A Travellerspoint blog

India

Cochin and Summary of India

We finished off our days in Cochin which is a very big town in Kerala. It is divided up into an old and new town. The new town is just a very busy Indian town but the old town is very pretty and its where most of the tourists stay. The main reason is that is very picturesque, its very relaxing and has lots of good restaurants etc. It was touristy but we didnt mind that and we just relaxed in a lovely homestay, done a bit sightseeing and as usual, we ate. There was one restaurant in particular that i had the one of the best meals of my life in. I went back a second time and ordered the same thing and this time i couldn't resist but tell the waiter how it was one of the best meals of my life!!! (both ger and the waiter were very amused at my excitement). We also went to see some of Keralas famous traditional dance Kathakali which was very interesting. Kathakali performers train for 9 years in the different aspects of this tradition such as the dancing, acting, drumming, make- up. While it was a little difficult to understand, it was fascinating none the less. After a few lovely days in Cochin we said a fond farewell to Kerala and headed for Kathmandu, Nepal.

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India Summary

India is so big and each state varies so much from one another so this is a summary about Kerala, India as we weren't in any other states (except Mumbai for 2 days). Before I started the yoga course, a past pupil advised me to approach the course with an open mind and you will love it. I think this the advice I would give to people about Kerala. It was a wonderful introduction to India.


Food

As you probably have guessed from the blog entries, we enjoyed the food. The local food is mostly vegetarian although there are meat/fish dishes too. We ate mostly vegetarian though as it was so good. Most of the food we ate was in the local restaurants and it was very cheap. At the beginning we didnt know what we were ordering but I would highly recommend this method. I use to just randomly ordered veg dishes and not once was I disappointed. After a few weeks, I came to know what the dishes were. The most popular dish is the kerala meal which consists of rice and about 6 different sauces, chutneys, veg. Its served a lot a lunch times and we use to get it every day at yoga for lunch. Once thing to note about the local restaurants is that people eat with their hand so its something to get use to.

Transport

In the towns, the traffic is crazy and people beep all the time so for the first two weeks, I was nervous even walking around but I soon got use to the mayhem although i would never attempt to drive or cycle in a town in India i think. We use to get rickshaws around which were great and cheap. For longer journeys we used the public bus mostly. Ger used some trains also. The public bus looks kind of run down from outside but its actually fine on the inside and most of them are comfortable enough. They also dont have windows (just plastic shutters to pull down if it rains) but its great because it never gets too hot as a result. The public buses are really cheap too and always leave on time. On long journeys, they stop so you an use the bathroom, stock up on food etc. They aren't luxurious but everyone uses them and I was a big fan of them after a few journeys.

Accommodation

There are lots of options but we stayed in homestays mostly with the odd exception. Homestays are like B&B's and sometimes they quite large so are like a mini-hotel/guesthouse. Generally they are very reasonably priced and you can check the rooms on arrival.
All of the ones we stayed in were great, some were realy nice and they were about 12 euro per night including breakfast but you can get much cheaper. Here is a list of the ones we stayed in.

Kollam: Astamudi Villas (http://shtamudivillas.com/index.html)

Kumily:http: Greenview homestay www.sureshgreenview.com/

Munnar: Greenviewholiday inn http://greenviewmunnar.com/

Munnar:Kaivalym Retreat http://www.kaivalyamretreat.com/

Cochin: Heavenly Homestay http://www.homestayfortcochin.com/

Weather

Kerala was very hot and humid in most places but if you want a break from the heat then head for the hills of Munnar. It's a lot colder. The heat for us was pretty bad by the time we were leaving. but its manageable once you avoid activities mid day. If anyone wants advice on the best suncreams, message me as i think we are the best endorsement of the creams - we are still pale!!!!

Dodging Mosquito Status: Not too bad here in Nepal, i dont think they are great mountain climbers!!!! although i see a few lurking in the lowlands.

