Pictures from the Kerala Coast

These are the photos from the last two posts about Alleppey and Varkala. No photos from Amritapuri because photography is prohibited there.

The full set is on Picasa as usual. I also have a map showing my progress. Below are some of my favourites:

Kerala Coast

Anyone interested in seeing a map of where I’ve been so far can have a look at the new Where Is Cameron page I’ve set up. Note that unlike the one for the Mongol Rally, this one is updated by me entering in places by hand, so it’ll only get updated at about the same rate as this blog. But it’s still interesting to see the tiny area that I’ve covered in the last three and a half weeks compared to the vastness of India.

Thursday 16/2

One final morning hanging around the ashram and wandered out to catch the 3:30 ferry to Kollam. Arrived at Kollam just as the sun was going down, waved off all of the rickshaw drivers who wanted to spare me the 10 minute walk from the jetty into town and went straight to the cheapest hotel listed in the Lonely Planet. Kollam town looked completely empty as I passed through it, with most of the shops shut. This was apparently because there was a strike happening. There seemed to be nothing in particular to do in town so I stayed in my hotel room, reading books and soaking up the internet.

Friday 17/2

Slept in, had brunch at the Indian Coffee House – a chain around Kerala that serves excellent and cheap coffee, as well as mediocre and cheap food. In all of the ones I’ev been to, the decor is very bland and near-identical, the menus just a plain list of what they serve and what it costs on an A5-ish piece of paper, and from the outside the cafes are very unassuming. This starts to make sense when you consider that it’s run by the State Coffee Workers Collective, i.e. the communists. I actually rather like the place.

After lunch I wandered down to the beach to see what it was like. Now Kollam isn’t really much of a tourist destination, and the beach is a 1-2 km walk from town, so when I got there I was the only non-local there. Unfortunately the beach was very polluted and rubbish scattered everywhere so I decided to make a quick getaway. As I was leaving a few local children came up to me and introduced themselves and wanted to know all about me – or at least, as much as possible with their limited English and my non-existent Malayalam.

Then it was time to catch the train to Varkala. Now most of the trains passing through Kollam to Trivandrum don’t stop at Varkala. My choice was either a couple of early morning trains – before 9am, so not going to happen – or the 4:55pm. Obviously, I went for the latter.

Eventually I was off the train and once again all of the rickshaw drivers in town wanted my custom. I knew from my map it was about a 2.5km walk from the railway station to the beach but the rickshaw drivers all wanted Rs.80 – Rs.100 which was about double what I was willing to pay, so I walked. Healthier that way anyway. Checked myself into a guest house recommended by a guy I met at Amritapuri, and then had dinner at an expensive (by Indian standards) restaurant on the top floor of a hotel, overlooking the beach.

Varkala Days: Saturday 18/2 – Wednesday 22/2

Varkala is one of those places where time seems to stop having much meaning. There’s a beautiful beach – certainly by Indian standards, but honestly I think it’s up there with a lot of Australian beaches – and a lot of foreign tourists on the beach, including myself. The general vibe reminds me a lot of Broome in northern WA. The difference is that Varkala’s beach is lined with shops – lots of cafes and restaurants, lots of little shops selling hippy clothes and souvenirs, and lots of ayuverdic treatments and massages and so on.

On Sunday I bumped into the group of two Germans and an American who I’d met over a week ago when getting off the bus at Pollachi. We hung out at the beach for a while with them and some of their friends, and then had dinner at a restaurant which provided the worst service I’ve ever experienced in India. The others who had seafood thought the food was good, but the mutter paneer I had didn’t do anything for me.

But overall, Varkala is a place where not very much happens, but is a very pleasant place for not very much to be happening in.

Monday night was the Hindu festival of Maha Shivaratri, a night-long festival in honour of the God Shiva. I went to the local temple with a couple of others I met on Sunday to see what was going on. We arrived a little bit late to see the main attraction – a massive chariot float being carried around in procession around the temple grounds. But the celebration goes on all night, literally: apparently many people stay up until the next morning. There were dance performances in front of the temple with ridiculously loud (nightclub volume) music playing. After an hour or so we left and had dinner. At the beach there were a whole lot of shrines with candles lit and people paying their respects.

As I write this it’s Wednesday afternoon, and I’m sitting in a cafe overlooking the beach drinking a pineapple milkshake. Not a bad spot for writing up a blog and sorting through photos. This evening I’ll be catching the overnight train up the coast to Mangalore, and from there the connecting train to Udupi. In all that’s a distance of almost 1000km north along the coast, maybe two thirds of the way to Goa.

Alleppey and Amritapuri Ashram

Saturday 11/2

Today was a day pretty much spent entirely in transit. In India, that always involves more adventure than you’d expect.

Got up early(ish) to collect my laundry from the hotel and catch the 8am bus from Munnar to Kottayam. Unfortunately, the hotel had initially managed to lose all of my underwear and socks, and by the time I’d hassled the staff until they found them again and got to the bus station, it was 8:02am and the bus had already left. Must have been the first bus in India to ever leave on time. The next direct bus wasn’t until 10:30, but the guy at the bus stand just said to take the next bus sitting there and change at some town I didn’t quite catch the name of. So I did. I manage to doze a bit on the bus, and at some point the helpful ticket inspector told me to get off the bus and change for Kottayam.

Getting off the bus, I noticed the only other white guy on the bus was changing here too. He turned out to be a French chap named Damian, and he was also trying to get to Alleppey (via Kottayam). So we asked some of the people at the next bus stand how to get to Kottayam, and ended up catching two more buses together before arriving at Kottayam around 1pm. We had lunch, and several cups of chai, and then caught the ferry to Alleppey. Neither of us had accommodation arranged, so we ended up sharing a room at a guest house recommended by the ferry conductor. After getting that sorted out, we went for dinner at (according to the Lonely Planet) the only restaurant in town that served beer. Hoorah for cold beer!

Sunday 12/2

Damian didn’t want to hang around Alleppey – he was going to catch a boat cruise to another town a little way south. I, on the other hand, was interested in doing a tour of the Kerala backwaters. While I was wandering around trying to find a tour (or rather, deciding which of the pushy touts I trusted), I bumped into an Irish guy doing the same thing. So we split the cost of a six-hour paddle boat tour of the backwaters.

The tour was good in some ways – relaxing and scenic and we got to see some of the local villages and a Hindu temple. But the guide wasn’t particularly good – he barely spoke to us at all – suspecting his English wasn’t great. This was a bit of a shame because it would have been nice to know more about the places we were going through. Fortunately, I was in a quiet, contemplative mood so I didn’t really mind.

The rest of the day was occupied by mundane things like finding an internet connection, putting enough credit on my phone so I could activate a 3G data plan, and drinking beer.

Monday 13/2

Today I caught the 10:30 ferry to Kollam, but got off earlier at the stop for Amritapuri, a.k.a. Amma’s Ashram. The ferry was mostly a fairly dull ride with not much to see, although in the hour before arriving at the ashram we passed by several villages with big cheena vala (fishing nets) hanging down into the water. The ashram is run by a guru named Amma, famous because she gives a hug to everyone who visits. Supposedly this is supposed to provide some kind of spiritual experience or awakening, but honestly, it felt just like a hug to me. The ashram doesn’t follow any formal religion, but encourages a message of universal love. It feels a little bit like Hinduism and Buddhism thrown into a blender with an added dash of new-age hippy stuff.

Shortly after I arrived there, Amma gave a presentation at the beach – which is apparently an unusual event. It began with a short period of meditation, which I found irritating because the MC was telling us over the loudspeaker how to meditate, and leading a chant of Ma … Om … Ma … Om. The meditation which I’ve tried before – and which I think I prefer – was Vipassana style, which is done in silence and alone. After that, Amma spoke for a while in Malayalam (the local language) and then a translator repeated the message in English.

