Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The Southern Tip and Kerala

Kodaikanal was nice but boring. There wasn't much to do other than walking. I did a couple of 10 to 15 mile walks which felt pretty good, but the rest of the time it seemed like I was just watching the cricket with the Indian guys in the hotel. Anyway after a few days I was quite eager to get away, so I booked a bus to the Kanyakamuri. This is a town on the very southern tip of India, where the Indian Ocean meets the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. So it's quite a significant point, and a great place to watch the sunrise.
The bus ride back down the mountain was quite funny. The road was quite steep, and had lots of bends and potholes. So after a while quite a few people were leaning out of the windows being sick. I think 6 of the 15 passengers were sick. The sides of the bus must have been in a state. Anyway after we got down onto the plains it wasn't so bad.
We turned up in Kanyakamuri at 3 in the morning, which left me with about 3 hours to kill before sunrise. I ended up going down near the beach and tried to have a bit of a snooze there, but there were so many people around waiting for the sunrise that it was pretty hard. So about 5am I went down to the beach. It was pretty scummy really, loads of rubbish and some massive rats wading through it all. But on a little island about 100m out to sea there was a massive statue of a guy (I don't know who, but he looked pretty severe in the daylight). And the sun rose just behind him, which was pretty impressive.
Later that morning I hopped on a train (after having a more settled snoozie in the train station) to Kerala, which wasn't that far at all. My stop was Varkala, where I had heard there was a pretty nice beach and possibly some paragliding. Well the beach was pretty nice, and fenced in by some pretty impressive cliffs, but the tourist season was over, so I didn't see any paragliders, which was a shame. But there were a few cool people to hang around with in the hotel, and lineing the clifftop were a load of restaurants. Most of these did fresh fish and other pretty decent food. And they had pretty good views of the moonlit sea, and of the dozens of little fishing boats out on the horizon. It was pretty nice.
So I spent a few days there before heading up to Fort Cochin, one of the bigger towns in Kerala. The buildings were a mix of British, Portuguese, and Dutch architechture. The first church in India was built here. It was great to walk around these little streets, most of which were filled with antique stores. Before Isreal was formed there was a very high (and wealthy) Jewish population here. So when they left for Israel they left a load of antiques behind. There was some pretty impressive stuff around. One shop had 40m longboat in it.
Anyway today I move up to the next state, Karnataka. I'm hoping to see some bull racing, which sounds like pretty good fun. They race in a muddy field, and the riders are awarded extra points for getting the wheels of their chariot to splatter mud over a certain height. So that's that. Take care back home and have fun, Ben.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Getting Really Hot and then Somewhere Quite Pleasantly Cool

Well my next stop was Hyderabad. I was staying with someone from the paragliding course, Monty, and his family. Compared to Calcutta, which was the only other big city I'd been to, it was very clean and affluent. A big IT centre. And I was able to see much more of the city with much less stress than I would have done if I had had to rely on public transport.
On the day I arrived it turned out to be Montys twin cousins 5th birthday, so I was invited along to their party, which was pretty good fun. And I got stuffed with some really nice food. In Hyderabad I also saw a 4D film, which was quite funny, the biggest film set in the world, which was a bit tacky, and then one day a big group of us went kyacking out of town. It was really good fun, and the lake was welcome relief from the heat which was getting up to about 40C. The day after that was Holi, which was crazy. The whole local community came out and smothered each other in colourful powders and water, it was brilliant.
After Hyderabad I got a night coach down to a town called Hampi. I didn't really sleep on the bus because it was colder than home, and because the driver kept on going over speed bumps at speed. But Hampi was beautiful, the most beautiful place I have been to. It is an ancient abandoned city, with a slightly newer settlement built up around one corner of it. It was strange to imagine what it would have been like when all of these ruins were lived in, the landscape is so ancient that it is hard to picture it being a wealthy and vibrant place. Which it apparently was.
I hired a little pedal bike a few times so that I could get around better, it was quite nice to cruise along these little roads, high-fiving kids and swerving on-coming buses. There was also a big reservoir nearby that you could swim in, which a few of us did. Again, this was such a nice relief from the heat, which was even hotter than Hyderabad. We also met an Indian guy called Moses there who did a lot of diving off some pretty big rocks. One was 15m.
And then from Hampi I was meant to get a sleeper train to Mysore, which is an old sandalwood producing town, lots of massive trees and old palaces, very nice. But I missed the train, so I ended up getting an unreserved ticket to Bangalore overnight (this meant 11 hours on the floor of a packed carriage, sleeping with cockroaches), and then from there another 3 hours to Mysore. But I made it eventually. Although there were some nice sights and markets, Mysore wasn't as nice as I had hoped, it was still a city. So I didn't stay long. And to get a reserved seat or bed on a train there is usually a waiting list of at least 3 days, so I decided to go with the cockroach's again. And this time I was lucky enough to get a seat, so I was able to sleep a little better. It's just so cheap and easy! I did a 360 mile, 13 hour journey, for about 1.75 pounds. And you don't have to book.
So my next destination was a hill station called Kodaicanal, which is where I am now. It's about 2000m above sea level, which makes it much cooler than the plains. I had to use a blanket last night, which was exciting. During the day it is still quite warm, but not uncomfortable like it was down below. And the views are incredible. The mountains are beautiful, and in the distance you can see the plains. So I'm planning to do a few little days treks around here, get a little healthy, and then move on to the beaches. Should be good. Anyway take care and have fun. And Happy Mothers Day to all you mothers out there wherever you are.

