Asia Forums

Post New Topic

Recent Activity

  • Announcement:
  • Recent Spam Attacks
    by mkataoka Fodor's Editor | Posted on Nov 28, 16 at 01:31 PM
View all Asia activity »
  1. 1 50th Anniversary trip
  2. 2 Changing planes at Dubai
  3. 3 "necessities" for India
  4. 4 Vietnam to increase visa cost for Americans
  5. 5 First time in India and Nepal-HELP
  6. 6 Trip Report The Mystic East - a tale of hot food, hot weather, airmiles and imodium.
  7. 7 12 x Day Itinerary- Please give me your feedback
  8. 8 Trip Report 14 days in Myanmar
  9. 9 DC to Dubai 3 nts, Tokyo 6 nts. Kyoto day trip? Itinerary thoughts?
  10. 10 Short trip to Myanmar
  11. 11 ATMs in Japan
  12. 12 US Citizen Vietnam Visa Help!
  13. 13 First time backpacking - 5 weeks in Vietnam, Lao, Cambodia, and Thailand
  14. 14 Trip Report A Journey to Jagna, Bohol - Trip Report
  15. 15 "China Eastern Airline" is it really bad??
  16. 16 Gang rape in India. Again.
  17. 17 Mandalay questions
  18. 18 Guides ,Bagan and Mandalay
  19. 19 Asia Transpacific vs Pacific Delight Private Tour to China
  20. 20 Myanmar:Domestic flights and transport :cash :guide/travel agency i
  21. 21 3 Week Trip to Southeast Asia
  22. 22 Help - India take 2
  23. 23 Chiang Mai hotel with sweet attentive staff
  24. 24 CNX late arrival?
  25. 25 Trip Report Trip Report: Pandaw’s cruise down the Mekong from China to Laos
View next 25 » Back to the top

Trip Report Sweltering, steamy, sizzingly southern India--It was hot!

Jump to last reply

This year we made our third long trip to India, but in the southern half instead of the north where we had previously visited. Our general route was to make a backwards J-shaped loop that started at Mumbai and ended in Bangalore. We went south from Mumbai along the coast as far as Cochin, and then moved inland heading north towards Bangalore.

As is usual for us, we did not book tickets way ahead of time and did not have a fully-fleshed out itinerary for the entire trip. Plane tickets to India were purchased about two months ahead of time, which was earlier than we often buy tickets. We had reservations and firm plans for our first three weeks but planned to wing it from then on out. I did all of the planning and reservations myself, and we did not use an agent at all this time. For past trips we’d hired a car and driver for extended stretches of time through an agency. This time around we just decided to use our lodgings to book us transportation for day trips and to arrange transfers between locations. This worked out just fine.

We were gone from Feb. 2 to March 17 because we wanted an escape from the bitterly cold climate where we live. However, we soon found out that the timing of our trip was a mistake, and we spent our last three weeks in India (the unplanned portion of our trip) making decisions on where to visit solely based on where we thought we could go and not die from the heat.

So, my first piece of advice to those considering visiting the southern half of India is to go earlier than we did. During our trip we were told that any time from Sept./Oct. onward would be a good time to visit. Tamil Nadu had been on our radar as a place we potentially wanted to visit, but it was quickly crossed off the list when we learned that it would be even hotter than Kerala.

At times we were so hot that we vowed never, ever to take another tropical vacation because the heat just isn’t for us. It is truly swelteringly hot when you are sitting outside, in the shade overlooking the ocean, having breakfast at 8:30 in the morning with sweat running down your back after having done nothing more exerting than just walking down one flight of steps to your table. Or, there was a similar day when our major excursion for the day was to walk about a kilometer round trip to buy a bag of oranges. We were so drenched with sweat from this leisurely walk that I actually contemplated taking a tuk tuk back to our guesthouse because I was so hot. And, we are the type of people who can spend an entire day walking when visiting an interesting place. (Of course, within a month of our return home we were in Mexico where the temps hit 110 a couple days, but the heat there didn’t seem as bad as it had been in India.)

Adding up our three trips, we’ve now traveled in India for about four months total, and on none of our three trips did I feel the need to have an agent plan a lot of things for me. On our first two trips I had an agent arrange a car and driver for us, and a couple times got suggestions on routes and places to stay, but that was it. For those who enjoy planning their own vacations, India is not really too difficult to do. In fact, one place we were on this trip we were having a discussion with the young man who was our guide for our stay there. He said that he can’t figure out why people feel the need to use the services of an agency (with all of the additional costs) because people in India are so friendly and like to help tourists. Plus, the locals all can give great advice on where to go next, they all know drivers, and they are aware of places that a larger agency might not be aware of. We agree with his advice.

Another major difference for this trip is that it ended up being much more about nature and the outdoors than cultural sightseeing. We certainly engaged in and learned about the places/cultures we were visiting, but there was not nearly as much visiting of temples, historic places, palaces, and museums etc. as on other trips. By the end we were viewing our trip as more of a winter escape than as a sightseeing trip.

We'd agree with those who classify the southern parts of India as India lite compared to the north. For people who are cautious and want to tiptoe into the country, taking your first trip in the south might be a good idea because things are not so in your face as they are in the north. Kerala, in particular, is the richest state in India so things are better developed and there isn't as much visible poverty and dirt.

We booked our tickets on United (never again) and flew into Mumbai and out of Bangalore. Flight and airline advice: Be extremely persistent with the airline if there is any delay in your journey. Right before our departure date there had been big storms in Chicago and on the east coast, so we’d been watching for flight changes and cancellations right up until the minute we left for the airport. We live 20 minutes from the airport and arrived at the airport thinking all was well. But, right after we got in line at the airport, I got two e-mails from United telling me that both our Minneapolis to Chicago and our Chicago to Newark flights were cancelled.

United was not at all customer friendly or efficient in the circumstances. We had a huge wait in the line with all of their other cancelled customers, and their customer service phone lines did not work either. As soon as I found out our flights were cancelled and we moved into the re-booking line, I called United. I was still on hold two hours later when we finally got to the front of the airport line and were helped in person. Then I had to keep insisting that I did not like their solutions (come back tomorrow) and had to ask to speak to a supervisor. Finally, five hours after arriving at the airport, United agreed to put us on a Delta flight from Minneapolis to Mumbai. And, they only did this because I had found out that there was a Delta flight that had seats available; they would never have done this problem-solving for us. In fact, at one point we were told that United’s general policy is to rebook on other airlines only for domestic itineraries.

Another problem I had with United was that only after booking our tickets and not being able to figure out why I couldn’t get seat assignments on the Lufthansa code-share flights for the way home did I find out that (a) Lufthansa does not let economy passengers get seat assignments until 23 hours prior to the flight and (b) Lufthansa does not give any miles to those who are flying in certain economy classes. United, of course, said nothing about either of these things on their website when I booked tickets. And, on our return flight United’s standard policy for dealing with passengers whose flights have been delayed causing them to miss their connection is so unfriendly that we ended up stuck in Chicago for five additional hours despite the fact that there were four flights to Minneapolis during this time. So, we’re done with United.

The one positive thing that did come out of our experiences was that we learned it is much better to fly from the US to Europe and then Europe to India than it is to take that horribly long 15 hour United flight from Newark to India as we have done in the past. So, in the future, we’ll be looking for flight segments that are broken up this way.

I'll try to post soon with details about the trip.

113 Replies | Jump to bottom Add a Reply
  • Report Abuse

    Julie's - excited to hear more! Unfortunately our tickets are booked and we will be there from February 9 till March 9 so we are unable to heed your advice regarding weather. During our last 4 week trip to the Rajasthan area, we traveled in late sept/October and it was beyond hot. Still...it left us wanting more so here we go again.

  • Report Abuse

    I just spotted this and am keen to hear how your trip went. Southern india is on my radar for a few reasons - my grandma was born there [not sure where, she didn't have a birth certificate] and worked as a nurse in Madras, and my mum was born in Mumbai. and I'm very interested in travelling without an agent.

    But I struggle in the heat too, so i can sympathise.

  • Report Abuse

    dgunbug--You'll have to adjust your itinerary so that you move up into the ghats for the last part of your trip. We had also heard that Goa is generally a little bit cooler than Kerala, so if you intend to visit there it could be at the end of your trip. I'd say about Feb. 20 was when we really noticed how much it was really heating up.

    Kathie--It is not just we who have had trouble with United. In the past year our son and daughter-in-law had a beyond horrid experience (made ours look like nothing) with United, and another friend also had a really bad time with United. All of us have said never again.

    annhig--So it sounds as though you too will have to plan carefully the timing of your trip if you do not want the heat to get to you. I think Nov. to Jan. may be the coolest time of year (and unfortunately the highest prices with the most tourists).

  • Report Abuse

    julies,
    Looking forward to reading your trip report, too. I've enjoyed following your other trips and found your first report very helpful when I was planning my first trip to India. South India is definitely one of the places that is high up on my list, so I'll be interested to see what you did -- and did not -- end up doing.

    I will definitely heed your advice, however, when we plan our next visit and will try to avoid sweltering heat at all costs!

    Paule

  • Report Abuse

    Back to India itself: Parts of my report will be very detailed because they are based on a journal I was somewhat devoted to writing for about a quarter of our trip. The other parts will be a brief synopsis of what we did in the area. I am trying to flesh out and recall now (something that is proving more difficult that I’d thought it would be) what we did at the places where I did not keep a journal.

    We stayed at a mix of hotels, homestays, guesthouses and resorts and spent between $50 and $120 a night for rooms (many of these also included meals). We consider ourselves moderate travelers who will splurge occasionally when we feel it is worth it. And, we are people who prefer smaller, more quirky, and, as the Indians say, more “homely” types of places rather than generic, anonymous large hotels. The real hotels were the places where we paid the highest room prices and are also probably the places we liked the least because they typically lack the opportunity to interact with owners and fellow guests.

    In a nutshell, here is where we went and where we stayed.

    4 nights in Mumbai—Ascot Hotel
    4 nights in Olalulim (interior Goa outside of the Panjim area)--Olalulim Backyards
    2 nights at a wilderness resort on the Goa/Karnataka border--Wildernest
    2 nights in Curtorim (a more southerly Goan interior town)—Arco Iris
    3 nights on the beach in Kannur in northern Kerala—Blue Mermaid
    2 nights in Kochi—The Fort Bungalow
    The next 7 nights were in Kerala on a bicycle trip we were fools to take (more about that later)
    2 nights Thattekkadu—Soma Birds Lagoon
    2 nights Thodupuaha—Dewalokam
    1 night Pala-- Kuruvinakunnel Tharavadu
    2 nights Alleppy backwaters--stay at the owner of the bicycle company’s home

    **All of the previous lodgings and destinations had been pre-planned and booked before our trip. From this point out--other than Olappamanna where I had pre-booked for specific dates so as to be able to visit a local Pooram--it was planning on the ground. And, it was at this point in our trip we started making decisions based on where we could go that maybe wouldn’t be so swelteringly hot.

    4 nights at Marari Beach—Marari Austin Beach Villa
    2 nights in Vellinezhi at a guest house with private Hindu ceremonies--Olappamanna
    4 nights Conoor—Taj Gateway
    2 nights at Vythiri in Wayanad—Pranavam Homestay
    1 night in Masinagudi (near Mudumalai national park)-- Jungle Hut
    4 nights in Mysore—Radisson Blue Hotel
    1 night outside Bangalore airport—Goldfinch Retreat

    With the exception of two places (the homestay in the Alleppy backwaters and the Goldfinch Retreat near the Bangalore airport) I’d recommend all of the places we stayed.

    Now to the trip itself:

    Mumbai—Ascot Hotel— Feb. 3 to 6--4 nights

    We are not normally big fans of large, noisy cities, but we liked Mumbai. It appealed to us a lot more than Delhi does. We had four nights and three full days and found them easy to fill. In fact, we probably could have stayed a few more days and kept ourselves busy. We walked a ton, found a couple fabulous seafood restaurants, took the ferry to Elephanta Island, took a slum tour, and took a night tour of the city. As an aside, nearly everyone in Mumbai still referred to their city as Bombay; apparently the former name is what most locals are most comfortable with.

    Feb. 3
    Despite all of the airline hassles we got into Mumbai only about an hour and a half later than our original flight time. And, sure enough, the hotel's taxi was there waiting for us. When we got to the hotel (after midnight) we were delighted to find out that we were able to get the deluxe room we'd requested. Normally we don’t seek out the deluxe room types, but this time around we suspected we’d be tired and would want to have a nice haven to retreat to because we’d probably be spending more time there than just sleeping. It was nice to have the larger room with plenty of space to spread out and to have some nice chairs to relax in.

    After a shower we collapsed about 2:00 am thinking we'd be zonked for hours since neither one of us had gotten more than an hour or two of sleep on the fights. We'd both thought the best strategy would be to stay awake on the MSP to AMS flight and then try to sleep AMS to BOM. Didn't work out unfortunately.

    Feb. 4
    Our goofy internal time clocks didn't allow us to sleep. We were both wide awake at 6:30 am, after only sleeping for four hours. We had no plans at all for the day since we hadn't even known if we'd get to Mumbai or when. Elephanta Island was on the list of possible places to visit, and everything I'd read said to make sure to visit early so we could avoid the tourist hordes and also as a time to tour when the heat wasn't so bad. So, this soon became our plan. Have breakfast and head off to the ferry for Elephanta Island as soon as we were done eating. We didn't make the first ferry at 9:00 but were on a boat by 9:45.

    The hour-long ride through the harbor was interesting and the breeze refreshing. This was probably not a ferry boat you'd want to be on if there were an accident. We assume life jackets on the ferry were non-existent since the small group of Japanese who arrived with their tour group were all sporting bring-your-own-lifejackets.

    The walk through the caves was interesting, with only the first (main) cave remaining nearly fully intact as far as the sculptures. There weren’t a lot of tourists, and just walking through the island and seeing the workers who were hand hewing rocks for future walls and walks made for an interesting morning.

    As we rode the ferry back in the early afternoon, we checked the guidebook we had with us (no pre-planning once again) looking for a restaurant for lunch. In the book it appeared that a highly recommended restaurant—Trishna-- wasn't too far a walk from the ferry landing. Since the Elephanta Island ferry docks at the India Gate, we did our obligatory sight-seeing there prior to trying to find our way to the restaurant.

    As usual, the restaurant we were searching for wasn't on a main drag but set a bit of a ways back on a small alley-type road. When we got there, we almost didn't go in because it didn't look too inviting. There was absolutely no sign of welcome or ambiance. In fact, it looked kind of like an obscure, nightclub-type place with a doorman standing outside of a very non-descript building with a blank door. But, a few bites of our food convinced us otherwise, and we were so impressed we thought the place might be worth a return trip. And, we did end up returning for another lunch.

    Then, we slowly made our way back to the hotel, taking in the local sights, thinking we'd rest a bit and go out later on. Never made it out again. Relaxing felt good, and we were so full that we didn’t feel a need to go out again for dinner. Just sitting in our hotel room from 4:00 until bedtime isn't our normal style, but after the exhausting process of getting to India it was nice to have some downtime for relaxation.

  • Report Abuse

    Such good info - taking notes - will try to find the restaurant - Trisha.
    Curious - thought I remembered Dogster talking about elephanta island and the long climb up to the top. We're there many stairs? I'm concerned about my husband's knees.

  • Report Abuse

    My mum used to have ancient postcards of a huge gate at the entrance to what was then Bombay harbour - it looked a bit like the Arc de Triomphe or Marble arch as I recall. is it still there?

    really loving you report and looking forward to reading about all the highs [and learning from the lows!]

  • Report Abuse

    Following along here too and looking forward to more, Julies.
    We were in Kerala in February a few years ago and agree it was hot! But we kept telling ourselves - oh well nothing worse than DC in August. . or the rainforest most places. . Also liked Mumbai - and stayed at the Ascot too!

  • Report Abuse

    dgunbug--I honestly can't recall if there were tons of steps (more so that an other places we've been in India)at Elephanta. But, I know it couldn't have been that bad, or the memory would stick out in my mind. Trishna--Sai Baba Marg is the only address I have. It is a small alleyway perhaps two blocks long; once you find the alleyway just keep looking, and you'll find it.

    annhig--Yes, that is the India Gate.

    Glover--We were glad we chose the Ascot because of its location and the nice room we got. Making reservations though turned out to be a bit of a hassle, but I am glad I persisted.

    We took the "Moon Handbook to Mumbai and Goa" and found it very worthwhile. My edition is now 6 years old, and I don't know if they have updated it or not. My other standby that covered a larger territory was the 5th edition of "Footprint's South India". Also recommended.

  • Report Abuse

    Feb. 5

    We were surprised we liked Mumbai since we didn't have any great expectations and normally aren't fans of big cities. Our hotel was in a (relatively) quiet location in a lovely neighborhood that was partially residential.

    After breakfast we set out to try to find the local office of the Reality Tours company since, according to their website, it was fairly close to our hotel. The website said it is best to book online or by phone, but since they were so close, we decided to drop in. The office visit itself was a lesson in country/cultural differences. I suspect most Americans and Europeans wouldn’t have even attempted to get into the office since it was above a very small store, up some rickety stairs, and down an obscure hallway.

    The office itself was “one butt” size and consisted of two small, cluttered rooms with no windows and no space at all. Obviously, no AC either. Now we know why the company doesn't suggest making a visit to the office to secure a booking. Afterwards my husband said we should have asked the guy in the office if he'd mind if we took a photo of the office since it was such a contrast to what we expect the office of a large tour company would look like. After a couple phone calls back and forth between the guy at the desk and someone else, we booked two tours for the following day—the Dhavali slum tour for 8:30 am and the Mumbai by Night tour for the evening.

    From there we set out to find the Sassoon Docks where all of the fisherman bring in their catch for the markets. My guidebook had indicated that mid-morning is a good time to visit the docks, so our timing was right. Apparently, most of the docks in the city are closed off and restricted, but this is wide open. And, the location wasn't all that far south of our hotel.

    We found the entrance to the dock area and just started walking in the direction where we thought the interesting parts might be. Wending our way past all of the large trucks, we eventually found the main area where boats were docked. Here is where all of the market activity was going on and where the women were squatting shelling shrimp in the hot sun. There looked like some great photo ops here, but as soon as I pulled out the camera to take my first shot, someone shouted to us that there were no photos allowed. I don't know why. My husband thought it may have been because there was a government naval facility close by. My guess is that the locals don't want hordes of tourist coming down to the area.

    We spent the rest of the morning just walking and observing life in Mumbai rather than trying to hit all of the local tourist hot spots and must-sees. We glanced through restaurant recommendations in the guidebook and set out walking to a location that was further north than we'd been before. We figured we could take in the sights while trying to locate the restaurant.

    We made some wrong turns as usual, but this just expanded the area we were able to see. Once again we had difficulty locating the restaurant. But, there must be only one reason that foreign tourists are stumbling around that particular block because a guy soon asked us if we were looking for the Mahesh Lunch Home (Cowasji Patel St.) restaurant. Then, he quickly pointed us in the correct direction. We'd found another fabulous seafood restaurant, and quickly realized why people say Mumbai is a city with great food.

    Stuffed to the gills, we started walking back in the direction of the Hotel Ascot. On our way back we planned to try to find a SIM card for our phone. I'd been keeping my eyes open for a BSNL vendor since I'd been reading that they have the best coverage for the more remote rural areas. My husband, however, had read in our brand new Footprints guide book that BSNL is the most difficult company for tourists to be able to establish an account with. We didn’t see any BSNL stores anyway and finally just decided to get any card we could find.

    When we'd asked the hotel desk that morning about getting a SIM card, the guy had told us that we should also bargain on a SIM card since vendors frequently increase the price for tourists. We’d assumed they were a set price, so this totally surprised us! The first store we tried was on the main street in Colaba; the guy wanted 500 rupees for the card with a small amount of minutes. We said we'd think about it and walked away, eventually finding a small store on a smaller back street several blocks away. This guy only wanted 200 rupees (but, there were fewer minutes), so a much better deal. So, we were set for phone and Internet coverage and went back to the hotel about 5:00 thinking we'd rest a bit and then go back out. Never made it out again. Two nights in a row we were tired and full and felt no need to go out.

    Feb. 6

    When we booked our slum tour tickets, we’d been advised to take the morning tour since it wouldn’t be so hot then (this was going to be a recurring theme during our trip), so we were up and about early so we could be on time at the 8:30 am meeting point for our tour. We were especially interested in taking the Dhavali slum tour since we’d both read "Beyond the Beautiful Forevers", an excellent, non-fiction work that goes in-depth into the lives of the people who live(d) in the slum adjacent to Mumbai airport.

    Dhavali slum was not at all what we expected, and I think that is one of the reasons these tours are offered—to take away people’s preconceptions about such places. We were also surprised at how large and well-organized the tour company was and at how many people there were on these tours since I hadn’t expected that many people would be interested in spending vacation time taking such a different tour.

    The tour began as we went through Dhavali’s recycling businesses. It was amazing at all of the work that went into recycling things that we all never think about once we’ve disposed of them. It was crowded, hot, cluttered, often muddy, and we said to ourselves (as we have tons of times during our India visits) how lucky and privileged we are. After the visits to the recycling factories, we walked through areas where people live. Some were definitely more cramped and depressing than other parts, with teeny, windowless rooms where large groups of people live. In many ways the slum was just like any other town or suburb; there were less and more desirable areas in which to live with better housing options in certain parts of the slum.

    In many ways this was more like a small town than just block after block of squalid, compressed housing. There was a several block long, fairly wide main market street with shops and stalls-- something else we had not anticipated. We were also surprised to learn that even after they have earned enough money to move on to a better area of the city quite a few people choose to remain in Dhavali because it is where they have their roots, family and friends.

    The tour ended at the community education building where classes are given for local adult residents who hope to better themselves through education. It was a fascinating morning and something we’d recommend. Out of respect for the local residents, there are no photos allowed during the tour.

    At the end of the tour, we got back in the van for the drive (maybe 30 to 40 minutes) into tourist-central of Bombay. We decided to walk back to Trishna for another late lunch. A great meal again, and after lunch we returned to the hotel for a bit of relaxation before walking to the meeting point for our evening tour of Bombay.

    Up until this point our feet had been our means of transportation in Mumbai, but we knew there were more scattered places we wanted to see. So, we’d decided that taking this night tour would be an efficient way to visit some of these different places. Just like for the morning slum tour we decided to opt for the small group (4 or 5 people) rather than the private tour.

    This was an easy way to see some of the places we’d wanted to visit without going to the trouble of taking taxis all around, and it was a fine couple hours. We stopped outside the home of India’s richest gazillionaire, visited Chowpatty Beach, stopped at Banganga Tank (lake), visited a Jain temple and went to the main train station. Tonight we felt we’d finally re-charged and changed our time clocks and were ready for some evening activity. After returning to our hotel at the end of the tour we walked down the street and found a nice rooftop bar/restaurant where we enjoyed the evening with drinks and snacks.

    This was our last day in Mumbai because the next morning we were off to Goa. I am sure we could have kept ourselves busy in Mumbai for another day or two if we'd had the time.

  • Report Abuse

    Still enjoying...keep it coming. Do you remember what you ordered at krishna's restaurant? My husband is not a big fan of fish so I'm wondering if there is more than just seafood and if it would be worth our while.

    I'm most interested to hear about what you did in goa. Living in Florida, the beaches are not our priority. You seem to have spent a lot of time there. Which area of goa would you recommend staying in for one or two nights. We have our hearts set on going to Hampi, so we will have a driver pick us up in goa.

  • Report Abuse

    Were you transported around for the night tour by vehicle or did you use public transportation? Do you think the night tour was very informative or are they places one can go on ones own?

  • Report Abuse

    Eager to hear lots and lots more! i was on the northern Kerala coast and in the Wayanad district (stayed at Pranavam also!) in February!! Wish I'd have known then about your itin --we may have just missed each other! Friend stayed at Dewalokum and loved it--am very much looking forward to read your impressions. We must have lucked out with temps, or locales, as i don't recall it being too too hot where we were.
    Taj Gateway in Coonoor...was there for a meal in Dec 2008 and loved it (thee food and the "Raj" era ambiance). I think it was Thursdays who didn't like the place, so again, am curious for your take on it, as it seemed it would be a lovely place if choosing to stay right in Coonoor town.
    Thanks Julie for taking the time to write this!!

  • Report Abuse

    Calinurse - please refresh my memory - did you write a trip report for your February trip? Just reread your post to me about Kerala houseboats and we are leaning today taking smaller country boats instead.
    Julie - did you stay overnight in the houseboat?

  • Report Abuse

    Wow it is a small world! Or, else many posters here are looking for kind of the same things in lodging and locales. Glover stayed at the Ascot in Mumbai. Calinurse stayed at Pranavam. Thursdayed stayed at Taj Gateway in Coonoor (we really liked it). I do recall reading Karen's (Thursdayed) report about getting food poisoning at the Gateway, but that didn't discourage us since we figure things like that are flukes that can happen anywhere, to anyone, and is usually just a matter of bad luck.

    Actually, maybe I should correct a statement I made earlier about liking our hotels the least of all lodgings on our trip. They were all very nice hotels, and we'd certainly return to all of them if visiting those cities again. But, there is a formality and anonymity about hotels that contrasts to smaller, more intimate lodgings. After all, a hotel is a hotel is a hotel. However, at certain points in our trip (especially by the end) we were really, really glad to escape to the anonymity and autonomy of a hotel. We were at the point where we just wanted to be ourselves on our own schedules and not feel like we needed to make the effort to provide conversation at meals with the homestay owners.

    Kathie--We'd recommend either tour we took (the slum tour was our favorite though). Mumbai Magic also offers some great tours, and we looked at those too. I guess I forgot to mention in my report that while in Mumbai we walked through and visited the markets on our own. Some companies offer tours of these markets , but we don't feel any need to do a tour of markets.

    dgunbug--We are real seafood lovers, and we live inland, so I know for certain that we had seafood in those restaurants. Other patrons were eating non-seafood meals though. For both of the tours we took in Mumbai we met the tour at a central meeting point and from there rode in a mini-van type vehicle. I'm sure the evening tour would be easy enough to do on your own if you hired a taxi driver and told him exactly where you wanted to go. We are not really beach people and did not want to visit Goa to go to the beach; that is why we chose to stay inland there. Honestly, with only one or two nights I don't know if I'd make the effort to get all of the way to Goa from Hampi. No, we did not spend the night on a houseboat and have no regrets at all because we feel we saw more the way we did our trip.

    Cali--perhaps you were there just a bit earlier than we were and/or the micro climates where you were are different. We really started to notice the oppressive heat about Feb. 20 and had been fine before that. Kannur was fine as far as weather (we even took a non-AC room), and so was Pranavam (we were there the second week of March). In answer to your question about the Taj Gateway in Coonoor, we liked it so much (and we couldn't figure out where else to go and be cool) that we kept extending by a day until we ended up with four nights.

