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Trip Report Gertie's Asia Trip 2010

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I’m a woman in my 60s and I usually travel solo. I’ve always wanted to go to India. Missed it in the 60s so am trying it now I have the time and a bit of money. Vietnam was closed in the 60s and 70s and I’m taking the opportunity now to visit my daughter who is working there. End of the road is Hong Kong where I have good friends I haven’t seen for 25 years. It all seemed to tie together nicely.

January 22 I set off from TX and stopped in London to see my son. The idea was to return from HK to London for a few days before heading back to TX….

These are e mails I sent to friends along the way. The trip was 13 weeks total. The first week I was in London catching up with exhibitions, theatre and friends, freezing cold and rained on. Then for the next 2 weeks I was in:

SOUTH INDIA
I'm here! In south India! In an internet cafe in Kochi in temperatures of 35+ And lots of humidity.
Great trip, I really recommend Emirates, started off on a big A380, brand new, LHR to Dubai .It's a madhouse at 1am! And so efficient. Connecting flight here was just 3 hours. Free booze all the way, can't be bad.

Kochi airport is tiny and brand new, just the right place to arrive for a first-timer like me. No swine-flu lady in sight. Managed to get all my bits of paperwork sorted OK, thanks for the info! On time, no idea what day or what time it is, I got myself a prepaid taxi to my hotel.

That was my first real glimpse of India. Traffic madness, a truck full of live cattle going to the auction, a church proclaiming it was Jacobite Catholic and part of the Apostolic see of Antioch, kids in uniform going to school, men everywhere dodging the traffic, pollution I'd only heard of before, goats in the road, people sleeping or dead on the pavements, ....

I had booked the GAP Adventures Best of Southern India trip which seemed to cover a lot. Departure Kochi 31 January, return 13 Feb. Decided for a first timer I couldn’t hack India alone. The ‘joining hotel’ was the Casa de Forte in Fort Kochi. This was really the worst bit of the trip. The hotel was inconvenient, very basic, full of mozzies. I’d checked it on Trip Advisor and it was all true. However, I was stuck with it.

January 29
My hotel is OK, not brilliant. AC thank goodness. I met a group of people returning from the trip I'm going on if you see what I mean, and caught up from them on what to expect. We went out to the Mango Tree for dinner, fish in banana leaves and G&T. Lots of bottled water. So far no Delhi Belly but it's early days. Hand sanitizer was just the job.

Have been out and about today with my camera just getting the hang of things really. Very hot, have to keep going into cafes to cool off. Lime soda! At last I'm out of the cold in London. Portuguese churches, Indian style, convents and nuns, goats and cows in the street, haven't seen any shrines yet. Upmarket hotels for mainly European tourists, downtown Kochi is mainly traffic-free apart from Tuk Tuks which I have been dicing with death on . Famous Chinese fishing nets in the harbour, fresh fish for sale, everything imaginable for sale and the hassle factor is predictable sky high.

But the basic India is there underneath. Everywhere smells of burning fires, I think it's the garbage, the street-lighting is minimal, trash everywhere, hand-written signs, no neon, everything looks home-made, gives the impression it's a small rural town. It probably is in comparison to Delhi etc. Don't even mention the smells. People are very very obliging, can't do enough. So hospitable. Smiley and friendly. It feels very safe.

January 30
I join my group tomorrow and set off to places unknown. My new friends said the trip was very good! Bookshops to stock up in, internet cafes, posh hotels to hang out in, SO FAR SO GOOD.

This place is so green and tropical. Things seem to grow as you watch. Boys playing cricket this morning on the Parade Ground, not seen that for a while. Popped into the big cathedral to find 2 weddings going on, so much colour and music, a lot of fun. Then across the harbour on the local ferry, 2 rupees each way (50 to the $) can't break the bank. Sat watching the fishermen with the Chinese nets, a very cumbersome, slow, labour-intensive business for very little result that I could see. Maybe the result isn't the point. Met Jessy Pereira who showed me her local church and the new grave of her neighbour and asked me to take her picture!

When we asked for drinks with dinner last night were told the whole of India was dry for the day in memory of Ghandi. Somehow we managed screwdrivers disguised as orange juice. More wonderful Kerala vegetarian food. Delicious fresh lime soda with home made banana cake.

Hot hot and very humid today. No complaints after London last week, glad I missed your latest snow! Glad also I'm out of zero degree TX.

My group finally convenes tonight and we have sightseeing of the town tomorrow, most of which I've already done. Hope I can cope, I'm not a major group person but...

Off for aforementioned lime soda and cake.

January 31
Amazingly enough yesterday Queen Mary 2 was in port. She must be on a cruise round here. HUGE. There must be a deep channel here. The place was full of well-heeled and well-upholstered Americans.

Have met my group and they are OK ish. We have a super posh air con bus for our travels, it feels very luxurious. Much more upmarket than I expected.

February 1
Did the Jew Town today and the synagogue. Yes, fantastic tiles . Spices and smells everywhere. This is the Malabar Coast after all. Interesting little area, I think there's a Salman Rushdie novel set here. Lots of history.

Weird and wonderful Kathkali dancing tonight, shades of Kabuki. Guy with a bright green face. Another one doing wailing music like they do in Japan. The group wasn't thrilled!

Off into the tea plantations tomorrow. Not sure how much civilsation there will be there.
Well, I think at last I'm getting my ear in. For the first few days I couldn't understand anything anyone said. Not always easy though.

February 3

Have been on the toy train to Ooty, to a tea plantation and on a little safari in a nature reserve. All that yesterday. Now in Mysore. Looks fantastic, very colourful and noisy. We have a good hotel right by the maharajas palace. Very hot again after a few cool days in the Nilgiri Hills....blue remembered I think.

We have been travelling by bus in grand style, have a wonderful driver and his assistant who seems to have 2 functions: one to give various hand-signals out of the left-hand window and the other to put out the red carpet when we get on or off the bus. I kid you not! I feel like an Old Queen, (‘speak for yourself’ said one of our group who is just that from Seattle). Otherwise it's the same kind of mixture as ever, some moaners, some people over-anxious, but I think it's OK, everything is done for us. It's certainly the way to do a country like India where everything is such hard work and the hassle factor is so high.

No stomach upsets yet (don't speak too soon) . Loving the food....

February 4
Mysore

The market is all colour, sound and smells, people, action, fruit and veg, household stuff, spices, cereals...and that was just what I saw before sensory overload.

We have been round the Maharajas palace and to various shrines with elephant-headed gods and the like. Hot hot hot. The food and also the weather. India really teems with people they are everywhere all the time yelling in my ear and waving things in my face. The muezzin was at it at 5.30am this morning, a bit unexpected, at least by me.

Have been snapping away from the bus as all the colour and chaos passes us by. We feel like kings and queens on our posh bus while India goes on around us. I wouldn't fancy it all alone though.

G&Ts were good last night, I think I'm off for another soon.



February 6

We survived the Night Train to Chennai, the beach where the 2004 tsunami did a lot of damage, and now we're in Mamallapuram ( I think) where there is a wild beach and a wonderful hippie style cafe that does yogurt and fruit, coffee and tea and Kingfisher beer. I'm on my way. First go at non-Indian food after an intensive week.

Hotel has a pool even. My companions and I went for fresh fish dinner last night and hopefully tonight. So cheap!

10 days in and I'm lovin' it!


February 10

French bakery in Pondicherry yesterday followed by lots of temples today complete with elephants. Everything imaginable seems to go on there. We are in Madurai now with more temples to come. Long driving days with plenty to see as India goes on around us. Beautiful tropical scenery with palm trees and bright green vegetation and red earth. Should be very fertile and rich but somehow the total disorganisation means it's all a mess! And the garbage....and the livestock all over the place. Fantastic hot weather, up to 30 and quite humid. We are about to cross back from the Indian ocean to the Arabian sea for our last few days.

February 13
We have just finished the first trip ...a final day cruising the backwaters of Kerala. Really beautiful. Stayed in a 'homestay' which was run by local people who have relative in Manchester! Great food and atmosphere. Set among rice fields and a totally different way of life. Water transport only, very quiet.

Group stuff always gets to me after a while but it was mainly OK. I would certainly recommend this as a painless way of seeing a lot of India in a short time with all the stress taken out. Our guide smoothed the way, organised hotels and transport, found us clean loos and restaurants and generally pandered to our every whim.

Backwaters was a break from the hustle and bustle of India but I'm right back in it now. Taking a break in a posh hotel at Cochin airport before flying to Goa tomorrow for Mardi Gras and goodness knows what.

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