Walking through Historic Forte Kochi

Up early for our walking tour. We booked with a lady at the hotel next to our homestay. She said she had an elderly gentleman who was a very good historian.

So at 7.30 sharp a very well groomed man appeared outside our homestay. Mr Anthony Thommen was smiling widely and spoke in a gentle way. He launched into a little story about himself telling us he was born in the area, was a historian an author and guide and lived alone since his wife’s death and his only child had moved away.

We began the story of Fort Cochin or Kochi as it’s known locally, in Princess St. We heard about the Portuguese arriving and settling up trading, then the arrival of the Dutch and finally the British. We wandered along the narrow streets stopping at Anthony’s street and then the large Catholic Basilica.

We heard about the rebuilding of the Basilica and how Anthony spent a year in the Seminary.

We moved along through streets dotted with houses showing distinct Dutch and English influence.

We saw our first lot of young men playing cricket! On a dusty ground.

And visited the Bishops House and Museum.

Next stop was the Dutch Cemetery. This was turning into a history / religious tour of Kochi. Not that I minded.

We visited the elephants I had seen yesterday and then spied a lot of photographers along with couples posing. Seems it is ‘post wedding photo week.’ Just before Valentines Day. Some lovely couples posed with just one in a wedding dress.

Our last stop was St Francis Church and Vasco de Gama’s house

Mr Anthony was more than keen to continue but after 2.5 hours we were ready for breakfast!

We paid him and he asked if we’d like to buy his book. How could we refuse. He was so sweet. So he found us later at the breakfast place and three of us bought his book!

By now all power was off. The poor shop keepers were beside themselves. No one was coming into their dark hot shops. Our rooms were hot and noisy – the hotel right next door had a generator making a huge racket. So I went walking by the water and eventually took my book out and enjoyed a read in the sea breeze.

Marlene and I also had another stroll and visited our Homestay’s brothers guesthouse a little further out.

It was charming. If you’re coming to this area the Delight Homestay looks good. It’s opposite a park and has lovely big rooms set in a garden. it’s also very reasonably priced. Around $A30 a night.

We had a lovely last night dinner at a hotel by the water. We all decided we had to wear something we had bought on the trip.

To top it off three of us Marlene, Linda and I all bought the same white dress! We decided we chance not ever wearing it on the same day!

Tomorrow we leave. I’ll miss the smiling faces and the colours.

It’s been such a wonderful holiday. Temples, the history, the bronze casters, mud bricks, tea plantations, dancing Shivas, beautiful people, colourful saris and men in dhoti, great food, elephants, farms, fashion, yoga and lots of laughter.

To my travelling Sari sisters. Thank you.

Kerala: a little piece of Paradise

http://olivebrookmunnar.com

Our host at Olive Brook resort

showed us around the garden talking about the plants and some of the methods they used.

We loaded up the bus and headed off to find the ATM in Munnar. Not always easy.

Then the journey down the mountains towards Cochin. It’s not far in km but it takes awhile because the roads are narrow and bumpy.

Along the way we stopped at an Ayurveda Spice Garden. We climbed the tree house and went in the Jeep down into the garden.

It was set out well with the trees marking the path painted jaunty colours. Our guide Teddu was there to explain all the uses of the Ayurveda plants. He explained each one in detail and believe me there was a cure for everything- from headaches to high blood pressure to varicose veins and all the pills and creams were available to buy in the shop. Unfortunately I’m not going to throw out my present medications. Though I’d like to give the one for inflammation a go.

Back on the road, we saw a truck clip a bike and both rider and passenger were shaken but hopefully ok.

Then we passed a family of monkeys.

What we were looking for was a wine shop! We are headed for a 3 night home stay and decided we’d like a bottle of wine. This is despite the fact it’s an organic farm with all vegetarian food.

We’ll also be enjoying an Ayurveda massage!

We stopped at a sad looking bar and realised that the Indian people do not drink like we do – to enjoy a glass with dinner.