  • Report Abuse

    Just saw this (am traveling) - had been waiting for it. Great details!

    Yes, heat plus humidity can be a killer. I did southern India last in Dec 2010, and that was plenty hot enough for me.

    (BTW, I am Kathy not Karen.)

  • Report Abuse

    Julie - our plan is to take the overnight train to goa, thereby having most of the day in Mumbai and sleeping on the train which arrives early enough to see some of old goa for a day or two before our driver picks us up to head to Hampi. What did you do in goa (our interests are likely similar as we do not intend to spend the time at the beach). I'm confused by which area to stay in goa and if there is enough to do for more than one day without the beach. We would consider going by the beach if there is something unique to see there other than sand and palm trees which we have in Florida.

  • Report Abuse

    Relishing this. In spite of your heat issues (sorry!), I am finding myself reminiscing about my unplanned backpacking days and daydreaming about how we'd fill six weeks in the steamy subcontinent.

    We spent a very short time in Mumbai and your report makes me sorry we didn't get a chance for more exploration. Looking forward to hearing the gory details about the bicycle trip from hell because that in theory would have sounded appealing to me. I do feel as if the right agency could have helped you book less vanilla hotels -- for me, our hotels were so stellar that they were destinations unto themselves. (I realize that this would be hard to sustain for 6 weeks, though.) Looking forward to more.

  • Report Abuse

    Dgun--i didn't write a TR for my Feb trip. It as a three week trip which, due to family member illness, hd to be reduced to two weeks. Still, no excuse. I am glad t answer any specific questions
    The trip where I went to the backwaters souht of Cochin was in Dec 2008.

    If you search Google Images for "country boat Kerala backwater" you'll have a good idea of what they look like and the kind of narrow waterways they traverse.
    Have you also checked indiamike for opinions on houseboat overnight, vs country boat? i could have sworn someone on here did the h houseboat and wrote of the mosquitoes while they were moored overnight.

    OK, back to Julie!!!

  • Report Abuse

    thursdaysd--One of these days I'll get your name correct. Sorry.

    dgunbug--Today as I was looking through some photos from our trip I happened to see some photos from Elephanta Island. I have a photo of chairs with large bamboo poles attached to the bottom rungs. This is the transportation for those who aren't inclined (pun intended) to make the trek up the hill themselves from the boat landing.

    crosscheck--Yes, we should have just let the bike trip be a nice idea "in theory". But, we lived through it and can now give others a heads-up. As far as the three hotels we stayed in, they were fine but I wouldn't want a steady diet of this type of lodging. Hotel Ascot in Mumbai was, I think, as well as anyone can do there unless one is willing to pay a heap for a room (we aren't) because Mumbai is an expensive city for lodging. The Taj Gateway in Coonoor was unique and atmospheric since it is from the pre-independence hill station era. Radisson Blu in Mysore was a brand new hotel built just like all of the others in the chain I presume. I think one of the downsides of standard hotels for us is that we like to be able to sit in nice common areas or out on lawns etc. rather than just sitting in our room or next to a pool or in a bar/restaurant. In the Ascot our room was the only option. In Coonoor we had an attached sitting room (we had a nice room that was just a little bit more pricey) and the extensive grounds. At the Radisson it was the standard pool area for lounging.

    Back to India----


    We had been very interested in visiting Hampi, between our time in Mumbai and Goa, but logistics finally made this out of the question. We’d been planning to fly from Mumbai to the nearest airport to Hampi (still a three hour drive from that airport to Hampi though). A flight cancellation nixed this thought, and as usual all of the train tickets were way overbooked, so there wasn’t a possibility of taking the train to Hampi instead. Thus, we settled on eliminating Hampi and just going directly from Mumbai to Goa.

    Everyone has heard of Goa and primarily in the context of its beaches, but there is more to Goa. We are not huge beach fans and had no interest in going to the beach in Goa, so we instead made our plans around staying inland. For us it was a good decision. In fact, during our stay we visited two of Goa’s beaches (one in the north and one in the south) that are considered “nicer” because they aren’t so touristy and so built-up. In both cases, an hour or two hour walk along the beach in the evening was enough for us. If you just want beaches, we’ve found others in the world that we felt were a lot better, and in India we much preferred the beaches we visited in Kerala over those in Goa. But, we are the kind of people who enjoy more remote, natural, quiet beaches rather than those that are built up with restaurants, bars, lots of lodging etc.

    Having read that the train trip down the Konkan Coast is beautiful, we planned to use the train (during daylight) for our journey entire journey from Mumbai down to Kochi. But, then we discovered that flights from Mumbai to Goa are dirt cheap, so now I knew why train tickets were actually available. The thirteen hour train ride vs. a quick one hour flight for not much more money became a no-brainer. We flew IndiGo. It was a good decision since we were in Goa by 1:00 in the afternoon.

  • Report Abuse

    Julie - looking forward to hearing about more of your adventures, especially the bike ride. Can't imagine it in the heat with your pants or shorts sticking to your legs and riding along wonderful Indian roads!

    I understand there is more in goa than the beaches, but the logistics of getting from the train station to the old town or to a nice beach area, is absurd for such a short time. We are considering having the driver pick us up directly from the train station at 7 am and driving to Hampi. The drive is about 6 1/2-7 hrs which will kill a greater part of the day, but by giving up goa, we can add a day to Mumbai and somewhere else. Your thoughts?

  • Report Abuse

    Calinurse - we've been doing our homework - reading India Mike, etc and will opt for the smaller country boats which will actually give us more time on the backwaters of Kerala with the focus being on the small canals where we can visit villages and see the daily life of the people living there. After two days on halong bay several years ago, we realized that we will get bored with the boat in open water after the first few hours.

  • Report Abuse

    dgunbug--If you do want to spend a day or two in Goa (after all you will be there already after taking the train), you could easily do what we did and have your lodging arrange a pick up for you at the train station. I assume you will be using the same train station we took when leaving Goa. This was only about 1/2 hour by car from Arco Iris where we stayed for our last two nights in Goa. It is something you may want to think about, and the owner of Arco Iris is very helpful as far as helping guests to plan their days, and she has a regular taxi driver guests use. Distances in Goa just aren't all that far.

    Back to my report:

    When we emerged from the secure area in the airport in Goa, there was a driver waiting to take us to our four night homestay at Olaulim Backyards. After we left the airport in Dabolim and started driving to Olalulim Backyards, we asked ourselves if we were still in India. Yes, things really are that different there. It was quite clean, there was no litter, women are much more visible in public roles, dress norms are definitely way less modest, and alcohol is readily available. This wasn’t the India we knew!

    When planning our stay in the more northerly part of Goa I’d vacillated about where to stay and had initially contemplated Panjim for a stay of a couple nights with a few nights at Olaulim. Then, the owner of Olaulim Backyards told me that it is only perhaps half an hour away from Panjim. We didn’t want to move around when we didn’t have to, so we made the decision to spend four nights here rather than splitting the time between Panjim and Olaulim Backyards.

    It was maybe a 30 to 45 minute drive from the airport. They had nicely waited to serve lunch to the group of guests until we arrived, so we had a rather late lunch. After lunch we relaxed, chatted with other guests, swam in the pool, got suggestions from Pirkko and Savio who own the place and made some plans for activities during our stay.

    This is one of those places that appeals to those who want something different from standard lodgings and is for people who want to interact with the owners and other guests because meals are eaten together in a communal outside dining area. We met and talked with people from India, England, France and Finland. (I guess very few Americans must visit India, or they just must take the standard group tours, because in our entire trip we ran into only 2 or 3 others from the US.) We enjoy this type of interaction, and for us it was a good decision to stay here. We liked the spacious grounds right on a river with kayaks and bicycles for guests’ use. Our own private little cottage was nice, the food was excellent, and the hosts were amazingly helpful.

    We are not shoppers at all, but their suggestion was that since it was Saturday we should visit Anjuna’s weekly night market. When I asked about appropriate dress (after all I am used to visiting conservative and modest northern India) I was told that anything would be fine. That was a major understatement! Let’s just put it this way: this is a western hippie market, and the attire of many of the people there was really, really extreme. I should have taken photos of “the natives” at this market because often their attire was much more exotic than anything else I saw on this trip. And, I say this as one who lives in the heart of the city in a major metro area with a huge university. And, I used to teach at a college so it is not as though I am not accustomed to the offbeat. I cannot imagine what traditional Indians must think when they see this type of get-up. After wandering a bit through the market (didn’t buy a thing) we had dinner and a beer (Goa’s lack of alcohol restrictions also seem quite different to those who are used to the near prohibition in most other parts of India) before calling our taxi driver and heading back to bed.

  • Report Abuse

    Yes, the hippie culture is alive and well in Goa, as is inaprpriate dress. I once saw a man walking along the beach in what amounted to a thong.

    dgunbug - no problem getting to Panjim from the station (not Magao). Either have your hotel send a car, as julie suggests, or take a tuk tuk or taxi from the station. I highly recommend the Panjim Inn. Easy to get to Old Goa from Panjim.

  • Report Abuse

    Not sure which night train you are looking at, but for a random date in October on cleartrip.com, there are several night trains, with 1AC accommodation, that stop at Karmali, which is the station for Panjim. Madgaon, according to wiki, is 45 kms.

    Not sure whether you read my India TR, but I was not especially impressed with Hampi, aside from one temple.

  • Report Abuse

    dgunbug--We took the train from Madgaon station when we were heading down into Kerala. I suspect that this is the same train you will be arriving on since we had around a 7:00am departure. We chose two different bases in Goa-one more northerly near Panjim and one more southerly close to the historic, colonial houses. As I said before, where we stayed in the south might be a good option since it was reasonably close to the station. Perhaps by mid-week I'll get to the part of our trip where we visited the south, and it will give you some idea of what there is to do there.

    Kathy--I read your TR and know you didn't like Hampi, but I need to mention that everyone we talked to during our trip who had visited Hampi really liked it.

    On this trip we saw what might be the ultimate in inappropriate and overly revealing attire. The Sunday (the day when many of the locals have free time for relaxation and will visit the beach) we were in Mararai Beach we were walking down the beach when we saw a group of about 25 young Indian men (all dressed in jeans and shirts because that is how Indian men usually stroll on the beach). As we got closer, we discovered that there was a European woman in her mid to late 20s dressed in a string bikini that left nothing to the imagination. She was bending, reaching, throwing while playing Frisbee with an Indian guy. As you can well imagine, this was quite a spectacle, even to those of us who are used to seeing women in bikinis. Apparently many of these young men had called or texted friends to come to this part of the beach to get an eyeful of what they normally wouldn't see. To me, this was just another example of those un-informed tourists who have done no prior research on cultural norms for the areas they are visiting.

    For those of you who haven't visited a beach destination in India, Indian women who walk the beach (we didn't see any swimming, just wading) typically wear leggings and long sleeved tunics. With a few exceptions the men were also fully covered. When we swam I did wear a one piece tank suit, but when we walked the beach, I wore a cover-up and/or a skirt over it.

  • Report Abuse

    Just curious - I already was aware of dress for the beach, but what about at hotel pools? Do people wear bathing suits?

    Thursday - I seem to remember you were not overly excited by Hampi, but weren't you also not feeling well at the time?

    Waiting to hear about the big allure of goa besides beaches.

  • Report Abuse

    My problem with Hampi was that many of the ruins were very ruinous. I believe dogster had the same issue with Hampi. It used to be popular with the hippie crowd because of the availability of drugs, but now that has been cleaned up, and now some Indians have more money, I was told that visitor numbers are down.

  • Report Abuse

    In northern India all guests at hotel pools -- mostly Indians, Europeans and Aussies -- wore standard swimwear, including bikinis. The older India women wore one pieces and younger wore bikinis, but Europeans of all ages wore bikinis, with sarongs for cover ups. We were the only Americans everywhere and I wore a one piece and a sarong.

  • Report Abuse

    Just getting back to this because we've been away at a cabin for a few days in an area with no internet.

    Sunday, Feb. 8

    Savvio and Pirkko’s suggestion for today was for us to take in the final performance at the annual Monte Music Festival at the Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount in Old Goa. This would take place at sunset in a setting high above the old city, overlooking the Mandovi River. So, our plan was to leave after lunch for a visit to walk around Old Goa and then make our way to the grounds of the chapel for the performance.

    In the morning we borrowed bikes to ride around the area where Olalulim Backyards is so we could get a feel for the neighborhood. It was a nice way to spend an hour or so, and we love how up close to an area to observe the smaller things one can get when bicycling. As we rode we took in the local houses, a church, the birds, the flowering plants, the people working around their homes and farms, the local waterways.

    A taxi was arranged for us once again (Pirkko and Savvio have a friend who is a taxi driver, and he is quite available for guests’ use), and we left around 3:00 or so. Once again we were sharing the taxi with some other guests; at Olalulim Backyards this taxi sharing is encouraged when possible as a more ecologically sound way of living, and we are fine with this arrangement.

    Old Goa was fine for an hour or two, but for those who have spent an amount of time visiting Europe (as we have), it is not all that unique. The Old Goa area isn’t at all that large, and there truly isn’t all that much to see in our opinion. Being a local, the taxi driver obviously knew that best places to drop off and pick up tourists, had tips on seeing the different buildings, and directed us to where to go.

