Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Asia
Reload this Page >

Travelaw escapes the IZ for R&R in South India

Travelaw escapes the IZ for R&R in South India

Old Jan 8th, 2010, 07:50 PM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 375
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Travelaw escapes the IZ for R&R in South India

Duck and Cover!

Office meeting, Iraq:

Colleague 1: You know Trav, we just received a cable from the State Department warning against traveling to India. Maybe you should reconsider going there for your R&R.

Pregnant Pause – Trav looks aghast at the thought of canceling her R&R.

Colleague 2: Excuse me, Colleague 1, have you noticed that she is in BAGHDAD?! Laughter all around.

Colleague 3: Yeah, Trav, hah! You might want to stay in the war zone instead of going to India! More laughter . . . I was to depart the green zone the next evening, New Year’s Eve, scheduled on the 8 pm Rhino (personnel armored vehicle).

Some of us gathered for barbecue and champagne to celebrate the holiday – it was close to the Rhino pick up point, so I dragged my suitcase there to party while I waited. Delicious ribs were smoking on the grill and we just began pouring the champagne when
Holiday interrupted: DUCK and COVER!, DUCK and COVER! – the big voice announces, you listen – and RUN! We ran to the nearest concrete bunker – not one second too soon – BOOM! It was fairly close by – Boom, Boom – a little too close for comfort. We huddled in the bunker – Happy New Year! Looks like we’re getting some fireworks for the holiday. . .
Fifteen minutes later: ALL CLEAR, ALL CLEAR, ALL CLEAR!
Back to the party . . . but only for another fifteen minutes . . . then the big voice again: DUCK and COVER! Sirens . . . run back to the bunker –
“Somebody grab the champagne!”
“Somebody grab the cigars!”
“Somebody grab the ribs!”
RUN! Boom! The ground shakes.
Somebody wants to celebrate with us. A memorable New Year’s indeed.
Of course I am in the bunker wondering, will I get out of here tonight? Will the Rhino come? Will they bomb us all night?
ALL CLEAR, ALL CLEAR, ALL CLEAR!
No Rhino at 8. No Rhino at 8:30. No Rhino at 9. Will I miss my R&R?!!! Damn insurgents!
But wait! What is that I see lumbering down the road? Yes! My Rhino! I don the helmet and kevlar, load up my bags and we are off to drive down “Route Irish” to the Baghdad International Airport. Seven rockets and one VBIED later, we actually make it to the airport. Looks like I might actually get out . . . and none too soon! Just one more night and I get to escape from Baghdad.
travelaw is offline  
Old Jan 8th, 2010, 07:53 PM
  #2  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 375
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Happy New Year!

Slept in a CHU (Contained Housing Unit) at the airport waiting for my military air flight out. We have an early show time – the sooner the better! After processing and a few hours wait, we are escorted across the tarmac to a C-130 cargo plane – mostly military guys and a few of us civilians. We strap in, make sure our earplugs are in and are ready to go when we get the word that we are grounded. Dang. So close!
A 4-star general has commandeered the runway and air space, so we can’t go anywhere. Those C-130s get pretty warm – and at least it was winter and not 120 degrees out. The military guys speculate that the big guy is in town for the transfer ceremony to from MNC-I (Multi-National Corps-Iraq) to USF-I (United States Forces-Iraq) – just in time to begin re-deployment of the troops – assuming the election in Iraq actually happens.

What will happen to this country is really a crapshoot. There are very good signs of stabilization, then the bombings began again. Sadly, most of the victims are innocent Iraqi citizens just going about their daily lives. So many families have lost loved ones in an all-out effort by the terrorists to discredit the current government and derail the elections. Only time will tell how it will all end, but I CAN say that many of the Iraqis are trying – and by a fairly good measure, succeeding. It is their country to make as they choose – it won’t be like the U.S. or the U.K., or Australia or Italy or Spain or the Netherlands or Denmark or Japan – all countries that are there, trying to assist them. It will be uniquely Iraq – and if they succeed, it will be a gem in the Middle East.

But, enough of that! After a few hours waiting in the plane – finally – the general’s fancy air force jet passes by us and takes off. Yay! Earplugs back in, cargo tail up, and we are in the air and on our way!

About an hour and a half later we land in Kuwait City. We turn in our helmets and Kevlar and are driven from the air force base into the city, where we are put up in a hotel suite to refresh and relax while we wait for our various flights out to our R&R spots.