So on we pressed for Kottayam- and the exact area where the author Arendhoti Roy comes from. Her book The God of Small Things was set in this area and our host George knows her well.

George was at the gate to greet us and straightaway we knew we were in for an authentic home stay.

Hello Kerala

There’s nothing like a swim before breakfast in a warm climate.

Another dosa with sambal and assorted chutney along with paw paw and pineapple made a perfect breakfast before our trip to Munnar in Kerala.

It’s supposed to be a 4 hour trip but another traveller warned the road for the last part of the journey was very rough.

Our new driver inspires confidence. He’s well dressed and has good English and doesn’t seem preoccupied with his hair.

Setting off around 9 we headed west. We were surprised that this area of Tamil Nadu seemed more prosperous.

After a coffee stop where for the first time the owner hinted that a tip might be in order. So as he also supplied a cleanish squat toilet we did tip. At 200 rupees ( $A4) we were happy to leave him a tip.

Before long we were driving towards the area known as the Western Gnats.

Another stop at a mud brick works where three women were making mud bricks and keeping the kiln working. Such hard work but they were charming to us allowing photos. Our driver said they make 200 rupees a day but are housed by the Govt and their children educated.

Driving along you come across all sorts of things. Including parades with firecrackers. We’re told they are festivals!

Climbing up the Western Ghats was so interesting. The views spectacular. We hit the top and crossed over into Kerala state. Here the roads haven’t been upgraded. They are in the process of widening and repairing damage from the storms last year. It was hard going. Pot holes, dust , narrow places to pass but the views were great and the tea plantations beautiful to look at.

We stopped at a tea plantation for a tour and so found out about the process and the difference between the white tea, green and black tea ( of which there are 4 grades). The white tea has the most health benefits and was around $A24 for 600 gr.

A quick cup of tea and we were back on the bus for Munnar.

This small town is the centre for tea production and Ayurveda medicines. We stopped for a quick look then continued on to a cultural show.

These Cultural shows are often fascinating but are better if you can understand what is happening. The sound and narration wasn’t good though the costumes and make up were wonderful.

By the time we arrived at our hotel the Olive Brook Resort we were ready for a G & T and dinner. This hotel is a few km out of Munnar along a very bumpy road. It’s a little oasis in the cool hill. It’s almost English style with beautiful gardens.

Both were very welcome. As this is a cashew area some of us has the Cashew Chicken. Delicious

Our rooms were spread through a garden and for a change we had no air con. Fortunately I was with Shelley who also like fresh air and as it’s higher and cooler here we hoped for no mozzies!

We enjoyed a great sleep and woke to birds tweeting. So different to cars tooting!

Exploring Tamil Nadu

Farewell to the Bangala Hotel. We loved it. But more adventures await.

On the road in our little van we had Mr Speedy with the nice hair as our driver. He took us yesterday and we found he was very ‘hair proud’. Every time we stopped he coiffed his hair!

The drive to Madurai was once again incident free. Quieter roads and plenty to see.

Madurai is big compared to our last few stops. Big, busy, noisey and dusty.

Our hotel The Heritage is set in large gardens. And has a beautiful reception area and pool. Designed by Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa it reflects is love of the natural landscape, the frangipani the symmetry of design.

The rooms we have are large so three to a room. Always interesting sharing with others! But good fun.

We left our bags and booked a driver to take us to the Gandhi museum. It cost 1200 rupee. The equivalent of $24. So cheap for a half hour drive. He waited an hour while we looked at the Museum and brought us home. Between 6 $4!

Prices here are so cheap in comparison to other countries. We are eating very well for a small amount of money.

The Gandhi museum was very interesting and helped understand just how much the people of India endured. I do wonder what Gandhi would make of present day India. There is still so much poverty. So much divide between rich and poor.

We made our way back to the hotel in time for a facial. Oh my. It sounded great and was bit in a different kind of way. The girl was lovely but quite rough in massaging my face. I had to ask her to go softly softly. But by the end my skin felt great. It was a Ayurvedic massage. Cost – about $35

Time the. Got a quick G& T on our verandah then dinner.

The Banyan Tree restaurant is good but slightly lacks something we found at the Bangala.

The manager had reserved a special table for us to make up for our rooms not being ready. It was decorated with flower petals. Ten we got a scroll which they requested we read out. I think they got us mixed up with another group. It was a message of Bon Voyage! Wishing us a safe journey saying they were proud of us for choosing to come to India. There were at least 6 points to read out. I could barely contain myself.

We ordered a bottle of wine and the manager came over and put on such a performance. He danced with the glass as he aerated the wine. Quite spectacular! And insisted on Shelley joining him in the dance!

The rest of the dinner went without too much theatre!

Our night was quiet after that as we discussed plans for tomorrow. Yoga, swim, breakfast and then when it’s cool a visit to the Palace a rickshaw tour of the city and then the Temple for the evening puja.

Good Morning Yogis from Chettinad,India

We’ve been having a few restful days in the Bangala Hotel. I don’t think we realised how tired we were.

I started the day with yoga beside the pool. Our instructor was a very kind, softly spoken man who was gentle with us – especially my knee.

He would show us the movement and whispered ‘listen’. We’d then do it and he’d finish with ‘reeelax’.

Following this we had a swim and breakfast on the terrace.

We decided to walk through the village. The hotel owner Mrs Meyappan offered to let us visit her house not too far from here.

The hotel is very special. Read this article about the owner 83 year old Meenakshi Meyappan.

https://food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/83-year-old-meenakshi-meyappan-serves-fantastic-chettinad-food-at-a-palatial-home-1758033

Walking in these villages is dusty and rocky and constant beeping from cars and bikes doesn’t make it all that pleasant but there is plenty to see.

We found the ATM to restock our rupees and looked into various businesses. They are very poor looking but Interesting.

The afternoon was spent swimming, resting and have a massage. Completely relaxing.

Mrs Meyappan house.

Hot footing it around the Temples of Tamil Nadu

We explored this fascinating village hotel before having a delightful breakfast in the large courtyard.

Then it was back onto the bus to what is known as the ‘most important’ Temple of Southern India.

It’s in Thanjavur.

We were to see both the Palace and the Temple. The Thanjavur Marathra Palace built in 1534 is occupied by the Bhonsle family. In fact we saw the Prince arriving home.

We crossed a moat to enter what is known as the Big Fort.

We met a new guide and proceeded to the Bibliotheca. It’s a small but very famous Library with some wonderful illustrated manuscripts.

Next stop was the Museum containing countless statues of Shiva. Along with his wife Parvarti and many of the other Gods / disciples.

The Palace is more a fort. No grand rooms but we climbed to a terrace for great views and some Islamic style architecture.

Then we needed a break. Our guide promised us a sit down coffee place and clean toilets. Naturally it was a shop where we were bombarded with special offer things to buy. We fell for the old guides trick! But it was airconditioned and had ok toilets!

By now it was midday and hot when we arrived at the Temple. Bad mistake when you have to walk big distances over hot matting and hot stones. We yelped and jumped and were a little glad to finish and head to our hotel.

It’s in a small place called Karaikkudi. The hotel, a former old mansion is a step back in time. And has a great swimming pool. We were greeted by George the manager, hit the pool, enjoyed our lovely rooms, met the 83 year old lady who owns the house, dressed up for drinks on the terrace and enjoyed a 3 course meal.

Then retired to bed.

Tomorrow will get a catch up day. We’ve been super busy since we arrived in India so here we are for 3 nights.

The Bangala Hotel a hotel designer by famous Sri Lankan Geoffrey Bawa.

Check it out.

http://www.thebangala.com

Tomorrow is a quiet day with a village walk, banana leaf lunch , swims and massage. Yes. Heaven

Farewell Pondicherry as we go to Temple towns.

Leaving Pondy is a little sad but exciting. Another adventure awaits.

We have a new driver and this time also a guide. Although on talking to him it turns out he’s a computer programmer working for his father’s travel company on the weekend! He’s with us because the bus driver doesn’t speak English.

We set off through the country side heading for Swamimalai. It’s in the Temple area and we’ll be seeing some temples on the way.

First stop was Chidambarum and we met our guide a very petite gentleman with gentle slow speaking English and very bad teeth.

There are 4 temples of various sizes and they are preparing for a festival. So arches are being prepared with newspaper to then be painted in a very colourful style.

We’re finding the removal of shoes for these huge structures rather wearing on our feet. There are quite long distances to walk. There is some matting which can be very dirty and then the stones which are hot and hard. I’m hopping a bit!

The Temple grounds had people sitting everywhere enjoying a picnic Indian style with tiffin boxes laden with delicious food.

It was Moms Day Out with mothers and their children from a town an hour away enjoying time together at the Temple. I got talking to one lovely lady. Her English was very good and it turns out she’s a Doctor. A gynaecologist! And was so friendly and chatty about her life and family.

We soon left there and continued further into the countryside through lots of villages and saw what I think is fairly authentic village life.

Arriving at our hotel was a treat. It was actually a small village which has been turned into a hotel. It’s called the Indecco http://www.indecohotels.com/swamimalai.html

Check it out. It’s so lovely. Steve Borgia the owner has spent a lot of money restoring it. It has a farm, several housing blocks all furnished in wonderful antiques. The pool is beautiful. At first we thought it looked a little slimy! But that was explained. It was meant to look like a village waterhole. It’s elegant and serene.

We were treated to an arrival foot massage! Heaven after walking barefoot through the temples.

We went the main village to see the bronze casters. A really Interesting process. We walked through the workshop are were able to see the various stages of production.

Google bronze casting Swamimalai. The business we went to is called :

Shri Rajan Industries (Statues/Bronze Castings Manufacturers/Panchalogam Statue Manufacturers)

Linda was very keen to own a statue. She particularly wanted Shiva as the dancer. Natajara. As a thank you from us for planning this very special trip, we decided to buy one for her as a gift. This meant visiting the sales area but no one was there to show and discuss pricing. A lovely young man rode up on his bike. His family owned a temple and he was picking up a commissioned statue. He guided us to a local family home where they have a small workshop.

Such a special experience. Linda spoke to them and found one she liked.

Meanwhile the children from the little street we were in all gathered and wanted to chat. They were delightful.

Finally the statue was polished and delivered to us and we drove off with everyone in the street waving.

Back to the hotel for a drink and a dance show and to bed.

We had a very late lunch when we arrived so couldn’t eat a thing.

Pondicherry: a delight

Our night was peaceful and breakfast on the terrace was wonderful. We had a choice of Indian or continental. Most chose Indian which was presented with a large dosa in a rolled cigar shape.

The Intach Heritage centre was our target today. They offer walks through the French Quarter pointing out the architectural history. But first the Grand Bazaar. Each city has it markets and Pondy has a great one. Walking from the smelly fish through the fragrant herbs and spices to the floral flowers was a treat for the senses.

A quick shoe stop. The girls spied a shop with comfortable looking sandals and with a days walking in mind made a quick purchase.

Arriving at the Intach Centre we sat waiting for our guide and became part of the prayer ceremony. There was a peaceful feeling about the place which starts at the door when you leave your shoes.

This is a custom observed in many shops and always in the temples. It can be a hazard though. In one shop I kicked my toe on the door and have a very red swollen toe.

Our guide Ashok Panda arrived. He was a serene gentleman in his 50s. He was very erect , fine features and was well spoken- if somewhat quiet.

He spoke to us as we had gathered around a table in the courtyard- a feature of the Tamil house.

He planned our day and we set off.

As it happened we walked down the street we had used last night to get to the beach.

We paused at another hotel the Dune Mansion Calve Boutique Hotel and Ashok told us the heritage centre he worked for had done the restoration, as they had done for our hotel the Anantha. He said the Government us encouraging restoration of the Tamil houses and French style villas. The problem is the owners then maintaining the restoration.

We stopped for coffee in a hotel by the beach and Ashok got carried away telling us another Government- it’s structure and it’s corruption.

Continuing on we paused in the garden and observed the way locals and visitors used the green space. School groups were there enjoying the space – something they don’t often experience in their very crowded country.

French villas are a feature of this lovely residential area though many have been turned into smart boutique hotels. Tourism is important in this area. Our next stop was Villa Rosa and the Coramandel Cafe. Quite beautiful. We decided it would be a great spot for a drink this afternoon.

By now it was lunch time and Ashok took us to a local vegetarian cafe. He suggested the platter. A large tray with 10 different pots of sauces, chutney and vegetable dishes to dip your rice or naan into. I also ordered a Marsala dosa. Washed down with a lassi or pomegranate juice it was quite filling and delicious.

After lunch we separated. Some returned to the hotel Di went off exploring and Marlene, Shelley and I walked and walking taking in the sights , shops and the Cathedral. An oasis in this busy duty free city.

At 5 we met at the Coramandel cafe for drinks but when Marilyn and Linda didn’t arrive we worried until we heard they had attended a puja in the Sri Vedapureeswarara Temple. Quite an honour.

Drinks for us turned into dinner at the Villa Shanti and we missed the dancing at the Lycee Français. Whoops!

Home to bed by tuk tuk with a limoncello nightcap. Tomorrow is spent on the move Chidaburam for the 12th C Temple then Swamimalai.

Getting stuck into India feet first.

Packing up even after two nights is an effort. My advice is always stay somewhere at least two nights. You need that time to scratch the surface of a new place.

Some of us managed a walk down to the seafront. It is rustic and somewhat dirty. There are dogs and cows but no cats. We even saw a monkey run across some wires.

Leaving the hotel at around 9 we drove south towards Pondicherry. Our driver stopped for photos along the way and when we came to the salt fields he insisted we get out and check it out.

We crossed the road and walk along a sandy track toward to the salt pans with piles of salt drying for collection.

Being curious and wandering on I took one step too far and …….

I couldn’t move. I was scared of sinking further. The girls – when they stopped laughing formed a human chain and managed to pull me out.

A few local men nearby saw my dilemma and came to my rescue. I had a man washing my legs, my shoes and socks without so much as a glimmer of a laugh.

It took many minutes – which gave the girls plenty of time to take photos and laugh!

Finally a bit cleaned up and back into bistro continue onto Pondicherry. We kept laughing and I was thankful I hadn’t fallen in further, that my phone was lost in the mud, that I wasn’t warring white pants!

We arrived at our hotel the Anantha Heritage.

http:www.ananthaheritagepondicherry.com

It’s a restored Tamil House in the northern part of the Historic centre. Quite beautiful. We sorted rooms and decided they were big enough for 3 in a room. Our rooms open onto a lovely verandah overlooked the temple, and a breakfast terrace.

Leaving bags to unpack later we left with our guide for a tour of the city. Our driver phoned his friend, a policeman who became our escort. With roads blocked he became our entry into streets.

Down a wide crowded street we rounded the corner to the open seafront and beach. It’s several kilometres long , well paved and well used by walkers not swimmers. At night it’s closed to traffic and becomes a promenade for the locals to have their evening passagiatta.

By now starving, we made for Villa Shanti in the French Quarter. A restored French style villa it’s an oasis of quiet and comfort. And the food was delicious. There were Indian and French dishes and I had chicken ( yes I was warned to stay vegetarian in India) cooked so well with cauliflower two ways. Beautiful.

After lunch we called into Anokhi a shop recommended by a friend. The fabrics were wonderful. We all pottered around buying bits and piece. No clothes but homewares, note cards, handkerchiefs etc.

With our escort leading we went to the paper production business. Once a big industry it was shut down when the British took over. Now making a comeback the handmade papers made here are stunning.

A few of us walked back to our hotel for G& Ts on the verandah before heading off for a walk to the beach. The beach breeze was so fresh and reviving. The weather has been kind. Warm days but cooler evenings. As we head inland the weather will heat up.

Feeling peckish we wandered into a local food market. Lots of little stalls with people sitting around on plastic chairs munching on a variety of popular Indian foods. We decided on hot charred corn on the cob. The lady running the stall wasn’t too friendly to start but loosened up as we smiled, had photos and thanked her for the beautiful corn.

By now tired a walk through the gardens and a tuk tuk ride home finished our day.

It was a day of high mud drama but all was good in the end. I soaked my stinky shoes and scrubbed them leaving them on the verandah hoping with tomorrow’s sun they would be wearable.

Mahabalipuram: Traditions continue

Breakfast in a new place is always a treat. Indian breakfast is a whole different experience. Don’t expect a western breakfast ( well maybe in 5 star generic hotels ).

My plate contained a little rice cake called Idli, a rice donut , little accompaniments if coriander, tomato sambal and

And a rice congee. All delicious.

Kandan our driver picked us up at 8 and we set off for the 1.5 drive to Kanchipuram.

The drive through the countryside was wonderful. Past stone sculpture businesses, local markets fresh chicken shops and saries everywhere brightening the rather dusty and sadly dirty villages.

Kancheepuram is an ancient town of important Hindi temples. We visited this huge three thousand year old temple with many other Hindi people. We appeared to be the only westerners.

We started with a toilet stop and had the privilege of paying 20c each to wade through water to a communal trough. A bonding experience for a group of sheltered woman. But for us not a problem!

Then into the courtyard with our guide to remove shoes. We paid a lovely girl 100 rupee to mind our shoes.

We walked over coloured designs on the floor which our guide told us were new – ready for the festival to be held in the temple in three weeks.

The long corridor opened onto a courtyard with the famous mango tree. This tree from one 3.5 thousand years ago was famed as the place where Shiva married Kasakshi.

Nearby a wedding was taking place.

Everyone loves a wedding and an Indian one in a temple was joyful to watch. They invited us to take photos and even wanted to be in one with us.

The bride and groom were beautiful.

Continuing along the corridor we came to an altar where a Hindi priest gave us all a blessing.

We recovered our shoes and set off for another temple nearby. This one does not have the religious standing of the last one so is not part of the Hindi pilgrimage.

It was strangely quiet until we heard drumming outside. Lots of drumming.

It was a local funeral. The street was roped off. We were told it was an elderly man and following the drumming there would be drinking. So we were to stay away.

Starting back to Mahabalipuram we couldn’t resist stopping at one of the stone carving places one of many along the way. Like many local craft industries it looks a little overwhelming to see so many things together. Individually they would look lovely in a garden at home but collectively they are too much.

We asked to stop at a silk and Sari shop. There are many in this area – it’s famous for it and judging by the variety of Sari in the street they all do well.

We had a chat about the production then went to the buying floor.

It was quite a scene. Men sitting with their women looking at bolts of fabric in the most stunning colours.

We decided scarves were a better buy for us so had the scarf show!

Back on the bus

Another supermarket stop, getting lost in the aisles looking at products. I bought a few packets for the pantry. Others bought aurtheic soaps and shampoo.

Back at the hotel by 3.30 we had a refreshing swim along with chai tea.

Before we knew it it was G&T time.

Dinner was down by the water at the Santana restaurant. Choices included mint and lemon prawns, fish in carrots sauce, crispy calamari and my selection prawn biryanis. Delicious.

The walk home involved a little shopping. How can you not shop. Inviting goods: floaty tops and dresses, scarves, earrings , rings, pendants beads, bags. I bought a floral dress for $20! Marlene bought the same one!

And a stop at the shop across from our hotel to pick up a few things they made for us. The men on the machines were sewing away. Today we saw a mobile tailor shop. A sewing machine mounted on a little cart being pulled along by bike. So practical.

A full day. We haven’t wasted a minute. Tomorrow Pondicherry or Pondy as the locals call it.