    After visiting Old Goa, we found out that there were shuttle buses available for people who were attending the concert, so we hopped on one and headed up the long hill to the top. As a part of the festival there was also a performance going on inside the chapel itself, but those tickets are booked up way ahead of time, and we’d been told it can get terribly hot with the chapel filled full of sweaty bodies. So, we arrived early enough to stake out chairs for this outside performance. It was a gorgeous setting with superb views of the setting sun over the river behind the performer. We got a few snacks for dinner from the vendor on site (some upscale restaurant was catering) and sat down to wait.

    The featured guest performer for the concert we attended played the santoor, which is kind of like a hammered dulcimer. Attending musical performances during our travels is something we try to do because it makes for a unique memory. So, even though we had no idea ahead of time what we would be seeing and hearing, we were game. The artist was incredibly talented as he used the instrument’s small hammers to produce some enchanting musical sounds we had never heard before.

    When we were ready to leave, we phoned the driver who had been waiting for us. A phone was definitely extremely useful to have, and we used it all of the time when we had different drivers. This, rather than for staying in touch with home, was why we purchased a local Indian SIM card.


    dgunbug--To me Goa is not that much of an absolute must-visit, and I would never take a trip there to just visit the beach. But, we like to just be observers of the ordinary in places where we visit, rather than running around crazily trying to tick off must-visit places on our list. And, there is no way in the world on a six week trip that we'd ever want to do the crazy every second typical tourist routine.

    Goa's lifestyle, vegetation, houses, villages, historical places, etc. were definitely were enjoyable and different from what we saw eleswhere. We don't at all regret the time we took to visit there. In fact, we know we should have probably spent an extra day in the south at Arco Iris because we definitely had not run out of things to do in the area.

  • Report Abuse

    Julie - thanks for your useful insights. We decided not to stay in Goa, but rather to use the extra time (2 days) for one extra in Mumbai and the other to be determined as we continue to make our plans. Looking forward to hearing more about of your adventures.thanks for taking the effort to do this.

  • Comment has been removed by Fodor's moderators

  • Report Abuse

    I see you stayed two nights in Cochin. Can you tell me how much touring you actually did in Cochin? did you arrive late the first night or did you have two full days there? We are thinking of four nights there, the first getting in late and one day for a boat in the allepy area. So, we would have two days for Cochin itself. Opinions?

  • Report Abuse

    Dgunbug, you addressed the above question to Julie, so i hope it is ok if I chime in. Re: your question (4 nights in Cochin) it is better to know what you're planning for after Cochin. I wouldnt recommend a day trip to the Alleppey area for just a boat ride, then return to Cochin that night. I'd instead recommend a boat ride as combined with a back water homestay, to get a more complete sense of the backwaters. It's nice to have the boat ride AND to sit out by your lodging, just relaxing and watching the world go by (fisherman, families, etc)--and most waterside homestays will be able to arrange the boat for you.
    So if you're talking about how to spend four nights, fwiw, this would be my recommendation: if you arrive into Cochin on the first night, you can spend the entire next day exploring the area (most likely, around Fort Cochin/Jewtown) spend that night (night two) and then proceed south the next morning, spending two nights in the backwater area. Depending on your itinerary, you could then return to Cochin (If that's the direction you're headed) after night four.

  • Report Abuse

    I'd instead recommend a boat ride as combined with a back water homestay, to get a more complete sense of the backwaters. It's nice to have the boat ride AND to sit out by your lodging, just relaxing and watching the world go by (fisherman, families, etc)--and most waterside homestays will be able to arrange the boat for you.>>

    sounds idyllic. next September I have a big birthday and thanks to your input calinurse and this lovely trip report, julies, I am seriously considering suggesting to DH that we do something like this.

    I realise that I will need to start my own planning thread, and I have no desire to hijack yours, but in general how far in advance would you suggest booking flights/hotels etc?

  • Report Abuse

    So enjoying this thread! We've no immediate plans to go to S. India, but plan on it within a few years, and there are so many great ideas here.

    I'm with you annhig, the visit to backwaters/homestay sounds absolutely dreamy, and would make a very special birthday trip! Go for it!

  • Report Abuse

    Thank you all for chiming in. All opinions are appreciated. While I am all for the home stay, unfortunately my husband prefers a more modern accommodation. I think my real question is whether there is enough to do in Cochin or close by for two days. We plan on spending two days touring the backwaters on different boats in two areas, with our emphasis on the smaller canals and villages, so I don't think we will lack in experiencing the backwaters. We are really not one to just sit back and lounge around...can easily do that at home by our beautiful pool or at close by beaches. For us, exploring markets, temples, and interacting with local people is more appealing. The ride from allepy to Cochin is only about an hour and we will have a driver at our disposal.

  • Report Abuse

    One of these days I will have a chance go get back to my trip report. To answer the questions:

    We got into Cochin at perhaps 3;00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. So that gave us the rest of that day and all of the next day in Cochin. I think we could have used another day there.

    As far as the backwaters I would make that a completely separate experience.

    We too are typically not those who just sit around and do a lot of relaxing while taking a trip in a foreign country. But we did find in southern India that the climate really kind of forces people to take a break say between noon and 4:00.

    dgunbug--Honestly having now taken three Indian trips (two in the north with drivers for a couple weeks each) and this latest one where we did not have a dedicated driver I really do not think you need a dedicated driver for this southern trip.

  • Report Abuse

    Yes - know we really don't need a dedicated driver this time, but my husband is having knee issues and preferred having the car at our disposal. On our last trip that was almost 4 weeks, we only had a driver for 8 days. There will be days that we hardly use the driver's services this time, but my husband figures the cost of renting a car, had he driven himself, would be just about the same. This is not to say that driving in India would ever be in the cards! I know it is so easy to get a driver along the way, but we will rest easy knowing our driver will be reliable and responsible. We once hired a driver between hue and hoi an, who could barely keep his eyes open. That was a scary situation. I imagine that we will sleep well at night after dealing with the heat which is so draining. At least this will help with the hard Indian mattresses which we have experienced in the past. Glad to hear that you can easily fill your time with two days in Cochin.

  • Report Abuse

    Returning to my trip report and Goa....

    Feb. 9

    This homestay is set on a lovely river, and it was enjoyable to observe the mists over the river in the mornings. After breakfast today we decided to take the kayaks out to check out the winding river area. We had an enjoyable paddle of an hour or two observing the birds, people in the local fields, and the abundant flowers all around.

    Our plan after lunch (a fabulous grilled whole fish) was to take in the market place in Mapusa. Once again we shared our taxi with a couple from France who were also staying at Olaulim Backyards. We’ve been to lots of markets in India, and, although there was variety, this one didn’t strike us as anything too special. After walking through the market, we stopped in another part of town to buy some cashews (a local specialty) at a recommended store in town.

    When we were finished in Mapusa, our taxi drover took us to the beach at Mandrem so we could have a walk along the beach as the heat of the day dissipated towards sunset. We’d been directed here because this is supposed to be one of the nicest and least developed beaches in northern Goa. It was fine but, as far as we were concerned, nothing spectacular. And, we didn’t come to Goa for the beaches anyway.

    Feb. 10

    Our plan for the day was to go into Panjim to walk around the town and have lunch. We were enjoying the couple from France who were also staying at our homestay, and so we set off with them in the taxi once again. On the way into town we made a stop at Fort Aguada, the best preserved (not that this is saying a lot) of the Portuguese forts in the area. It is set in a lofty, lovely location overlooking the Mandovi River and made for an interesting stop to clamber around for a bit.

    When we arrived in Panjim our taxi driver drove as close as he could into the Fontainhaus area and then dropped us off so we could take in the old part of town by walking through it. We wandered through the small back streets of the area stopping for photo ops and to admire the charming old houses. On our own we probably would have been a bit more adventurous and truly meandered, but we were with the French couple who seemed more intent on finding the restaurant for lunch than just wandering the back streets as we are wont to do when on our own. After checking out the prices at the restaurant that had been recommended to us, we instead searched around and found Viva Panjim which is in an atmospheric, high-ceilinged, old building and had much more moderate meal prices and fine food.

    Panjim was nice for an afternoon, but we were happy that we’d made the decision to instead base at Olalulim Backyards because we don’t think we’d have had a lot to do in Panjim. Two nights in Panjim would have been more than adequate for us if we were only there to walk the old part of the city for a couple hours and to visit Old Goa.

    Feb. 11

    After breakfast Savvio took us for a super interesting walk around the neighborhood which is full of the colorful traditional houses one sees so frequently in the older parts of Goa. He was pointing out things of interest like original, thin shell windows in some of the old houses, local plants and flowers, and cashew trees with cashews ready to be picked. We stopped to chat with one Christian couple who own one of these traditional houses because we were intrigued by the huge piece of netting spread all across their front veranda. It turns out it is to keep the fruit bats away. The couple invited us in for a tour of their house, and it was a rare and serendipitous opportunity to see the interior of one of these high-ceiling, ancient Goan private homes. For us, this is the essence of independent travel rather than just going to all of the major tourist landmarks.

    Later in the morning we were picked up for the two hour drive up to Wildernest Resort where we had booked two nights and planned to do some hiking in its quite remote location high up in the ghats of Goa near the Maharasthra border. This is one of those all-inclusive places that include room, board, and guided walks; we paid extra for their transportation services. (As I said, just having our lodging provide transportation for us worked out quite well on this trip, and most of our time we would not have needed or wanted to have a driver just sitting around waiting for us).

    It was a pretty drive, with the area becoming less and less settled as we climbed up into the ghats. We’d paid a bit more and reserved a room with a balcony overlooking the beautiful valley, and when in our room we spent quite a bit of time just sitting out on our balcony (one that would never, ever pass any kind of safety inspection in the U.S.) admiring the view.

    Upon our arrival at Wildernest we were welcomed and told what activities were available for us during our stay. As is typical in these places, strenuous activities are done early in the day or late in the morning because of the heat in the middle of the day. This is the typical all-inclusive package with buffet meals at set hours. After lunch we roamed the grounds a bit to see the layout of the place. Today they were offering free henna painting for guests, so I decided to get one hand and wrist done.

    A couple hours before sunset we left with the group on a guided hike to some areas with great overlooks of the ghats and nice views of the setting sun. It was a nice way to wind down the day and wasn’t a particularly strenuous hike.

    There was a fantastic program for guests following dinner. The troop of female dancers were performing types of dance I have never seen before, and I like dance so have seen a lot of varieties of dances. Not only were the barefoot dancers doing extremely difficult acrobatic moves and making human pyramids etc. during their dances, but they were doing these moves while balancing tall, elaborate headdresses that were lit with candles. And, some of the dancers performed a couple dances on top of mats with 4” or 5” iron spikes sticking straight up. I can’t imagine how they trained to be able to do this and how tough their feet must have been.

  • Report Abuse

    Feb. 12

    After breakfast today we joined the guided hike (maybe 3 or 4 hours roundtrip) to a waterfall. The guide was excellent, pointing out different types of plants and small creatures that we were not familiar with. This was a fairly strenuous hike with the need to clamber over boulders in some places. We were glad to be wearing hiking boots. Some of the women were wearing flip- flops; I don’t know how they did it.

    When we arrived at the waterfall, sticky with sweat, some in the group got in the pool of water by the waterfall and swam. There was also the option to have the guide row you out in a tiny boat into the small pool of water. We declined both options and just sat and admired the setting.

    We were starting to get into the southern India routine of resting in the heat of the afternoons after lunch. So, we took our books and found a shady spot by the infinity pool overlooking the valley to read a while for the rest of the afternoon. We decided we’d had enough hiking for the day and passed on the late afternoon hike to a different viewpoint than the one we’d visited the previous evening. Instead we sat on our balcony to observe the setting sun.

    I think there may have been some sort of program for guests after the buffet dinner, but we passed on that and returned to our room for some relaxation on the balcony before bed.

    In our opinion, unless you are just coming to spend a day or two relaxing in an attractive place, two nights at Wilderness is sufficient because of the limited guided hiking options. As far as we could tell, there is only one morning walk (to a waterfall with a pool beneath it) and two evening walks.

    I looked at the website someone had linked, and parts of it do seem deceiving to me. As far as nature-related activities, we were offered a hike each late afternoon and a morning hike. At one point we did run into another couple and their guide who were off on some sort of different late afternoon walk.

    We paid 7500 rupees per night for the package for two people. Our round trip transportation from Olalulim Backyards to Wildernest and the from Wildernest to our next lodging in Arco Iris was 1200 rupees (about $20). This is why I've said we did just fine using our lodging places to arrange transportation for us. And, it was much cheaper than having a driver on retainer all the time.

    I know many of us think that international tourists are the target audience of many of India's resorts and larger hotels, but on this trip we saw a recurring occurrence. As at all of the larger, fancier hotel or resort type properties we stayed at, the majority of guests here at Wildernest were domestic tourists. During our trip we definitely saw evidence of India's quick-growing middle and upper middle classes who can afford to spend money on nice vacations. We also observed that fluency in English is regarded as key to aspirations of affluence for Indian families. Throughout our trip we noticed that among these more upper class, wealthier Indians family conversations with even very young children were held in English rather than one of India's native languages. In the better schools children are learning Hindi, their local language, and English. Parents who are themselves fluent in English are first teaching Engloish at home, rather than waiting for their children to learn it in school.