I have a few hours, so I wander around Kuwait City. There is nothing here to do but shop and the roads are lined with indoor malls. Everything here is built and paid for with oil money. The road from the air base to the city is lined with tents. Apparently, in order to get a cut of the oil money Kuwaitis have to spend three months living nomadic-style in the desert. So, every winter they pitch massive tents complete with velvet sofas, disco balls and DJs, stoke the barbi and party every night. The rest of the year they live in their castle homes and Shop! Shop! Shop! Kuwait is a consumer paradise. And the country is full of Indians and Pakistanis who do all the jobs the Kuwaitis won’t do – every family has a nanny or two, or more, for the children, cooks, drivers, gardeners, and housecleaners – all filled by folks from the sub-continent. Which explains why there is a direct Kuwait to Mumbai flight every day (Jet Airways) and several other flights to Lahore, Chennai and Dhaka etc. on other airlines.

My Jet flight is quite comfortable. A basic meal is served, even though we take off at 9 pm and arrive in BOM at 3:25 AM.
travelaw is offline  
Old Jan 8th, 2010, 07:55 PM
  #3  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 375
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Ah, chaos!

Arrival at BOM, is, as always, chaotic – but oh, how I craved that different from Baghdad chaos – the good kind – the smells and bells and salesmen and people, people, everywhere walking freely – no kevlar – I feel as if I have broken out of prison!

I negotiate for a car to the hotel – other times I would find it a hassle – tonight it is a joy.
“3200 Rupees?!! Are you kidding?!! NO WAY! “
“But Ma’am your hotel is in central Bombay – an hour’s drive from here – and this is a big car – A/C – comfortable, not a rickshaw.”
I offer 1000, even though I know it is still a rip off – but hey, who cares! After back and forth and walking away a few times we settle on 1300 – I am a fool to pay that, but it is 4 AM and I am ready to collapse. After all, I escaped a war zone today.

Hotel Krishna Palace Residency (http://www.krishnapalaceresidency.com/ Exec. Room, $128 per night plus tax) in Nana Chowk is actually a pretty decent place. We had a room on the 14th floor with a fabulous view of the city. The bed is huge and there is lots of space – really quite big room with nice amenities. The service could use some improving, but that was a minimal complaint. They forgot our wake up call the morning we arrive, which was probably just as well, and we need to call to have towels delivered. It could have been much worse, right? While Colaba is a better area to stay for most tourists, the location is good for us as we had plans for both south and north Mumbai. It is closer to South Bombay than North Bombay, but conveniently very close to the Grant Road train station, just a block or so walk. Even so, we opted to take cabs, which are all now metered, and found the tariffs to be reasonable.

When we finally wake up, we taxi down to Colaba and visit the ever-interesting Gateway of India area. Last year when we were here it was barricaded because of the 26/11 terrorist attacks at the Taj – so it was great to see it back open and all the usual attendant craziness – bubbles, fresh lime juice, toys, balloons, nut sellers, kids snapping our photos with their cell phones, lovers holding hands and gazing out at the boats – and drugs and prostitutes and every other vice you might desire – oh darling, yeh hai India! We wandered about for a bit, got blessed by a nagging sadhu, and finally ended up at, where else, Café Leopold. Last year they were still reeling from the attacks, but everything seemed to be back in full swing, albeit now with bullet holes in the walls. The food tasted especially good, but who knows, it may have just tasted better coming after several months of nothing but institutional food. After relaxing with drinks for a while, we continued our wander around the streets of Colaba – found an internet café to check our email, and a chemist to stock up on our regular drugs (super cheap!). Finally, we ended up at the Cottage Industries Emporium. This was not a good idea, as I bought far too much stuff – probably all stuff I don’t need – actually all stuff I don’t need –- and now having to fit it into my luggage and drag it around India. I broke one of my cardinal rules – don’t buy stuff until the END of the trip! Anyway, it is a good shop to find souvenir-type goods at a fair price (no haggling). We had a bit of excitement there – as we were upstairs making a purchase when the store was plunged into COMPLETE darkness. There was no emergency lighting, no flashlights (torches), or even candles. My ingenious daughter pulls out her cell phone for some light – the clerk finished writing our bill – which we held on to -- and found our way down the stairs and out to the street into the light. It took about twenty minutes, but the lights came back on and we finished making our purchases.

