Well aren’t you all lucky, two blog posts in a week! Don’t worry this isn’t a New Year’s resolution to spam you all twice a week, it’s actually me wanting to tie up loose ends and finish blogging about India (for now at least) for tomorrow we fly to Sri Lanka, so this is an update on our last 10 days or so and some reflections on our four months in the subcontinent.
On Boxing Day we left our lovely posh treat hotel and travelled down to Kanyakumari. We were winging it on this occasion as we had neither a bus nor accommodation booked. The bus was definitely the easy part, it was very cosy with Joey’s rucksack on his lap for most of the journey. We alighted and set about trying to find some accommodation. We’d looked at google maps and identified a strip of hotels so headed there, the first one we tried turned us away as they were full, as did the next two. Ok, we’d now tried three hotels and kinda felt it was a little ironic that Joseph was a trying to find room at the inn on Boxing Day and they were all full. Thankfully the fourth guesthouse had a room which we snapped up at an overpriced rate, just thankful we got to take our rucksacks off.
The point of us being in this random town was that it was a semi pilgrimage – this was the southern most point of mainland India. We’d spent the last 110 days travelling south to reach here. It’s one of the few places in the world where thanks to the geography you can stand in the same place and watch the sunrise over the ocean in the morning and watch it sink into the sea at night, it’s also the place where three seas meet, the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. You can see the amalgamation of these oceans as the different colours swirl together and the waves travel in different directions. So we watched the sunset, then rose early to watch the sunrise. The sunrise was insane. There were so. Many. People. I have never seen so many people gather for a sunrise. I busted some Indian guys taking some sneaky selfies of us which annoyed me (just ask – though after four months of this I’m more than likely to now say no. Unless you’re a cute kid, then I feel like the Queen when they say ‘excuse me ma’am). So from here on in its north (or east) we travel.
We caught a bus to Madurai, home to the Meenakshi Amman Temple, the pinnacle of south India’s Temple culture and considered as important to the south as the Taj Mahal is to the north. It was incredibly colourful and a very peaceful place to wander around. Best of all, no phones or cameras were allowed so we could wander without being pestered! We were both suffering from colds at this point and tired thanks to a dorm mate threatening someone else in the dorm the night before and not allowing us to switch the air con on so we’d had a very restless night. We took a short walk to the shop and Joey got touched on the arm by an old arm who then proceeded to ask him for money, this had happened quite a few times over the last few days but this guy was the straw that broke Joey’s back and he just said to me ‘I can’t do another temple town’ which was exactly what I had been thinking, so we started working on a get out plan. We raced back to the hostel and booked a bus for that night to Pondicherry, an old French Colonial town.
We arrived in Pondicherry at 5.30am and couldn’t even gain access to our hostel to leave our bags for another two hours so we headed to the beach where we’d intended to hang out at a 24 hour cafe the hostel had told us about. Arriving at the beach though we stumbled across a Rangoli competition. Rangoli is an art form in which patterns are drawn on the floor using rice flour and is thought to bring good luck. It was fascinating to watch 400 women draw these incredibly intricate patterns on the floor just using their hands and we actually enjoyed being homeless on this occasion as we dropped our bags off and then went straight back to view the art. Whilst in Pondicherry I got in touch with an Indian family who owns the old family home of a friend of mine and we were invited to view the home and for lunch. This was such incredible hospitality from a family who didn’t know who we were, to invite us into their incredibly beautiful home, show us around and invite us for lunch. We have met some incredibly kind and generous people during our time here. As Pondicherry is a old French colony we were able to buy some decent cheese for the first time, and more importantly a jar of marmite! We haven’t actually opened the marmite yet, we are saving it for a really really bad day, the thought being that if we do have a bad day then we can comfort ourselves with the marmite. So if any of my friends get a message from me saying ‘I opened the marmite’ know it was a really bad day and I need you to be kind!
From Pondicherry we took our last local bus to Chennai. Upon arrival we took a town bus to our Air BnB apartment. Local buses have been great and the conductor is always so helpful telling us where we need to get off. Until now. It was quite clear that they didn’t want us on the bus and kept trying to throw us off at various points. In the end when it became abundantly clear they didn’t want us on anymore we got off and walked.
We decided before heading to Sri Lanka, we really needed to rest and regain our strength and patience, so we arrived with the intention of doing nothing for a few days. Which is more or less what we’ve done. We have visited a shopping centre a few times and have been bowling. However bowling was the straw that broke my back! The day before we’d bought some ice cream (mint, obviously) and spotted some men taking our photo whilst I am trying to eat my ice cream! Then during bowling people kept coming over and watching, fair enough, we are in a random area of Chennai and there aren’t many westerners here, but I snapped when I saw a group of men filming us. I went over to them and absolutely lost my shit at them for about five minutes and made him delete what he had taken. It was clear he didn’t speak any English so I got the staff involved too and made doubly sure that he understood that it was not ok to film us without our say so. I think he got the message.
So after four months here it’s time to say goodbye to India, for now anyway. We are flying back in March and have a couple more places we’d like to see, but at the moment we can’t see us spending more than two or three weeks here. All the research that we had done prior to arriving suggesting that you will love India and you will hate India, sometimes both at the same time, and I would say that is the most accurate thing that I read about the subcontinent. I have tried to not sugarcoat our time here, but as well as frustrations, we have had some incredible times here and we’ve met some amazing, generous people. The last couple of weeks have been tiring as we have visited a lot of places in December alone and I feel as though I have been constantly ill with one thing or another in the last two weeks.
We’ve travelled 10,440 km in total from place to place (you can tell I’m international now as I now speak in kilometres!) and that only involved one flight! A third was done by rail and the rest spent on buses, probably get dropped in the middle of nowhere. India lives up to every stereotype image that you have heard about it – piles and piles of rubbish everywhere, cows in the street (eating the rubbish), monkeys everywhere, women doing their washing in streams and tuk tuk drivers everywhere. But far and away the thing we loved the most is how helpful and friendly the people are. You will always find someone to help you and to say hello to you.
Our top five experiences were:
The Taj Mahal
Backwaters of Kerala
The ruins of Hampi
Desert safari in Jaisalmer
Watching the sunset over the lake in Udaipur every night
A Cheeky sixth- The India/Pakistan border closing ceremony
So now it’s onto Sri Lanka and we have high hopes!