  • Report Abuse

    interesting observations, julies. we also ran into quite a few local tourists in Sri Lanka and they too communicated in english a lot of the time.

    thanks for the tips about Wildernest - and transport. Which hotel did you ask to organise the transport - the one you were leaving or the one you were going to?

    and did you book direct or through a website like Agoda? [with whom I once had a bad experience so I am loath to use them]

  • Report Abuse

    Fantastic trip report, Julie !! Thank you, thank you. Writing this must take a LOT of time!

    Did I miss where you give the name of the Kerala backwaters Aleppey area homestay which you don't recommend? Or is in a coming installment? Planning a return future trip, I'm eager to know which of the many it was.

    Interesting observation about Indian tourists in Indian resorts. Have noticed that, even more on most recent trip in Feb 2015 than previously (specifically, at Orange County Kabini and Taj Madikeri). It puts a different spin on that vague expression about "searching for the real India." The real India is many things, people, places, of course--including what you observed re domestic tourists.

    A look at reviews on tripadvisor is also evidence of ever-growing numbers of in-country tourists, as well as some cultural differences in what's considered important. (Many of these review photos reviewer in one of the posted scenes (-: .)

  • Report Abuse

    annhig--

    We booked directly with Wildernest. They had wanted a wire transfer for a deposit but backed away from that and just trusted us when I told them how much a wire transfer costs someone in the US. We also booked with them for their transportation package. This is the only place we used for round trip transportation, and we did it because they are so remote. All other places we just used a lodging to book transportation to the next location.

    Calinurse--

    Our backwaters homestay was at the home of the man who owns the bike trip company we went on. I think they only offer rooms to people on their bike trips, so no need for you to worry about booking the place. I'll be elaborating on this as I get to the bike portion of the trip. And, yes, this is time consuming, but I want to do it for myself so that in the future I'll have this to look back at and remember. I've already forgotten a lot of details of the trip, and I know that as time progresses I'll be forgetting even more.

  • Report Abuse

    Feb. 13 Arco Iris in Curtoim, Goa

    Nothing is too far away in Goa, so after breakfast Wildernest's driver took us on the two hour drive south towards our B&B at Arco Iris in the small town of Curtorim. I'd chosen this location because we wanted an opportunity to visit some of Goa's historic houses, and this is in the heart of that area. Set on a large front lawn, Arco Iris is a very large historic home with beautiful encaustic tile floors. It has been carefully restored to serve as both a guesthouse and a family home for the owners and their two daughters. Knowing that Arco Iris is not right in a town with eating options, we’d arranged to have lunch there after arrival.

    As at Olalulim Backyards, this owner was also very helpful in assisting us to arrange a driver and an itinerary. So, after lunch we set out in a taxi to first visit the 450 year old Braganza Mansion a few towns over. We were shown around the house by the very old lady who is a descendent of the original owners. The house was stuffed full of various kinds of artifacts and was interesting in a kind of eerie time warp manner.

    After this we made a stop at Rachol Seminary. We arrived at the very end of daily visiting hours and thought we were out of luck. But, the driver went up and asked if we could visit, and soon we were having our own private guided tour of this 400 year old seminary that still actively educates students. We saw both the public spaces and some of the private spaces. This was a venue that we never would have thought of visiting on our own, so we were glad our hostess had suggested this.

    Sunset was approaching as we made our way to Benalulim Beach where we intended to walk now that the heat of the day was over. Once again, we weren’t particularly impressed by the rather commercialized beach. But, we did find a great, casual seafood restaurant for dinner. It was a long day, and we were ready for bed by the time we got back to Arco Iris.

    Feb. 14 Arco Iris

    Before having breakfast we set out for a short walk to observe the Arco Iris’ environs. We didn’t have a lot of time but enjoyed our walk around this residential neighborhood of large, lovely houses. We’d booked the taxi driver for the entire day, and he arrived mid-morning. Our first stop was the local Fab India store. Even though I am not typically a shopper, I became kind of addicted to Fab India on this trip, and I think we visited four different branches in four different cities.

    Shopping done, we set out for Loutolim where we walked around the small, local market for a few minutes before visiting the nearby Alvares House, a grand mansion turned into museum. The architecture was different from anything else we’ve seen in India and it made for an interesting hour or so. When making our plans with the owner of Arco Iris, I had a list of a few things from my guidebook that I wanted to see but relied on her advice for other suggestions and routings.

    Most tourists in Goa visit a spice plantation, and this was suggested to us for the afternoon. I’d read about some of these touristy spice plantations and didn’t know if we really wanted to do this, but we were told we’d be visiting a different type of spice plantation way off the typical tourist track. And, it was. We drove for quite a long time before arriving at Tanshikar Spice Farm in Netravali. We pulled up to this large, seemingly almost deserted farm that had an open-air restaurant. We were a tad apprehensive, not knowing whether the food was safe, but were soon assured by some people who were staying in the vicinity and who’d eaten there that the food was good. So, we sat down at the picnic tables and bought lunch for us and our driver. We soon found out why it seemed so quiet; all of the workers were on their lunch break and were eating and relaxing a short way away.

    When we were done with lunch the young man who owns the place came out to take us on our private tour (so much for my being worried this would be super touristy). This completely organic farm has been in the family for several hundred years, and the family still lives in the original house. It was a fascinating tour because the farm produces both tree spices and ground spices. He was a great guide and showed us things like how each vanilla plant has to be manually pollinated on the precise day that it is ripe for pollination.

    The tour of the plantings and barns and bee hives over, the man took us into get a look at the family compound so we could see how the family lives and how some of the spices are dried and mixed there. In many ways living conditions were no different than they were many generations ago--the floor is still renewed annually with cow dung to keep it clean and waterproof. This visit spoiled us for all of the spice demonstrations we’d see when in Kerala (there were many, and every place was anxious to show off their spice plants).

    It was getting to be late afternoon by the time we were done with the tour, and we had a longish drive to Agonda Beach. Just as we’d done the day before at Benalulim Beach, we took a sunset walk along the beach. Even though there were lot of restaurants and bars, this beach with its periodic large rock formations was more authentically Indian in that there was a large cow strolling the beach. When the sun was set, we set off for a dinner out with some Indian acquaintances we’d met at Wildernest.

    It had been a long day by the time we returned, we were tired, and we had to pack up so we could catch our 7:00 am train from Madgaon station. From there we would be taking the first leg of our trip on the Konkan Express down to northern Kerala.

  • Report Abuse

    julies-- thank you for such wonderful, detailed reports! Your choices are fascinating and I want to follow in your footsteps!

    When I do return to India, I will be studying your trip reports carefully for great ideas. You really do turn your trips into wonderful adventures!

  • Report Abuse

    Glad I am helping people out. As you can probably tell by now, we like to have variety in our trips and usually don't do the standard itineraries or options.

    When I get some time, I'll get back to writing some more.

  • Report Abuse

    Feb. 15 train to Kannur, for a stay at Blue Mermaid on Thottada Beach

    The same taxi driver (he’d been spending a lot of time with us) picked us up bright and early (too early for breakfast even) so we could be sure to make the 7:40 train. When we check out of rooms we always carefully do a double and sometimes triple check to make sure that we haven’t forgotten anything. We did the same at Arco Iris, and it wasn’t until several days later that I started to wonder where my favorite pair of sandals was. I couldn’t figure it out, and I finally e-mailed Arco Iris.

    Sure enough, I’d left them there. We’d carefully checked our room the morning we left, but in the dim dawn I hadn‘t been thinking about making sure to also look outside the front door. This is India where everyone removes their shoes outside, and this is a large house with several sets of guests and two children, so there were lots of shoes on the steps in front of the house. I never even though about the fact that I’d left mine there too. When I contacted her, the owner was kind enough to mail them to me at a place we had an upcoming reservation.

    Since our plans weren't firm when I was booking train tickets, I was playing the India train ticket cover-your-number game. So, I actually had three different sets of train tickets for the Goa to Kannur leg of the journey. Our train was delayed, and while we waited, I walked through the train station in search of some food for us for breakfast. I finally stopped at a very busy restaurant with lots of turn-over and bought some cooked food to go. My husband was a bit apprehensive about eating train station food, but we were hungry and had no bad after-effects. We wanted to take this train trip and do it during the day since it is supposed to be one of the most scenic journeys in India. It was quite interesting scenery along the coast, but the trip was so long that we didn't just sit and stare out of the window the entire time but also spent some time reading.

    Surprisingly, we only had four people in our six person 2AC compartment. Of, course people who had traveled the day before in our assigned car would have also had only four in the car because I had two reserved seats for that day that I never cancelled. Earlier in the trip I'd kind of lost track of dates and times and forgot to cancel the second set of tickets for this trip. By the time I remembered I should cancel, we were in Wildernest where we could get no connectivity. Despite the fact that Wildernest tells guests they can use the office computer to check e-mail, we were never successful in getting online. So, I was unable to cancel, and we paid for a journey not taken.

    Our train left an hour late, so it was 4:30 in the afternoon before we arrived in Kannur. We'd asked our guesthouse—Blue Mermaid-- to send a rickshaw for us. As we walked out the gates of the train station, a guy came up to us and asked if we were Julie. Apparently we didn’t look like the locals, and it was a pretty good guess that we were the people he'd been sent to pick up.

    As soon as we got in the rickshaw and started out over the bumpy roads, we said to ourselves that we were back in the India we knew from former trips. Cows, trash, and beeping rickshaws on bumpy, dirt roads. After a quick stop for some tangerines at a fruit stand (we'd read the advise to bring snacks since Blue Mermaid doesn't serve lunch) we bumped along and in about fifteen minutes arrived at our resort.

    Blue Mermaid is small and quiet and not at all upscale, but it definitely met our needs. The location is on the side of a small tidal lagoon and in front of the Arabian Sea. Initially I had requested one of their rooms with AC, but due to a mix-up (I’d changed my dates) we ended up with a room with no AC. Actually I think we ended up better than we would have been since we got a larger room on a corner so we’d have the opportunity to have both a private side balcony and the common front shared balcony. And, we could get cross breezes, so we were fine without AC. We’d been told that Goa is typically cooler than Kerala, and this is in northern Kerala so I am guessing that it has a climate much more similar to Goa’s.

    After settling in, we set out for a walk along the Thottada Beach. Where we were this beach is more of a cove with large rocks establishing a natural barrier at either end. Some guests who were leaving told us about a path we could follow up and around the rocks going inland for a while so we could then reach the next adjoining beach area. We returned for a pre-dinner beer and then joined the group for the communal, set-menu, dinner. Food was good, but I guess my only criticism was that protein/fish portions in particular were rather skimpy, and it seemed apparent that the owners were trying to minimize food costs by not providing the more generous amounts that other places we visited provided.

    Feb. 16 & 17 Blue Mermaid

    We are not typically beach people (my husband can take perhaps a half a day max of sitting around), but we felt in a six week trip we should try a stay at one of India’s beaches for a few days. Plus, we were now about two weeks into what had been thus far a pretty active vacation, so it was an appropriate time to take a break from doing a lot of sight-seeing. Amazingly, after a couple days here we got into the routine and could see how people would just take a relaxing beach vacation for a while. And, this experience ultimately ended up guiding us in our choices a week or so later when it got soooooo hot that we needed to make some decisions about what to do and where to go.

    We spent our two days here in a nice, gentle routine that is unusual for us on vacation, especially in an exotic location. Have breakfast, go for a really long walk on the beach or a bit inland in the midst of the local houses, swim for a while, retreat to the shade for some reading and a snack, in late afternoon take another long walk and have a swim, have a pre-dinner beer, have dinner, read a bit and go to bed. By the time we left, I was saying that we could have done this for a few more days.

    When I’d booked the place and made our plans, I’d thought that we would be bored and assumed we’d at least go into Kannur to check it out; we didn’t. And, when the hosts offered the opportunity to take in a long evening/night attendance at a theyyam, we declined preferring to just stay at Blue Mermaid.

  • Report Abuse

    Also following along. Skimpy protein would have been a big problem for me! Pity you mssed the theyyam event, it was a highlight for me. Amused about the sudden liking for beach time - I've had that experience occasionally on a long trip.

  • Report Abuse

    Continued thanks, Julie. mmmm.... just reading about your routine, let alone doing it, is making me very relaxed!

    We woke at about 3:00 a.m. to go to local temple for Theyyam performance.
    Colorful, fascinating, glad I was there-- but i can understand how easy it would be to sleep in.

    We stayed at Costa Malabari on the cliff, so to reach the beautiful beach required walk down many many metal stairs (and back up too of course). I'd have preferred a place like yours where the beach was right in front of the lodging.

  • Report Abuse

    I guess we were at the relaxation portion of our trip and also knew that we'd be doing some intense Hindu immersion later on, so we decided against the theyyam (as did most of the other people who were staying at Blue Mermaid).

    Despite the protein quibble we'd return to Blue Mermaid, and we'd request the same room we had.

  • Report Abuse

    Feb. 18 Fort Kochi
    Immediately after breakfast a rickshaw taxi driver picked us up for the train station where we’d be continuing our journey on the Konkan Express. This time it was a relatively short but beautiful journey of only five hours to reach Cochin. Despite the fact that I knew exactly what dates we’d be in Cochin, I hadn’t been particularly efficient in booking us a room. I’d spent a lot of time on Trip Advisor reading reviews looking for the sweet spot of location, price, comfort and charm. A couple of my choices didn’t have availability by the time I contacted them; then I saw a new listing—Fort Bungalow--on AirB&B that sounded really nice and met all of my criteria.