We cabbed back to the hotel, dropped our packages and headed right back out. We wanted to see the latest Aamir Khan film, 3 Idiots, so we cabbed back down to the Metro Theater. Unfortunately, it was sold out (and has been since it released on December 25th). We opted to see Raat Gayi Bat Gayi – there were few people in the theater and it seemed to be a remake of a Western film – I know, that is surprising, hah! It was an OK diversion for the evening – especially enjoyed the lime sodas that were delivered to our seats. I love Indian cinemas!

After the film we tried to find a cab back to the hotel, but for some reason not every one wants to go to central Bombay, so it took us several tries to find one that would take us. It was a lovely nighttime ride along Marine Drive – cool, clean breeze and clear sailing with no traffic.
travelaw is offline  
Old Jan 8th, 2010, 07:56 PM
  #4  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 375
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Indian Hipster-Slash-Entrepreneur

Slept late and missed the hotel breakfast once again. Today we went up to Goregon to see our daughter’s apartment and to meet some of her friends. Ate at a place called Pop-N-Dine, which, while it sounds like a diner-type place, was actually fairly fancy and had very good food: mutter methi malai, paneer butter masala, murg gulati, garlic naan, mango lassis. Pretty darn good.

We met Mukesh and his BFF Vishal. Really sweet characters. Mukesh is all business – the cell phone is attached to his ear, and he is constantly calling his friends, colleagues and places seeking out the best places and deals. Mukesh has Bollywood connections extraordinaire, and he helped our daughter land an assistant director job. His friend Vishal is dressed in raggy-bottom jeans, an open-necked cotton shirt, sporting a colorful and large holographic belt buckle, tattooed left arm, aviators and a blond rat-tail. He tells us that he just finished filming a “fair and handsome” skin cram ad with Shah Rukh Khan, possibly the biggest star in Bollywood, and one of the biggest in the non-Western world. Vishal is young, but already very successful – he worked on Slumdog Millionaire and LOVES director Danny Boyle. He tells us that the real film action is now in up and coming Bollywood (they actually prefer to call it the Hindi Film Industry). Vishal is an entrepreneur – in addition to film, he runs a real estate agency, mobile telephone franchise and is an authorized wireless radio re-seller. He and Mukesh take us out to see a few places in Anderhi West (“Anderhi East is a waste of time”) – our daughter rides with Mukesh on his motorbike, while Vishal accompanies DH and myself in an auto-rickshaw. The bike is much faster in the Mumbai traffic. And the traffic is crazy and intense. At one intersection there is an altercation between a family on a motorcycle and a small delivery truck. Just as we try to weave past the incident, the father on the motorcycle hauls off and slugs the small, boyish looking truck driver – who sits there and balls like a baby –“Wah, wah, wah!”
“Vishal grimaces – “Tension yaar.”

We get to the shopping district and meet up with Mukesh and DD. They take me to a place to find a salwar kameez -- the boutique has gorgeous silks with amazing embroidery and beading. I buy 3 sets, but don’t have time to get them stitched, as we are leaving the next day (should have done this yesterday!), so hopefully I will find a tailor somewhere on our trip to have them made. Mukesh wants us to go to the DVD store so we can buy a few of the latest Bollywood hits, but Vishal says, “They will rip you off man! I will get you DVDs – 5 or 6 films to one disk – don’t pay these outrageous sums – give me one reason why you would do that!”
“OK Vishal.”
I am thinking that they won’t have subtitles or won’t work in my machine, so I go ahead and buy a few while Vishal is not looking – maybe somewhere along the route there will be a room with a DVD player. If not, they will certainly be nice evening entertainment when I get back to Baghdad.

Next stop, the Star Bazaar and True Fitness, DD’s fitness club. We get a VIP tour of this AMAZING gym – it has equipment I have never heard of – special machines to work on every part of the body – rows and rows and floors of machines. This is a favored gym of the Bollywood stars, and there are a few around working out. DD loves the hot yoga classes here and convinces me I must try it sometime. I’m not so sure I can bend my body like that anymore without ending up in the hospital!

Back out on the street it is now dark – we find an auto-rickshaw, which takes us as far as Bandra and then transfer to a taxi, which takes us the rest of the way to our hotel in central Bombay. The entire trip takes about an hour and fifteen minutes. This is a massive, massive, did I day massive? City. It is so amazing – once again, Blade Runner comes to mind. The pulse, the grit, the heat. I am loving it!
travelaw is offline  
Old Jan 8th, 2010, 07:58 PM
  #5  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 375
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Vinegar with Hints of Cigarette Ash

Next morning we finally make it up in time for breakfast at the hotel. We weren’t missing much.

