Ep. 3 – Southern India

Hello!

Welcome to Episode 3 – our time in Southern India! As always, watch in 1080p. We think this is slightly less shaky? Perhaps you beg to differ haha!

Thanks for watching!

Sophie & Dave

Kollam & Kovalam – India

We arrived in Kollam by bus after doing a stop off in Alleppey for the night. Alleppey is mainly where people get houseboats from; if we were on holiday rather than travelling then we definitely would have done it, but unfortunately staying on a house boat was a little out of our budget.

We had also planned to get the ferry between Alleppey and Kollam, but unfortunately it wasn’t running (you basically just have to rock up and they say yes or no). They said no. So instead, we hopped on another bus to Kollam.

The lack of boating so far actually worked in our favour as we had a brilliant backwater canoe tour around Monroe Island. We did this tour through a random tuk-tuk driver we met who insisted on showing us his testimonial diary that he pulled from under his seat. He had hundreds of reviews in all different languages so we took a risk and said yes for a tour the next day.

He picked us up from our hotel and drove us to the island, we had to get a very unstable mini ferry boat (with the tuk-tuk on board) across to the island. We were met by an island local who warmly invited us in to his slightly rotting, wooden canoe. We went round for about three hours down the narrowest of canals, taking in the sights of tropical village life all around. We sailed past many tiger prawn farms, including one being drained where there were hundreds (genuinely!) of eagles circling. They were diving down and catching fish, we’d never seen anything like it, insanely cool. We also saw some beautiful electric blue Kingfishers along the way. Through the backwaters, there are loads of little makeshift bridges where our boat rower would shout “Sophie, Dave – duck!” and we’d get on to our knees in the canoe or limbo lying backwards.

We then got the bus to Trivandrum and a tuk-tuk to the near by beach area: Kovalam where we stayed for our final couple of days in India. Our tuk-tuk driver was awful and claimed we had said the wrong beach name and wanted to charge extra which we refused so he dropped us off about 1km away. Kovalam was an amazing, relaxing break. We stayed in a hotel right next to the Lighthouse beach. The waves were actually pretty big and powerful and we (well I) definitely got knocked down quite a lot. Dave ended up fairly sunburnt (shocker) and I too got slightly red arms. Kovallam was the first place since we’ve left the UK where I was able to wear shorts rather than full-length trousers!

Next stop is Bangkok for a few days, then we go back on ourselves to Myanmar!

Thanks for reading!

Sophie & Dave

 

Munnar & Thekkady – India

Hello!

We are back to normal after our little episode of gastroenteritis, yay! We left Kochi on a A/C bus we booked through the owner of our homestay (limited hostels in the South). The coach was lovely and I even managed to get some sleep on the insanely bendy roads leading up to Munnar.

Munnar is further inland, 1,700 metres above sea level and it’s where all the tea plantations are. Our homestay was outside of the town and on the edge of the tea plantations. On the afternoon we arrived, we did our own little walk to explore. We’d originally intended to only stay one night but in the end we opted for an extra night and full day of exploring.

In the morning we did a 2 hour hike through the plantations with the guy who ran our homestay. It was amazing! He pointed out so many little things that we would have otherwise missed; beehives, all the different fruit trees, black pepper plants, tamarind, coffee flowers, the different types of tea leaves etc. We walked to the agricultural parts too where he seemed to be mates with all the farmers and just took us up to their private houses to show us their fruit trees.

After showering (we were dripping in sweat and looked like we’d walked off the set of Grease lightning), we opted for a tuk-tuk for the rest of the day to take us around. The main attraction in Munnar is driving up to the Top Station (the highest point for overlooking the tea plantations) but unfortunately by the time we reached it, there was torrential rain and the fog had risen to cover it. It was still a great day, just because Munnar is so incredibly picturesque, I was literally grinning from ear to ear just looking outside. We did other little stop offs to visit various view points and the Mattupetty Dam. We also witnessed all the traffic stopping to let this huge snake cross the road. Our tuk-tuk driver kept saying it was a King Cobra; but after my extensive googling, I’ve decided it definitely wasn’t and was perhaps an Indian Rock Python instead. Our driver appreciated my love of animals and let us get out in the middle of the road to watch the snake (by us, I mean me, Dave doesn’t like snakes and only reluctantly got out after I did). We both agreed our favourite place in India so far has been Munnar. Having said that, in the evening, we went to watch a traditional Kerala dance, which was…interesting. Dave turned to me in the performance and said “I would literally rather watch paint dry” haha. It was basically just the telling of a story through facial movements and excessively loud drumming (to the point where I had my fingers in my ears for most of the performance). We definitely won’t be going to that again in a hurry!