    We had stumbled across a gem—exactly what were looking for. We were the first guests who used AirB&B here and, when discussing a deposit, it took a bit of explaining to the owner how AirB&B works. He was obviously new at this being the owner of a guesthouse thing since, when I asked him about sending a taxi to pick us up at the train station in Ernakulam, he told us to just find a taxi on our own. This was the only time on our entire trip when an owner couldn’t provide this service. We did find a taxi, but the driver (who told us he knew every hotel and guesthouse in Cochin) did not know where ours was since it was so new. With a final phone call enroute, we finally arrived at Fort Bungalow.

    Owned by a young couple with a kindergarten age daughter, this large, old house is built around an open atrium. Apparently it took them two years to completely remodel the house which is in a great, quiet, non-touristy, and convenient location. We were offered a cool drink upon arrival and met the entire family. The man who owns the guest house also owns a local travel agency (don’t a lot of them?) and, hoping to make some money I am sure, he wanted to talk with us about our plans for our stay in Kerala. When we told him about our plans for our upcoming bike trip, he seemed a bit skeptical, asked us about our itinerary in detail, and said he had never heard of the agency we were planning to use. This perhaps should have been a red-flag for us about our bike trip, but it didn’t register at the time. And, we, of course, thought he was instead trying to sell us on his services.

    The very nicely decorated rooms have AC and open out on to the wide balcony that encircles the atrium on both of the upper levels. There is seating outside the rooms on the balcony, but this area is obviously not air conditioned. And, it was warm there at this time of year since the atrium is open to the outside. Unfortunately, the wifi signal did not reach inside our room, and if I wanted to use the wifi I had to go out to the balcony outside our room or go downstairs to the main living areas; that is when I noticed the heat. Breakfasts here were also good.

    It was late afternoon by the time we arrived, so shortly after our arrival we set out on foot to explore the area and to look for something to eat. When making our plans I’d been concerned that so many people say Cochin is so terribly touristy. Maybe those people never left the main few streets of the main tourist area. Here, as in so many other towns we’ve visited, it is not hard to get away from the tourists and into more regular places. We only had this one late afternoon/evening here and one full day. I know now we could have used another full day, but we had booked the cycling trip and only had so much time to explore Cochin.

    I’d planned our walk to include a stop at the local branch of Fab India; this one wasn’t that large or all that great though. We strolled around for a couple hours just getting a feel for the city before finding a restaurant/bar on the waterfront. We are great fans of harbors and enjoyed sitting at Hotel Seagull’s dining area that juts out into the harbor. The food was acceptable but nothing special, but being right there on the waterfront observing all of the after-dark activity in the harbor (and having the possibility to buy a beer for my husband) made it a good spot for us. In fact, the next night, after checking out some other possibilities, we ended up back here again.

    Feb. 19

    After a good breakfast we started to explore Fort Kochi. Our interests aren’t in just the typical tourist things but in getting a glimpse of the real town. We enjoy observing waterfront settings, so we set off in a different direction than most tourists automatically veer towards. Instead of automatically going to the northwest where the Chinese fishing nets are, we walked up to the very north of Fort Kochi where the ferries dock and then headed along the road that follows the waterfront south and east. In fact, if we’d had another day in Kochi we would have taken some of these ferries across to see more of the port and other areas of Fort Kochi. But, we had to pick and choose since we just had this day.

    This route was not at all touristy, and it was very interesting observing the shops, warehouses, waterfront and lives of real people. Plus, we got some interesting photos. When finished with this enjoyable walk, we headed back into the more touristed district so we could visit Mattancherry Palace. We would have also visited the synagogue that was close by, but our timing was off and it was closed for several hours during the early afternoon.

    We wandered around a while and then found a nice, relaxing place in a shady interior courtyard of an older building to have a late lunch. After lunch we set out walking again. By now it was later afternoon and a perfect time to take the seaside promenade along the more touristy western sea side of Fort Kochi.

    It was cooling down a little by this time, and we joined the many locals and tourists who were also taking advantage of a nicer part of day to walk along the shore. In places this was parklike and there were vendors set up with treats and souvenirs. Close to the Chinese fishing nets there were also boats where fishermen were repairing their nets and there were stalls selling all different sorts of fresh fish. It was a great time of day to stroll along here, and the changing light made for some good photo opportunities. For dinner we ended up returning to the same restaurant as the night before, and once again we enjoyed sitting outside and watching the smaller local fishing boats and the larger nautical vessels moving through the port area. Then, it was time to start to pack up to get organized for the big bike adventure that would start the next day.

  • Report Abuse

    Yes, it was very definitely an interesting trip with lots of different types of things to do. But, as I said at the beginning, just go earlier than we did so you don't have to cope with the heat.

    Weather was in the low 90s (35), but with the humidity it felt about ten degrees warmer. And, if you exerted yourself, it was even worse. About six weeks after we returned from India we were in Merida, Mexico when it hit 110 for two days. Honestly, this didn't feel as bad as India had.

  • Report Abuse

    THE BIKE TRIP

    If we had to assign a grade, we’d give this a D/D+. It got this rating primarily because we had nice places to stay and we had nice bikes to ride. It will soon become apparent why the overall grade is so low.

    Biking through Kerala sounds fascinating, and it has been on our bucket list for a long time. We are purely recreational cyclists, but we’ve done trips of around a week before in France, Germany and Vietnam, so it is not as though we are completely inexperienced. However, we are also not by any means biking fanatics or super fitness freaks. And, we are also getting older and know what our limits are.

    I started looking around for a trip that would meet our needs and finally decided that a custom trip would be what we wanted since we wanted more than a day or two biking around Cochin but didn’t feel we could tackle one of the typical trips that goes up into the hills in Munnar. Our European trips have been self-guided, and we enjoyed those because we can operate pretty independently. Our Vietnam trip was deluxe in terms of service (we had a guide, a driver, and a mechanic who would ride the bike if we got too tired) but very inexpensive.

    I had extensive e-mail exchanges and a phone call with the owner of a small cycling company—Cycling South India. I’d been led to believe from his website that we would have a driver in a sag wagon and a guide, and this is what we were looking for. I told the owner our ages (past 65), said we had not been on bikes in four months because of the arctic-like climate where we live, said we were purely recreational cyclists who like to take leisurely rides so we could stop to take photos, said we were quite concerned about the heat, AND said we did not want to do any strenuous hills. In fact we had several lengthy discussions about hills, how steep they were, what the grades are etc.

    His company primarily deals with German cyclists, and he kept telling me that he’d had many older German clients do much more difficult itineraries with no difficulty. In fact, he said he had some Germans in their 70s who could cycle 200 kilometers a day. I told him we are not German and we are not nearly that fit and we had no desire to do anything that strenuous and we wanted to avoid any strenuous climbing. I thought he understood. But, perhaps he is an example of the Indian psyche I’ve so often heard about where they do not want to tell you no and just keep nodding and agreeing.

    He assured me he could come up with an easier bike trip that was a perfect match to what we wanted. We debated the idea for about a week and finally decided that if we did not do this now we would never do it because we are only getting older (this is starting to be a recurring theme in discussions we have about trips). In theory it sounded good. So, we booked.

    Our first warning, and in retrospect we should have called a halt immediately was when he arrived in Cochin to pick us up for the start of the trip. There is not much parking around Fort Bungalow (the B&B we were staying in Cochin), so he double parked in the middle of the road and told us to get in with our suitcases. He was in a small sedan with a bike rack with three bicycles on the back of it. This was a tight squeeze because the trunk couldn’t be opened since the bike rack was mounted there, and we had two regular size suitcases and two day packs. We had assumed we’d have a vehicle large enough to serve as a sag wagon, and we assumed we’d have a separate guide. So, we were thinking that this was just the pick up service, and we’d be stopping somewhere else to get the other person and a larger vehicle. Naïve……And, what is that old saying about assume once and assume twice you are an ass?

    In our e-mailed planned itinerary he had told us that we’d be driven to the outskirts of Cochin so we would not have to deal with the busy city traffic. This sounded good to us and was similar to the descriptions of other bike tours departing form Cochin. As we rode along in the backseat of the car my husband and I kept looking at each other, waiting for the moment we’d get the other person and the van. Never happened. Instead about 30 to 45 minutes out of Cochin the guy pulled over to the side of the road and said we could start cycling there. His plan was that he would drive ahead in the car and stop at each intersection making sure that we had properly followed instructions and turned in the direction he told us to go.
    This one guy in the small sedan was the combo guide/driver/sag wagon. We were on the shoulder of a pretty busy road and didn’t even have an opportunity to test them to see if we had the right size bikes. I made a few trial circles around the shoulder to adjust my seat to the right height, and that was it.

    We are pretty adventurous and laid back people (and obviously fools), so we got out and started cycling. We are old hands at India and are used to traffic flow and patterns so we were not nearly as freaked out as most people probably would have been. And, we were able to handle the traffic going around us.

    More to come……

  • Report Abuse

    OMG, Julie...my heart is pounding about the rest of your bike ride. No kidding. I am in suspense...

    Indeed, that is the most disappointing Fabindia ever. It was better now (Feb 20150 than first time there in 2008, so you can imagine what it was like (or not like) 7 yrs ago.

    Always in the market for future stays, I'm going to read up now on Fort Bungalow!!

  • Report Abuse

    oh dear. I think that all of us who travel outside our own countries [and sometimes inside them] have had those experiences where the heart sinks and you want to get out of the situation but that seems impossible, and then you realise that you are committed and it all just gets worse.

  • Report Abuse

    Oy! Anxiously waiting for the rest of the story!

    It's wonderful to be able to turn those semi-horror experiences into great after-the-fact stories, but experiencing them is a different story! Thanks for being able to come back and share this with the rest of us!

  • Report Abuse

    You are brave souls. My husband wanted me to ride bikes in Vietnam, but we curtailed that after a few minutes when I realized I didn't have proper clothing and my pants were sticking to my legs so much from the heat, that I could hardly pedal. I can't imagine dealing with the traffic in India along with the heat. Can't wait to hear further details! These are the stories that make traveling so memorable.

    As a quick aside, one of the most shocking stories I've heard was from my cousins. As they were transported from the airport to their first hotel in Delhi, the driver hit a pedestrian walking on the highway. Can you imagine how they felt when a group of men lugged the half dead man into the back of their vehicle so the diver could transport him to the hospital!

  • Report Abuse

    Oh dear, this does not sound like it will end well!

    Interested to read that asking for what you wanted did not produce it. I thought my difficulties of that kind in in India were because I was a solo female, perhaps not. I found that if my driver was used to going A-B-C-A, telling him I wanted to go A-C-B-A would have no effect, until I got REALLY insistent.

  • Report Abuse

    Let's just put it this way. My husband now says if anyone asks about biking in India, just tell them to forget it. There are many better places to cycle.

    And, as you'll soon hear, this cycling trip is when the heat really, really began to get to us. Vietnam was actually a truly fascinating cycling trip (much more so than India) despite the fact that it was also hot there. Both places we wore these scarves we have that are filled with some sort of gel. When you soak the scarf in water the gel absorbs the water and keeps you cool for a while. They do help. And, rather than helmets (of course rural India is where one would not want to have a head injury) we wore big floppy hats for sun protection.

    Kathy--I don't think it was because you were a single female. In retrospect I think it is because some people (agencies) have a set idea of what they think would be best for you and just proceed to deliver that even if you have said you want something else. I know what you mean by REALLY insistent. This guy did not get it until the day I finally told him I was really angry.

    dgunbug--Last year when we spent three weeks in Nepal we had a somewhat similar incident. As we were driving along the only main road in Nepal we saw an overturned truck down at the bottom of perhaps a 6 or 8 foot embankment. It didn't look good and I made a comment to the driver and my husband about how I hoped the driver was okay. About 15 minutes later as we were driving through a local village, our car was flagged down, and the driver stopped to have a discussion with the men who had stopped us.

    It turned out they had somehow transported the injured driver to their village but needed transport for him to the hospital. The driver asked us, and we of course agreed. So, a couple guys helped this obviously pretty seriously injured man into the front seat. He was lying with his head back and moaning in pain. As we approached the larger town where the hospital was the driver had to stop to ask the policeman and several locals where the hospital was. It wasn't at all obviously marked. Then, we stopped at the edge of the main road where there was a large tree with a bench around it. The man got out and made it to the bench. He was on his own to find his way down a maze of narrow streets (too small for the car) to reach the hospital. We are all so fortunate to have all of the opportunities we have just by virtue of having the luck to be born where we were born.

  • Report Abuse

    Ann, don't worry, we here in the U.S. are familiar with 'don't ask, don't tell"! Glad to have you among us again.

    Julie, don't leave us in suspense too long! I'm dying to hear about the rest of the bike trip!

  • Report Abuse

    Yes, Ann, let us know if we can help. I expect this is one of those odd things that gets flagged by the computer.>>

    @kathie - I think you're right. I was being "too" public spirited trying to place a link on each forum to a "master thread" for the Rugby World Cup and I think that the algorithms got me.

    @crosscheck - thank you. I'm hoping that when they get into work tomorrow the mods will see sense and relent.

  • Report Abuse

    I'm back. My computer time has been devoted to trying to plan an upcoming trip. But, I figure I had better finish this report before I set off again to new horizons.

    And, I want to tell everyone about a really good weather website I found while working on planning our next trip. weatherspark.com It not only gives the highs and lows for the area but also tells how much time and when in a month the temperatures (taking into account the humidity and dew point) will be cool, comfortable, oppressive etc. And, it tells whether the precipitation is usually light, thunderstorms, heavy etc.

