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Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Ashram, Ooty trekking and the cold cold evenings!!

So we took the ferry from Appelley to Amma's ashram and had a great trip meeting lots of different travelers! The boat took us through the backwaters which were beautiful, so quiet, not the India we are used to.

The backwaters were beautiful full of palm trees and little houses. There were so many different boats on the water, many of them were small canoes which workmen used to ferry goods about as these waterways are their roads. There were also these luxurious house boats which people rented to enjoy the backwaters in a different way. These house boats had beautiful bedrooms and dinning areas, they also had their own chef- very posh!! They were beautiful though.

We got off the ferry about 6 hours later and crossed a big bridge, from the bridge we could see these how tower blocks- like you find at city outskirts. These blocks were the accommodation for the Ashram, so many people were living there permanently- 3000. Plus visitors like us. We walked into the main temple which as normal in India looked like a huge tacky monument with all these crazy colours and shapes. Inside the temple was the registration for International visitors. We were given a couple of forms to fill in and a daily time table and we went to find our room.

The room was the best room we had in India! It had TWO windows, which was just amazing but also the TWO windows had a sew view- so beautiful!!!!

We only paid 200 rupees for the room and it included meals, we were so excited that we booked an extra day to stay. We felt this was a good place to be. After we settled in we took a tour of the ashram and were told more information on Amma, the Ashram founder. Amma does a lot of fundraising in India and she is praised around the world for her efforts especially in America. This was all very interesting but we didn't learn much about the Ashram and all the hardcore Ashram goers seemed just to talk about Amma- very weird.

So we had our evening supper- a simple Indian meal but it was included! We had a early night as the program of the day started at 5am!!!

The alarm went off at 4.30am and we dragged ourselves out of bed and I went to the main temple and Dave went to a different temple. I walked in and people were already sitting there silently, I found my place on the floor and sat in the cross-legged position and waited for the prayer to start. Its all very dramatic the room is dark and the only bit that is alight is and statue that we are praying to, suddenly a deep noise of everything starting to chant the word "Om" in a "Ommmmmmmmmmmmmm" way- it rumbled through your belly, then it went on and more words were used that I didn't understand.

Now the whole point of this chanting is to fully concentrate on what you are saying and to feel the words and hopefully they were help you find your inner peace and pathway to god. I'm not very good at sitting still and sitting in that cross legged position made my leg go dead and so I was fidgeting a lot, no one seemed to notice as they were all concentrating and lost in their own world, thankfully. I also was not concentrating on what was being said, I did for about 10 mins but after that I was thinking about breakfast, if Mum and Dad were having a nice weekend and about the Maldives- so the other 50 mins seemed to drag by but eventually it was over.

After the chanting there was a Chai break and then it was time for meditation at the beach, again I tried and failed. So instead Dave and I discussed what we thought about the morning. We felt that we were glad we did it but we will not be getting up the next day at the same time. The sunrise over the beach was beautiful and it was nice to start the day early. We eventually had breakfast washed our clothes and walked around the Ashram.

We signed up for selfless service which means you help with the running of the Ashram, Dave and I did washing up! We met two nice women but our conversations were limited to how great Amma is and how anything they couldn't explain was Amma's way. I felt very frustrated as this was so closed minded and I felt all the hard core Ashram goers were brainwashed and all were vulnerable in someway. Dave agreed it was all very strange and we felt a little out of place.

From what I experienced at the Ashram I felt it was a bit of a doss for lots of people. People spent most of the day going on a day trip somewhere, meditating at the beach or doing selfless service- while trying to find inner peace. I feel that if they spent all there time working on volunteering projects in the area it might be easier to find their inner peace. I spent most of my time at the Ashram feeling very frustrated at the lack of activity and I had nothing to read not a good combination.

So when the day came for us to leave I was relieved to get on with the rest of our trip. We took the ferry back to Appelley and spent the night there. Where for some reason all of Appelley mosquitoes came and attacked me, it was the worse single attack I have ever had, but the next day we were going to Ooty where it is so high up there will be no mozzies!!! Yay!

We got up early caught a bus to Cochin then to Coimbatore then another bus to Ooty we eventually arrived 11hours later at 9pm in zero degrees I could see my breath, excellent!

We found a guest house - with a TV!!! and the next day we went and discovered Ooty. Its such a nice place with rolling hills and a racecourse and a massive lake which has some cheesy Indian tourism going on at the boathouse. We went and found the tourist information and booked two days of activities. The firs day we took a bus tour around the Nilgrils hills, which is the Mountain area name. The tour was good with stops of at points of interest. The scenery was so different to the rest of India. No Palm trees insight but instead pine trees and acres of tea plantations and also this is where local vegetables are grown such as carrots, cauliflower, potatoes and strawberries!