We then headed off on another bus to Thekkady. This time, we caught a local bus. The only way I can describe the drive is if you imagine you were on a roller coaster ride, specifically a Jurrasic park ride (i.e the surrounding vegetation not dinosaurs). We were holding on to the bars on the seat in front of us as we swerved round hairpin bends. It was mental but also very scenic and it only cost £1 for the 6 hour journey.

Thekkady (or Kumily which is the main nearby town) was our next destination. It’s predominantly known for the Periyar tiger reserve where there’s a huge lake and you can do treks/safaris to see animals in the wild. If you know me, then you know this is my absolute dream. We booked our most spendy excursion to date (a full day in the reserve doing a trek and bamboo rafting on the lake). We got up early and were all ready to go… I then proceeded to take one step outside and fell over. I fell badly and knew instantly that I’d sprained my ankle and wouldn’t be able to do the trek. We managed to negotiate postponing our safari one extra day to see if I’d get better. Unfortunately, my ankle swelled up, and is still currently swollen, and I couldn’t walk on it (beautiful photo below for your viewing pleasure). I was so gutted I couldn’t go but it seemed silly for both of us to stay in the room, also we couldn’t get a refund, so Dave went the next day on his own. *Passes Dave the keyboard for the Periyar wildlife reserve*

*Dave: My group set off early on a 5-6km trek and instantly saw lots of beautiful birds, several species of monkeys and a gigantic bison. Slightly further along the path, another tour group walking in the opposite direction said there was a herd of wild elephants ahead. After getting super excited, unfortunately the closet we came all day to seeing the elephants was the remains of their breakfast. After a couple hours trekking through the forest, we came to an opening where our Bamboo raft was stationed. Those that know me well will know it doesn’t take much to make me sweat, so I’m sure you can imagine how sweaty I was after paddling for about an hour in the midday sun. There was nothing I would have liked more than to take a dip in the water. Unfortunately, the guides informed us that there were leaches present therefore I swiftly opted against it. After spotting some wild boar in the distance as we disembarked from our raft, we were luckily enough to cross paths with them shortly into our afternoon trek. While we could see evidence that the tigers were present in the area (scratch marks on the trees and the remains of their kill), I was actually a little thankful we didn’t encounter one during our day!

*back to Sophie*
I actually had closer encounters with wildlife than Dave from our hotel room balcony as a big group of monkeys hung around for most of the day! I was just chilling with my headphones on, having my fruit breakfast, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a massive monkey a metre away strutting across the railings! He and his mate then proceeded to steal my banana and the remnants of my breakfast!

Next stop is Alleppy. By the way, on the next post, any photos of Dave will have him with a super short buzzcut. I gave him a hair cut with his beard trimmer which turned out to be a total disaster and we could only salvage it by basically shaving it all off….my bad…

Thanks for reading!
Sophie & (genuinely this time!) Dave

Ep. 2 – Northern India

Hello!

Welcome to the second episode of our world trip where we spent the last 2 weeks in Northern India! Again, so shaky, soz, we’re working on it.

Thanks so much if you’ve been following along so far, hope you enjoy seeing what we’ve been up to! Remember to watch in 1080p.

Sophie & Dave

Varanasi & Kochi – India

Hello!

We got yet another train from Agra, across Northern India, to Varanasi. The train ended up being 4 hours late so our total travel time was around 16 hours and we arrived to utter chaos. Varanasi was so much busier than anything we’d seen in Rajasthan, even Dehli! We discovered that there were local elections going on the day we arrived and lots of streets had been closed off. Our tuk-tuk driver dropped us off about 2km from the hostel so we had to walk with our backpacks, through the chaos and closed streets under the mid-day sun. I think a march, demonstration or protest can be a little scary and overwhelming anywhere in the world, it’s why I’ve avoided quite a few that I would have liked to attend, even in London. When it’s in a foreign country, in a foreign language, on a topic that you’re completely ignorant about, it’s quite terrifying. We had absolutely no idea what anyone was saying, and we couldn’t even gage if it was peaceful or not. We saw lots of policemen with what looked like baseball bats rather than batons and also lots of normal people just casually walking around with shotguns slung over their shoulders.

Varanasi itself is the Holy city; a place where Indian families come to cremate their dead and scatter their ashes in the river Ganges. I naively thought a holy city would mean I would feel more comfortable and safe; completely the opposite. The harassment was nearly as bad as Dehli and again, it drove me mad.

There are of course some positives to Varanasi too. We were astounded by the landscape, maybe cityscape is a better word. The city side of the Ganges is crammed full of tower block buildings. Crammed to the point that you can only get around through narrow streets that even tuk-tuks can’t fit in to (you wouldn’t believe how many times we got lost in these little meandering streets). It is an immense concrete jungle all the way up to the river’s bank, but then, you look across the river, and it is completely flat. There is nothing there; untouched, pristine. It’s very surreal. We got a boat to the other side one evening at sunset, it seemed even more utopian from the water and the flat side.

You see everything on the banks of the Ganges; it’s where people burn bodies, go to the Ghats, wash themselves, wash their clothes, hang laundry, sell their goods, have performances and my personal highlight, where water buffalo go for a dip. Though it is a very common tourist practice to watch a burning body, we decided against it. We did however watch an Agni Pooja. A ceremony, that at the time we had no clue what it was about and which we later learnt was to worship the god of fire. There were thousands of people watching this ceremony, half on land, and half in boats on the river.

On the morning we were due to leave Varanasi, I woke up to horrific food poisoning (I mean I went to the toilet 16 times in about 2 hours). Fun fact, we were in an 8 bed dorm at this point, 2 bathrooms shared between 16 people, I’ll just leave it there… I was extremely weak with a high fever and was struggling to keep my eyes open. Dave had to carry both our backpacks and I just stumbled after him. I should have been in bed with a cold flannel over my head but oh no, instead, we had to get an hour long tuk-tuk ride to the airport (no taxis to be found), a 2 hour flight to Mumbai, a 2 hour layover, another 2 hour flight to Kochi and finally an hour drive to the accommodation. I think I boarded both planes wrapped in my silk liner sleeping bag I was shivering so much. Safe to say, it was my least favourite journey. But we made it to Kochi! We’ve seen it spelt various ways, Cochin is the colonial name given by the British. It is in the Southern state of Kerala which is also known as “God’s own Country”. Kochi is beautiful and reminds us a lot of our trip to Barbados a few years ago. There are palm trees and coconuts galore. It is so much more relaxed and less chaotic. I haven’t been stared down or harassed and we’ve barely had any tuk-tuk drivers hassling us! It honestly feels like a different country to Northern India. Unfortunately, we haven’t been out much to enjoy it. The day after we arrived, Dave too got gastroenteritis, probably from me, (soz Dave). I’ve been ill for 3 full days now and I’m only just starting to recover, Dave’s on day 2 so a bit behind. We’ve both been so tired and weak that we’ve just slept most of the time and occasionally ventured out for food or water or to watch the sun set over the ocean. We’ve had some nice gentle strolls along the beach and the lanes (where I’ve been shat on by birds not once, but twice). We found a cafe that feels as though it could have been transported straight from Shoreditch, East London (a welcome break though, I thoroughly enjoyed my pretentious avocado and poached egg on toast, in full A/C whilst listening to The Cranberries).

Tomorrow, we get a bus onwards to Munnar. We have about a week and a half left here in the South and we plan to visit 5 more places!

 

Udaipur & Agra – India

Hello!

After another 7 hour train from Jaipur, we arrived in Udaipur. Despite arriving nearly an hour early to the train station, they didn’t show our platform until 15 mins before departure. Indian train stations and trains are HUGE (i.e 1 million carriages), so we actually cut it really fine! Note to selves; try and ask for the platform rather than relying on the information boards.

Our hostel (Zostel), is by far the nicest we’ve stayed in yet! They have a beautiful roof terrace restaurant (cheap) that overlooks Lake Pichola. Udaipur is by far the most beautiful, clean and pleasant city we’ve visited so far. Even the tuk-tuk drivers are nicer and give you local prices rather than trying to make you pay 5 times more because you’re a tourist.

We visited the Udaipur City Palace. Though ranked number one on tripadvisor, we weren’t blown away by it. Undeniably it had some beautiful stained glass windows, mirror rooms and some interesting historic paintings, but we both weren’t feeling 100% so maybe that’s why we didn’t enjoy it as much. Having said that, the trip was worth it just for the fact that we discovered that the lake we’re staying next to is actually man-made! (we realise this is probably common knowledge to anyone who has ever googled or knows anything about Udaipur, we just haven’t been researching places before arriving really. In fact, Udaipur is actually also known as the City of Lakes [D’oh!]). Anyway, lake Pichola was made in 1362 and is one of 8 man-made lakes in Udaipur! Mental! We’ve been treating Udaipur as our relax and re-charge place. We’ve basically just been pottering around or sitting by the lake and drinking Masala Chai… no complaints.

After a lot of faff, we managed to book our 12 hour over-night train to Agra. This time we had first class. It is essentially the same as economy, just with 2 storey rather than 3 storey bunks. The crucial difference is the curtains next to your seat/bunk which meant we were actually able to get some sleep. All hunky dory, UNTIL, we missed our train stop. Agra has about 5 stations, there are no intercoms or anything on the trains so you’re just expected to know when to get off…When you pull in to a platform you have to keep an eye out to see a small, near illegible sign. So anyway, we thought that we’d be able to tell it was Agra City (i.e hoping it would be busier/better sign posted). We didn’t see the sign, kept checking our watches to see we were past our expected arrival time (but we just thought the train must be running late). Eventually, we went to ask the train conductor who said, yes, you’ve missed it; next station is Dholpur. So we got off at Dholpur, a place we’d never even heard of, with the smallest train station we’d seen. We gormlessly looked around to see that the next train back to Agra was in 4 hours time. We’d also been told that a taxi would have cost about 2000 rupees (only £18 but still, no). Then these two random guys came up to us and asked if we were lost; we explained we missed Agra city, they then said they would help us. The hardest part of travelling so far is without a doubt, knowing who to trust. We’ve had a mix of people being honest and just genuinely so kind and some with ulterior motives, whether its getting us in to their shops or getting commission from us etc. We were skeptical of these two blokes, but we didn’t really have a choice but to trust them (no wifi, small town, no map etc). They negotiated with a tuk tuk driver to take us to the bus station and they followed behind on their motorbikes (again, we were a little bit dubious). The tuk tuk driver tried to short change us when we arrived but the 2 guys stepped in and demanded he give us back the extra 10 rupees. They then spoke to the bus driver and told us exactly how much to pay (61 rupees) and when to get off. Turns out, they were just two of the nicest people ever and we would have been completely lost without them. Sometimes the kindness of strangers is really inspiring. So we got on this extremely questionable bus for an hour and a half back to Agra. Honestly, the bus looked like it had been pulled from a scrap heap; about 90% of the chair covers were torn/missing, the remnants of a once blue frame were poking out from a thick layer of grime. We were laughing on the bus saying that our photos and videos make it look like our travels so far are only magical. The reality is that some of the places we’ve been in are just too dodgy to get the camera out haha.

The next day, we got up early and met our guide for the Taj Mahal at 6.15am. We wanted to go as soon as it opened at sunrise to beat the tourist rush. The queues are separated by gender and then further by tourist vs Indian. I was very chuffed to be put in to the Indian queue and got through in 5 minutes (unfortunately had already paid for the tourist ticket). I had to wait for a further 20 minutes for Dave to get through. The Taj Mahal is like nothing we’ve ever seen and is genuinely so beautiful. The intricacies and detail of the precious stones in the marble is unreal when you get up close and unsurprising that it took 22 years to build.

