A Travellerspoint blog

Elephants, Long Walks, and Sunsets...

Kerala Part 2

semi-overcast 78 °F
View India, Jan 2011 on jkirsch's travel map.

We had a slightly more relaxed end to our time in Kerala. I say only slightly because our time in Periyar started off with a dawn-to-dusk excursion through the tiger preserve there. We didn’t manage to see any tigers (an incredibly rare occurrence), but we were fortunate enough to spot a group of elephants (we’d ridden a “domesticated” one the day before, but this was way cooler), a pack of wild dogs, some boar, and a bison. We were on foot, so thankfully there was a bit of distance each time – apparently bison can be particularly ornery. The scenery in the park provided quite a backdrop for the day, especially with the preserve almost entirely closed off to humans.

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Riding.jpgA Little cheesy perhaps, but hey who knows when we'll get another chance?

After Periyar, we were off to a homestay at Philipkutty's farm in the Kerala backwaters, a 4-hour drive along winding two lane roads.

Road_to_Kumarakom.jpgRoad to Kumarakom

At this point, it’s probably worth spending a moment to talk about the driving experience in Kerala (and I’m guessing India more generally). Most roads in Kerala are no more than two lanes, and often times only one. I say lanes quite liberally as at any time, all manner of vehicles from large buses to auto-rickshaws and motorbikes are using shoulder, the middle of the road, or the oncoming lane to constantly overtake slower cars, passing inches from other vehicles and people. All this is orchestrated by what seems to be a special language of horns and maneuvers. I would’ve liked to get photos that somehow captured this, but alas I was worried that if I spent to long looking at the tiny screen on my camera, I might lose my lunch. Apparently, starting today some new traffic laws are due to go into effect that will bring errant drivers into line, but I’d say the jury’s out on any lasting impact.

So, back on track… We spent our first night in the backwaters at the working Philipkutty's farm on an island in lake Vembamad (the second largest inland lake in India). Besides coconut and cacao, the farm also features six traditional cottages for guests as well as two dachshunds and a Great Dane. The small size gave us a nice opportunity to meet some of the other guests over wonderful meals prepared by the owner’s mother. Overall, the laid back atmosphere at Philipskutty was a welcome change of pace.

Dachshund.jpgOn the Move at Philipkutty's

We wrapped up our time in Kerala on an overnight houseboat cruise through the backwaters. My only past experience houseboatin’ was a bachelor party weekend spent on lake Shasta, so this was a decidedly different experience. We spent the afternoon cruising through the canals, stopping off at a village to visit a 500-year old church. We did feel a little silly as there was a crew of three aboard to pilot the boat and prepare food, but they were all low-key and made for a great experience. To top off the cruise, we moored for the evening in a more isolated spot and caught a gorgeous sunset.

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As long as our SpiceJet flight isn’t delayed any more, stay tuned for the next update from Delhi. Thanks for reading!

Posted by jkirsch 22:10 Archived in India Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises lakes animals boats nature india kerala Comments (0)

Masala Chai Tahr Time!

Kerala Part 1

semi-overcast 70 °F
View India, Jan 2011 on jkirsch's travel map.

Our first few days in Kerala have been VERY busy (up by 8am every day, which is pretty much blasphemy for Jake and I when we’re on vacation), but well worth it. Here’s a quick recap of Days 1-3.

Day 1: Kochin (Cochi), one of the major cities in Kerala. We spent the morning touring the major historical sites of the Fort Cochin area of the city. The architecture in Fort Cochin is beautiful, as are the views, but overall we were a little underwhelmed by the city. Pretty much every building is a hotel or restaurant catering to tourists, so it was hard to get a feel for the place. Plus, there were way too many dreadlocked twenty-something Euro hippies and retiree-tour groups hanging around for our tastes.

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Fishing Nets in Kochi
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Traditional Manual Laundry in Kochi

Far more interesting to write about was our afternoon activity: “enjoying” an ayurvedic massage. Note that the word “enjoying” is in quotation marks. That is because I don’t think I actually enjoyed it. Here’s what happened: we show up for our massages, and I (Nicole) am escorted into a room by a young Indian woman who promptly asks me to undress. (“Everything?” “Everything.” “Naked?” “Naked.”) I’m not that uncomfortable with nudity, but I’ve never taken off all of my clothes while a total stranger watches. Next, the woman ties a sort of loincloth made of gauze around me, has me lay down on a table, and proceeds to pour and rub about half a gallon of coconut oil on me. I think it was supposed to be relaxing, but it really wasn’t. I think it was the excessive breast massaging that put me a little on edge. (Incidentally, I had to take two showers and use two small bars of soap to get all that oil off of me.) So, a bizarre experience that I will never repeat again, but interesting nonetheless.

Days 2 and 3: Munnar. Munnar, about 100-km away from Kochin, is a tea-growing region in Kerala. I was actually on the fence about visiting it, but I am so glad that we did. The views are absolutely spectacular; Jake’s pictures will probably do a better job than my words can at expressing just how beautiful and other-worldly this place truly is. Most of the land is covered by tea estates, originally established in the 19th century by the English, but now owned and operated by the workers themselves (the tea estates became a cooperative in 2005).

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Munnar Tea Estates
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Chai Walla in Munnar Market

In Munnar, we were lucky enough to have a fantastic guide name Suri-raj who taught us about tea-making and showed us some of the local wildlife. Did you know that all tea comes from the same plant? You probably did, but Jake and I didn’t. We both thought that there were green-tea plants, black-tea plants, etc., but in fact the differences are just in the way the leaves are processed.