Posted by ofenelon 18:04 Archived in India Comments (0)

A few recipes from Kerala, India

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Hi all,

Here are just some recipes from our lessons in India. I havent tried these again yet so let me know if it works out. I think it will. You can try use sunflower oil if cant get coconut oil but should be able to get all in indian shop. The egg and bean curry are very easy to make, very healthy and good for you. I have put up the parotta recipe too. Its a bread and very simple to make but technically its a little harder to explain so send me a message if you have any hassle. Here is a you tube link to making parotta where they use a rolling pin so it might be a little easier to follow. Kerala parotta... happy cooking :)

Bean Curry

Ingredients

3tbsp Coconut oil -
1 tbsp Mustard seeds -
Curry Leaves - handful
Green Beans (500g) finely chopped
1 small onion finely chopped
2 tsps salt
50ml water
Grated Coconut (1 full fresh)
1 green chilli
1 clove garlic
1 tspTumeric
1 tsp cumin

Method
1. Heat coconut oil
2. Add mustard seeds to hot oil until they dance
3. Add in curry leaves
4. Add in beans, onion, salt and water and simmer for 15-20min
5. Crush the coconut, chilli, garlic, tumeric and cumin into a paste (blender) and stir into bean mix. 6. Ready to eat.

Variation: Can be repeated with any chopped veg. Could use carrots, cabbage, beetroot or beans. Can use shallot instead of onion. If using beetroot dont use tumeric in the paste.

Egg Curry
Ingredients

3 spoons coconut oil
1 tsp Mustard seeds
Curry leaves handful
Garlic and ginger paste
1 small onion chopped
1 tomato chopped
1 tsp salt
coriander (handful)
1 tsp turmeric
3 tsp masala spices [cardomom, black pepper, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise] can get this pre-mixed in indian shop.
chilli powder 1 tsp
5 hard-boiled eggs
200mls of coconut milk

Hard boil the eggs in advance.

1. Heat coconut oil
2. Add mustard seeds to hot oil until they dance
3. Add in curry leaves, garlic and ginger paste, onions and stir.
4. Add in coriander and tomatoe and stir-fry until everything is a soft paste
5. Add turmeric, masala spices, chilli powder and salt along with 200ml water. Leave to simmer.
6. Add coconut milk to mix, chop boiled eggs in half and add.

Kerala Parotta Very common bread served with meals.

Ingredients

1kg white flour
300ml water
1tsp sugar
1tsp salt
Sunflower oil

Method
1. Mix water, salt and sugar.
2. Sieve the flour, make hole in the middle to add water mixture
3. Gradually add water mixture to the flour
4. Once added, knead the mixture well to form a dough. Knead for about 10 min.
5. Add a little sunflower oil to the dough and divide into small balls (can use flat of palm for this)
6. Drizzle sunflower oil over the dough balls, flatten them slightly and leave for 5 mins.
7. To shape, use the base of the hand an flatten edges. Then holding the shape, gently slap mixture off worktop and stretch (tip: use four fingers of left hand above mixture and four fingers of right hand below mixture.
8. Once stretched, hold mixture up and twirl into the palm of the hand (like a walnut whirl). When finishing tuck end in underneath.
9. Heat oil on pan, flatten out the twirl and add to hot oil. Fry each side until lightly browned.
10. Remove from pan and squeeze together firmly to give a battered appearance.

Posted by ofenelon 19:34 Archived in India Comments (2)

Mountains, Spices and Tea

These are a few of my favourite things!!!!