The last stop was at a national park where wild cheetahs, elephants, deer, etc could be found and we went on a safari which was good. We ended up seeing Elephants and Deer.

The second day we went trekking through the hills of Ooty and that was the better day out of the two. There was 15 of us all from different countries. The guide took us through tea plantations and farmland. It was really good. After we stopped for lunch we went and climbed the summit of one of the hills. The view was amazing, we could see for so far.

I expected the trek to be a lot more difficult and I was so worried that my foot wouldn't hold up, but it did and it was a fantastic day. So now we are having a day in Ooty sampling all the homemade chocolates yum.

Tomorrow or the next day we will be going to Mysore to get some essential oils and catch the train to Bangalore. Not long now until the trip to the Maldives, we are very excited!!!

Friday, 21 January 2011

Pastries, bus depot and beginning of the backwaters

So I spent most of my time in Puducherry eating my way around all the bakeries. On the 19th January we caught the bus to Trichy which was a more pleasant ride compared to the night bus we took before. As we entered Trichy I wished we stayed in Puducherry all I can describe Trichy as, is a transport hole of South India. I was gutted after Puducherry but hey it was on our way to Kerala! We found a place to stay, owned by a six fingered man- very strange! The place we stayed was nice we had our own bathroom- a luxury but the room we were in was actually the guy's room and so we had to put up with him coming in to our room to get clothes and his comb etc. It was about 15 min walk from the amenities through a friendly suburb with kids hanging on your arms and goats and cows everywhere! In fact when we were walking back from the local shop a bull ran around the corner and smashed into a cart full of shoes and knocked over two women into the air. The bull then ran past Dave and I and ran down the road! I was the craziest this I have seen in India, these women flew into the air and one landed on her head, but she was fine, thankfully!

Unfortunately at our stay in Trichy Dave had to make a trip to the hospital because he has been feeling lethargic and has had a bad stomach for a few days, this hospital was way bigger than the garage we visited before so we though swish but we were wrong - like many times in India- again!

We were directed to the emergency room (don't worry it wasn't a emergency) where we had to take our shoes of ewwwwwwwwww I hear you all cry and yes the feeling was ewwww. Dave was then seen by two nurses who kind of just played with him, taking his pulse and temperature until the main doctor came and she did all again anyway.

We explained to her the problems and asked her for some tablets to get rid of the bug but she thought we asked for Imodium and so we had to listen to her give us a lecture about how this would be bad- all we were asking here was for antibiotics but thats what happens with language barriers.
The next thing the doctor wanted to do was keep Dave in on a drip- it was totally unnecessary as he didn't need one! So we said no. Eventually we got the tablets Dave needed and hopefully he will be on the way to recovery!!!!

So we spent three long days in Trichy and finally we were on the overnight train to Cochin, the train again as usual was fantastic experience we were sad it is going to be one of our last.

We arrived in Cochin at 6am and walked with our heavy packs to the bus station refusing dozens and dozens of auto-rickshaw drivers! They don't understand how us travelers like to save money by walking everywhere!!! We then grabbed a quick breakfast and jumped on a bus to Appelley which is where we are now. It is the gateway to the backwaters, we are going to take a ferry tomorrow from the main jetty so we can visit and stay at the Matha Amirthanandamayi Misson Ashram which is a place where people meditate and do yoga ect. The main person who runs it is called "Amma" and she spends here time doing marathon hugging sessions with her followers!!!
So we are pretty excited about this trip!

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Mamallapuram and Puducherry

The rest of our time in Hampi went well, Dave and I managed to get some volunteering done at a local children's centre, it was great fun playing with the kids and seeing how the centre helped them. For more info look at this web page http://hampichildrentrust.com/

Unfortunately on our last day in Hampi I fell ill with Indian flu - which by the way is like no other flu I have ever had and I've had swine flu! So Dave got us to the local hospital which at first looked like someone's garage! But in the back there was a doctor and a mountain of lose pill packets on his desk. We described my symptoms and he was very confident that it wasn't malaria but we insisted on a blood test to make sure (as advised by our doctor in England). When we arrived at the lab - which was just a small doorway of a grubby street. It was closed and the number given was unreachable. So we decided that if the doctor was so confident that it wasn't Malaria that we are to trust him and take the drugs that he gave us. I had a strong antibiotic and some kind of pain killer that made me uber drowsy.

Thanks to Dave though for looking after me. He was fab and it would have been horrible to go through that on my own :D.

After taking the drugs and having some sleep I felt entirely different the next day- I couldn't believe it. I had no chills, no achy back- a miracle!! I managed to go out and grab some food before departing Hampi on the bus to Hospet to then catch the train to Bangalore and then to Chennai.

One of our worries was that if our first train was late (as trains are normally late in India) then we would miss our connection to Chennai but brilliantly it all went smoothly and we got to Chennai. We then began to make our way to the bus station to grab a bus to Mamallapuram. On the map it looked like a twenty minute walk so we wouldn't have to barter with a auto driver who would then overcharge us.