    Bike trip Day 1 Feb. 20

    By the time we finally started cycling it was probably around 10:00 or so. Definitely too late of a start for the conditions. We were cycling through some smaller towns and did fine though we definitely got some strange looks from the residents as two white people cycled through on their own. Cycling here was what we had anticipated, mostly flat with a few rolling hills. The scenery outside of the towns was interesting, but we are very happy just observing every day life and local conditions. And, I love to look at houses anywhere I am in the world.

    It was early afternoon, and the peak heat of the day, by the time we rode into Soma Birds Lagoon in Thattekad, near the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. This is a small resort with lovely grounds next to the Periyar River. It attracts lots of bird watchers (that is what most of our fellow guests were).We were impressed and thought it looked like a very nice place to spend two nights.

    As a welcome we were given very large hollowed-out coconuts with a straw inserted so we could have some refreshing and rehydrating coconut water. We did the typical India check-in routine in the open air lobby, and then it was time to be led to our room. I walked outside with the desk person and our bike guide but all of a sudden discovered that my husband wasn’t with us. He’d stayed sitting down in the lobby. In a weak voice he said, “I fell really woozy.” He has to be extremely careful about the sun, and was probably overdressed (he had on a long sleeve Coolibar tee shirt and knee length trousers) and under hydrated for the conditions.

    Right away I knew he had heat exhaustion. We got his sweat-saturated shirt off and applied cool cloths and then ice in a towel until he was feeling better. The desk clerk then told us that even some of the local people (who I would assume were accustomed to the heat) had been suffering from the hot and humid conditions and were having similar reactions. At that point we went to our air conditioned room and just rested in the cool for a couple hours.

    While in our room we had a discussion about whether, because of the heat and humidity, we should just can the idea of a cycling trip. My husband insisted he could handle the heat and promised to drink more water both prior to bike riding and while riding than he had that day. And, we took a look at the clothes he had and found some other lighter-weight things he could wear and still be protected from the sun.

    Also, right away, as soon as he saw the effects of the heat on my husband, the guide had told us that to avoid the worst of the heat we’d have to get a really early start every day—around 7:00—not exactly my idea of a relaxing bike vacation. As the heat continued during our trip, the guide also was realizing that this was heat that could sap your strength and told us that he was planning to notify everyone on his next trip (a group of Germans who were undertaking a very long, three week trip starting in Goa two days after our trip ended) that they would need to leave every day at 7:00.

    By late in the afternoon, my husband felt well enough that we ventured outside into the heat to walk around the grounds a bit. They are nice. No swimming pool though, and that would have been really appreciated during our stay. There is an area where there are some caged farm animals for guests to enjoy, and we stopped to see those. We also ventured a ways off the property to walk around the local houses. After dinner at the on-site restaurant, we went to bed knowing that we would have an early morning.

    Bike trip Day 2 Feb. 21

    Today was the ONE day of the entire trip when the guide would actually ride with us. Our destination was the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary where we would visit the park. It is a lovely area for cycling, and we enjoyed the scenery. As we were cycling down the road through a rubber plantation, the guide had us stop so we could get a demonstration from the man who was tapping the rubber trees. This was interesting to hear about and was the type of opportunity we’d assumed we would have had through our cycling trip. After all, there is a difference between a self-guided trip (where you are given the instructions on where to ride) and a guided where the guide helps to interpret things for you. If we look at the trip on the spectrum from self-guided to guided, I’d place this trip about 3/4 down the way towards self-guided.

    When we arrived at the very edge of the Bird Sanctuary, the guide’s bike had a flat tire. And, unbelievably, he didn’t have a repair kit with him. It was in his car. Incredible! A bike guide who doesn’t come equipped and prepared. So, we walked our bikes the block to a local B&B where he is friends with the owners. Here he intended to see if they had anything he could use to fix his tire. We had some tea and chatted with a few people (owners and guests). Come to find out, we weren’t going to be able to go into the sanctuary to walk around anyway. That morning a wild elephant had been spotted, and some of the guests were excitedly telling about their fairly close encounter with the elephant. Apparently it had been five years since a wild elephant had been spotted in the sanctuary, so this was an unusual occurrence.

    So, the morning had been a bust. The return to our resort was the same way we’d ridden there, so we agreed with the guide we’d start out on our own (we didn’t think we could get lost) and meet him there after he had fixed his tire. As we were riding back, I spotted a minor road that had a sign for Camp Hornbill, and we decided to ride down there to explore a bit since I knew many tours to the area use that as lodging and I was curious. We rode on to the grounds, and from what we saw, we much preferred the place we were staying. So, score one point for our guide and his selection of lodging. We continued on what was now a dirt path riding through some fields and plantings until we ran out of a path and reluctantly turned back because we had been enjoying this peaceful and remote area. The guide was very nervous when we got back because he couldn’t figure out what had had happened to us or if we’d gotten lost. I figure I was paying him for the day, and if I wanted to do some exploring on my own, I could rather than feeling obligated to make a bee line back to the resort to meet the guide.

    It was now around lunch time and was hot, hot, hot. After lunch in the open air restaurant which overlooks a lagoon, we retreated to the air conditioning in our room. We’d thought that this would be the usual India heat and by 5:00 or so we would be comfortable outside. Not so. It was oppressively hot and muggy until about 9:00. The air was thick. Too hot to even walk around the area. We just sat and read and had a beer and quick snack for dinner since we didn’t feel the need for another big meal. The next day the real cycling would begin.

  • Report Abuse

    The background music is becoming increasingly ominous! This is a case of the guide who couldn't lead straight. So sorry to read about your frustrations with the guide and the challenges of the heat - an unfortunate adventure, despite all your planning.

    Looking forward to the rest.

  • Report Abuse

    Julie - Where are you planning to go next? Thanks for taking the time to write up this report. We are getting more excited about our trip to India, the more we read and plan.

  • Report Abuse

    As clear as you were about what you wanted, the guide still didn't get it. So sorry you ran into this. And the heat really made it an ordeal.

    I do appreciate you writing about your experience.

  • Report Abuse

    Kathie and progol--One of the reasons I decided to elaborate on the details of this cycling trip was as a caution to other people who may be considering the idea of cycling in Kerala, with or without this agency.

    Yes, crosscheck, you can now understand why I prefaced this trip report by telling people to take this trip in a different time of year than we did or to be prepared for the heat and humidity. And, you now get why at the end of this trip we vowed never to take another trip to the tropics in anything but the coolest season there.

    dgunbug--We are doing last minute planning for a trip to Sicily (our first time there).

    Have you all seen the BBC series The Story of India? We should have watched it prior to our first trip to India but are finally watching it now. We just saw episode 3 which has many scenes from Kerala where we visited. Highly recommended if you haven't seen it.

  • Report Abuse

    Bike trip Day 3 and 4

    Today the real cycling challenge began. We left good and early, hoping to miss the worst heat of the day. Our destination was a two night stay at Dewalokam Farm in Thodupuzha, but first we had to get there. Once again the area we were cycling through was very picturesque, through a lovely area with rubber plantations and small farms. Normally when cycling in a nice area we would stop to take lots of photos. On this trip we didn’t because we felt we mainly just had to cycle, cycle, cycle in order to keep going and to beat the heat. On the horizon there were hills. Little did we know that we would have to cycle up and over them (a set every day)—a long slog even if there hadn’t been any heat.

    Occasionally we stopped to rest, and we stopped in a small town once with the guide for some fresh orange juice. Water and fruits during our cycling to keep up our strength was a part of the deal. The strange thing though that we could not figure out was that even though the guide was to supply water, and we definitely needed a lot of water while cycling in this type of condition, he didn’t stock up ahead of time. And, twice we ran out of water. His intention always was to purchase a couple more bottles in the next village. To us this seemed like another example of lack of foresight and planning. After all, he knew we’d need water. Why not just purchase several bottles at a time? And, this was in real contrast with our guided (and cheaper) cycling trip in Vietnam where there was a constant supply of ice cold water right from the cooler.

    We started to climb and climb, getting more annoyed and hot and tired by the minute. Here was another problem. We thought there would be a sag wagon if we wanted to hop in for a while and forego cycling up the worst of the hills. A sag wagon means that you can throw your bike in the van and hop in for a ride yourself. With this set up if we had wanted to ride to the top of the hill, it entailed mounting the bikes on the rear rack of the car (probably a 10 to 15 minute process). Hardly worth it, and that option was not offered to us. So, we kept slogging along but did complain to the guide. His response to us was the kind of encouragement one would give children who were attempting something extremely difficult. And, when we finally arrived exhausted at the top of this hill, he asked us if we didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment. No, we felt a sense of exhaustion!

    We arrived at Dewalokam in time for lunch (this is one of those all-inclusive places). The guide’s original trip proposal had been for a one night stay here, but as I read the reviews of the place and all of the glowing comments we decided to have a two night stay here.

    It is a nice place, a working farm, in a lovely setting on a river. Lodging is in rather sparsely furnished rooms in a U-shaped building that was purpose-built for guests. Communal set-menu meals are very good, but there is way too much food. One of our lunches was a Keralan feast meal of thirteen different courses served on a banana leaf. We don’t need that many large meals a day. There is a pool, and the river is swimmable (I went in both and preferred the river).

    Every day there is an activity planned for around 4:00 in the afternoon and another in the morning. The first day one of the owners took interested guests on an afternoon walking tour of the gardens in the plantation, showing off different types of crops and spices. It was nice, but we’d seen spices before and it wasn’t really anything that new and exciting for us. And, by the end of the trip we’d pretty much had our fill of learning about every place’s spice garden.

    Our second day the guide had asked us if we wanted to cycle in the area, and we declined preferring to just partake of Dewalokam’s offers for guests. That day we went on the morning excursion to the other side of the river. You are rowed on a small raft platform across about 100 feet of water and then taken on a guided walk of the plantation. And, you also are taken to see an incredibly large colony of fruit bats. Unlike the bats we are familiar with that are nocturnal, these were all swooping around in the middle of the day. There was some sort of excursion to the local village in the later afternoon, but we didn’t join in since we had already cycled through the village. I did join in the cooking demonstration the chef gave as he prepared the evening meal. It was definitely interesting, and participants were each given a cookbook

    We enjoyed our stay at Dewalokam but probably would not give it Trip Advisor’s
    ubiquitous 5 star reviews. The hosts were great, the food was good, there were interesting activities, and the location was nice. So, why wouldn’t we give it a five star review?

    The emphasis here is on interacting with fellow guests. You eat all meals at common tables, and there is almost an enforced happy hour prior to dinner. Normally, this is us, and we just love to participate in such situations. The problem we had, and maybe we just hit an off group, was that nearly all of the guests were the same—Brits who were looking for a rather sheltered experience in India and who had had their custom trips completely arranged by a very well-known (and pretty pricey) agency. Yet, despite the fact this was customized, they were all taking pretty much the identical trip. We are much more adventuresome and looking for different types of experiences than nearly all of the guests we met here. The apparently provincial-minded group were all chatting about things at home that just did not interest us at all, and we didn’t find any stimulating conversation. We much prefer meeting people from diverse backgrounds and talking about their unique trips and their ideas and their countries. As I said, maybe it was just luck of the draw. But, maybe this really is who the typical clientele is here, and I am inclined to think that.

    While we are at Dewalokam, another group of cyclists came riding in. These people we could chat with and did have interesting conversations with on the one night our stays overlapped. They were on what we’d consider a real tour, and with an agency we should have probably used. Except, these people were real dedicated cyclists who were on a standard trip and were cycling up to Munnar; we knew that was definitely way more than we were interested in. The cyclists had a van, a driver and a guide—just what we thought we were getting.

  • Report Abuse

    Yikes...sounds like hell to me! All that biking up hill would be way too strenuous for me...especially living in the flat lands of southern Florida. What a shame that your guide was so poor.

  • Report Abuse

    Yet, despite the fact this was customized, they were all taking pretty much the identical trip>>

    mm - I've come across that recently, particularly when I've been researching our Cuba trip. Trouble is you don't necessarily know until you get there that everyone else is on the same treadmill. Easier for them, less good for the customer.

  • Report Abuse

    I really appreciate all of the details. I'm so sorry the bike trip wasn't what you had asked for. Are you going to tell us the name of the company that set this up for you?

    You may remember that we had an all-inclusive stay at Glenburn outside of Darjeeling. While there were things we didn't like about our stay, most of the other guests were very interesting people who had designed their own trips. Had we had a group like yours, I now realize that stay would have been even worse!

  • Report Abuse

    annhig - So happy to have you back :)

    julies - Yeah, names please. We met up with a Brit package tour in Orccha. Sort of low class, but not annoying enough to mess with our travel high. I wouldn't put all tours down though. We had a blast with a fun group on our Galapagos boat.

  • Report Abuse

    We used Cycling South India to do our bike trip. The owner was our guide.

    To clarify about the people who were at Dewalokam. They were all traveling independently and had their own drivers, but it just seemed that they were all going to basically the same areas and staying at basically the same lodgings. I think it suited most of them to a T, but when we were in Marari Beach we ran into a couple who had also been at Dewalokam. Audley had put them at a beach resort that probably cost about four times what we were paying at our small guesthouse. And, these people commented they'd have been more happy in the type of place we were staying.

    Kathie--Interesting to hear you agree that in some places fellow guests can sometimes make or break an experience. I think perhaps our experience at Dewalokam was because we most frequently choose slightly different types of places. And, it just occurred to me that our experience there was very similar to another place on a Rajasthan trip we stayed that really was not us--Dungapur. Dungapur was very similar in the almost forced cocktail hour with the other guests, and there was communal dining at a large table. There we also didn't find anyone to mingle with who we felt we wanted to spend much time chatting with. It was basically a different type of clientele from us.