After Trivandrum, I fancied a bit relaxation and a bit of comfort. The guesthouse that I was in for a month was fine but the bed was made entirely of wood with no springs and just a skinny mattress so needless to say i was on the look-out for a decent mattress again. Also, since leaving ireland hot showers have been very rare so that was high on my priority list too. Bearing that in mind, i wasn’t exactly hard to please when locating a nice destination for our travels again. I found my luxury at the lakeside in kollam. Kollam is a town in the famous backwaters on Kerala. We decided to stay in lovely bungalows beside Ashtamudi lake. It was great place to chill and we took a canoe boat tour around the backwaters. The backwaters are very famous in Kerala and are basically waterways that weave though villages eventually ending up in the sea. They support a lot of local villages through supplying fish, sand, transport etc. and are very peaceful to travel around. Many people rent the famous Houseboats and spend the night on the backwaters. We decided not to as it’s expensive and not that very environmentally friendly. The trip on the canoe boat was 3 hours long and was really beautiful and peaceful. It was enough to give us a good idea of life around the backwaters.

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After Kollam, we got a bus back to Kumily where Ger was previously. He suggested we go back as he thought I would like it there and he was right. Located in spice country, kumily is home to lots and lots of spice shops (plus delicious homemade chocolate :)) and is a very peaceful village. It is geared up for tourists as its popular with Indian tourists, its not hard to see why. Its very scenic, its doesn’t have the noise of the cities and you can get tours of the spice gardens which are very interesting. It is also famous for Periyar Tiger Reserve. It’s a massive national park home to tigers, monkeys, elephants, giant squirrels etc. It also has a beautiful lake. There are lots of activities inside the park and we done some bamboo rafting in the hope we might spot some of the wildlife. The rafting was good but it was very slow, Ger and I were hoping for a little bit more activity. There was also no shade on the raft so we very very hot. The scenery was breathtaking though so it was worth the visit. We didn’t see any wild tigers or elephants but saw some giant squirrels, bison, langur monkeys and some cool birds. The tigers are very rarely seen (probably for the best!!). I think the highlight of the trip to kumily was watching the langur monkeys from our guesthouse. They are meant to be quite shy but they appeared in the trees just beside our balcony and they are class. They are black, quite big and so human like. They are also quite rare outside of kerala so it was it was really amazing watching them hop from branch to branch. One other highlight was that i got some cooking lessons and learnt how to make my new favourite indian dessert - payasam. Its a rice dessert made on coconut milk, cashew nuts, cinnamon, jaggery (a natural sugar) and ghee (indian butter). It is quite sweet but yummy. (Dont worry mum if your reading this- your apple tart still wins out as my all time favourite)

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After Kumily, the next obvious stop was Munnar. It’s quite a famous area located high in the Western Ghats and home to thousands of acres of tea and spice plantations While the town is a just a busy market town, the surrounding areas are jawdroppingly beautiful. High rise mountains with tea plantations growing all over them. Munnar is quite high – 1500m so the weather is cooler and due to the mixture of the weather and mositure, Munnar rivals Ireland in its greenness. There is lots to do also with trekking being the most popular due to the variety of landscapes. We stayed in a guesthouse that organised mountain trekking trips so we done a full day trip with them trekking across the mountains, teas plantations, cardamon forests to arrive at their sister cottage located in the hills. It was very tough, took around 7 hours and a night in the cottage but it was worth it. The views were spectacular and it wasn’t hard to see why Munnar is a popular honeymoon destination. After this I had booked a place called Kaivalam Retreat that was meant to be a peaceful haven tucked away in the middle of the plantations and specialising in yoga. It sounded perfect but I was a bit apprehensive that it wasn’t going to be all it promised. It was also more expensive but I was hoping it was worth splashing out. We found our way to the entrance laneway of the place and gave them a ring. They picked us up in a jeep and drove us down into the plantations. When we finally arrived, i knew it would be money well spent. I felt like I was on honeymoon again, the place was so idyllic and peaceful. One whiff of this luxury and it didn’t take me long to abandon my harderened traveller ways. In my best spoilt brat voice, I proclaimed to Ger that I was staying there until next June and that was it :) After two wonderful days of yoga, amazing food and scenery, I knew i had to say goodbye to my paradise! We boarded the local bus and left the mountains to continue our journey to our final stop in India – Cochin.