All train stations in India are always on a busy roads with no name markings and so we thought we would ask a local the way to the bus station, he explained that the bus station we needed was a hours walk away and the best thing to do would be to take a auto for 30 rupees (47p) and we could get there hassle free! So we bartered with the auto driver down from 100 rupees to 40 rupees and got in- it turns out the bus statio0n he took us too was the one we wanted and would not have been an hours walk. But hey never mind we got to the bus station.

We eventually found the bus we wanted and got on, when we asked the driver if the bus was going to Mamallapuram he didn't seem to register and so we had to ask the locals and they said no it was going to Kovalam and so we though we best get of this bus. As we tried the conductor shouted at us to stay and blocked the door and so we stayed on and got dropped of in Kovalam and then someone just pointed at a corner of a street and gave us a bus number to look out for! I guess in India we need to get used to going with the flow.

While waiting for the bus we found a half full taxi and go that one to Mamallapuram and eventually, after following a man on a 20 minute " Its only a 5 minute walk" we were brought to a guest house where the room he showed us must of housed all of Mamallapuram's mosquitoes. So we declined and found next door a much cleaner guest house with a sharing shower and toilet, no worries this time though they were separate but did house a frog which I named Freddie!

Mamallapuram was a nice town with a small beach and some more temples for us to look at. The beach was not like Colva though it was a working beach and the sea looked so angry it was amazing.
The rock carvings were magical though and the dance festivals in the evening were amazing. The girls were all dressed up in beautiful saris and wore amazing jewels. Their makeup was incredible too with intense eyes. My favorite performance was from a Nepalese group who danced with poles on the floor and looked like they were having a great time.

Yesterday morning we caught a bus from Mamallapuram to Puducherry which was so much more bigger than I expected but it is beautiful too. When we found the french quarter of the town it was so bizarre to see large streets lined with trees but then it was full of street traders and crazy traffic. We found the ashram yesterday which was so peaceful and there were a few people meditating there. We also went to the train station to try and get a train to Kochi in Keralla but the station masters were not very helpful and did not even check the computer before telling us that there were no trains to our destination until next month. Luckily we know a great website where you can book train tickets so we booked a train ticket from Trichy to Kohi, so all we need to do is take a bus from Puducherry to Trichy.

So we will be leaving Puducherry on the 16th Jan to Trichy where on the 19th we will be heading to Keralla.

Moving around the state of Tamil Nadu is difficult with the local transport teams not being helpful at all but we have managed it and are enjoying our time on the east coast.

Emma and Dave

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

boulders and temples...... it must be Hampi!

So dave and I had a great Christmas and New year in Colva in Boa but decided that lazing around and not doing much will give the reputation that many travellers get in India " I went to India and got stuck in Goa", it happens a lot to many travellers and we wanted to see more!

So we booked a overnight 11 hour bus journey to Hospet, I naively thought we would be provided with a sleeper bus.. how wrong could I be!!!

When we saw the bus we actually laughed! It looked sorry it was the same style of bus we got from the beach to the station. A small and rattlely bus awaited us for the next step in our adventure. So we got on with our big backpacks and quickly realised that there was no place for baggage, dave managed to squezze his bag in the over hear cage but mine had to go under our feet!

Now when we say this bus was basic we mean this bus was basic the seats had limited padding and had straight backs to fit more seat hence more people on the bus, so with my bag at our feet and the straight seat- our chins were touching our knees! But hey this is travelling we tell ourselves its a good experience! We will tell ourselves anything to make a bad situation good! On the opposite seat to us there was a family of seven trying to sit on a seat made for three resulting in two women sitting on the floor with their bags moaning at Dave for having my bag under his seat, as they wanted to put there bags there! Poor Dave spent some of the trip being shoved and pushed by this Indian family.

When the bus stared moving we thought great we are on the way!!! The mixtureof the Indian roads and Indian bus drivers results in a very uncomfortable journey where everythime you fell asleep the driver would break and you would smack your head on the back of the seat in front. So I spent most of my evening watching the driver and how they drives on the roads, Inian roads are very dusty with the roads breaking away at the edge and also full of pot holes and very often had large spped bumps to slow traffic, but all that meant was the driver would slow down for the bump but they speed up as fast has he can before the next bump hence the smacked heads! The driver also had his window open the whole trip to spit - taking his eyes of the road which I felt was too long before he narrowly missed hitting the oncoming traffic.

When we eventually come to the end of our trip- thankfully! I see about 6 men sprinting next to th bus as we park up in the bus station in hospet, they are autorickshaw drivers! "to Hampi to hampi" they shout desperate for our custom so desperate that we got a very good price of nine rupees each for a twenty minute drive into Hampi- result.