  • Report Abuse

    Bike trip Day 5—

    Before we started the day I’d asked our guide about the hills, and he reassured me there was nothing too bad. Wrong! We were fuming! It seems that there is no way to get from here to there in the area we were cycling without going up some long climbs. The scenery, however, was lovely and we had some interesting glimpses into lives of the local as we cycled through the area. This is a predominantly Christian area, and we cycled past many churches of unusual design.

    It was once again super hot, and we now started to talk about where we would go in a couple days when the cycling trip ended. Other than one reservation we had made based on the dates for a Pooram we wanted to observe, we had no plans at all for the remainder of our trip other than knowing that before leaving for home from the Bangalore airport, our final visit would be to Mysore.

    Our one objective in the rest of our itinerary plan was to try to find some places that weren’t so hot, so that obviously eliminated Tamil Nadu which is supposed to be even hotter at this time of year. Speaking of Tamil Nadu, our guide told us that all of the men and women we saw doing manual labor alongside the roads were from Tamil Nadu. Wages apparently are much higher in Kerala (it is the richest state in India), so people from Tamil Nadu come here to work.

    Kuruvinakunnel Tharavadu our destination for the night is a lovely place set on many acres of ground. So, score another point for the guide for choosing nice places to stay. What more could travelers ask for? Our room was in a separate building that is the ancestral home in this heritage property; the owners' house was just across the driveway affording the best of all worlds for all. There was a sitting room and a small kitchenette adjacent to our room. Our room was more normal ceiling height, but the adjacent sitting area was typical of the centuries old Keralan homes with small door openings and lower dark wood ceilings. We had peace and quiet and privacy all in a great setting with large, lovely grounds.

    Once again this was an ancestral place that had been in the family for many generations (a theme we came to learn about many times in Kerala). Apparently the tradition in Kerala is that the youngest son inherits the property and the parents. In many ways this make sense since the youngest son will also be the one who still has the energy to care for elderly parents.

    The hosts were very welcoming and were absolutely incredulous when they heard where we had just cycled from. They are perhaps 15 to 20 years younger than we are and said they never could have cycled the hills we just did. So this affirmed that we weren’t the ones whose perceptions of the hills were off base. Before dinner, after we’d showered and rested a while, the owner took us on a walk to visit his aunt and uncle who live on another large piece of property nearby. We were invited into their large, lovely home and had a 15 minute or so visit. This goes way beyond what we’d normally expect and was a fascinating glimpse of how these extended, landed families still live in Kerala.

    The next morning we set out for our final destination—the owner/guide’s house in the backwaters. Hot, hot, hot again, and once again a huge uphill climb. This was the point where I finally lost it and the guide finally got my message. I told him I was extremely angry about the hills since we had discussed this ahead of time and told him what we were doing was exactly what we did not want to be doing. Looking back on the entire experience, I think that the major difficulty is that in Kerala there are some areas that are quite flat, but getting to others involves going over hills. It probably is not possible to do a cycling trip of more than a couple days avoiding hills. I just wish this guy had told us off the bat that this was the situation.

    He did get my message and stopped his car about two thirds of the way up an extremely long climb and asked us if we wanted to ride in the car the rest of the way up. Despite the fact that it was a hassle to put the bikes on the car rack, we accepted. After we reached the summit, we got on the bikes again for a while to cycle another hour or so. At this point the guide (who by now had finally figured out that we are not die-hard cyclists) suggested that we just drive the rest of the way to his home because the traffic would be heavier is some places and it wasn’t the best cycling.

    We got in the car, and our cycling for the trip was done. Our itinerary was supposed to include another day of cycling tomorrow, but we told him we preferred to just take in the backwaters area in other ways. We do not need to cycle just for the sake of cycling, and we were driving through areas we’d probably be cycling through the next day anyway.

    When we pulled up at his home (another situation of an ancestral home he’d inherited along with the parents), we were somewhat dismayed. In fact, this turned out to be one of two places we’d stayed on our entire six week trip that I would not recommend. There was some junk lying around the yard (the kind of stuff that people who were hosting paying guests would keep cleaned up I should think). We went into the main family living area and met his wife and were later introduced to their two daughters. This stay is marketed as one where you get to meet the family and do some cooking lesson with the wife. No cooking lesson. And, interacting with the family meant that they sent their two girls (perhaps 11 and 14) to talk to us.

    No AC here anywhere, and it was extremely hot. After a shower and resting for a while, we set out to walk around the neighborhood. It was an interesting backwaters location and perhaps a block or two from the main river where all of the houseboats and local Alleppy ferries ply their way around the area. Later on we opened the gate that provides the property with privacy and pulled over some chairs so we could watch what was going on on the local small canal.

    We had a small patio outside of our room and sat there for a while after dinner (it had been brought to us to eat on the patio), slowly being eaten alive by the mosquitoes. About 8:00 or so we couldn’t stand the bugs any more so went into our room. There we discovered another problem. There were no screens on the windows, and we all know how attracted to light bugs are. And, it was sweltering in our room. Our choices were to have lights on and be attacked by mosquitoes (the curtains did keep them out somewhat) or to be in the dark.

    Hot, high humidity, no AC, no screens, no breeze, mega mosquitoes. We were done, we were fed up, we’d had it with this entire experience. We decided that we’d just forego the lodging in this house that we’d paid for for the next night and leave figuring our somewhere else to go.

  • Report Abuse

    You stuck it out longer than we would have. I'm relieved nothing terrible happened. The conundrum of killer mosquitos vs. intolerable heat reminds me of my backpacking days.

  • Report Abuse

    I thought I had done my due diligence on some of this. I'd corresponded with a guy over on TA who had done a private tour with this guide. But, here the guide served as a driver for a non-biking tours. He said the guide was a great guy, and he is a nice person. (We had a private guide in Vietnam who was not a nice person, so I really know the difference.) But, the person I'd been corresponding with over on TA said that this homestay was the highlight of his trip. I can't imagine! And, it certainly showed me once again that I need to look for multiple perspectives on places and tours.

  • Report Abuse

    Ouch...not a great experience. Perhaps the person you corresponded with on TA was a friend or relative of your guide. Hope the rest gets better. Didn't think the mosquitoes would be that bad that time of year. Glad to know that in advance so I'm sure to take my malerone.

  • Report Abuse

    Ouch...not a great experience. Perhaps the person you corresponded with on TA was a friend or relative of your guide. Hope the rest gets better. Didn't think the mosquitoes would be that bad that time of year. Glad to know that in advance so I'm sure to take my malerone.

  • Report Abuse

    This is a sample to see if I will be able to copy and paste a trip report. I have not been able to do anything in that format for the past few days. I’ve contacted the moderator but haven’t had a response.

  • Report Abuse

    I want to finish this off before we embark on our next adventure.

    Day 6 of bike trip—

    We got up determined to leave that day to find a better place. But, at breakfast time the guide told us about some things he had planned for us for the day since we had said we didn’t want to cycle. For a morning activity he had arranged for a local man to take us on a guided walk through the hidden paths that we never would have ventured out on our own since we would have gotten lost. And, for late afternoon (once again notice the timing so that there is nothing in the middle of the day), he arranged for a man to come pick us up in a small boat to go around in the very tiny canals. These were exactly the types of things that we had hoped to do in this area! So, despite the fact that the room was miserable, we decide to stay for the day and night because by the time we were back from the boat trip there would not be time to change lodgings. And, as is usual in these awkward situations, we were dependent on the guide for transportation. Part of our package included transportation to our next location.

    We set out on foot following our local guide to the teeny boat (local ferry canoe) to deliver us to the other side of this large river (the one all of the Alleppy houseboats go on and the one that goes down to Kollam). We walked down the main path and then back to a larger path that cut between the fields and lagoons. We stopped at a large church and convent and chatted with the local priest, saw some local shops and just generally took in the intriguing environment.

    After our walk ended around 11:00 we asked ourselves what we were going to do for the next five hours. We’d kind of had it just sitting in the yard of the guesthouse and wanted an excursion. So, we decided we’d take the large boats (water buses) that ply the river so we could visit Alleppy for the afternoon. After getting instructions on where to find the most convenient stop for the direction we wanted to go, we got on the boat with all of the local people who use this for transportation. I think this may have cost us maybe 10 or 20 rupees (nothing!).

    The hour-long ride down the river was super interesting as we saw exactly what people on those very pricey overnight houseboats see. It was really a fun trip and highly recommended as a do-it-yourself expedition. Alleppy was fine for about an hour of walking about and then a stop for lunch, but we weren’t particularly impressed. Then, we set off to find the boat that would take us back to our place. It was a tad confusing, so I stopped in a local boat office and asked about where to get the boat and when. We were told that there was a fancier boat leaving in just a few minutes—more of a tourist boat with an upper deck for better viewing. This one was more pricey, maybe about 50 rupees, but well worth it. And, there were definitely other tourists on this one riding on the upper deck. It was a great way to while away the afternoon, and we got as much out of it (or more) than if we had paid the big bucks for a private houseboat tour.

    When we returned, the guide’s wife was a bit annoyed with us since she had prepared lunch for us, and we were no where to be found. Too bad! We hadn’t been told that this was the expectation, and we had asked how to get to Alleppy by boat, so they knew we were going. We were served a cold drink and a snack, and our boatman arrived.

    Going slowly through all of the very small and narrow canals off the main river was definitely a highlight for us. Some are unfortunately now so clogged with water hyacinths—an invasive plant--that they are nearly impossible to get through. I took photos galore, and this was a fabulous way to spend a late afternoon when it wasn’t quite so hot any more.

    All in all, despite the fact that we were once again mosquitoes’ dinner that night, we were very glad we decided to stay to see what everyone comes to the backwaters for. Our way worked just fine, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend the overnight houseboat instead. We saw absolutely TONS of them parked in one area near Alleppy, with many more cruising up and down the river.


    Feb. 27 to March 2 Marari Beach

    Over the past week we’d been trying to figure out where to spend our four nights between the end of our cycling trip and the reservation we had for two nights in a very devout Hindu family’s home to observe a special family religious ceremony and a local Pooram. Dates for these were set in stone, and we couldn’t just do a bit of rearranging to our itinerary. This had to be factored into the fact that we were so hot that our other main planning concern was where to go where it wouldn’t be so hot. We thought about Munnar but on the advice of our guide decided against it because it was so far out of the way between Alleppy and our guesthouse in the River Nila area.

    Our cycling guide recommended the Marari Beach area which we had never heard of. Many of the guests at Dewalokam were also headed there, but in a much more upscale lodging than we ended up in and one that probably cost about four times as much. We finally decided that at least right by the Arabian Sea there might be some cooling breezes.

    After reading a lot of reviews on TA, I called Austin’s Marari Beach, which is front row on the beach with a better location than many of the small guesthouses located around there and has rooms with balconies which overlook the sea. This is nothing at all fancy, but it was just what we were looking for. Our pretty stark room had a bed, a small table, a chair and a private bathroom. And, it had AC! There were a couple chairs in front of our room on the common balcony, and we spent a lot of time here just watching the activities of the local families right in front of our balcony. Or, we read or used the internet. Breakfast is included in the price, and they serve an optional dinner which we had every night.

    Other than this it was a typical beach trip in really hot weather. Our routine was get up in the morning. Have breakfast at the tables set out in the shade in front of the guesthouse. Take a very long walk on the beach. Swim. Retreat from the sun and heat. Go for another swim. Have a snack we’d brought with us (no lunch served here). We’d sit on the balcony for the worst part of the middle of the day, or if it got too bad go into our air conditioned room to read for a while. Then, in late afternoon we’d walk again, swim again, return for a before-dinner beer, have dinner, relax (as though we hadn’t had enough of that yet during the day!) read, and go to bed

    The two different beaches we stayed at were very different. In the Kannur area, the beach was a series of small coves with rocky headlands at the ends, and we had to go up and find an onshore path if we wanted to get to the next beach. There were no restaurants along the beaches at all,

    Marari Beach, on the other hand, was a long sandy stretch with a couple widely spaced out small eating joints here and there. It is also an active fisherman’s beach. This was good and bad. While it made for interesting people watching observing the fishermen and their boats, in places it was not so good. Quite a ways down the beach to the south from the stretch we were staying on was an area that the local fishermen used as a toilet in the morning. Enough said. You get the picture. Needless to say it was better after high tide.

    Our most strenuous activity and only expedition while staying here was to walk perhaps four blocks to the small local shops to purchase some tangerines. Back away from the shoreline it was even hotter and more humid! We were drenched in sweat by the time we returned from this gentle, mid-morning walk, and we were very happy we’d stayed beach front and not a few blocks back where some of the other guest houses are located.

    All in all, on a long trip like ours, this ended up being a good solution as to how to fill in these super hot days.

  • Report Abuse

    Glad we've decided not to do the overnight boat trip. We are planning on hiring smaller boats as you did. I'm hoping the weather is not as hot as you encountered, but given that we are going around the same time as you, I'm not overly optimistic. There's something to be said about a modern hotel with air conditioning to retreat to! I give you lots of credit to have stuck it out with the mosquitos.

  • Report Abuse

    Pity about the overnight boat trip. Back when I did it, in 2001, there weren't that many boats. Just a few were parked where we were for the night. But they seem to have metastasized! Of course, back then they didn't have AC....

  • Comment has been removed by Fodor's moderators

113 Replies |Back to top

Sign in to comment.

Advertisement