Monday, 22 February 2010

The Fraternity of Pilots

Well the journey to Pune took 33 hours, which actually wasn't so bad because it included 2 nights. When we got there all the local trains had been canceled, which we later found out was because someone had a set off a bomb on one of the lines. So instead we had to faff around trying to get a bus, which was a big hassle. Anyway we finally made it to the town of Lonavala where the paragliding school is. It's actually just someones house, but he has a couple of pretty good live in cook/cleaners, so we've been eating good Indian food everyday, plus a couple of decent BBQs. All food and accommodation is free too, which is nice. All the instructors and staff are really nice, and there are always people from all over India and the world turning up. Last night an English guy arrived, he had driven from England over three and a half months on bio-fuel.
Paragliding is a pretty nice experience, and the views are amazing. The first couple of days are pretty hard work because you're not actually gliding, you're learning how to control the glider on the ground. This involves running down hills and then carrying all your equipment back up, all day.
During the lunch before my first actual flight I developed diarrhea. Realizing that you have to run off a 250ft cliff with diarrhea is much more scary than running off a 250ft cliff. I thought it might be like the RAF bombing Dresden all over again, but instead it was brilliant. There were amazing views, and it is very relaxing. Once you get good at it it is quite a lazy sport.
Also, I am persevering with my beard. I got lost a few days ago, and while I was waiting for directions from a group of guys, one of them asked if I was a Muslim. I don't think he was too impressed when I said I was a Christian, but they still got me home alright.
I'm going down south next, through the hill country down to the very tip of India, and then I'll be coming back up the west coast. So hopefully I'll find some nice beaches. And then I reckon I'll do the 2nd stage of my paragliding course. Anyway hope all is well back home, have a good time.


Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Ko Tao and India

The Full Moon Party was pretty good fun, and pretty surreal. We just wandered up and down the beach all night and morning, talking to various people. I think I went to bed at about 11am and pretty much slept through until 7 the next morning. Then that day I got the boat to Ko Tao where I finally managed to get a room after searching everywhere for a few hours. Loads of people from Ko Phangan had left for Ko Tao after the Full Moon, so everywhere was pretty booked up. My room was at a diving centre, so I also signed up to do my PADI Open Water Course.
That started the next evening with a little introductory talk, so I got to meet who I would be diving with, they were a cool bunch. A couple of Canadian sisters (Team Canada), two girls from Switzerland (Team Switzerland), and a guy from Missouri (Team Transatlantic with me). And there was a really nice BBQ every night.
We had to do 4 dives, and they were amazing. We saw some really cool fish and coral, but nothing really big. We were hoping to see Bull sharks, but unfortunately there were none around when we went to their stomping ground. It was still amazing.
And when we had all passed we had a little graduation ceremony that was meant to involve throwing up snorkels and masks like the mortarboards, but our instructor couldn't get hold of any so we had to make do without. It was really good fun though and I got to see Kuyts goal against Everton that night.
The day after that I got a boat and another sleeper train back to Bangkok where I had to get more vaccinations, and also pick up my Indian visa. I didn't do much else, and so the morning after I flew to Kalkota in India (after leaving my card in a machine in Bangkok airport; I'm now living off Travelers Cheques). When I booked the flight I was under the impression that Kalkota was in South India, but that turned out to be Chennai, so I ended up about 1000 miles Northwest of where I thought I was going. Which has worked out quite well, because I met someone who is going down to Pune, which is near Mumbai, to do a para-gliding course. I decided to tag along, although I will only do some tandem flights, but it sounds like pretty good fun.
Anyway, all is well, and I hope things are good back home.
All the best, Ben.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Well after a couple of days wandering around and getting lost I met up with Ari and went out with some of her friends, it was good fun. A lot of expats there. Her place has got a great view too.
Then after a week or so I got a sleeper train down to Surat Thani, which is the main ferry port to the islands. That took about 10hrs, I got there at about 6.30am, then was straight on the bus to the port for the ferry to Ko Samui! Which was quite hectic but it worked out well.
In Ko Samui I went to a beach called Hat Lamai, it was a pretty nice area. Quite an old crowd, but I got some good advice and got to watch some footie too. Everyone was very friendly.
And then from their I came to Ko Phangan. This is where the Full Moon party happens, that's in a couple of days now. Met quite a few Aussies out on Australia Day, they were having a pretty good time. We played beach cricket and footie, and I got very sunburnt. Bumped into Paul Speight briefly as well, he had just arrived. Will see him in a few days I guess.
It turns out I didn't bring any way of uploading photos, so I haven't been taking many, and I probably won't be able to put any up for a while. Anyway, having a good time and hoping everyone back home is too.


Monday, 11 January 2010

Made It!

Well despite my last minute fears about missed connections, immigration issues and malicious taxi drivers, everything went pretty smoothly. My iPod packed in just before I left which was a bummer, hopefully it will be ok soon. And it has become quite obvious that i have packed too much, I will have to jettison a few items soonish.
I'm staying at the New Merry V Guest House, a "Good place in Bangkok", which is nice. Just had a tasty yellow Thai curry and a couple of beers in the hotel restaurant, it seems a pretty good place. I think I read too much lonely planet in my room and started getting pretty paranoid about multiple horrific diseases, but it seemed to say that only people who are planning to stay in the area for a while should worry about them. Oh well.
Anyway I'm not going to do much tonight, just going to try and catch up on some sleep, then do a bit of exploring tomorrow. Oh and it was 33 degrees celcius when I landed. Which was quite a contrast. Anyway have fun.