The Auto drive down to Hampi was magical! all these random temples and mysterious boulders make the landscape here! We get dropped off in the centre of the backpacker part of Hampi- which is pretty much the whole town and I get the distinct smell that reminded me of Varansi- cow poo! Uh oh but actually Hampi is so much chilled out compare to Varansi and so much smaller! Most of the rooms for Hampi were charging at 600 rupees- way out of our budget and more expensive that at the beach! But after dragging ourselves and our packs around Hampi I managed to barter down a room from 300 rupees to 200 rupees- another result! After dumping our stuff and having breakfast and wandering around Hampi we manage to find another hostel for 150 rupees and we moved in two days later! For that amount of money you dont get much cold water shower- well in this place a bucket. The shower also has a toilet in wth it and so when you shower you dont feel that clean as there is a distinctive smell of shit where you are washing! Yum! But its cheap and the people are friendly.

There is plenty to see and do here in Hampi we spent the first day finding temples inbetween the boulders- amazing. The only frustrating this is that there are only a few signs describing what these grand temples once were but wandering around them is fantastic. Yesterday we hired bicyles and cycled to the further temples and found the elephant stables which were incredible, very majestic.

The weather the last two days have been perfect for sight seeing as it has been slightly cloudy and there has been a strong breeze but it is still too hot to explore all day, so in the afternoons we have found this great restaurant where you eat and then chill out with a view of the river and you can chat to other travellers!

Today it has been too hot for me to do any exploring ut Dave is out and im sure he will see some amazing things, ive chosen to do admin, check out our next destinations and update blogs and keeping in contact.

We leave Hampi on Saturday "HAPPY BIRTHDAY LAURA" and get the train to Bangalore then another train to chennai and then a bus to mahabalipuram which is on the east coast of India there is a large temple on the shore and some other temples to go and see.

Emma and Dave

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Christmas in Goa

We hope everyone had a great time over Christmas despite the snow. Dave and I just chilled on the beach and had some Goa fish for our Christmas meal in the evening which was great!!! Colva is a great place to wonder around and eat different food due to the amount of restaurants and so just like you guys we have eaten a lot over the Christmas season. Tomorrow we are hoping to go to Ajunda flea market, which is meant to be a Goan experience. So in the morning we will catch a bus to the market and spend the day there wondering through the stalls, very exciting.
We are leaving Colva in Goa on the 1st Jan to Hampi, we have booked a bus to Hospet where we can get another bus to Hampi itself. Hampi has a lot to have a look at including elephant stables. So we could be there for a week and then move onto Chennai to then move down the east coast.

We hope that everyone has had a great Christmas, we were thinking of you all and missed everyone on Christmas day! Everyone have a great New year!!!!! Bring on 2011!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Mumbai, Bollywood and the beach

We ended up in Mumbai instead of Ajanta due to the high season on the trains but it was good that we went! Oh and we are alive!!!! Mumbai was so busy but a great city! When we first got to Mumbai we were tired- as we just got off a 29hr train journey. We then got a taxi which over charged us, which was so annoying but it did take us to the right place which was Colaba, which is the main tourist part of Mumbai.We eventually found a hotel to stay in after trudging around Colaba in the midday heat.

Mumbai is a really expensive place to stay but we got one of the cheapest room with a sharing bathroom- which was clean but I'm sure I was the only Women in this place haha. In the evening we met some travellera and had dinner and swapped stories with them but we were so tired that we just went to bed. In the morning we went to Elephanta Island to have a look round, we had to get a boat ride, which was so cool and a great way to cool down. The Island was good, we walked to the top of canon hill and had a look at the view and the tunnels-very interesting. There were loads of other tourists there and so we all got chatting and when we went back to Mumbai we all went to eat in a traditional Indian restaurant! The food was sooooooo hot!!! But it was great fun to meet new people.

Our new friends gave us a number of a casting agency, who hire foreigners for Bollywood movies and so we called and the very next day we were picked up at 8am and were then taken to the Bollywood set! So exciting!!! We were split up into boys and girls, they boys went and had breakfast and the girls went to have their hair and makeup done- I was hoping for a sari and traditional accessories but unfortunately the set was based in a London nihghtclub! So western clothes for me! Haha, but it was fun getting all dressed up and it was pretty cool to be in a Bollywood movie,it was a long day of fake dancing but we met some great people!

The next day we had to get up early to take a train to Margaon - which is the gateway to India, we were looking for a place to stay when a really nice young Indian women said we could stay at her guesthouse in Colva for the night and so we took a taxi and we stayed with her family. It was so nice to be in a family home surrounded by pictures and Christmas decorations including a tree!!! This morning we took a walk to the beach and found a great place to stay right on the beach and so we will be here through Christmas and New year!! Oh and there are cows on the beach- epic! xxxxxx