The idea of getting to spend time on the beach (finally) for a few days, paired with hopefully spending time in a grand hotel such as Hyatt Goa, meant that beachy Goa was one of Hats’ most anticipated parts of India. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite end up as good as the billing. Firstly, we realised just how expensive these expensive, grand hotels were, and on our budget we just couldn’t justify it. After all, we would just be spending our time on the beach wouldn’t we? Well…kind of, which leads me on to the second reason why Goa wasn’t quite the top sight it was supposed to be – I got really restless. After busying around India for the past 4 weeks, and Nepal for the previous 2, I was still in the mood to explore – especially with our mandate of ‘travelling’ rather than ‘holidaying’.
We were staying in Palolem, and I found it to be completely foreign and nothing like the India I’d now grown to love. The place was decked out for tourists, with bars, restaurants & beach huts lining the expansive beach. Don’t get me wrong – the cocktails were great, and the sea was pretty relaxing – but when that’s all you can do, it was a bit underwhelming. Also, Palolem was heaving with holidaying, lobster-red tourists. We made a pilgrimage on the last day (45 minute walk in scorching sun) to the next beach, Patnem, which was a lot smaller and ‘cosier’, which in retrospect we probably should have stayed near.
Keen to venture on (although Hat didn’t quite get the rest she wanted…), the next stop was to head down to Kerala for a whistle-stop stay in Alleppey & Kochi. There really isn’t anything to do in Alleppey, but most people come here to take a boat on the backwaters. This ended up being one of the highlights of India for both of us so I’m so glad we packed it in to our tight itinerary last minute! We took the more authentic paddleboat canoe tour that our guesthouse owner recommended, as opposed to staying on a big (expensive) houseboat. This meant that we could negotiate all the small canals where the big boats just can’t get to, and see real families preparing meals (including gutting fresh fish), washing clothes and just living their normal happy lives. We also went as a convoy of 3 paddleboats, so it was nice to meet two other couples, and we even shared a fresh thali on a banana leaf at a local family’s home. It was delicious, but the highlight for me was my first fresh mango which had just fallen from a tree! I was waiting for this for the whole of India, and it didn’t disappoint 🙂
Heading on from Alleppey, we travelled to Fort Cochin in Kochi. From the lovely ’boutique’ style restaurants and shops, you can tell that in peak season, this village-like place would be teaming with tourists, but I think we went at the right time of year where things were still open but the crowds weren’t anywhere to be seen. I had the most tasty meal here – a Kati Roll from Dhal Roti – which made me think I should have made more of Soho’s offering (called Kati Roll, duh) when I was working around there. Apart from meandering the rather small town, we spent a lot of time talking to our guesthouse owners (who were lovely!) and researching our options to get to our next destination, Mysore, without taking an overnight coach (which Hat was not looking forward to at all). We tried our luck with wait-listed train tickets that went via Bangalore, and even turned up at the station to see what was possible, but eventually we had to go with the coach. It wasn’t as comfortable as the Indian trains, but we got to sleep fine, which was good as otherwise we would have witnessed the crazy-fast driving down wind-y roads that we were expecting (we had a glimpse of this in the morning).
We arrived tired, but in one piece, in Mysore and after an indulgent but much needed nap, we went to explore the city. Our first stop was the Devaraja market, which sold the biggest collection of freshest vegetables I think we’ve ever seen. Whole sections of the market seemed devoted to one individual item, including a whole outdoor corridor of bananas, with various sellers trying to get one over on their competition selling the same item.
After buying nothing, but taking lots of photos, we headed for lunch and we had our first masala dosa! I’ll be honest, I had no idea what one of these was, but I was told I’d find them in the south and that I must order one. I was quite taken aback by how huge my ‘lunchtime snack’ turned out to be, but it was delicious! And soon enough, Hat was tucking in to my food too now that she had investigated it fully and once I’d given it a thumbs-up. She became equally as addicted to these throughout the last week of our trip.
We then had the pleasure of seeing the Mysore Palace and outer grounds lit up, as it was a public holiday (Easter Monday), which was so impressive! It was really well done, not tacky at all like we thought it may have been, and given that this was our first look at the Palace, we were itching to see inside it the next day (it was magnificent in the day & inside too!).
In Mysore, we also attempted to visit the Datta Peetham Ashram, but due to a lunar eclipse the main part of it was closed, and followers had seemingly dispersed. We thought “when in India, go to an Ashram” but the stupid moon stopped us. Stupid moon. 🙂
After getting sick of guys trying to either ask for a photo with Hat or just outright taking photos or videos of her in the street (she was oblivious to it, which was probably for the best), the people of Mysore seemed to want more photos with me, which was odd and awkward but it made a change! Apart from one couple who were absolutely ecstatic to get a picture of Hat holding their baby. Awkward photo time:
Back on the trains again, we headed to Hampi, which is now one of the most recommended places to visit in India (according to guidebooks & people we asked about India). Essentially, Hampi is full of pristine ruins and friendly people, which made for a really enjoyable stay! The change of scenery (again!) was drastic, with a very ‘rocky’ and almost untouched landscape.
We got very confused by the local kids who kept asking for “one photo” – something we thought was a scam and avoided (as it would have been followed by a demand for money in the rest of India we had visited), but was actually just them wanting to see a photo of themselves. We especially loved the walk to the Vittala temple via the river and other ruins, and when we got there we got to see the famous stone chariot – which incidentally Hat walked straight past and wondered where it was.
The next day, we headed to the main temple in town, mainly to see Lakshmi the temple elephant who was there every day. We bought her a bunch of bananas to feed her, and in exchange for both these (which she gobbled up extremely quickly) and for ten rupees (which she picked up with her trunk and delivered to her Mahout), she blessed us by laying her trunk on our heads for a photo opportunity. I’m sure this doesn’t sound that amazing, but to have a pretty huge, seemingly-intelligent elephant rest its trunk perfectly on our heads…well we came out beaming 🙂 and decided that was the best elephant we’d met and that elephants are super cool.
We then decided it was a good idea to trek to the Hanuman (monkey god) temple quite far out of town. We didn’t realise how far it would be, and the scorching heat certainly didn’t help! This coupled with a scary monkey chasing Hat up the stairs to the temple, and a barefooted walk around the temple grounds on what can only be described as hot-coals (stone flooring at 42 degree heat of the day), made the arrival somewhat muted, but we enjoyed the views before we had to endure the return journey. What made this worse is that we had to catch a train to Bangalore to meet some of my relatives straight afterwards, missing the all important shower we so desperately needed at this point. But we were so exhausted by this point that a wet wipe did the job and we slept like a baby on the train.
As we were arriving in to Bangalore, it became increasingly apparent that we were meeting family that I’d never met before at the station… i.e. I had no idea what they looked like. Thankfully we were in touch by phone, and we soon saw Shernaz and Nitash’s smiling faces approaching. We stayed with the Lalas for only one night but it easily felt like 2 or 3 as we arrived in at an unsociably early hour in the morning of one and left at an unsociably late hour of the next. On our way to their house, they took me past the street and the house my mum grew up in in Bangalore, which was amazing to see! It felt a bit strange as I couldn’t imagine her having lived there, but getting memories of the house via my mum from Whatsapp and recalling these to Nitash made him smile and fondly remember it all himself. We then arrived at their house and were treated to a lovely traditional welcome before we (might have had another nap and then…) met my lovely second cousins!
For the entire time with them, we felt thoroughly spoilt and well looked after! It was great to spend so much time with the family, as we got a sense of what life in Bangalore was like for them, and got to catch up loads. We had a couple of meals in the U. B. City, which is basically a western shopping mall with food court – which was great to get us re-accustomed in time for our next stop, New Zealand. We also had some home-cooked meals which were delicious and some foreign fruits Nitash had picked up during his work overseas. I also got the opportunity to talk to even more family on the phone before we left, and I promised them I will be back to see them too.
After all the time we spent with the Lalas, we really didn’t want to leave! Hat was especially touched by how they treated us as close family. But we unfortunately have a tight itinerary and alas we had another foreign land to cover, so off we went to board a flight to New Zealand. But we’ll be back for sure! Until next time, India.