

Mary’s: super busy but worth the wait for this small rooftop, family run spot

Bharat Coffee House (Ernakulam): the real deal; old style; many options and inexpensive

Malabar: had a set-up at the Kochi-Muziris Bienalle; great coffee, snacks and juices; reasonable prices

Transport:

train from Madgao to Ernakulam; we travelled Chair Coach (850INR for 2)

auto-rickshaws around Kochi and Ernakulam; metered

ferry boats between Kochi and Ernakulam; cheap and refreshing to be on the water

… and we walked and walked (auto-rickshaw drivers shook their heads)

Reflections

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View from the Seawall

The allure of Kochi (Fort Cochin, Fort Kochi etc.) with its proximity to the backwaters (lakes and canals), its seafood and spices caught our imaginations early in the planning stages for this trip. However, one thing I missed while researching was that we were arriving during one of the world’s best art events: the Kochi-Muziris Bienalle. No less than the Tate Modern has stated that this Bienalle is one of he world’s top five. And so our supposed three day stay turned into a six day stay, as we visited the KMB and toured the historic town.

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Artist at Work

We arrived via train, disembarking in Ernakulam. From the train station we caught an auto-rickshaw to the ferry terminal. Ahhh… to be on the water again. It felt like home. From the Kochi ferry terminal we took another auto-rickshaw to the Fort Garden Residency Homestay, an oasis in the midst of the touristic old town. Some guidebooks recommend staying in Ernakulam to keep costs down but we found our accommodation costs reasonable and the peace and quiet of Fort Kochi wonderful (especially compared to the traffic chaos of Ernakulam).

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Giant Tree and Sports Field by the Homestay

We soon discovered the pleasures of walking along the seawall, especially in the evening when the sea breezes cooled the air (early February and the temperatures were in the mid-30s and humid). An eclectic variety of shipping passed through the channels; everything from small fishing boats to huge container ships and, one evening, a glowing P&O cruise ship dominated the waters. We also ventured into some of the narrow, tiled backstreets and saw some tiny homes and goats wandering along.

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In the Back Streets

We met, and hung out with, several of our fellow homestay people. Two young Keralan men doing a course to finish their engineering degrees, an Indian artist from Mumbai and a UK woman escaping her former TV career made up our little gang. We’d go out for dinners, hang out in the chill zone, exchanging stories and information. Arti, a woman print maker from Mumbai, had come to Kochi specifically to see the Bienalle. We’d often walk with Arti to the various Bienalle venues and collaborative galleries, then stop for refreshments or to look at antiques. It was great chatting with Arti about the art and gaining some insights into Indian life in general.

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Fisherman Casting a Net

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Public Artwork: Fish Cemetary

The Bienalle was truly amazing and very inspiring. Set in a variety of venues it was great being able to wander in and out of buildings and catch a cooling sea breeze in between exhibits. There was an incredible variety of art: international, national and regional; conceptual, abstract and representational; the latest in technology and work based on ancient traditional techniques. I photographed much of it and bought the exhibition catalogue and other print material relating to the shows. I’ll share a photo of a piece that Sue and I agreed was one of the most powerful in the Bienalle:

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The Sea of Pain by Raul Zurita 

This work addresses the fate of Alan Kurdi, the three year old Syrian refugee whose body washed ashore, and is dedicated to his brother Galip Kurdi. This image does the impact of this artwork little justice. When we did a guided tour of some of the works on a return visit our guide told us many people left visiting the installation in tears.

Many of the venues where located in old warehouses which gave us an interesting look at the old Kochi, traditionally a thriving port city. The colonial powers (Portugal, Netherlands and English) all latched onto the incredible wealth of trade of Kerala: spices, tea, coir, fish… These days we discovered that, although the port and the fishing still factor in the local economy, tourism is the growth industry. Also many locals move to the Gulf states to work, sending money home. Despite the changing times Kerala retains its left-wing politics, standing against the right-wing swing of India’s national politics.

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Local Political Office

Although touristic Kochi was quite chill. The people of Kerala are super friendly and we found ourselves often engaged in conversation with locals. There were sales people pushing their products but it was always friendly and easy to disengage if we weren’t interested. Sometimes though they proved irresistably charming…

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Sue Buys a Drum

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Spices for Sale

Personally I’m hoping to return here in two years time. At best… to exhibit or, at least, to volunteer in the Bienalle and to experience again the warmth of Kochi.

