So India then….Somewhere I hadn’t really thought of going to before but its warm, the food is awesome, the UK pound is still worth something, lots of tea and my work flies to Goa so I can get a discounted flight. I wasn’t really sure what else but as I researched more I realised how much there was to do in South India and what a diverse place it was. Not really surprising for a region with a history of being invaded and ruled by so many different countries over the years. We only had two weeks so we decided to follow a vaguely circular route and travel south from Goa to Kerala spending roughly one week in each state. We got our jabs, bought the painfully expensive malaria tablets, packed summer clothes scarcely believing it could be warm away from a London in the grip of winter and set off on our way.
Arriving in Goa and travelling to Panjim we stepped into what seemed to be a world of clichés with a horn abusing driver, traffic and people mingling with cows and dogs on the side of the roads. After checking into the Panjim Inn and being invited to have a ridiculously overpriced breakfast we caught our first auto-rickshaw to Old Goa. By now the day was heating up (it was later to turn out the temperature was close to 40 Celsius a record for the area) and we conducted a quick circuit of the churches interspersed with eating fresh coconuts and toasted nuts. The following day we spent a little time wandering around Panjim soaking in the business and seeming pandemonium of the streets and waterfront.
Later that day we caught a flight to Kerala landing in Cochi around 7pm at night and travelling on by taxi to Fort Cochin, where we stayed at the wonderful Walton’s Home stay. I made a slight fo-par the following day revealing we had drunk beer from teapots in a local unlicensed café which it seems is a fact well known to travellers but not to the locals of Fort Cochin. Our time in Fort Cochin flew by with a shopping trip to Ernakulum and trying to figure out where we were going to travel to next. We decided to head into the hills and visit Periyar Nature Reserve and caught a local bus which took 7 hours to travel 170km but did have onboard Bollywood movies and Indian popular music CD’s so not all bad.
Arriving in Kumily we collected our tickets for the activities we had booked and checked into the Coffee Inn. Border Trekking saw a group of five plus two guides spend the day hiking around the outskirts of the Periyar reserve. Early in the day we saw wild Elephants feeding on bamboo followed by a slightly to close encounter with an Indian Gaur. The following day Bamboo Rafting involved a much bigger group of people and lot less effort as we drifted for a few hours across the lake to our destination for lunch and swimming. In the evening as we walked back to the park entrance we found some elephants out in the open quietly feeding and I really wished I had a better zoom lens. Our guides got very excited when we saw a Cobra snake fly across the path which amazed me it was quick as lightning and slithery like a… well a snake I guess.
The day we left Periyar we had our best bus ride yet in a Rally Championship bus or at least the driver though he was competing even if his passengers didn’t. Arriving in Kottayam we caught a public ferry through the backwaters to Alleppey. The ferry ride was a great introduction to the backwaters as we glided past people washing, fishing, mending, fighting and generally living their lives on and alongside the canals. Alleppey saw our first major encounter with touts and resulted in us staying at what we dubbed the "Reality TV Student Home stay" due to its owners seeming to have no idea how to run a home stay. We hired a paddler and a canoe for a day and toured around the backwaters spending an hour at a family home where we saw wedding photos, ate tapioca, watched cable TV and talked a lot about our lives and their lives. On the return leg of the trip I decided to give paddling a go and gained a new respect for the strength of our guide. Alleppey is a mecca for people wanting to stay on Rice Barges but outside of these the town is not a tourist friendly one with most things shut by early evening leading to early nights and few options for eating out.
Leaving Alleppey we travelled back to Fort Cochin for one night before catching an overnight train from Ernakulum to Agonda Beach. Our train trip was interesting in that we met an older lady from the Brahmin caste who talked to us for hours on end about her view of the world which was somewhat unique due to her upbringing in India. After turning in I spent a sleepless night in my bunk scared we would miss our stop every time the train slowed down but I needn’t have feared the conductor and our friendly lady made sure we got off at the right stop.
The right stop turned out to be a dark empty train station with only a sleepy auto-rickshaw driver with a cold for company. He drove us to Agonda Beach and dropped us off instructing us to go sit on the beach till it got light. Sitting on the beach we quickly made friends with the local roaming dog population who followed us for most of the rest of the morning as we searched out accommodation amongst the many places on offer. We finally settled on a beach hut at Agonda Paradise where we stayed for the next 4 nights. Spending our time swimming (6 swims on the first day alone!), eating fresh seafood, drinking beer, watching the stars I quickly began to feel like I could just stay on the beach hut porch forever.
Alas I couldn’t stay forever and we left Agonda and India behind flying home to a somewhat colder and more windswept London. I think having visited the places I did in South India that a longer trip is definitely on the cards at some stage in the future.