Hampi certainly lived up to all I’d heard: it’s a very relaxed town with awesome temples and ruins to wander about and, what struck me when I first arrived, a ring of boulders surrounding the city. Be sure to head up the hill at Monkey Temple for awesome views and I’d recommend staying across the river as it’s far more chilled that side.
From Hampi I continued south – wandering about the awesome city of Cochin, meandering slowly through the backwaters of Kerala and stumbling on a phenomenal festival in a tiny village just outside a town called Kollam. The festival included some 70 elephants and heaps of people, colour and noise. We’d heard about it on our canoe trip through the backwaters the previous afternoon and I was well chuffed we stayed in town and found the small village.
Cochin is a nice town with lots of accommodation options as well as many shops and places to eat. If you do fancy some shopping, I’d recommend visiting the Jewish quarter which has heaps of shops selling every kind of curio (very touristy but nice nevertheless) and all things spices. There’s also a Synagogue or Shul there and although quite run down, being Jewish I enjoyed reading and learning about the history of the Jews in India.
Impressions of India you may ask? Well I think what you first notice is the sheer number of people. There are just people everywhere and there is no concept of personal space. There simply can’t be. Added to the people are the cows, goats, dogs and cats. The traffic is chaotic and it’s definitely dirty in places. As you wander around, you’re hit with various smells; many very pleasant with food being prepared on the street but a few definitely not so.
I can confirm that you do get “harassed” all the time with people selling you stuff, offering you tuk-tuks (taxis) but that’s part-and-parcel of being here and it doesn’t bother me. The people are very friendly and I feel like a celebrity with the number of pictures I’ve been asked to pose for. As I knew, cricket is huge here (MS Doni, the Indian captain, appears regularly on billboards) and there have been many conversations on the said subject of cricket! Speaking of cricket, I cannot wait for the world cup which begins in just a few weeks (I’ve got tickets to see the Proteas take on the West Iindies, England, India and Ireland and it’s going to be an unforgettable experience).
I’m loving all the food and have been trying heaps of different curries at local restaurants plus lots of samosas and vegetable pastries off the street. I’ve also been drinking a cup of Chai (sweet milk tea) with at least every meal and then many in-between. At a local restaurant, tea costs 5 rupees (US$1 = 45 rupees) while curries cost 35-70. Samoosas off the street go for 5 rupees so one can snack all day for next to nothing.
Speaking of food, a few favourites to date include Masala Dosa (a pancake filled with potatoes and onions that you dip into various sauces), Thali (rice and various sauces) and Aloo Gobi (potatoes and cauliflower). I’ve noticed that you get Aloo Gobi and Aloo Palak (potatoes and spinach) but I’ve never seen the holy trinity – Aloo Gobi Palak!
India is such a massive country and it’s similar to South America in that it takes ages to get places (and nothing happens quickly here, it’s India!). 18 hour trains are the norm and its great traveling with lots of time. The trains fill up very quickly so I’ve also had to take a few overnight semi-sleeper buses, which have all been fine to date, but where you have the option, definitely take the train. It’s a far more local experience.
If you do have to take a bus, the seats are comfy, there are plenty foods stops while there’s entertainment too – last night I watched 3 movies on the bus to Bangalore (all with the same main actor, he’s doing well!). And on the subject of movies, there are posters everywhere advertising heaps and heaps of movies. There are certainly far more movie posters than there are cricket posters/advertisements by cricketers, which has in some ways been a surprise.
I’m now in Bangalore catching up with Ravi, a friend I met in Prague. Thereafter I’ll be popping into Mysore to see the Mysore Palace (which I’ve heard is something else) before I make my way north – first stop Mumbai. I’ve heard the north is so different in a number of respects, food being one, so it’ll be awesome to experience that part of the country too.