A Travellerspoint blog

Kumily - Tea, spices, "India's best nature reserve"

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When we got off the bus in Kumily we fended off the usual slew of tuk-tuk drivers that wanted to help us find a place to stay (with unmentioned commissions to them for the referral). Then as I was buying water someone got talking to Sue, offered to take us to "his brother"'s new hotel, and she thought it would be worth a look. I'm usually more of a sucker for a sales pitch than she is so I followed, ignoring my useful reflex of wanting to shake off people trying to help me spend money. It ended up being a great decision. 5 minutes walk from the places recommended in the guide book and city center, there were several very nice places, some even living up to the title of hotel. The one the tuk tuk driver dropped us off at was not quite done being built, had almost no customers (being off the guide book map), and we eventually bargained them down to 250 Rs ($5.50) for a large room with king-sized bed, tv (including HBO Movies), and hot water. Great value for money, and confirmation to trust woman's intuition over my own. Unfortunately we didn't take pics of the place.

We took a scheduled tour of a tea plantation and factory and a spice garden, and we were the only two people on the tour. Having never even seen a tea plantation I found it very interesting. Because of the way the tea is harvested (new leaves are cut), each plant is trimmed in such a way that it does not touch the neighboring plant. Also, the trees are cut very short and pruned regularly, so that a 100 year old tea tree, which could grow 20 metres tall, will in fact be the same size as a bush shrub so that all leaves on the surface of the tree can be reached by a labourer.

The spice garden and flower garden had some wierd stuff, like a fruit which is a hallow spiky ball with nothing inside; trees with long furry leaves ("cat's tails"), and pineapple plants.

The tour ended as night was falling, with a quick stop at a coffee plantation, which had lots of big spiders on webs between the trees (spiders about 6 inches including legs, nets several feet across).

That night we found out the wonders of chicken 65: spicy chicken deep-fried on roadside woks, and sold for the bargain price of 15 rupees (30 cents) per 100g (roughly $1.50/lb for freshly cooked chicken). So good, so cheap. Next to one of the stands was a truck full of cows.

That night Sue wasn't feeling well, so I went alone to a Kalari (Indian traditional martial art) demonstration. It was good, but because the fighting was choreographed (especially with weapons - like dagger vs cloth; sword vs bare hands) it was hard to tell what an actual battle would look like.

The main reason we went to Kumily because our trusty guidebook raved about Periyar national park as the premier nature reserve in India, with an awesome boat ride that offers the opportunity to see much wildlife and varied forest. Unfortunately a week before we got there, one boat from the fleet sunk, killing 30 people; since then all boat rides were suspended. It is also not permitted to walk off the paved road without a guide. So we walked along the main road from end to end, saw the docked boats, saw a couple monkeys, a hornet nest and a deer, and were generally disappointed about our stop at Periyar nature reserve.

Posted by chrisvasil 21:16 Archived in India Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Allepey - Slow Kerala backwater boat tour

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Somewhere on Lonely Planet's list of 10 things you need to do before you die is to take a houseboat along the Kerala backwaters in Southern India. We did the next best thing, taking a 5-hour rowboat tour, just the two of us and the driver / rowing guy (costing 500 Rs, or $11). It was a rainy day, which was good because it wasn't too hot or crowded, though it also meant the villages were a bit less active than usual. We saw lots of jungle, villages of people fishing, doing laundry, getting married (at least it seemed to be a wedding), rice paddies, and lots of houseboats. It was a nice, relaxing ride though I wouldn't rate it as a must-do - it is not too different from a boat ride along any river or lake in a natural setting.

A row of houseboats about 1km from the city, waiting for high season and throngs of tourists.

Villagers bathing. I'm sure they don't mind being watched, otherwise I guess they would have to move.

Typical riverbank in an area without villages or farms.

Our driver was really nice, and found a couple flowers for Sue to put in her hair. He especially liked orange flowers, or maybe thought it's her colour - 3 of the 3 he picked were in shades of orange. Anyway Sue looks even better than usual with flowers in her hair.

During construction season clean fill needs to be moved, and the most convenient way to do it seems to be by longboat.

Same with tractors, though those take up more than one boat.

We passed by what was possibly a wedding, where we saw more people in a minute than in the rest of the 5-hour boat ride.

The next day we took a 2 hour ferry to get out of town, where we saw many similar sights to the rowboat at a fraction of the price (30 Rs or 65 cents per person).

Posted by chrisvasil 21:16 Archived in India Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Cochin - 800 year old Chinese fishing nets, terrible palace

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Nov 6-8 Cochin - 800 year old functional Chinese fishing nets

Cochin (now Kochi) is comprised of 2 main parts connected by boat: Fort Cochin, the historical district; and Erakulum, the modern city part. We stayed in Erakulum but spent 2 days (1 morning and 1 evening) in Fort Cochin.

In line for the ferry across, we saw the best Euromullet of the trip.

The main road in Fort Cochin is covered with wholesalers of things like tea and rice.

2 churches and a synagogue, in Fort Cochin. The second church has a Jesus draped in Indian clothes, riding a horse, and carrying a sword. That church is located in Jew Town, and was blessed by His Excellency Rt. Rev. Dr. something, Bishop of Cochin. India is big on titles.

The old Dutch Castle is ok value for money for the 2 Rupees (4 cents) entrance fee, but given that it is one of the main draws to Cochin it's very disappointing. It's basically a 2-storey industrial-looking building with peeling paint and a small museum on the inside. I didn't take any pictures, but it looked like half the (budget) places where we stayed.

At night we went to a Kerali play, which is preceeded by applying make-up on the actors. The make-up is extremely elaborate, taking about an hour. The white parts along the neck of the green guy are stuck on using tools and clay in such a way as to completely hide the seams along his face, and the yellow guy has a coat of purple face paint under the yellow, which gives kind of a two-toned effect when he's on stage. No words are used in the play; instead communication is through dance, hand gestures, and facial expressions which are explained at the beginning of the show. Apparently people that study the genre can understand entire dialogues and plots, but to us it was a bunch of dancing with a few wonderful facial expressions. For the next couple weeks I was looking at Sue with an expression of romance, as demonstrated, which involved keeping my eyes big, moving my eyebrows, and looking around a lot. The story, explained in the programme, is more-or-less as follows: the green guy is a good god; the black guy is a demon; when the demon is making a delivery of maidens to the god, the demon falls in love with the god. The demon then transforms into a beautiful woman, tries to seduce the god, fails, and turns back into the demon. When the god sees that the demon was trying to seduce him, he vanquishes the demon.

The Fort Cochin area was on a trade route with China, and one excellent piece of engineering that they kept from 800 years ago are the fishing nets. They are massive nets that balance on a hinge, counter-balanced by rocks of roughly the same weight on a pulley. The net part goes in the water, and is pulled back up some minutes later with any marine life that was swimming above it at the time. The system was economical for large-scale fishing until a few decades ago, and is still used for small-scale fishing (more effecient to have 5 people working this fishing net than using fishing rods, but less effecient than using trawlers or other modern large-scale techniques). As the sun began to set we happened upon a fish market, where the catch of the day was being weighed and sold by the box. We wanted to see the trading the next morning, but woke up too late.

Cats joining in the fish-eating fun

There were a lot of exotic (possibly illegal) fish for sale. Here is what I believe to be a baby hammerhead shark.

Unexpectedly, a fancy mall boasts Abad Food Court, while slightly repressed induividuals may live in the Bay Pride Tower and shop at the Bay Pride Mall.

Posted by chrisvasil 21:00 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Goa - Fun and sun on India's beaches

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Goa is a province that remained a colony of Portugal for about a decade after India's independence from Britain. There are some great beaches, and it is a popular spot among Europeans for resort holidays. Since we went by train rather than on a package tour, we were able to go to a town where the beaches aren't full of tourists and paid just Rs 250 (just over $5) per night for our hotel room. Sue spent most of her time near the beach, and I went into the sea for a few hours, swimming with and against the current, jumping over the waves (the water was mostly knee to waist high), and just playing over there.

There were lots of crayfish, tiny crabs, and starfish. The crabs move around a lot when their ground is disturbed, so that when you upon picking up handful of sand the sand usually vibrates until the crab isn't there anymore. I tried to get crayfish to fight, but didn't have any luck with that. We dug for clams toward the end of our second day there, and some locals Sue befriended helped. We ended up with a big bag of clams, and we spent about an hour to find a restaurant which would cook it. Most places the staff looked at us like there was something wrong with us for wanting to eat clams, but finally we found a place. They were very good, though a bit sandy.

Posted by chrisvasil 02:58 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Update - North India (Oct 17-Nov 5)

Posted Nov 27

My most recent update comprises half our India trip, so I'm now 3 weeks behind.
We are now in Penang, Malaysia, and leaving for Phuket, Thailand tomorrow.
Under 3 months before I go back home, I reckon :(
Also updated the map, showing where we've traveled since early June

Posted by chrisvasil 02:44 Comments (0)

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