In general, my first impression of the ashram has been that it’s not really my kind of thing. I guess I tend to consider spirituality to be a bit more of an individual and personal thing rather than an excuse for joining in a big group all looking for the same kinds of thing from a guru. I just can’t see myself ever achieving enlightenment by following someone in this way. Moreover, for someone who teaches a message of non-egoism, the ashram has a ridiculous number of pictures of Amma plastered around it, along with followers who appear to treat her as some kind of minor deity.

Tuesday 14/2

Feeling a little bit better about the ashram after getting up early for what the ashram schedule said was time for “meditation/ayurveda at the beach”. I was worried that this would be another big group chanting exercise, but it turned out to be very quiet, with no formal direction at all, just people sitting by the beach doing meditation or yoga or just watching the sunrise. This is a bit more like what I was hoping for. From 5-6am a large proportion of the ashram is engaged in Vedic chanting, and from 6:30-8pm they’ll be singing bhajan (Hindu prayers) again, but I guess I can live with that.

One of the positive aspects of my experience here so far is that it’s pulled me back from my largely hedonistic travel experiences and encouraged me once again to consider what it is I want from life, what I value, and how well my actions reflect that. Thinking about such things in the middle of last year – and starting to read up on Buddhism – was what convinced me that I’d been on the wrong path for too long: both working as a computer programmer and working in the oil industry were not things that I’d ever particularly wanted to do, they were things that I’d drifted into, and moreover they were making me particularly unhappy. It was perhaps a continuation of the gradual realisation I’d had over 2011 that as I’d started working full-time, I’d been increasingly chasing material comforts (shiny car, nice flat, new iPhone, etc) and that, along with a moderately busy social life and associated boozing, had meant that I’d completely lost the satisfaction that came from spending time pursuing my own interests. I was no longer doing anything creative, and not feeling particularly engaged with the world, either intellectually or physically.

Obviously I’m not feeling like that so much at the moment, but it has encouraged me to slow down a bit and not rush my time in India – even if that means abandoning plans to see as many other countries afterwards. I’m seriously considering doing a two-week course in yoga, which would mean I’d be staying in India for a couple of weeks longer than originally intended. Why? I’d earlier been considering doing a meditation course, but my experience last night has made me think that I’d rather just find my own path when it comes to meditation. Yoga, on the other hand, is a lot harder to teach oneself.

The ashram experience hasn’t really grabbed me either. I finished the day feeling like it was about time for me to leave this place and rejoin the rest of the world.

Wednesday 15/2

Got up this morning, had breakfast, and decided that I could do with another day here after all. I’ve spent the day reading books (on my Kindle) about Hinduism, Buddhism and yoga; and further contemplating myself and my life. It seems like an appropriate way to spend time here. I’ve also booked myself in for a two-week ashtanga yoga course in Goa in early March. That gives me a fairly leisurely pace for the rest of my time in Kerala. Tomorrow I’ll check out, spend another quiet day around the ashram and catch the late afternoon ferry to Kollam.

Photos from Mysore, Ooty and Munnar

(If you haven’t read them yet, here are the associated wordy posts about Mysore, Ooty and Munnar.)

As usual, the full set of photos is up on Picasa. Here are a few highlights:

Munnar

[posting this from Alleppey, but everything below was written two days ago, on Friday night]

My last update left you on Wednesday morning, waiting for the toy train down the hill and out of Ooty. Well, the train turned and carried me away. Despite my allocated seat being listed on the ticket as a “window” seat, it turned out to be nothing of the sort. But that wasn’t really a problem, because the carriages were very narrow (no central aisle, just pairs of benches facing each other) and I could easily see out of both windows. The only real downside was that my photos didn’t turn out very well, because they were taken through the window from a distance, so show odd reflections from inside the carriage.

Sitting on one side of me was an Indian family, and on the other side a group of four Dutch travellers. A couple of the Dutch guys and I alternated in keeping the young Indian son entertained. He was particularly taken with our earphones – wanting to listen to the music we had – and our cameras, which he wanted to borrow and take photos of us and his parents. One of the Dutch guys seemed a natuaral father, too, playing the usual games you would with a kid.

The view going down the hill was brilliant, as expected. It was the usual Ooty / Nilgiri Ranges view: tea plantations, gum trees, cows, little villages and (oddly) an abandoned-looking explosives factory with a big “NO PHOTOGRAPHY” sign outside it (which I took a photo of). About an hour into the trip, we stopped at a station and the diesel locomotive was swapped for a steam locomotive. Judging from the trip distance listed on my ticket, I think we averaged about 12 km/h for three hours down the hill, before picking up a bit more speed for the final straight section. What a fantastic way to travel! Clickety-clack-whoosh steam train noises, an old-fashioned horn blasting at regular intervals, wonderful scenery, and … a very cosy carriage.

The toy train terminated at Mettupalayam and I changed trains (along with everyone else) to the overnight train to Chennai. But I only went one station further, to Coimbatore, where I was told I could get a bus to Munnar, my next destination. After arriving at Coimbatore a bit before 10pm and catching a rickshaw to the bus station, I was told that there were no more buses to Munnar tonight, but I might be able to get one from Pollachi. So I got on the bus to Pollachi, which turned out to be quite an experience. It felt like a party bus. The driver had music playing incredibly loud – I could still hear it clearly through my earplugs – and there were blue and green coloured lights. It was also very, very cramped. For about an hour and a half I shut my eyes and hoped the ordeal would be over soon.

After arriving at Pollachi, I was told that the next bus to Munnar would be leaving just after 9am. Disheartened, I set off to look for accommodation, along with a German couple and an American who were also intending to move on the next morning. After visiting the hotel recommended by the Lonely Planet and discovering that its prices were now double what was listed there but the rooms were pretty mediocre, we took a rickshaw driver’s recommendation for the “best cheap hotel”, which also turned out to be right next to the bus station. At some point around this time, all of the lights in the turn went out. No electricity! We arrived at the hotel, where they had no idea when the power would be back, but did have rooms available for $6 a night. The rooms smelled funny, and didn’t even have showers – let alone hot showers – but by this point, especially given the price, we didn’t care. The hotel manager told me he lived in Sydney for a few years, working in some kind of IT-related field. Goodness knows how you go from that to running a shitty hotel.

On Thursday morning, I rolled out of bed, checked out, and hopped on the first bus to Munnar. This bus was a lot more civilised than the last, with room for my backpack under my seat and sufficient room for me to be able to read a book. I also got chatting briefly to the chap in the seat next to me, who was a very friendly pastor in a Pentecostal church. At some point, the awkward topic of my religious beliefs came up in conversation, and then with no regard for the awkwardness, the pastor started to ask me why I wasn’t Christian, and told me I should always love Jesus. I put my earphones back on and returned to my book for the rest of the trip.

I arrived in Munnar around lunch time, found somewhere to eat and a place to stay. Munnar is a little bit like Ooty – insofar as it is a hill station and surrounded by pretty scenery and tea plantations – but even more overtly touristy. Interestingly, the tourists here seem to be mostly domestic – I’ve seen surprisingly few white people around the place. I spent the afternoon wandering around town, checking out the “bazaar” (actually a very small market), and making futile attempts for a couple of hours to top up the 3G internet quota on my phone.

One of the first things I noticed about Munnar was how much Communist Party propaganda there was everywhere – red flyers with hammer and sickle insignias and information about CPI (Communist Party of India) meetings. Apparently the area used to have a democratically elected communist government!