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Bienalle Volunteers in the Gift Shop

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Namasthe Art Centre

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India: Kannur

January 31 – February 2

Practicalities

Accommodation: SS Residency Hotel (bookings.com); 850INR/night; very basic hotel but had a nice hot shower that was welcomed after our time on the beach; the free Indian breakfasts were good; nice host; unfortunately located on a very stinky canal; not the cleanest room.

Transportation: arrived via India Rail (Madgaon – Kannur 990INR (through a ticket agency); in Kannur many auto-rickshaws (metered) and two nice bus rides (down the coast and back).

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View from the Train: Rice Paddies

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Trucks (with Drivers) on Flatcars

Food: Our hotel recommended the nearby Mascot Restaurant which was excellent. Surprisingly few customers (off the beaten path?). Good food at very reasonable prices and a great waiter.

Reflections

We chose to stop in Kannur mainly because it seemed like a good distance to travel. Our guidebooks had little about Kannur but did mention the Theyyam ceremonies, which intrigued us.

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Payyambalam Beach Looking South

Our first day, first thing, we walked from the hotel to the beach. Luckily maps.google guided us as we had no physical map. What appeared to be streets often turned out to be small lanes or paths, wandering through the heavily treed suburbia. It seemed we were in the countryside, in lush greenery with the homes set far apart. We eventually popped out onto huge Payyambalam Beach and enjoyed a shoeless walk on the sand, heading south towards our goal: St. Angelo Fort.

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Bridge Bunting and Flags

We turned inland from the beach and crossed a bridge festooned with iron and sickle flags – a reminder that the state of Kerala was one of the first in the world to freely elect a Communist government. We walked past some very pleasant looking residences, on or near the waterfront. Our southward progress was stymied by a large military installation. Not being able to figure out how to circumnavigate it (and getting very hot) we rode an auto-rickshaw to the fort.

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Making Friends in the Shade

Once there Sue took a break in the shade while I wandered. I had an interesting chat with a priest from Goa who was doing research on the Goan diaspora into Kerala. When I returned to Sue I found her surrounded by a group of Indian women and children, along with a policeman and an UK tourist. Photo ops were exchanged and we had a lively and informative conversation.

We caught an auto-rickshaw downtown to pick up some information from the local tourism centre. Although it showed on my maps.google app we could not find it so stopped at a juice bar. One pineapple juice led to another and then fruit sundaes. Finally refreshed, and with new directions from the shop owner, we set off. We found the tourism office, were given a town map, a brochure and written directions to a Theyyam we could attend the next day.

We were up early and first took an auto-rickshaw, then a bus out of town and then (with the aid of many bystanders!) another auto-rickshaw  to get to the Theyyam. The auto-rickshaw driver took us down narrow country lanes and delivered us to the Kaitheri Puthiya Valappil Temple, near Pinarai. We were greeted by a friendly man who led us into the temple grounds. We were given packets of spices (which seemed to be mostly tumeric) for smearing on our foreheads and top of head (which I did, but not Sue). Next we were led to another shrine where we were given a dollop of paint to dab between our eyes. We then visited two covered areas were performers were being painted. We had arrived on the third day of the festival; many of the people were very tired and lay resting while others we being prepared for the next stage of the ritual.

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First Painting We Saw

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Checking the Paint and Costume

Soon a dance ceremony began. The chenda drums beat a frenetic rhythm, a man bearing closely held torches led two heavily costumed performers into the square, surrounded by a huge crowd. I’ve little idea of what was being enacted; what I read on Wikipedia only gave an outline and mentioned that there are many variations of the Theyyam. Basically we saw a performance, followed by several families gathering at the shrine, followed by another performance in which a young, costumed boy interacted with a rather devilish looking character. (If I can find and pinpoint more information on what we saw I will update this post.)

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Drummers Circle the Shrine

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Man with Torches Leading Procession

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Drummers and Boy

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Fierce Character

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Approach and Retreat (Repeat)

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Resting and Painting

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Intricate Face Painting

All the while many people stopped and talked with us. We met a few people who had returned to the village for the Theyyam from overseas jobs (usually in the UAE) . We were the only Westerners at the Theyyam and we were made to feel very welcome. I think they would have liked us to stay until the end (how many more days?) but we were feeling very hot and dusty and needed to move along. However, in the few hours we were there I took many photos (which was encouraged; I had a local photographer accompany me just before we left to make sure I had photos of the body painting).

