Arriving in Cochin
My trip started in Cochin. As a “slow traveller” I wanted to arrive at least two days before the tour started. There is an African wisdom that says that when we travel we should not only move our body but always also pause to wait until our soul has arrived too. This became my maxim when travelling so I granted myself enough time to arrive.
And then, yes, it was only the so-called “soft south” and I was in a part of the city with quite some tourists, but it was already intense. Above all, on my first day I walked around for hours by realising that I couldn’t withdraw any cash with my card. None of all the ATMs did accept it. I didn’t understand it since it was a travel cash card and I asked in advance at the bank if it will work in India. I didn’t want to use any other card due to the previous fraud cases I had to experience while travelling. I also realised that I didn't even bring any US dollars with me, what I normally do. I felt a bit uncomfortable without any cash at all but I wasn’t as nervous as I was once in Laos, where I run out of cash and encountered the same problem, back than without having pre-booked anything. Here, at least I already paid my hotel for the next few nights and knew, in the very worst case I will soon be with a bunch of people, who surely could help me out with some money.
Back at the hotel I could arrange a deal that they paid me out some cash by paying them a proforma invoice by credit card and after I could manage a connection I talked to my bank to learn that the card was automatically blocked because I used it the last time in Indonesia and there are several country combinations that lead to an automatic card blocking to prevent me from fraud – until it has proven that the card is physically with me in the new country. Wow, I didn’t know about that and was glad we could solve the problem.
In Cochin I only spent time in Fort Cochin, the ancient (and touristy) part of the city. It is a lovely and, despite its Indian intensity, a laid-back place with its own “village-flair”. Streets are still busy and loud but the coffee places are quiet and awesome.
You can feel the “Indian spirit” particularly around sunset along the cost where the huge Chinese fishing nets are. It is then crowded by locals, who come here with their love or families, and it is covered by market stands where you can smell all kind of scents, children chuckle - and the ocean plays the background music.
On the third evening I met my group; in total we were 8 Persons with a quite interesting mix of age between 29 and 67 and our local guide, in his early 30ies. We had dinner together and went to a Kathakali performance. This Keralan dance is an ornately costumed display of storytelling, which requires a complete control of the body. It was very impressive to watch it.
New Years in the mountains
On the next day we took a train to Coimbatore. From there we had another four-hours drive to the mountains of Conoor, where we spent New Year’s Ev, surrounded by lush tea plantations. The local where we stayed prepared a big bonfire, a nice meal with a little bar (they do have good beer!) and some music, plus a midnight cake! At midnight we could even watch some fireworks from the villages nearby. It was a very unexpected great party off the beaten path.
The next day we spent in Ootacmund, often referred as “Snooty Ooty”. We took a short train ride with the beautiful ancient Nilgiri Mountain Railway. The view was stunning and the locals were all eager to get photos with us.
From Ooty we drove to Masinagudi to visit the Mudumalai National Park. Set against the backdrop of the Nilgiri mountains, Mudumalai was once the Mysore Maharaja’s private hunting ground. In 1974 it was brought under Project Tiger and is now one of the best game sanctuaries in India to observe wildlife. We spent the night in an open jungle lodge and went on a beautiful night safari.
Mysore, Mamallapuram and Pondicherry via Auroville
We continued our journey to Mysore. There we indulged into the local markets and visited the famous and ornate Palace. I experienced Mysore as quite an intense place. It was hot and humid, loud and busy and lots to see. Inter alia we explored a small fragrance factory to learn everything about essential oils and how incense sticks are made.
It was the first of two times I suffered from the almost india-travel-compulsory diarrhoea, not too server at that time but together with the heat I remember I was sitting in that little factory, surrounded by all the scents and felt like in a little trance.
After two full days in Mysore we visited a local family where we had dinner before we boarded an overnight train to Mamallapuram – a beautiful ancient seaport town. We paid a visit to the 7th century Shore Temple and to the enormous bas-relief rock carvings, known as Arjuna’s Penance and pillared temple pavilions (mandapams).
On our way to Pondicherry we stopped at Auroville. Kind of a curious place for what it’s worth. It’s a place fully dedicated to “unity”, which is in its origin something to support one might think. But on the other hand I start immediately to question why on earth you need to build such an imposing solid golden crystal to meditate when the slogan to enter the community is all about modesty and giving up on status and possession….?
The whole project is something like a ‘spiritual communism’ and well… everyone shall have their own opinion on it. I took the picture, listened, looked around and read the information provided… I couldn’t help but it all felt more like a sect to me. Maybe a happy one, maybe not. Since I was wondering if Steve Jobs did live here or visit it while he was in India I googled it a bit and found of course both; positive reports but also disturbing ones.
to be continued..
In the meantime, see below a selection of impressions of this incredible intense, beautiful and touching country: