India: From Coast To Coast

India: From Coast To Coast

Not on a Harley Davidson cruising Route 66, but on a Parveen nightbus wobbling on bumpy Indian roads…

But first, Pondicherry! The Lonely Planet was right: chances are you stay longer than planned in lovely Pondicherry. The city still has that old French colonial vibe because you cannot escape its Frenchness: French street names, French food, French buildings, French speaking people, and so, so many French tourists! Our halfday sightseeing tour was a nice way to get familiar with the city and its surroundings. It is funny how large amounts of an unknown currency can really mess up your ideas on money and its value: we seriously pondered whether we’d take the tour with (150 Rs.) or without AC (100 rs.). I mean, it is half the price more right! But if you realize it’s only 0,75 euros more, you just go with the AC :). Unfortunately… Other tourists (reda: the French) do nag about that 75 eurocent and the AC tour got cancelled since we were the only ones opting for it. Okay fine, we’ll just go with the non-AC tour and sit next to your smelly bodies all day.

Pondicherry

Auroville
Auroville

The tour also rook us to Auroville (the golden globe you see on the pictures), which is an international community with 45 nationalities and 2000 inhabitants where nationality and religion do not exist. Equality to the max, I guess. As a visitor you can access the park an tour the area but you’re not allowed to enter the Matrimandir (the golden globe) to see the largest crystal globe in the world – with a diameter of 70 cm(!). That evening we had a lovely dinner and some drinks with Josiane, which was really nice. The next few days we just wandered about in Pondicherry, strolled along the beach, had some food, had a few drinks, and did some serious backpacking ourfit shopping at FabIndia (a hip Indian retail store). We also made travel arrangements with Parveen Travels for the next leg of our journey, a nightbus to the west coast of India.

On wednesday evening our bus took off and we headed for Cochin (in the province Kerala). Of course it’s always a bit of a gamble to book a 12 hour long busride in a small “office” in India, but as soon as the bus drove up the parking lot we knew we got lucky. The bus had AC and we were provided with water, apple juice, a pillow and a blanket. I know! And… The chairs could come all the way down (and had a footrest), so we slept like babies. When we woke up we realized that we were the only ones left on the bus because we didn’t notice our arrival in Cochin. Well, we sleep with eye masks and ear plugs, so yeah…

Our first priority was to arrange a nighttrain from Cochin to Goa for the next day, and a backwaters trip. A backwater trip is a must if you visit Kerala, and this was the main reason we came out here. Since it is India, you have to cross the entire province with multiple local (and yes, bumpy) buses before you get to the backwaters. But when we finally reached our hosueboat we were very excited for our relaxing adventure! Our boatsmen/guide/chef caught some Blackfish for us and he prepared on the bbq on the back of the boat. Wow, so yummy! After a full day of relaxing and a not so relaxing night (rats run around on the roof of your houseboat…) it was time to say goodbye and head back to Cochin.

Our houseboat
Our houseboat

Kerala

Some seriously long dragon boats
Some seriously long dragon boats

Cochin is the first European settlement in India and of course the Dutchies have left their mark as well. So we got an yet another boat to explore Cochin. First up was the Dutch Cemetery built in the colonial era, but unfortunately it was very run down and abandoned. We also wanted to visit the so-called Dutch Palace so we wandered about in the small streets where you could really experience local Indian life, since nobody goes out there. When we got to the palace we got why: the palace hasn’t been a palace in a long time, it was closed and in very bad shape. Such a shame! Okay we’re in India, so of course our guide had a little friend with a nice little shop filled with nice little perfumes (so sorry mom!). And yes, we bought something. The next few days it turned out that this Lotus-oil actually was a very good purchase…

Cochin
Cochin
Traditional Cochin fishing nets
Traditional Cochin fishing nets

Our train trip with the Rajadhani Express all the way to Goa was very nice. We’d booked 3th class tickets which means you’re in open compartments with beds for 6 people, but we got lucky and we had the entire thing for ourselves! The beds aren’t what you’d call M-line quality, but it was fine and in the morning they bring you a newspaper, hot chai and breakfast: Meals on Wheels – love it. We arrived at Goa around noon and after another lovely combination of Indian buses we arrived at our destination: Anjuna in North-Goa. This must ring a bell with my hippie readers since Anjuna was thé place to be in Goa in the 60s and 70s. But the small town has lost its hippie charm a long time ago and now it’s all more like faded glory… Nevertheless, it is a pretty nice place and we have a really nice hotel on the cheap. I brought all my clothes to the laundry lady and I can tell you it is soooo freaking nice to have a clean piece of clothing after a month in India (and no shower in 4 days…).

Goa

Goa

Don't judge - holy animals need to relax too
Don’t judge – holy animals need to relax too

Yesterday we rented a scooter and we drove to Panaji (Goa’s capital) passing all these lovely small villages. So cool! To get to Panaji you have to take the (free) ferry, so we parked our scooter and crossed the river. Since it was a sunday Panaji was not very much alive and kicking but we had an amazing but “expensive”Indian lunch: the bill was much higehr than usual so we thought it was best to pay with credit card. Turns out… It was only 8 euros :). Again, currency issues! Afetr lunch we took a bus to Old Goa which is a world heritage site because it has very, very much old European churches. Back in the day Old Goa could compete with cities as London and Lissabon, but nowadays it’s very run down. What is unusual is that there are no houses in Old Goa, only churces – so many churches. Beautiful ones though! After we got back to Anjuna (with a stopover at FabIndia) we had a very good dinner with lamb kebabs and the most amazing koriander-mint sauce. Delicious! Today, we’re off on another scooter adventure, but this time we’ll visit the Northern beaches.

Panaji
Panaji
Old Goa
Old Goa

Tomorrow we’ll hop on a plane to Delhi where we’ll arrive around 4pm. So we leave the southern part of India and are ready to explore the Northern part of the country. I’m very excited to see what the differences are since I really have grown attached to this side of India. We’ll definitely visit Varanasi (at the holy Ganges river) and Agra (the Taj Mahal) and I really want to go to the province of Rajasthan to see Jaipur (the Pink City) and Udaipur (where 007’s Octopussy was filmed – a family favourite!). After all this we’ll go to Mumbai (Bombay) for our final few days in India… Wow, and then it’s back home again… So much to see in so little time! Okay, I’ll definitely have to come back to India some day…

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