A journey back to Middle Earth…

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A Day of Mass Sight-Seeing

[Thursday 21st Nov] After flying from Cochin to Delhi yesterday and seeing the Lotus Temple during sunset, today was a day of mass-sightseeing. We had arranged a driver to take us to several sights around Delhi today, tomorrow and then to Agra, the next stop the following day. First we drove to Jama Masjid, the largest and best known mosque in India. Inside the dress code was: no shoes, women cover legs, body and arms and Rs.300 for a camera. Papa and Milan went up one of the towers for the view above while and Mama & I stayed down and watched the busy streets and wildlife. After, we drove to The Red Fort and spent two hours with an audio guide inside. We entered through the gate and learned that the Red Fort is made of red sandstone. The Red fort was a palace constructed by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan for himself and his court. The Red Fort also had many riches including the priceless peacock throne, which was looted of its jewels by the persians when they decided to settle in Delhi. After the Red Fort, we drove to Raj Ghat a park dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, a man who fought the rights of people and led India to independence, but in a non-violent way, with various protests, marches and such. After we drove to our final stop for the day, the Akshardham Temple the biggest Hindu temple in the world. We walked in and had a look in the huge gardens, where there was memorials of people who had done good things in their lives for the country. Then we took our shoes off, and went into the main temple which has golden statues of Hindu gods which you can receive blessings from. After we went out and looked at the Elephant Plinth at the base of the temple which are elephants carved into the stone and made into stories about them which were very interesting. After the elephants, we walked more around the temple and through the lotus garden which is a big garden shaped as a lotus flower. It was after dark by then so we decided to go back to the hotel, tired after our day of mass-sightseeing.


For some photos click here:


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Fort Kochi Masala

Our delayed visit to Fort Cochin is probably best described as a “masala” of sights and experiences our learning in India has been that each day contains a varied mix of sights, sounds, & smells and that the most memorable experiences are usually ones which we have not planned. We decided that at first to get over to the peninsula we would go for the “local” ferry experience, which meant separate lines for “ladies” & “gents” for buying tickets albeit very cheap. Of course we didn’t really know if we had arrived at the right dock at first, as there was no obvious sign but the locals were helpful and after passing through another docked ferry as there was not enough space for 2 at the dock, we set off to explore. Our first stop was a cafe for breakfast and the “Solar Cafe” across the road from the ferry jetty was a great find. A nice setting with great food including some familiar favourites. Not knowing exactly where the sights were we decided that we would allow ourselves to be convinced that a whistle stop rickshaw tour of the key sights would be the right approach. This included many landmarks arising from the various foreign occupiers of this key trading port including St Francis Church (believed to be India’s oldest European built church), The Dutch Cemetery, Indo-Portugese Museum (where Maria provided an impromptu German lesson to Josef at the ticket counter), Spice Market, and the Chinese Fishing nets* where the earnings of the fisherman from our ‘donation’ for being able to take photos and go on one of the large structures will surely have been his best “catch’ of the day! The highlight of the day will of course have to be the open air laundry where Maria seized the opportunity to get in a bit of ironing with the “cordless” heavy coal iron. On the Lonely Planet’s recommendation, we decided to have a look at the Kashi Art Cafe which had some contemporary Indian artwork in a contemporary setting (we could have easily been in an art gallery cafe in a large European city). For dinner, we took the recommendation of a local shop owner and went to Ocaneos Seafood Restaurant. The food was excellent and whilst the seafood dishes were great, a diplomatic consensus landed on Dhal Kerela Curry (Kerela style dhal with turmeric & crushed chilli simmered in coconut milk) as dish of the day. Our last bit of excitement for the day was an eruption of a bit of road rage during the rickshaw ride back to the ferry jetty initiated from a mini bus blocking the road. Whilst our perhaps often naive view is a lack of any compliance to road rules, this showed us that there is a clear code of conduct on the roads!

* Enormous cantilevered spider-like contraptions a legacy of traders from the 1400s seen as as the unofficial emblems of the Kerala Backwaters.




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Deserted streets in India?!

On Sunday afternoon we travelled 2hrs by car from our hotel near Alleppey to Kochi.  After settling into our new accommodation, we decided to take a walk along Marine Drive,  a walking area along the waterfront busy with tourists and tradespeople who are trying to sell all kinds goods from boat rides, to fruit, ice creams, and toys.
Once we returned to the hotel we were informed that our plan to do a day trip to the very picturesque village of Fort Kochi the following day would not be possible, as there was a general strike planned for Monday and there would be no transport at all. As Milan was also beginning to feel unwell with flu symptoms, we decided that maybe we should have a rest-day on Monday.
The strike on Monday actually meant that all shops and restaurants were closed and taxis, boats, auto-rickshaws – absolutely nothing was running. Jayesh and Nilay went for a little walk around the strangely deserted streets and saw a protest march of strikers. I was curious to find out what a strike of this size was about and this is the information I found:
The opposition party in Kerala had called for a state-wide strike protesting against the central government’s move to implement the report on the Western Ghats. The report states that about 123 villages in Kerala have been branded as ecologically sensitive. According to the report, sand mining, quarry works, functioning of industries that come under the red category and buildings and development of any township or construction over the size of 20,000 sqm in the ecologically sensitive area should be banned.
An interesting conflict, as the report is an attempt to protect the very beautiful, but sensitive environment in Kerala – a feature that we, as visitors very much appreciated. However to the local people the implementation of this report might affect their livelihoods, and so they organised this huge strike, which completely stopped us and any others from being able to travel, eat out and even buying food was not possible. Consequently our lunch on Monday consisted of some cereal bars that we had brought with us from  England. Fortunately the strike had finished by 6pm and we were able to have a meal in a local restaurant.

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Pedalling by the Paddy Fields

Yesterday was a relaxing but fun day. We went for a bike ride through the village to see what it is like living here. Some of the people were washing clothes by soaking them in the canal water then slapping them against stone.There was also people harvesting rice by hand and others catching fish from the canals to eat for their meals. After we went for a refreshing swim in the hotel pool before a yummy biryani for lunch. A few hours after we all had an Ayurvedic massage and after, sat in a steam box for the first time. After we’d all had our massage we had dinner with dish of the day being Palak Aaap Ki Pasand (paneer and potatoes cooked with spinach puree and spices). A favourite during our stay here has also been banana lassi. We’ve also experienced several power cuts but luckily the hotel has a backup generator!




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Backwater Paradise

The relaxed pace of life that Kerala is well known for was immediately apparent as we awoke the next day. In this great location with views out onto one of the rivers and its village life, we could see very quickly that there was no benefit of rushing in the matters of day to day living. After breakfast including traditional dosa and masala chai, we went out for a walk in the local village and surroundings where we saw harvesting of of one of the rice paddies. The highlight of the day though would have to be our trip on the famous backwaters in a shikkara cruise boat. The photos tell the story of this lush green landscape and lives of the people that live here.



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Dish of the day

Our third day in India started with Papa waking us up for breakfast as we were still jet lagged. Today was our first experience of a proper Indian breakfast which included Idly and some other dishes. At around 10am we were picked up by a driver who took up to Mumbai domestic airport for our 2pm flight to Kochi. Our flight was slightly delayed due to ‘technical issues’. Our 1 and a half hour flight and 2 and a half hour journey took us over 1000 miles taking us all the way to a hotel near Alleppey in Kerela. We were greeted to the hotel by some juice and a dinner menu as it was getting late. The restaurant had and interesting way of working. You order from the menu in your room then told to go to the restaurant to eat after 45min – 1hour (apparently 2hours is between 45min and 1 hour because that’s how long our meal took to be made. Papa told me that’s called ‘Indian time’!). It was well worth the wait as the food was great. Our choice of dish of the day was Karimeen Pollichathu: pearl spot fish marinated, baked in masala with banana leaf.


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Gateway of India

Despite feeling a little jet-lagged, we made an effort to wake up reasonably early on Wednesday morning and head into the city for some first impressions of this bustling Indian metropolis.
We visited the Gateway of India, a gate structure which was erected by the side of the arabian sea to commemorate the landing of their Majesties King George and Queen Mary when they visited India in 1911. We also looked at the area nearby. In the midst of crowds of tourists, beggars and entrepreneurial locals who were trying to sell all sorts of things to passers-by – from ice creams, to photography and hastily spoken blessings which included some sweets and a wool ribbon tied around the wrist in exchange for a donation – we quickly learned to be wary of these sort of services on offer.
Later we looked at some shops and bought some very nice new clothes for the boys and myself at a wonderful Mumbai shop called Fabindia. We had a late light lunch at a vegetarian restaurant called Chetana, in the art district of Mumbai and opposite the Goethe Institute. There was an art exhibition outside and while we waited for our driver, we admired the many beautiful paintings displayed by the roadside.
By the time we had to return to our hotel to collect our luggage, we had only managed to see a small fraction of the places we had planned to see in Mumbai, but it was time to drive to Sudha’s place, a former colleague of Jayesh’s, who had kindly invited us to stay at her house. After a fascinating drive through the hustle and bustle of the city, we were warmly welcomed by Sudha in her apartment. After enjoying a cool, green drink made out of spinach, cucumber, pineapple and lemon juice, we had a wonderful home cooked meal which we all loved.