I got up fairly early on Friday and wandered into town to have breakfast (super tasty appam with (?) sambar curry) and check out the small Hindu temple at the top of the hill. Heading back into town I bumped into the Pentecostal chap from the bus again, and then the rickshaw driver who took me to my hotel the previous day spotted me and said hello. And by “hello” I mean “would you like to go on an afternoon-long guided tour of Munnar with me?”. It seemed like fun, so I did. It ended up being quite a long trip, from about 11am through 6pm, but I got to go on a couple of very brief hikes through tea plantations, ride an elephant, see monkeys and bison, and even got to drive the rickshaw myself for about 10 minutes along twisty mountain roads. It’s rather fun – just like driving a go kart, only incredibly underpowered, with only three wheels, and a distinct feeling that you’d topple if you even thought about going around a corner at speed. So actually not much like a go kart at all, really, except for the engine that sounded like it belonged in a lawn mower.

After the usual stuff the guy did on his tour, I asked to be taken to the spice garden where you can see all the spices used in Indian (and other) cooking in living, non-powdered form. It was actually quite interesting to see, if only because I had no idea where most spices came from. I was particularly surprised to discover that Allspice is an actual plant, not just a mix of other spices.

In the evening I went to see a Kathakali dance performance. It was quite interesting to watch, although I knew absolutely nothing about it or what to expect. There was supposed to be some kind of story being acted out, but the brief synopsis at the beginning was rendered completely incomprehensible due to the announcer’s thick accent, rapid pace and terrible PA system. It seemed to be something about a mother and her baby, but beyond that it was hard to tell. There was music and singing accompanying the dance, but of course it wasn’t in English, so it didn’t aid my comprehension at all. But I didn’t really mind, it was still entertaining.

I’d originally intended to stay in Munnar for a bit longer but I’m now completely hill-stationed-out and will be moving on tomorrow morning. Undecided yet whether it’ll be to Madurai (largeish Tamil city with a big temple) or Alleppey (coastal backwater town, supposedly a bit like Venice only probably won’t actually be anything like Venice). Juliet SMSed me saying that she was in Madurai and finding it a bit meh and Indian cities sucked, but it still sounds like it could be quite interesting. On the other hand, it’s a bit out of the way: it’s to the east of Munnar, but my plans involve heading up the west coast of India through Kerala and Goa. Hmmm.

Ooty

Right now it’s Wednesday and I’m sitting at Ooty train station, where I arrived a few hours in advance of the train I’m going to catch. I was told by another traveller that there’s a huge rush when the train arrives to get a seat, but according to my ticket I have a window seat in the second-class reserved carriage, so with any luck I shouldn’t have to worry too much. Hopefully it will be on the right side of the train to get the good view: looking down from the mountains instead of at the cliff face. I’ve heard mixed reports about whether it’s a steam or a diesel train. I’m really hoping it will be steam!

Apologies for the lack of photos from Mysore and Ooty. I still haven’t had an opportunity to sort through them yet, and then I’m going to need to find an internet cafe with a fastish connection.

The last few days have been a lot of fun. Ooty is a very pretty town, surprisingly busy for such a small place – and it’s not just all Western tourists like I was expecting. Elodie and I arrived early on Sunday afternoon, found accommodation and wandered around town for a bit. On Monday I slept in and then took a rickshaw up to the highest point nearby: Doddabega Lookout. There was a pretty good view of the town of Ooty and the Nilgiri Mountains. The climb up went through dense forests with occasional clearings where you could see out over the nearby villages and farm land.

On Tuesday I went on a guided trek through the hills, which was a lot shorter than the promised 18km (felt more like half of that) but still took up most of the day due to frequent stop-overs. The area around here is like nowhere else I’ve seen: tiny settlements dotted around the place, tea growing everywhere and – surprisingly – sparse eucalyptus forests. Apparently they’re grown partly for eucalyptus oil and partly to provide shade for the tea in the dry season. There were moments when I felt like I could be in the south-west of Australia – perhaps the Stirling Range – except with tea growing everywhere around me, and villages everywhere. One of the villages we stopped off at was in the middle of some kind of festival. We were told it was a goat sacrifice – and after hanging around for a while, we saw two goats which had been tied to a fence being led up reluctantly into an enclosed area, never to return. I didn’t get to see exactly what happened because it was surrounded by locals, and while I felt sad for the goat I guess it probably had a better life than most of the cattle that people eat back home.

In other news, I’ve also been drinking a lot of tea – masala chai when I can get it – and eating almost nothing but curry. Last night I caved and went to Sidewalk Cafe, the local white-people-vegetarian restaurant. (If there’s a white-people-meat-eater restaurant here, I didn’t see it; and this part of India seems to be predominantly vegetarian.) I had a salad which I greatly enjoyed because it’s been a long time since I’ve had anything resembling fresh vegetables, and what was definitely the worst pizza I’ve had in recent memory.

One of the most rewarding parts about travelling through India so far has been just watching and being part of the sound and chaos that is life here. It seems like a particularly effective form of chaos where everyone is doing their own thing and somehow everything works out. It’s actually quite a pleasant change from places like Australia or England, and nowhere near as intimidating as I was expecting. (Maybe when I get to Mumbai or Delhi I’ll feel differently.) And in the end it’s just normal people living out their lives and doing the same kinds of things that people do everywhere in the world.

I also repacked my luggage this morning, squishing my small day bag into my main pack. Against expectations, everything I’m intending to need for six months’ travel still fits into a bag small enough to take as hand luggage on an aeroplane: even after having acquired a blanket, a little buddha figurine and some snacks. This is making me feel very smug and organised.

Today I’m trying to find my way to Munnar, another hill station half-way between here and the Kerala coast. This means that – as planned – Elodie and I are going our separate ways, because she’s headed north-east and I’m headed south-west. I have train tickets down the hill to Coimbatore, where I’m told there are regular buses to Munnar. I’m hoping it will be an overnight bus because apparently it’s several hours and Coimbatore is a pretty rough place…

Mysore

Hello everyone! It’s now Sunday morning as I write this, on the bus from Mysore to Ooty. Quite a bit has happened since my last update on Wednesday. Juliet and I left Bangalore to head to Mysore on Thursday morning. We had been planning to catch the bus to Mysore, but our cab driver recommended that we take the train instead of the bus because it’s faster, cheaper and more comfortable. We trusted his recommendation and, after an hour of crawling through heavy Bangalore traffic, ended up at the railway station.

Bangalore City train station is impressively large, especially considering it only deals with long-distance (intercity rather than commuter) trains. We bought second-class tickets for the Mysore Express which we were told left at 3pm, and sat around waiting. Around 1pm, we heard announcements on the PA telling us that the Mysore Express was on platform five and about to leave. We got there, grabbed a seat, put our luggage away, and then Juliet had the presence of mind to ask if we were on the train to Mysore. It turned out that we were not – we were on the train that had just arrived from Mysore and was about to continue on its way to Jaipur. Whoops!

After considerably more waiting, we ended up on the correct train. The platform was very crowded when the train arrived, and our second-class tickets didn’t guarantee us a seat, but luckily we were one of the first to board and managed to grab a seat. Indian trains are surprisingly fun – people all around us enjoying themselves in one way or another and regular visits from vendors wandering up and down the aisles selling food, water and chai. Two and a half hours later, we were in Mysore. We walked to the youth hostel (which was out in the sticks, almost an hour away!) and found ourselves a place to stay, ate dinner, chatted with some of the others at the hostel and went to bed.

At this point I should probably mention that Juliet and I hadn’t been getting along particularly well. I was optimistic that things might get better after we left Bangalore and started having fun in India. Unfortunately, things got worse and worse. The hostel was pretty full and we couldn’t stay there for more than one night. But at breakfast we met a very friendly Quebecoise woman named Elodie who also needed to find somewhere to stay the next night, so we set off together and after trying a couple of places, found a pleasant and cheap hotel to stay at.

After that, Juliet and I made another attempt to find ourselves local SIM cards. Unfortunately the hostility between us was continuing to grow and it was pretty clear that Juliet would rather be alone, so I went off sightseeing instead. (In fact, in retrospect I think she would have preferred to go off separately after we left the hotel but I didn’t pick up on that at the time.)