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Dodging Mosquito Status: surprisingly good, i think they dont like our blood as much any more- serves them right!!!they took enough of it earlier on in the trip.

Posted by ofenelon 02:17 Archived in India Comments (1)

What happens when the girlies hit the streets of Trivandrum!

Hello again. I’m back in the world of blogging. Many thanks to my wonderful hubbie Ger for his accounts. I think he will be a regular addition to this blog. Well the month of yoga is finished and while I’m sad, its good to be back with Ger on the road again. I had an amazing month. I wont pretend it wasn’t tough at times, the heat & humidity added an extra dimension of difficulty but it was worth it. It was a great course, the food was amazing and I learnt so much in the month. I think people can sometimes have a bit of perception that yoga is quite ‘airy fairy’ but through the classes we had, we could see that its actually a very ancient practice with precise goals and tremendous health benefits. Hopefully I will keep up yoga in my daily life. At the moment, Ger is my student so he will judge if I’m any good of a teacher. He’s a critical student so I wont get away with many mistakes :)

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Yoga aside, living in Trivandrum was a very interesting experience. Myself and another girl Suzie from Australia went for dinner in the evenings and we seemed to create quite the scene when we hit the streets of Trivandrum. Oh it was nothing that we done on purpose, we always were respectively dressed and were out and about at acceptable times (apparently if women are out after 8.30pm, you can be considered a ‘woman of the night’ ). Still, just the fact that Suzie was a blond and I was a pale freckly girl, we use to get lots of stares. I should clarify that none of the attention was ever threatening rather it was hilarious. People would just stare at us everywhere we went and if we stopped at a tea stall or something, a crowd tended to gather. Sometimes they started conversations with us which was good and made a change from the staring. We had some very funny conversations. The most recent one was an extension of my tale of the freckle. I was in getting an aruvedic massage for my shoulder as it was giving me a bit of trouble. Aruvedic medicine is the traditional medicine in Kerala, they have lots of aruvedic hospitals where you can get massages, treatments etc. It very good and cheap. When I was in clinic the aruvedic doctor pointed to my arm and asked ‘what is that discoloration on your arm?’ , from previous experience I knew what she was talking about. My response was, ‘ its not a discoloration, they are freckles’. She then asked me if I used cosmetics for it (I think she meant to help clear up ‘my problem’ ), I laughed and said, no they are just freckles, lots of people have them. She was perplexed for a few seconds and then just continued about her business. Luckily I don’t take offense too easily and I saw the funny side. I think she thought that I was the result of a skin whitening treatment gone wrong or something. I was always told freckles are a sign of beauty, was my mammy lying to me? :)

Even with the constant stares, I have to say that the people we met have been lovely and always welcoming. They seem to appreciate the fact that we eat in local restaurants and the food is amazing. The veg restaurants were our favourites and I always loved having my after dinner Chai tea. Luckily near the end of the course we discovered a local tea stall that served the most amazing bananas fried in batter. They are divine. The batter is so light and fresh. The people at the tea stall were quite amused by our excitement over them. I have since spotted them in various teas stalls but am trying to resist as while they might be good for the taste buds, they are not so good for the waistline.

While the Indians were busy watching us, I was also busy observing them and it is such an interesting culture here. In many ways its similar to home. There is a good sense of community and family and they enjoy the big get togethers with lots of food etc. In other ways, its v different. Marriages are mostly arranged (not all) but a lot of them. I got invited to a wedding of one of the girls on the course but unfortunately we will be gone so I cant make it. She is marrying her 1st cousin which is common here I think but for me it just seems so strange. Also it is noticeable here that women don’t appear to have the same kind of freedom as we do at home. It seems to be a cultural thing but you don’t see women out late at night and on several occasions we were the only females in the restaurants. Kerala isn’t as bad as other states but from talking to some Indian women, there does seem to be an major social issue across India concerning women and the decline in the population of women due to a preference of males being born. Its seems quite a complex social issue. That aside, one of the noticeable things about the women here is that they are always so beautifully dressed. The clothes here are really lovely with beautiful fabrics and colours. I’m tried my best to stay out of the shops although myself and suzie did manage some sneaky shopping trips :)

Now that the course is over, I have left city life and am back in holiday mode exploring the other towns of Kerala. Yes there are lots of people about, the roads are crazy and quite scary at times but otherwise it is easy to travel around and its an unbelievably beautiful state. We just got back from canoe trip on the backwaters of Munroe Island which was stunning but more on that in the next blog…..