We went a little further down the coast to Thalassery,  hoping for some of the town`s famous mussels, but due to the death of a local MP all the shops and restaurants were closed. We settled for a short walk to the small local fort. Interestingly Thalassery is where the British introduced India to cricket (on that very day India and England were locked in a critical game – I`m still trying to figure out the rules).

Although our time in Kunnar was short I’ll never forget the energetic experience of the Theyyam and the locals who welcomed our presence.

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India: Agonda Beach

January 22 – 30, 2017

Practicalities

Accommodation: Romance Huts; 1500-1700INR/night; booked through Agoada and then we extended (and extended again when we couldn’t get train tickets); north end of Agonda Beach with the beach in front and the lagoon in back; hut on stilts overlooking roofs of huts in front right on beach; no WiFi; no free breakfast but a very competitive rate for Agonda Beach.

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Romance Huts

Transportation: bus from Panjim to Margao; auto-rickshaw from Margao to Agonda Beach (900INR). There are at least three booking agents here; one of which got us our train tickets to Kerela (it wasn’t easy with all the internet outages).

Communication: free WiFi available at many of the restaurants: if the internet is working and if the power is on! (frequent outages of both). Iffy Vodaphone mobile coverage.

Food: lots of great restaurants. We frequented the Velvet Sunset next door for breakfasts and dinners; excellent, friendly service and good food. Also ate at Monsoon (I loved their Malai Korta and Nepali Thali); breakfast at Fatima’s was good (yummy cardamon lassi and an espresso machine) as were breakfasts at Duck ‘n’ Chill (great Israeli set breakfast). Madhu had excellent cappuccinos and lattes. Although we’re only eating breakfast and dinner, and they’re not large meals, I don’t think I’m losing much weight despite all the walking and swimming. However, I am thinking I may take a cooking course while we’re in Kerela!

Money: There’s one ATM in town but the booking agents do money exchange (with commission of course, but the bank’s money exchange is a pain). The ATM was frequently out of cash. The demonetization has hit the smaller centres the hardest. Hopefully this will get sorted in the near future, although people are saying the government simply hasn’t printed enough new money to replace that taken out of circulation.

Reflections

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Agonda Beach from the South Looking North

As a fellow traveller said to us: “Agonda Beach is India light.” Although far more crowed than Beach we found Agonda to be very mellow with a nice mix of people: Indians, older folks, families and young people. All of them enjoying the sun and sand. The beach is about 2.5km long with huts and restaurants covering the beachfront back to the small road paralleling the beach. Along the road are more restaurants, accommodations and shops. Cows wander freely everywhere and can be quite comical when trying to get into restaurants and bars. I had one youngster sidle up to me and lean into me. She enjoyed a good rub and then we went our separate ways. The scooters, bikes, auto-rickshaws and cars can be a bit daunting for pedestrians on the narrow road. However, that seems the norm in India.

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Road Behind the Beach

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Morning Cow on Agonda Beach

We didn’t do much other than swim, walk on the beach, eat and yoga (Sue). When it was just too hot outside we took some down time in our hut to sleep or read. Life became very simple and very relaxed.

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One of Many Sunsets

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Sunset Photos are Sooo Cliche!

We did venture off to another beach one day: Cola (Khola). We took a wrong route and ended up at a more northerly part of that beach which was OK. And part way on our longer than expected walk we were rescued by three scooters who gave us a lift and pointed out the small road to the beach. The beach, however, had an uninspiring brown scum on the water surface. It made for an interesting change of scenery but we enjoyed swimming at Agonda Beach far more. Often there’s a bit of a surf break but we just went beyond it and swam and floated to our hearts` content.

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Bovines on the Road to Cola Beach

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Our Scooter Cavalry to the Rescue

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Khola Beach?

Apparently Agonda Beach has developed rapidly in the last few years. I know our several years old guidebook referred to it as very undeveloped and uncrowded. Well, the crowds have found it and fortunately they’re pretty darned mellow.

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Morning Crowd Walking the Beach

Another big difference we noticed here was how clean it is. On the ride from Margao we first noticed how clean the roadside is, along with collection points for garbage. Agonda Beach is swept clean daily by roving cleaners who collect all the trash. Plus there are many signs around encouraging proper disposal of garbage and recyclables. I had read a couple of articles about garbage strewn around in Goa, but it seems there’s now an awareness of the problem. Maybe it’s just in the tourist zones but at least it’s a start. We also learned that the lifeguards in conjunction with the local vet spay and feed the unclaimed local dogs. There are many of them and they sometimes sneak people’s sandals or bags off the beach. I rescued a bag left on the beach by a swimmer from two dogs who were having a tug of war with it and dragged it into the water.

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Crab in Camo Mode

On our last day I went for a 2 hour river cruise. Once beyond the bridge the sound of traffic faded and it became very very peaceful. Bird calls, fish splashes.

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River Reflections

The guide poled his way up the river.

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River Guide: Kalidas

We stopped at a large rice paddy for a look just before we turned back.

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A Cashew Tree on the River’s Edge

We ended up staying on Agonda Beach longer than we’d planned but we could have happily stayed even longer. ‘India Light’ can be very relaxing and easy.

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Fish Boats on the Beach

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India: Panjim

January 19 – 21

Practicalities:

Accommodation:

Old Quarter by the hostelcrowd: Both nights in the annex; Thursday night in a twin (1400INR); Friday night in a double (1800INR); double a very comfy room with a/c and fan. Annex is a nicely renovated old Goan home. Wifi better downstairs than up.

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Old Quarter by thehostelcrowd – main building

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Old Quarter Annex

Bharat Lodge: one night in a great, quiet second floor corner room. Biggest bathroom yet with Hot water! (1200INR) night (Saturday night). Family owned and operated. Spacious room and best bathroom yet. Strong wifi.

Transportation:

Arrived by a very slow train from Ratnagiri. Train was over an hour late to start. But we went with general seating and the cost was very low (200INR for both or us). Bonus was we got to chat with fellow passengers and Sue struck up a friendship with a young man who provided some good info for us. We disembarked at Karmali which is close to Panjim (10km). In retrospect it may have been better to have caught the earlier express and paid the few extra dollars to back track from Madgaon (43km from Panjim). We hired an auto-rickshaw to deliver us to Old Quarter (300INR).

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Waiting for Train at Ratnagiri Station

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Goats at Sunset from Train Door

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Smoky Sunset from Train

For trip to Old Goa we went by local bus (40INR return).

Food:

Old Quarter provides nice breakfast, either Western or Goan. Excellent coffee!

George’s for lunch and first beers in over a week. Finding Kingfisher beer is giving me headaches – might be the glycerol! Good service and prices.

Route 66: stopped in for a couple of cold ones and nachos. Nachos very expensive by Western standards. Kings beer (Goa only) was tasty; bit maltier than Kingfisher. Balcony view with a cooling fan.

Viva Panjim for dinner. I had King fish curry which I quite liked. Tried feni (local cashew alcohol) which I wasn’t crazy about (even when really watered down). Price was reasonable for location, ambience, food but I found our waiter to be rather arrogant.

Didn’t see much street food around the neighbourhoods we stayed in (Fontainhas and Saó Tome).

Drinking lots of water! Missing my big pots of endless tea. Haven’t had enough lassis yet.

Reflections

True to form we’re making up our itinerary as we go along…

Leaving the Konkan Coast wasn’t easy but we felt the need to reconnect with the outer world via the internet, do laundry and visit an ATM. We were delivered to the Ratnagiri train station by auto-rickshaw and decided to wait for the later train to take us closer to Panjim. Between the wait and the slow, late train we had a long day. It was fun riding in general seating but arriving so late I found exhausting. However, we arrived on the evening we planned to and in a really special little city.

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Funky Bike in Front of Funky Building

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Another (Very) Funky Building

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The Fountain from which Fountainhas Neighbourhood takes its Name

We decided to visit Panjim as the descriptions we read of its Portugese Old Quarter made it sound fascinating. And it is. We’ve spent hours simply meandering around Fountainhas and Saó Tome, looking at the beautiful old homes and buildings. Sometimes it’s hard to remember we’re in India as both of us are reminded of other countries we’ve visited, both European and countries colonized by Europeans. Goa has a large Christian population, so there are many churches and cathedrals but we also saw the colourful Hindu Maruti Temple while on a morning walk.

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Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception

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Maruti Temple

We walked in daylight and nighttime. The temperature is not much hotter than Mumbai but it does seem more humid. We welcomed a respite sitting in the Campai Garden along the Mondovi River. One of the first things we noticed on our drive in from the train were the proliferation of large neon, and other forms of light, signs along the far shore. Then there’s the floating casinos going up and down the river at night.

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Church by Night

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Casino by Night

We did walk through a more modern part of Panjim to check out the municipal market and the cinema complex (still itching for a Bollywood flick). The streets are not in a grid so we got slightly lost once or twice but eventually found our way using printed tourist maps and maps.google when desparate.

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Sign in Municipal Market

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Sign in Goa Forestry Gardens

On our last day we caught a small local bus to Old Goa, the former Portugese capital of the province. In the 1500s its population was larger than either Lisbon’s or London’s. But the Inquisition and an epidemic ended that. Eventually the capital was moved to Panjim. Today Old Goa is a UNESCO and Indian heritage site, comprised primarily of the old churches. One, St. Augustine, is an immense ruin with a 46m, half destroyed, bell tower rearing up on the skyline.

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Old Goa: Palms and Churches

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Ceiling and Dome in Church of St. Cajetan

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Sue on the Road

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Bell Tower in Ruins of Church of St. Augustine

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Altar of Our Lady of Sorrow

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and for Those Who Need to Shop …

We’re ready to move on again, to find that perfect little idyllic spot to settle for a week or two… we’ve booked a few nights at Agonda Beach, about 40km to the south of us. We’re both thinking a bit of yoga, maybe some meditation, some more swimming and floating would be just fine.

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India: Malgund

The Practicalities

Accommadations: Shubhankar Homestay; booked through booking.com; $26/night + amenities

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Shubhankar Homestay

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Morning View from our Front Door

Food: Other than the breakfasts at Shubhankar we ate at a small Indian/Chinese restaurant a 5 minute walk south on the main road.

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Chef at Wok

Transportation: we arrived via train and auto-rickshaw and walked while there.

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The Main Road

Communication: no wifi but we went to an internet shop in the village a couple of times; my phone’s internet connection was slow and iffy

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Reflections

Reflections

This was all about the beach. One huge, long, amazingly textured beach with almost no one on it. Ok, on the weekend a few people, plus some folks from a retreat came out at sunset to stand in the water. Otherwise there were times when we were the only people on the beach.

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Looking South

However, the many small crabs created interesting textures on the beach  from their burrowing.

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Our Carriage Awaits

We walked to the train station at 6am and boarded for our 7am departure. We had a 4 berth compartment all to ourselves for the 8 hour ride. We couldn’t open the window but had A/C if we felt hot. It was our own little world complete with yummy foods (cheap). It took at least an hour to clear Mumbai and then we were crossing the misty plains leading to the Western Ghats, a range of hills strung down the west coast.

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Inside Our Carriage

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Leaving Mumbai Behind

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Into the Hills

An hour long auto-rickshaw ride up the coast from Ratnagiri delivered us to our homestay; bouncing along with tantalizing view of long long beaches and past numerous small villages. Although there wasn’t much traffic  everyone dodges and whips around one another.

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Beach Traffic was Much Slower

Malgund is on the Konkan Coast, an area popular with Indian tourists but not Western. That’s probably because the tourist infrastructure here is not geared for Western tourists. Very few people speak English, beyond the usual “Hello. Where are you from?”. We managed to get along just fine though as our hosts spoke English and smiles and gestures can go a long way.

There isn’t a whole lot to say about endless walks on the beach: watching spinning spiral shells with hermit crabs roll back and forth in the spume; little tiny quarter inch clams borrow themselves into the sand; 1 -2 inch crabs burrow their way also, leaving intricate patterns on the surface; the sound of wind and surf. The small surf was fun to  swim and float in.

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Stranded Skate

We booked for three nights, we stayed for five (partly because I got the sniffles, but it was easy to stay).

Other than walking on the Malgund Beach we walked to Malgund village several times and to Ganpati Pule once. Ganpati Pule is a temple destination. We did go to see the Ganesh temple there but the lineups were so long we ended up on the local beach instead. It was crowded. It was fun to watch how Indians enjoy the beach.

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Ganpati Pule Beach Scene

Poor Sue. She felt compelled to swim in pants and T-shirt so as to not shock the locals. Meanwhile I could strip to swim trunks and fit right in. We did meet a few locals and Indian tourists on the beach and in the village. All in all our time at Malgund was very laid-back. On our last evening we strolled down a back road, past a temple and many small homes in the dusk. Little traffic disturbed us and a few other people were out enjoying the evening.It was so peaceful we weren’t sure we really wanted to leave.

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Beach Texture

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