Tatty Travel Tips – 10 for India

So at the end of our 3 months in India, we would still describe it as amazing and infuriating. Get ready for a culture shock like no other. Having said that… we are in Singapore in wonderment of the clean toilets, flat roads and to be honest… missing wading through the crap of India!

Doing a kit check in India...

So, if you are planning in visiting the land of a thousand curries/car-horns/cows/temples… these tips might help!

  1. Don’t be a slave to the guidebook, but familiarise yourself with each place before you arrive… how to get around, how much things should cost… to avoid being misled. Some of the scams of  very inventive! (see our earlier blogs for examples!)
  2. India’s great, but always late! So prepare to be flexible… trains, buses, rickshaws, allow time to get to them.
  3. If travelling all over, you will inevitably end up in some big  cities… use these to refresh. Stock up on non-tourist priced supplies, drink a cheap beer, watch a movie, then hit the trail again.
  4. Booking transport in India can be INFURIATING! Everyone is out to make money off you. So ask around about prices and try and use public transport. The trains are so cheap and efficient but tickets get booked up fast! Tourist quota and emergency tickets are available from agents, but you can book in advance on the amazing website www.cleartrip.com for very small commission and if you don’t use the tickets, you can get a refund.
  5. There is a perpetual lack of change in India from stalls, drivers and restaurants… so try and get change when you can. Indians are also adept at confusing the situation and will add up bills wrong, or ask for an extra 50 rupees note and then give you incorrect money back… so get used to some fast maths!
  6. One’s mans trash is another man’s treasure… take others’ advice with a pinch of salt… just because they thought Varanasi was smelly and horrible… doesn’t mean you won’t feel spiritual and chilled out there!
  7. Illuminate yourself… torches are essential… there are lots of powercuts and dark streets.
  8. Get your haggling powers up to speed… hardly ever pay the price first mentioned… not even for hotel rooms… there is always room for a better price.
  9. Snaps! See a group of Indian Tourists coming your way… be prepared to have a snap with them… then the next group and the next group and the next… or run away and hide if you are feeling sweaty and less than glamorous!
  10. Choose your footwear carefully. Yes India is hot and flip flops or sandals are great… but we were really thankful for our walking boots when in the very dirty and sludgy cities.

Essential items to pack: padlock and chain for bags on the trains and buses, neck pillow for comfortable travelling, earplugs (not for sale in India), Buff or scarf for sun protection and covering your mouth in the big cities, wet wipes (just don’t look at the colour they are when you clean your face after a city stint) and finally sharp elbows … or you won’t get anywhere!

Andy with his kit

Kit... check... footwear... removed!

Time for a cuppa in Munnar

Waterfalls aint free

After a short stay in Fort Cochin we decided that it was time for a tasty cuppa up in the hills of Munnar. A touch further inland from Kochin and at a slightly higher altitude of 2500 meters is Munnar, the land of tea…… It took approximately 5 hours on the local deaf ride called a bus, but we managed to arrive in one piece. We were greeted with a typical new-arrivals welcome from the tuc-tuc drivers as per usual and we headed up to our pre-arranged accommodation with a sleazy tout in toe. A few words later we’d free ourselves and settled into our new home for the next couple of nights. A friendly owner with a weirdness about him who liked to sign all the time (high and girl like) and also kept animal skulls under our bed….these weren’t discovered until our last night)…..

The View over the Munnar Tea Plantations

The scenery made up for the accommodation. Beautiful green hills, clouds lapping around the tea fields with a thirst for a brew, and lovely fresh air…… the town however had beeps and fumes but luckily for us we were staying a little out-of-town. Our first mission was to get hold a cuppa….we were parched….

What I like best about arriving in a new place is discovering the shops and restaurants and laughing at the really crap stuff on sale…..(almost every shop in India is identical),

…….this time we found an excellent place to eat. It was called Rapsy Restaurant and situated in an Indian equivalent of an Arndale Centre. The owner/ waiter was the most friendliest guy we have met in India and he liked to show us his coin collection and also fill out his visitor book……we haven’t eaten yet, I said……..after though we both filled it in and said how nice the food was. After gathering up enough information about the tea plantations and waterfalls it was sleep time…..

Our Road Hog

We headed out to find ourselves a scooter and set off to find the hill station which is one of the tourist highlights. Approximately 2 hours away. On the way we passed many tea works in the fields along with road repairers and general maintenance operatives. This area of India is truly beautiful…… we finally made it to the top on our 110cc Honda scooter that barely got up the hills. We stopped for a brew…..it was hard work…….2 teas please…..the waiter brings 2 coffees……..HARD WORK.

After soaking in as much scenery and air as we could we then set off in search of a Lukkom waterfall. It was a good 2 hours on the scooter. We finally made it and was surprised to find that there were no walks around it, you can’t touch it, you also have to pay 5 rupees for the pleasure of looking at it, and also have to pay to use the toilet that you’d just paid to get into.  India really doesn’t want you to see anything for free.

After a minute or two we then set off back on our long scooter ride back up the many hills and valleys back to Munnar for some tasty curry and tea at our new found friends restaurant……

Boats, Bugs and Big Baths

‘The Venice of the East’ is how Alleppey in Kerala is packaged up! Kerala is famous for fish curry, ayurveda and Kathakali performances, but all this pales against the biggest money spinning activity in the state… exploring the lush backwaters by traditional houseboat.

A typical house boat

This experience in consistently rated as a highlight by most travelers… languidly floating through rivers, past small villages, fishing off the side of the boat and eating food prepared by a crew and generally just chilling out… but there are some warnings to heed – namely in terms of the expense, with some people forking out over 9000 rupees for a trip which should really have cost closer to 5000. Also the importance was stressed by numerous books, websites and travelers of seeing the boat you are traveling on before you set off!

Our budget was 5000 for the boat, which we were sure should get us something without holes in it! Its impossible to move much further than 200 metres in Alleppey without being offered a boat trip, so in no time, we had seen the boat (via a high speed motorcycle ride to a random hidden jetty) and settled on a price of 4000 rupees… leaving us money to spare to take a smaller boat for the afternoon to see other parts of the backwaters. Bargain… hey!

Our smaller boat

The smaller boats are not plush, just simple boats with sun screen cover and chairs… but once you deck them out with a bottle of port… they are fit for a king. We spent 5 hours cruising around the waterways with all manner of life lining the shores, schools, shops, people washing clothes, people washing themselves, chickens, goats and cats… plus some very plush hotel reserts… then topped it off with the most fantastic sunset and night sky, before returning to Alleppey for dinner.

So could we top this the next day with the houseboat trip? Went meandered through the bigger waterways – with a fair amount of other boats, but it was still magical and we were fed with delicious food… even buying some huge langoustines from a passing boat which we had as a starter… it was just perfect relaxation (although we suspect we overpaid significantly for the langoustines!)

Giant langoustine

So after a hard day we headed to our bedroom aboard the boat, to have a well deserved sleep… now this is where it get interesting… there must have been around 50 HUGE cockroaches in the bedroom… pretty much on every surface…. I was frozen in the middle of the room (probably due to the large dark rum and coke I had drunk) but soon realised the seriousness of the infestation…. I mean these things were about 2-3 inches long. What ensued was a furious catch or smash system implemented by the staff – believe me I would have slept anywhere else but there was no option in the dark night… so we climbed under the mosquito net and trembled through the night… still hearing the creatures who had successfully hidden in the room.

We decided the next morning that there must have been a next somewhere… the boats are filled with gaps and holes as they are made of bamboo and natural materials… and the boat was clean… no cockroaches in any other room….Morale of the story is you get what you pay for! But imagine if we had paid 10,000 rupees and still had cockroaches….

Next stop after roachville…. Kochin – one of the biggest seaports in Kerala – made up of a collection of peninsulas and islands. The main city is big and smelly and noisy, so we headed over to Fort Kochin, the chilled out, tourist area, which is a mix of old houses built by the Portuguese, Dutch and British and sports huge chinese fishing nets over the harbour. There is loads to do here, so we started by organising a trip to a nearby Elephant training camp.

Kodanad training camp was purported to be only 1 hour in a rickshaw from Kochin and we were keen to get there in time for the elephants’ bathtime in the river before 8am… so we set off a 6am… the rickshaw took over 2 hours and was very very bumpy…. so we arrived despondent, thinking we would clash with the big bus loads of tourists or even worse… have missed the whole thing. We were amazed to discover no other tourists there at all… and a very large elephants having a bath on his own. We took a few photos and then were invited to get in with him and give him a good old scrub with a coconut shell! It was amazing! and I think our tactics impressed him as he curled his trunk over his tusks and closed his eyes. It wasn’t until afterwards that we discovered that he was being bathed alone and apart from the other elephants because he had mental problems! great! lucky we survived that one… he seemed normal to us!

Big boys bath time

Andy Shaw drives a Rick Shaw

“Hey, how hard can it be”?

It’s nothing more that just a ‘supdt-up’ mobility scooter. Throttle on the right, clutch on the left, gear change with a flick of the wrist……..don’t need to worry about the brakes……lets go.

'Where do you want to go? I give you good price'

It felt great, riding along in a large egg with three wheels and a truck horn……BBBBBBBeeeeeeeeeepppppppp!!!!!!!!

The owner was a young lad no more than 20 years. I think he had faith in me. We’d just been to the elephant park out in the sticks so traffic was low. These things can slide through the eye of a needle. The bad boy had a sound system as well as fancy bling.

If I have had more experience of these crazy three wheelers I would definitely consider buying one to do some traveling around India. I decided to give the controls back to Naz after 10 minutes as the traffic started to fill up…….

The only problem with buying one is that after a 3 hour journey, (on the way back from the elephant park) my bum was not happy and nor was my hearing from all the tuc tuc tuc tuc tuc noise………

Great fun though, even your granny could drive one, and they’re cheap

Ayurvedic and beyond……

Well, where do I start???

We arrived in Kovalam, in Kerala and thought to ourselves…… we’ve been very busy these last few weeks, why not have a treatment/massege and relax while we here. Ayurvedic treatments originated from these parts of Kerala so will no doubt be good value for money…….

Nieve as we are, we both booked in for a 1 hour session under the description of hand massage at a lovely little place that was highly recommended to us. I had an idea that some oil was going to be used and that you may need to ‘strip off’ to receive the treatment but i wasn’t ready for what happened next…..

“Next, you sir, come with me”! I followed the guy into my private room. I looked at the various equipment comprising of a well oiled bench and a rope hanging from the ceiling…. I just want a back massage I said. “Ok, strip”. I was kind of expecting a little decency, maybe a towel or something.

“Sit here”, what on that chair?

He started with a head massage which was ace, at this point I had 2 hands to cover my equipment….

“Ok on bench”

It was so slippery I nearly fell straight off. He started on my back and arms…. this is ok I thought……hey, where’s his hand going????, almost inside somewhere it shouldn’t be. Top to bottom, top to bottom, Both sides, left then right side. I felt great apart from the weirdness of a man putting his hands between my arse cheeks.

“Ok, turn over

This was going to feel very weird. My inhibitions had to be swolled up like a shark eating surfers or I was going to freak. My chest, my shoulders, my legs, MY GROIN!!!  I just had to try and imagine it was someone else……oh no, don’t do that. I’m sure that a hand gliding past in close proximity was part of the treatment????

After the session, I definately felt great. I would certainly recommend this as a treatment. Be prepared for a little oil, a little nakedness and a leap of faith….

Covering some Southern Ground

Well when last you left us, we were in Hampi, soaking up the atmosphere of the boulders and ruins and experiencing Divali.  We were also soaked… it rained ALOT in Hampi… not great in a place where there are no proper roads and the way to get to some of the sights was across the river in a coracle… we had to abandon our sunset ride on the river on the last day as it was just too high and menacing! Divali seemed to go on for around 3 days and involved fireworks in the street, lots of flowers and lovely smells and all the men gambling on street corners for money…. Divali is the festival of money afterall where followers give thanks to the godess Laxmi… one of the guys in our hotel lost 10,000 rupees!

Divali made it difficult for us to get out of Hampi… as all the trains were totally booked up. So we ended up on yet another delightful bus journey… spent most of it flying in the air as the roads were so bad! So we arrived in Bangalore feeling very tired and ready for some TLC. Bangalore is a very modern city, with connections to software and big business; the inventor of Hotmail is from there!

Essential City kit - walking boots and a map!

Apart from the Bamboo Bike (see blog at https://tattybackpacks.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/the-bamboo-bike-from-bangalore/) We didn’t have any specific plans… so spent some time refreshing ourselves – mooching around malls and bookshops, going bowling and going to see an American film… we even fit in a trip to a steak restaurant and had a few cheeky drinks. One afternoon was whiled away in the Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum…which shared alot of exhibits with Magna where I work in Rotherham – some of the exhibits were very strange and others very modern.

After Bangalore – we headed via Chennai, to the east coast. We hooked up with another Couch Surfing person in Chennai, who we spent a couple of pleasant hours chatting with. We have not yet managed to surf any couches, but meeting Vijay and Gopu has been a great way to find out more about Indian life.

Check out the caption under the photo!