Dodging Mosquito Status: I’m afraid that they teamed up with their comrades ‘The Ants’ and seem to launch several attacks on me daily. I still try to fight them off but have lost the battle in India I fear. I will try reclaim my title in Nepal as I’m sure they wont like heights of the Himalayas.

Posted by ofenelon 02:00 Archived in India Comments (1)

North Kerala

Kannur and Wayanad

Having got the taste for tipping about on my own during my few days in Varkala I decided to head a bit further afield for my second week. This time I set off for the north of the state which I’d heard gets fewer tourists despite having plenty to offer in terms of things to see and do. Kerala is pretty big so to get to the north meant travelling around 500 km from Trivandrum. The great thing about travel in India is the fantastic train network which allows you to cover huge distances very cheaply. It’s especially cost effective if you travel by night as you save on a night’s accommodation. I had very little idea what to expect but was pleasantly surprised to find that the trains are pretty comfortable. The bunks can be a little cramped and the ‘mattress’ wouldn’t be the softest but they supply you with spotlessly clean bed linen and a pillow . There are several classes on the long-distance trains and although it can be a bit confusing at first there are basically two main options – regular sleeper or the more expensive air-conditioned carriages. The regular sleeper is very cheap and most passengers would choose this option but for a pampered Westerner like me it apparently lacks a bit of privacy as the berths aren’t closed off. You also have to bring your own bedding. The AC carriages have a similar layout to the sleepers – six berths on one side of the aisle and two on the other side but each berth has a curtain that you can use to seal yourself off. Security wise it seemed to be fine although I was taking no chances and had purchased a padlock and chain to secure my rucksack. The lower berths are used as normal seats during the day so if you’ve booked one of those you could be waiting for your fellow passengers to go to bed. Most people seemed to climb into their berths more or less straight away though.The toilets are pretty grim but then that’s the case on public transport anywhere. Even though I’ve had better sleeps in my time I had few complaints over the course of my two trips. The fare for the AC worked out at around 9 euro one way. Sleeper would have cost around about a third of that. Incredible value.

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I reached Kannur at 8am, bleary-eyed but glad to be able to stretch my legs after ten hours or so on the train. The guidebook had recommended checking out St. Angelo’s Fort so I decided to visit there before checking in to my accommodation which was located a few miles outside the town. The fort was pretty impressive and extremely well maintained. It was built by the Portugese in the 15th century but changed hands a good few times over the years. Kannur was a pretty important spice-trading port in its day apparently. It’s now a busy town with little to recommend it aside from the Fort. Back in town I grabbed a pretty average breakfast in the local Indian Coffee House and got a rickshaw to take me out to my homestay.

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Kannur Beach House was lovely. It’s located a few miles south of Kannur beside where a small river flows into the sea. There’s a stunning and more or less deserted beach nearby where local fishermen cast their nets. The whole area aound the house is covered in palm trees and my room had a great balcony from where you could look out over the garden towards the sea. It was a pretty fantastic place to just sit and read and while away the hours. The hosts, Rosie and Naseer, were great company and their kitchen staff served up some amazing food. They also organised a trip to a local handloom factory and to a theyam performance (an form of Hindu ritual theatre where an elaborately costumed dancer takes on the role of a god and blesses the congregation).

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I could have happily stayed longer in Kannur but I was keen to visit Wayanad district as I’d heard that the scenery there was stunning and that there was a good chance of seeing plenty of wildlife including wild elephants. Rosie had recommended another homestay outside Mananthavady, one of two main towns in the region, so I hopped on a bus and spent the next three hours gaping out the window at amazing mountain scenery. Kerala is a long narrow state bordered by the sea to one side and the Western Ghats to the other. Once you travel inland for 30-40km you start ascending into the foothills of the Ghats and before long you’re winding up hairpin after hairpin until you’re surrounded on all sides by densely forested hills.Much of the land is taken up by paddy fields and large plantations – rubber, tea, coffee – and everything is green.

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My next homestay was a few miles outside Mananthavady, on the fringes of theTholpetty wildlife reserve. Once again the hospitality was incredible – delicious home- cooked food and great conversations with the hosts who were happy to fill me with information about the local plants, animals and insects. Shortly after arriving they organised a driver to take me on a road safari around the fringes of the sanctuary. It was a far cry from the Masai Mara but really enjoyable in its own way. The fact that it was in a forest meant that spotting animals felt like an achievment whereas in the Mara they were everywhere. I managed to see several types of monkey, spotted deer, bison and, the highlight, several wild elephants. It’s pretty sweet to have now seen elephants in the wild in two different continents. Apparently though, like in Africa, they’re seen as more of a nuisance than anything else by the local population. They destroy crops given half a chance and they will attack humans if they feel threatened. Varghese, my host, was showing me the trenches and electric fences they had to erect to keep the elephants off their land. The local tribal people build treehouses overlooking their paddy fields to keep a lookout for elephants at night so they can chase them off before they do damage.

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I spent the rest of my time in Wayanad hanging around the homestay and gorging myself on their delicious food. I also went for a guided walk arounf the locality. Very scenic but also very hot. Still, I probably worked off some of the food! I also became quite fascinated with taking pictures of the ridiculously large insects that were constantly appearing out of the garden. My favourite is this lad:

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I was really impressed with what I managed to see of northern Kerala. Both Kannur and Wayanad are beautiful areas in their own way, one with amazing beaches and the other with gorgeous mountain scenery. It would be impossible to choose a favourite between Kannur Beach House and Varnam Homestay. The homestay option is definitely the way to go in Kerala because hotels here seem to tend towards the bland, functional business type and hostels are practically non-existent. In all the homestays I’ve visited to date I’ve had amazing food, clean, comfortable rooms and helpful, interesting hosts who couldn’t do enough for me. The only drawback (if you call it that) to travelling at this time of the year is that the season hasn’t really got going so you can sometimes end up being the only guest in the place.

So, it was back to Trivandrum on Friday night to catch up with Ollie who had the whole weekend off for a change. We decided to treat ourselves (well, Ollie) to a night away from the guesthouse and its dreadfully uncomfortable bed so we went out to Kovalam, a beach resort a few miles south of Trivandrum. It’s a proper busy resort, not a million miles away from what you’d find at home. It’s popular with Westerners but also with locals which makes for some interesting people watching. The locals tend to bathe fully clothed and don’t do the sunbathing thing at all. Indians try to avoid tanning and seem to prefer paler skin. The cosmetics section of the supermarket does be full of skin whitening products, both male and female. Kovalam was fun and we had a few drinks some great seafood which was a nice change from all the vegetarian food that we’ve mainly been eating (seems to have worked too as so far neither of us have been sick). We caught a lovely sunset too.

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So that’s it for the moment. I’m writing this from Kumily, back up in the mountains, and there’ll hopefully be a further report from there in the next day or two. Ollie has her final exam on Friday and is studying away back in Trivandrum and she’ll no doubt be back blogging in full effect come next week

Dodging mosquitos status: You win some and you lose some. Though surrounded by insects for most of the week I managed to avoid getting many bites. They made up for it at the weekend though and they wreaked a bloody revenge in Kovalam on Saturday night. They’re relentless!

Posted by ofenelon 09:32 Archived in India Comments (3)

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