We’ve got another day in Agra tomorrow and then another overnight train to Varanassi.

Thanks for reading!

Sophie & Dave

Dehli & Jaipur – India

Hello from India!

We arrived in Dehli and managed to get through the airport after about 2 hours. Dehli was…interesting. I’m in 2 minds; on the one hand, it was cleaner, less busy, less begging and more greenery than we anticipated. On the other hand, it was full of seedy men and that part made it near unbearable for me. Everyone warns you about the poverty, the mistreatment of animals, the beggars etc..but no one warned me about the sexual harassment. For every step I took in Dehli, all the men in the vicinity stared at me. Men would make kissing sounds, someone even grabbed my arse as we walked through old Dehli. There was another more vulgar experience on the metro too. So all of that made it really difficult for me as I don’t have the language to argue back. You may also be wondering where Dave was in all of this; right next to me. It was honestly everywhere we turned so neither of us could keep up with it. Dehli is also so densely populated that by the time you turn around, the person who grabbed you is 20 people further back laughing. Also, not that it should matter, but let me paint you a picture of what I looked like; baggy trousers, high neck t-shirt, glasses, hair in a knot, no make up, quite spotty.

Right, dodgy part over, let’s move on to more positive things. In Dehli, we visited the Lotus temple, really modern architecture with beautiful surrounding greenery (we’d know because we got lost trying to find the entrance and walked round the park for an hour).

One evening we went to the Red Fort for their sound and light show,  it was…weird. It was also only 72p each and at least we got to actually go in the fort. The story was about Mughal history and part of the English colonisation.

We did a walking tour with our hostel of Old Dehli where we went through all the spice, clothes, silver, flower and shoe markets. We would have been totally lost without the guide and he knew good little passage ways to sneak up tall buildings and look over old Dehli and the oldest Mosque in India; Fatehpuri Masjid.

On our last day in Dehli, we went to the largest Mosque in India; Jama Masjid. Like the fort, it’s built with red sandstone, a signature of Shah Jahan (who also built the Taj Mahal – not red…). We then got the train 6 hours to Jaipur. Getting a train ticket from Dehli station was an absolute shambles. If it wasn’t for our hostel being absolutely clear about where to go and sticking to our guns, we would have been mugged off completely. Even security guards were corrupt and trying to send you to a different ticket office rather than the Tourist bureau where they have special train quotas but at the same cost as locals. The train was okay once we actually got on, we were in economy because there was no first class left. It was a bit of a squeeze and not particularly comfortable but hey, it was only £5 each.

We much prefer the pink city, Jaipur. We went to the City Palace and we had a great guide who showed us around. Though you couldn’t take pictures, the 17th century clothes from Sawai Madho Singh were MASSIVE, he was meant to be 250kg, and 6’7″ft tall and 3’11” ft wide. Our favourite part was undoubtedly the 4 gates inside the courtyard; Pitam Niwas Chowk. Each gate represents one of the four seasons (see some snaps below).

We’ve also been to the giant observatory; Jantar Mantar. Though we didn’t get a guide, the structures were insane and it had some of the biggest sun dials in the world. We then went to the Hawa Mahal (the Palace of Wind). It’s an incredible building with a honeycomb structure and it’s full of tiny windows. Our favourite of the 5 storeys was the one with colourful stained glass windows where multicoloured light dances across the floor.

All of those places, we walked to. The streets are full of random cows, pigs, dogs and even camels; you’ve also got a million tuk-tuks. We did get a tuk-tuk to the Amber Fort and back. The fort is huge and surprisingly had a beautiful temple within. I sort of expected to walk around seeing just battlements and staggered walls but there was so much more. The best bit was the Sheesh Mahal, or the Mirror Palace; archways covered in silver and mirrors.

Anyway, we have just arrived in Udaipur! We’ll be here for a few days, then another train to Agra. Then more trains, but we’ll tell you that later.

Thanks for reading!
Sophie & Dave

PS – vital information, neither of us have had dodgy tummies yet! woo!