The way to travel in Tamil Nadu seems to be by bus… a word that strikes fear into our hearts… if it’s not an overnight sleeper bus which rattles our bones and never stops for toilet breaks, then its a local bus, which looks like it should be on a scrap pile and either has double the passengers on that it should, or wheels make thunderclap noises, or windows that rattle and leak, or a really loud ‘DVD playing on a crappy old screen – and before all that fun, you have to find the bloody thing in a bus station which resembles a riot scene! We did eventually find our bus to Mamallapuram… after standing in the wrong place (where we had been told to stand) for about an hour!

Mamallapuram is a small village on the east coast,  just south of Chennai. It has a fantastic shore template and the five rathas – a collection of monument temples and the best stone elephant in India.

Elephant in Mamallapuram

We spent 2 days exploring and looking at all the stonework which they produce here, from tiny stone pendants to giant elephants and snakes… some of it amazing work.

Next it was on to Pondycherry; a french colony and seaside retreat… on yet another local bus – yet again a pile of crap. We made it in one piece and checked into a nice hotel before heading out to explore. Pondycherry’s back streets with french architecture and ‘rue’ rather than street signs, were very strange, but there was good street food on offer and lots of shade in the European section of the town. The other side of the canal however on the Indian side – things moved up a notch in terms of craziness… hot, smelly and mad as always, the streets were lined with market stalls selling everything from earmuffs and ballaclava’s (yes you heard right… and it is Swealtering here!), the bangles and fish! Andy took a constitutional through a fish market – i just couldn’t face the smell! and we purchased a traditional indian wooden drum which on closer inspection was made from a thick tube of cardboard! oh yes… 2 days in Pondy was well enough and we booked yet another night bus (joy) to Madurai.

Meenakshi Temple in Madurai - 6.30am!

We decided to see the main sight in Madurai and then move on …. had enough of cities! The Meenakshi Temple is an astonishingly bright Hindu temple and very well maintained. Inside are numerous meditation areas, small shrines and stalls… plus a temple elephant with it’s own jazz band!

So then it was back to another chaotic bus station to board a local bus for 6 hours to Kanyakumari… the southernmost tip of the continent. It was a long and very hot journey and it was NOT worth it! We should have gone to the tip and then caught another bus…. but it was too late. Kanyakumari was smelly, touristy and busy and subject to multiple powercuts and no operating ATM’s. We felt proud to have reached the end of the country but ready to move on very swiftly.

Current location is Kovalam in Kerala, the most developed resort in India… yes its touristy and not too cheap, but the waves a great for surfing and boogie boarding and we are recharging batteries again. We headed over to a fishing port yesterday which is currently bustling with noisy fish wives and card-playing fishermen… but is set to be a major seaport for cruise liners in the next few years. We are glad we went while it was in its current state… having chai with the fishermen who spoke no English while they grinned at us was their toothless mouths, was a unique experience – unlikely to survive the western invasion. Plus Andy needs a few days to perfect his surfing stance and our hotel has a pool…. so it seems rude to rush off….

Andy with his really tatty surfboard

The Bamboo Bike from Bangalore

I first heard about the ‘Bambike’ from friends whilst chatting on a roof-top cafe in Hampi. “When in Bangalore, check out thisguy who makes bikes from Bamboo”. As soon as I heard, my ears pricked up… as a keen cyclist, I instantly had images of this creation, running through my mind. Vijay, the creator, was a fellowcouch surfer so we got in touch and once in Bangalore, we were on a quest!

We caught a local bus and arranged to meet him at a random shopping centre… 5 minutes from his workshop. He said he would “pick us up”. We heard the noise of a motorbike approaching and it was Vijay on his Royal Enfield complete with sidecar! How cool i thought… it was just like the one out of the Garden state film!

After shaking hands and introductions, we headedoff to his workshop to see the Bambike. I was amazed that a guy would take time out of his day to pick up 2 complete strangers and show  them around his business premises… but that is what couch surfing is all about… gaining from experiences meeting new people. WhWhen we arrived, vijay made a bit more sense…he runs a furniture business very successfully with many staff and some big customers… apparently without marketing (which had Rach quaking in her unemployed boots!).

Vijay and Andy with the Bambike

I loved his idea and could see potential for this in the inner cities… with the general obsession with green issues partcularly…. the bike looks cool, is green and could easily be manufacturedand sold through distributors across the world! He has interest from various people, including Italy and America… so good luck Vijay! His website is handcraftedbikes.blogspot.com

no it will not fit in your backpack!

Keep an eye out for these in the UK!

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