Mysore Palace was quite impressive, although the Rs.200 entrance fee seemed a bit exorbitant. Never mind that this works out to just under $4 – I’ve got used to everything being insanely cheap here. But entrance fee aside, the palace grounds were beautiful and the architecture and interior were quite impressive. Unfortunately the tour of the inside was a bit disappointing – not that much to see, and we got to walk along the prescribed route only, and weren’t allowed to take pictures.

Then I went to see the temple on Sri Chamundi hill. The bus ride up there was fantastic – amazing views of the city below – and passed by a massive parade of people walking up the hill, presumably for some religious ceremony. Apparently the temple is one of the most important for the Hindu religion. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see inside it – the gates were shut and the ticket office was closed. Perhaps there was some kind of ceremony about to take place when the people arrived from walking up the hill! But nobody was willing to explain to me what was going on.

In the evening Juliet decided to move into a separate hotel room and Elodie and I went out for dinner at a fantastic restaurant on the rooftop with nice views of the town.

Saturday I went out in search of a SIM card for my phone, made difficult partly because Indian SIM cards require a lot of proof of identity and a local address (and many vendors won’t accept a hotel address), and partly because I have an iPhone which requires a micro-SIM rather than a normal SIM card. After a few hours of being told to go elsewhere and being given incorrect or vague directions, I eventually found the Vodafone showroom who were able to sort me out.

Afterwards I had a quick lunch and caught the bus up to Brindavan Gardens, where I wandered around briefly and then lay in the shade for a couple of hours reading a book. Pleasant and relaxing but I was starting to feel a bit over Mysore.

After dinner I made the mistake of catching up with Juliet again – being around her just made me feel like crap again and I found out that she was also planning to go to Ooty the same day as me. Feels very awkward!

But now I’m on the bus to Ooty with Elodie, making plans for the rest of my trip through India and feeling very excited about being up in the hills, around tea plantations and places to go hiking. Bring on awesome new adventures!

No photos for now because I’m using my phone’s internet connection, which is slow and has a small data quota.

Bangalore

Monday was pretty much a day spent in transit. Got up in the morning, caught the bus to the airport and met up with Juliet. Then we caught the plane to Bangalore and a taxi to our accommodation – which took almost two hours and cost about $16. Ate dinner, then collapsed in bed.

The next morning I discovered how little chilli tolerance I have, compared to what is required for Indian food: I managed a couple of mouthfuls of breakfast, tasted nothing but burning and then ran off to the room to vomit it back up. One of the hostel owners told us a bit about the things to see around Bangalore (not that much – it sounds like a nice place to live and work, but not so much of a tourist destination) and took us on a walking tour around the city. Unfortunately I was feeling a bit dizzy and ‘out of it’ after failing to eat breakfast. When we stopped for lunch I forced myself to eat an entire thali despite the overwhelming burning sensation and started to feel a lot better. Since then I’ve found the food a lot more pleasant and have been able to actually taste the flavours rather than just the burning.

Bangalore is apparently fairly laid back for an Indian city – and it was certainly a lot less busy than I was expecting. The chaos and sprawl reminded me a lot of Tehran, only there’s a lot more noise (and constant honking of horns) in India, and the infrastructure in Tehran seemed to be generally a lot more modern. I saw much less extreme poverty than I was expecting in India, too.

Today was spent waiting around for Juliet to reorganise her luggage, which was a mistake – I thought this would take half an hour but ended up taking several hours, so I really should have gone off and explored the city some more on my own. Then we went off on a futile mission to find a mobile phone SIM card. Unfortunately, everywhere wanted a proof of Indian residency before they’d sell us a SIM card, so we came back empty-handed. We did, however, get the cheapest lunch I’ve ever had: we had a thali each for just over $1 in total.

Planned next stop: Mysore.

Pictures are up on Picasa as usual. A few highlights: