Thursday, January 19, 2006

Udaipur -> Pushkar -> Mumbai -> Varkala -> Quillon -> Alleppey -> Fort Cochin -> Mysore

An early start from Udaipur was the order of the day - and the main Udaipur bus terminal was reached by about 7:30am. Tickets were purchased to Ajmer (close to Pushkar) and the pair braced themselves for the usual bus scrum and stop-start journey (roughly 8 hours). Arriving at Ajmer - the pair transferred to a local bus that would take them to Pushkar (only 8 rupees). Arriving in Pushkar the fairly tired and travel weary duo headed for the first hotel they could find that was in the book - it ended up being the Paramount Palace hotel (although it sounds grand it had one of the cheapest rooms yet). The hotel had a pleasant roof top terrace - a perfect spot to take a rest for a while after the journey.

The first thing that struck us was the excellent view of the holy lake followed by the abundance of kites in the sky everywhere - we were later to learn that there was a kite flying festival the following week. The evening was rounded off with a trip to the Rainbow restaurant for some excellent food (most notable some Guacamole made with the biggest Avocados I have ever seen) - though Fowler was unsure why the owner kept giving him free samples of Banoffee Pie (which admitedly tasted very good) throughout and after diner.Pushkar is almost Rickshaw free which makes a change -but there are still plenty of motorbikes to run you down if you're not careful. A walk round the Lake is very nice the pair found a good spot at the Sunset Cafe which overlooks one of the more popular bathing ghats. While enjoying a coffee some traveller friends from Nepal appeared (Helen and Pher) - and it was good to catch up and see what they'd been up to since Kathmandu. We then hooked up again in the evening by the lake for some good food and more chat.

The next day included a little sightseeing round Pushkar including the Savitri Temple and Brahma Temple. The Savitri temple is a long walk up to the top of a hill which gives an excellent panoramic view of the surrounding terrain and of Pushkar, About halfway up Fowler encountered a monkey ambush and an Israeli was making his way down through (rock in hand) the 40 odd menacing monkeys at the same time. The monkeys growled and showed there teeth but luckily there was no attack of any sort. The Brahma temple is a very important Hindu temple in Pushkar and has a striking red spire - Des and Ollie popped into this temple at different times.

In the evening Fer and Helen were meeting us down by the lake - so we could watch the sunset - which is really striking and paints the whole town blood and lake blood red. Cards were the order of the evening - Helen and Pher are avid card players and we had a few rounds of the latest card games picked up on their travels. A reasoably early night ensued as Fowler and Burdett were about to embark on their longest journey so far - Ajmer to Varkala (somewhere in the region of 3000 km), it went something like this:

- Early rise at Pushkar, walk to bus stop and get bus to Ajmer.

- Get to Ajmer, take short AutoRickshaw to Ajmer Rail Station.

- Wait till train arrives at about 11am (train tickets had been booked a week in advance).

- Train arrived roughly on time - sit back for 20 hour journey to Mumbai.

- Des pesters Cha Wallah for tea every hour or so - and has 2 good Curries whilst on train, Ollie has just the one.

- Settle down for sleep in the bunks - a nasty lady opposite unfortunately goes to sleep a little earlier and produces the loudest , olympic standard snoring I have ever heard in my life. The pair get next to no sleep due to the Jack Hammer/Formula One engine that is roaring away nearby.

- Get into Mumbai at about 7am - plenty of life in the big city even at this early hour.

- Get taxi (one of those Hindustani Motors Ambassador ones I think) to main Victoria Terminus in Mumbai.

- Try to make sure our waiting list tickets for ongoing journey to Verkala will yield actual reservations.

- Fail miserably - but able to leave luggage at Victoria Terminus (VT) - and told to come back at 2pm to check tickets - the train would leave at 3:45pm.

- Very shady train ticket man says he will get the pair good seats on the train for an extra 600 rupees. Fowler was disgusted, "we've already paid up a week ago"... the reply from the Train Man ,"Welcome to India my friend!".

- Take a look at VT from the outside - an impressive old collonial building,then find a coffee.- Ollie then finds the way to get us to the Oval Maidan area of Mumbai - where the High Court is and the University.

- Fowler and Burdett watch the many cricket games going on in the Oval Maidan Park.

- A big hit towards the pair sees Fowler try to run and catch the ball one handed - he spills it awkwardly a la Pietersen and decides to go to the Prince of Wales museum before he is mugged by the Indian lads - who claim that not only did he miss a dolly - he cost them 2 runs also. Ollie stays and watches the cricket - though he is embarresed by Fowlers' incompetence.

- Fowler has a nice wander to the museum which he finds to be closed on Mondays - so he heads to have a look at the Gate of India.

- The pair meet up for more coffee and discuss a plan of attack to try to get them on the train if problems arise.

- Luckily everything turns out ok. The paper passenger lists are put up and the boys have good seats for the 41 hour journey.

- Get on train and breath sigh of relief - then realise a 2 day journey awaits.

- Rail journey fairly pleasant though by this time Fowler is starting to niff a little (Mumbai was very hot - and he hadn't had a shower since Pushkar) and he had developed some kind of ear/nose/throat bug. 41 hours on the train caused some silliness - in between reading books Fowler and Burdett would pull funny faces at each other and try and impersonate the food and cha wallahs and other train personalities: "Cha gurrum, coffee, cutlet, cha, samosi, panee bottle, cha, cha, veg cutlet". The pair also realised that the train was going right over to the West of India- into Andhra Pradesh and through Gooty - so basically not only was the journey from North to South India it was also going from West to East and back to the South West.

- Recover from shock of realising that the train route was covering almost the entire breadth and most of the length of the sub-continent.

- Arrive in Varkala quite stinky but coherent due to a good sleep on both nights.

- Get taxi to Kerala Bamboo House, haggle for price of room then reach consensus, unpack then run to the stunning beach to wash away 3 days of sweat!

Indeed the beach at Varkala was very pretty and the pair decided to stay for 3 nights. Highlights included body surfing the waves - sometimes going about 30 metres, having a curry on the cliff top which Ollie described as "the best I've had had in my entire life". Lowlights included the lack of running water for most of the time and the fact that Ollie lost 3 bits of clothing while getting laundry done. However, Ollie was able to negotiate scratching the cost of the room for the 3 night as well as the laundry - as compensation, an impressive bit of bargaining.From Varkala to Quillon next.

An early start (as usual) followed by the 8:30am train then Autorickshaw to the ferry. The ferry takes about 8 hours through the backwaters of Kerala to the town of Allepey. This was a very scenic journey past villages, catcholic churches, plantations of nuts, bananas, coconuts, fishing boats, factories, impressive and sometimes enormous luxury house boats and many kids asking for "school pens".At Allepey the pair watched some College basketball from the comfort of the hotel - whioch overlooked the court -and turned in for another early night - it would be another long journey to Ernakulem (Fort Kochi) on the bus early the next day. The bus turned out to be ok and it was decided to do an afternoons sightseeing and get the bus the following morning at 6:10am to Mysore.

Fort Kochi turned out to be a pleasant surprise - a mixture of European influences on a small island - where trade flourished during the days of the Portuguese, the East India Company and the Dutch East India Company. Burdett and Fowler had lunch at a cafe (and looking round you'd think they were anywhere but India) As it happens there are many churches and the Santa Cruz Basilica, the Mattancherry Palace, the Indo-Portuguese Museum, a jewish quarter where the spice trade used to fluorish and the big Chinese Fishing Nets along the shore. The fishing nets are huge wooden contraptions which seemed to yield a very poor amount of fish - it seemed to Fowler a lot of effort for a few tidlers and a bit of seaweed, perhaps it was just a bad day.. The Jewish quarter was pretty and Fowler wondered if there were many Jewish Indians - and how difficult it would be to barter wth them.

ANOTHER early start the next morning at 5am and on the bus by 6am. On the ticket it was a "Super Fast" class bus to Mysore, Burdett and Fowler were about to find out what this meant exactly. From the off it was clear the driver meant business and the packed out rickety old bus proceeded to scream past traffic on the wrong side of the road almost the whole way (11 hours). After sevral potentially fatal crashes it was only a matter of time before an accident occured. It duely arrived as we pulled out on a blind corner and a huge lorry scraped past us coming the other way at about 60mph with a sickening smash. The driver popped out to have a look at the 7 metre long dent down the side of the bus - then laughed it off and proceeded to drive even quicker.

The bus stopped at Calicut to get some fuel and Ollie jumped off to find something to drink while Des looked after the bags. Then a very strange thing happened. Fowler saw a man walking down the bus with a bab exactly the same as his, it even had the same blue key ring on it. Suddenly Fowler realised with appauling tardiness that his bag was being stolen (must have been swiped from the overhead compartment). Fowler jumped up with an "Oi" and a hand on the shoulder was all it took and the guy dropped the bag and ran off leaving Fowler to swear that he would never ever even so much as let go of his bag on a bus or train journey ever again. Not knowing what to do Fowler decided it best not to run after him as someone could be waiting to swipe the other bags left on the bus. Anyway, in the end no harm done and another important lesson learnt.

After a few more unncessary coconut stops the bus arrived in Mysore. A quick tour of booked out hotels eventually lead to a cheap but comfortable place in the middle of town. An impressive and very cheap vegetable Thali served on a banana leaf at the RRR Hotel followed and another early night.Today has been spent looking round Mysore Palace and Chamundi Hill followed by an excellent lunch at the Park Lane Hotel. The pair are soon off to have a look round the Fruit and Spice market - which is said to be a really good one.

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