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Waiting for the Indonesian visa
Kanyakumari (India) to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), March 2012

After reaching the most southern point of India, we started travelling northwards along the western coast of this huge country. Our first destination was the city Thiruvananthapuram, fortunately often called Trivandrum. The city hasn’t to offer for most travellers. The travel guide books try to portray the city in a more positive way by saying that there are still a lot of buildings left from the colonial times. In our opinion this is exaggerated, but it is still a friendly place to visit. We especially liked the well setup local zoo and the coffee at the Café Coffee Day (The Indian version of Starbucks).

After Trivandrum, we travelled by train to the ultra touristy beach town called Varkala. This little town attracts not only sun lovers, but also spiritual travellers in corresponding cloths and yoga and ayurvedic practisers. Varkala is a non-Indian enclave within India. Ninety-nine percent of the visitors head directly to the so-called ‘cliff’, a path on a cliff along which most of the restaurants and hotels are located. From the cliff, there is a terrific view on the beach below. The setting is fabulous and together with the nice restaurants and good value hotels, Varkala is a perfect place to escape chaotic India for a while without leaving the country. It is the place to enjoy peace, a good coffee and an excellent yoghurt-fruit-salad. And for those interested, it is also a place for yoga courses and ayurvedic treatments. And if all the reasons mentioned before are not interesting for you, it is still a great place for people watching. This is a place where you see western tourists in all shapes and sizes.

Ivonne assists a park ranger who wants to take pictures through a pair of binoculars
After enjoying five days of the Varkala luxury, we decided to dive into the Indian chaos again. We took the train to Alleppey, mainly known for the houseboat trips that can be arranged here. Most travellers do such a trip and for many of them it is one of the highlights of their visit to India. The tour with a houseboat takes around 24 hours and takes you over the picturesque backwaters of Kerala. The design of the boat is based on the traditional rice boats used in the area. However, the pieces used for the tours a often newly built and adapted for tourist use. A small building is built on it, complete with bedrooms, sitting areas and a kitchen. We decided not to take a tour. We heard rumours about the fact that many tours a very commercially driven, which means that the boatmen take you to different ‘traditional’ villages where commission paying handicraft shops try to sell you tourist crap. We don’t like these kinds of tours who sell themselves as authentic, but are in fact very money driven. Instead, we took the public ferry from Alleppy to Kottayam. This 2.5 hours boat ride takes you through the same kinds of canals and only costs 10 Rupees per person (Euro 0.12).

In Kottayam we experienced for the first time that the hot months are approaching. We are in the middle of March and people warned us that April and May are bloody hot. Some people even told us that walking outside in these months isn’t possible. Of course, we thought that these people we exaggerating. However, for the coming weeks the heat wasn’t that importance for us. We travelled into the mountains. Kumily is located on an altitude of 1000 meters and is a perfect escape for the heat in the lowlands. Many tourists, both foreign and domestic, travel to Kumily to visit the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. The popularity is mainly based on the fact that there is a high chance to see wild elephants. And we did. We took a safari walk with an unmotivated park ranger. During the walk we saw two different groups of elephants. We also saw quite a lot nice birds which made the trip for us worthwhile. In the late afternoon we also did a boat safari on Periyar Lake, but this tour was more a Disneyland experience than a visit to a nature reserve.

Traditional Chinese fishing nets in Fort Kochi

After Kumily we took the very scenic bus ride to Munnar. This hill station is famous for the tea estates that dot the areas around town. It is a great destination for walking and also the bird watching in the area is interesting. Many endemic mountain species are relatively easy seen here. The weather was perfect; 25 degrees Celsius with a clear blue sky. Eventually we stayed for a week and with reluctance we travelled down to the lowlands again. Our destination was Kochi, the most famous city of the Kerala province. Kochi is an old colonial town in where some old churches and buildings stood the test of time. The town is again a great escape for the rest of India. It is a quiet place with some great home stays (hotels) and restaurants that cater for western tastes. We decided in Ernakulam, the sister city of Kochi, located on the other side of the river and only 20 minutes away by ferry. Ernakulam is hot, chaotic and dusty, but is has much cheaper accommodation and real Indian food. However, during the day we were in Kochi where the shade provided by century old trees and the sea wind made the temperature bearable. At night we stayed in a small Ernakulam hostel without air-conditioning, and the temperature in our room never came below the thirty degrees Celsius.

By the way, Ernakulam was also the city where we had a very sad experience. Somebody approached on the street and told us that he preferably would like to smash our skulls because we (western tourists) were in his opinion the culprits for the increasing food prices in his city (see also our column: preferable, I would like to smash you skulls right now). Fortunately, he never turned his words into deeds. Temperatures seemed to increase day by day. On the BBC we saw that the temperature in Mumbai (on our travel itinerary the coming weeks) reached the 43 degrees Celsius, so we were quite lucky with our 36 degrees in Kochi. But a day later, while enjoying a good coffee at the air conditioned Café Coffee Day, we decided to leave India. Temperatures were too high to make sight seeing enjoyable and the predictions were that the ceiling wasn’t reached yet. We read on the Internet that Air Asia still had good prices for their flights to Kuala Lumpur which made the decision easy to return to Malaysia. A little bit more than 24 hours later we left India and in the middle of the night we arrived in Kuala Lumpur. We decided to stay at the Mc Donald’s restaurant of the airport where we took some coffees to stay awake. This was also the place where we made the first plans to go back to Indonesia again. It is now more than three years ago, and also this country has many more places we like to visit. Today we applied for the Indonesian visa here in Kuala Lumpur. Let’s hope they honour our request.


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