Before leaving Munnar, Suri-raj took us to the Eravikulam National Park, which is probably most famous as being the home to the endangered tahr mountain goat, which only lives in the Western Ghats (the mountain range in Kerala), the Himalayas, and Oman. It was a good thing we had Suri-raj along to teach us about the goats, because during our visit we were asked by the local TV news channel to give a short interview about the goat. Yes, you read that right: Jake and I were interviewed for TV about the tahr mountain goat on a scenic view point at a national park in India. I think our segment was going to be broadcast tonight, but our hotel doesn’t have a TV so we’ll never know. As if that weren’t enough to inflate our egos, we also ended up starring in a photo shoot with a school group from Andra Pradesh. It was totally bizarre….and yet really fun.

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Jake gives his expert opinion on the tahr goat.
Crowd.jpgItalic
Is that Brangelina?!?!
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Chillin' with the Nilgiri Tahr

Those were the highlights so far. Time for bed now; we have to get up early for a rafting and hiking trip in the Periyar Tiger Preserve! Until then….

Posted by jkirsch 20:16 Archived in India Tagged mountains fishing nature tea kerala munnar massage kochi Comments (1)

Jet lagged and traffic jammed...

Mumbai (Bombay), India

sunny 78 °F
View India, Jan 2011 on jkirsch's travel map.

After 24+ hours of travel and a short overnight in Delhi, we spent most of our first day in Mumbai recovering. Of course this had to include some eating and we enjoyed a fantastic late lunch at Mahesh Lunch Home, a seafood restaurant in the relaxed northern suburb of Juhu. Unfortunately, after some large-format Kingfishers and a large meal, we succumbed to jetlag and a 2-hour nap.

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Delicious Chili Garlic Prawns at Mahesh Lunch Home

We were, however, determined to make the most of our next 36 hours in the city.

We stayed at the intimate Juhu Residency Hotel just down the street from Mahesh. The area was great, but lay about 12 miles north of the city's epicenter on Nariman Point. This, combined with Mumbai's notorious traffic meant that we spent a significant portion of Thursday – our second day – traversing the city in taxis. At least they're incredibly cheap, and even our hour-plus ride home from dinner in the south that evening only rang up at $5.50.

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In spite of the long transits, we still had a great day and highlights included an auto-rickshaw ride to Bandra to pick up traditional outfits for the coming nuptials (photos will definitely follow), enjoying a snack in the Sea Lounge at the Taj Mahal Palace, and meeting up with our friend Annie for a beer at Leopold's (a tourist and backpacker favorite), a walk through central Mumbai and dinner.

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Gateway to India (with the Taj on the left side)

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Leopold's Cafe in Colaba

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Mumbai at Night

We headed north on our final morning in Mumbai in the company of Amin – a wonderful guide recommended by Gary Leff on his blog A View from the Wing. Amin’s story is worth a bit of a digression. He had run away from home in one of the city’s slums after his father passed away and lived on the streets between the ages of 5 and 8. Jesuits spotted him in a train station and brought him to live in one of their orphanages. Later, their support would lead to jobs and his purchase of a used car to start his tour business. Amin had an incredibly warm and kind personality reflected in his current sponsorship of several orphans and offer to accompany us in Mumbai should we return, even if we couldn’t afford to pay.

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Amin brought us to the Kaheri Caves, a 2000-year old Buddhist site set in a nature preserve a world apart from the chaos of the city just a few miles away, especially as we were left to explore it almost alone (though hordes of young schoolchildren appeared just as we were leaving). The caves had been carved into volcanic rock and served as residences and a center for learning and meditation. They were remarkably well preserved, with ornate carvings and several frescoes remaining inside the caves.

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The site also featured monkeys, which we’re always suckers for.

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After the caves, it was back into the Mumbai traffic for a ride to the airport. Next stop, Kochi and Kerala!

NB: Amin Sheikh can be reached through his website http://www.snehatravels.in/

Posted by jkirsch 23:30 Archived in India Tagged traffic food india city mumbai Comments (1)

India and a return to blogging!

After an 18-month hiatus, we've decided to use the occasion of a trip to India to start writing about our travels again. We'll see how long we manage to keep it up, but it was a great way to capture our memories and experiences, and we've found ourselves flipping through the entries every now and then.

The main event in India is a friend's wedding in Delhi over the weekend of January 15/16, but we're also taking advantage of the trip to visit Mumbai, several points in Kerala, and Agra. Unclear how often we'll have internet, but we'll try to do updates every few days.

Thanks for coming along!

- Jake & Nicole

Posted by jkirsch 15:41 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Home at last!

Our trip in numbers and other assorted bits...

After 61 days and 18 stops we finally reached San Francisco this Monday evening. We're still getting over jetlag, but I think have become much more immune over the past two months. Though our amazing trek is now over, I think we both feel that its good to be in one place for a while.

Our Trip in Numbers

Days Traveled: 61
Places Visited: 18
Air Miles Traveled: 79,224
Airlines Flown: 12
% to Budget: 99.1% (we saved 0.9%!)
Inflight Movies Watched: 29
Amount spent on Tips (outside of meals): $282
Cheapest non-fast-food dinner: $10 (Chen's Mapo Doufu in Chengdu)
Amount spend on animal-related attractions: $97
Number of visits to McDonalds: 7

Thanks for coming along with us!

-Jake & Nicole

Posted by jkirsch 17:49 Comments (1)

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