After cramming all the crap I bought into my duffle, we find a cab to take us to the airport – we’re off to Goa for a few days. The driver was separated at birth from Gandhi, but with more hair coming out of his ears than I have ever seen on a human being. His ears were reminiscent of a squirrel. How can one not see that hair and NOT trim it off? Perhaps the man does not own a mirror – but of course he sees himself in the cab’s mirrors, na? The cab itself is about as old as the driver. There is no floorboard in the back – just metal and a good view of the road below. He ropes our duffles on top – I pray they make it to the airport. After several close calls in the heavy Bombay traffic and 300 Rs, we, of course, make it to the airport. We booked our air on Travelocity.co.in – the flight to Goa on Jet Airways was about $60.

An easy hour later we are greeted in the Goa airport by a cadre of scarily masked dancing santas. Funny how they have plastic white faces and dark hands . . . anyway they are handing out information on H1N1 flu – FANTASTIC! Are we headed into a bad flu area? Hopefully I won’t have to hide in my room for the next 3 days!

We are staying at Coconut Creek Resort in Bogmalo Beach – an Alastair Sawday’s recommendation. It is a lovely property – serene pool and a 2-minute walk to the beach. The room Bogmalo is a quiet beach, unlike some in Goa – but just what I was looking for – down time by the pool, by the sea – massage, tan, catch up on my reading – deep breath out. (www.sawdays.co.uk, special book for 2 nights, get the 3rd free, $140 per night plus 10% Goa luxury tax.) My only beef here is that they charge 300 Rs for an hour of wireless internet – ridiculous and I refused to pay it. They do have a computer with free internet set up in the game room however.

We lounge by the pool for a few hours, then walk to the beach. Some boys come running over and ask to have their photo taken with us – TII (this is India!) – it happens everywhere – we white people are like rick stars here. So strange. We oblige.

Dinner at the hotel is good – Goan food – some kingfishers and a *mistake* a bottle of wine. I saw Malbec on the menu and figured it was from Argentina. No, it was unfortunately an Indian wine from Maharashtra – and tasted like it was aged in a barrel of cigarette ashes. My advice – stay away from the Indian wine. It tastes like you are drinking vinegar from an ashtray. Yuck.

After dinner we played in the game/internet room, which was filled with mosquitoes. I was hoping to get away without spraying on the deet, but yeah, unfortunately, they are here – at least in the game room. I didn’t seem to be bothered by them near the pool or in the room, so maybe it is just the time of day. Tomorrow will tell. By the way, the rooks are pretty nice – we opted for one with A/C. There are two-story houses on the property – the lower floors have A/C and the upper floors have fans and French windows. Décor is eco-looking green, white and bamboo – crisp white sheets and plenty of space. So far, so good!
travelaw is offline  
Old Jan 8th, 2010, 08:00 PM
  #6  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 375
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
West and Welaxation at Wast

So today is completely a relaxation day. Spent a good chunk of it on the beach. The water is warm – salt felt good and healing. After we felt we had enough of the sun and sand, we walked back to the hotel. On the way DH got suckered into seeing a little girl’s “store” – I ended up buying a bad for 400 Rs – WAY too much – and DD bought a silver ankle bracelet for 100 RS – also WAY too much – but we figure it is charity and will feed the family for a month. Back at the hotel, we showered off the salt and went to the pool. DH and DD played pool ball with an older couple from the UK, while I sat and read my book. Eventually we went up to the game room and watched “Wake Up Sid” – a cute Hindi movie about a boy who fails college and is figuring out growing up and life in general. DD enjoyed playing a few games of Wii boxing – then went to dinner – again at the hotel – this is lazy day after all – and ate far too much. Back to the room and book reading – and curled up for a good sleep.
travelaw is offline  
Old Jan 8th, 2010, 08:04 PM
  #7  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 375
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Gold?!!

“Gold? You brought gold? I thought we decided on a five-dollar limit! All I brought was lousy frankincense!”

We hired a driver this morning to take us to the Three King’s Day Festival in Cassolim – at least I think it was Cassolim. We arrived to a huge number of people walking and swarming toward a small Christian church on the top of a hill. They were dressed to the nine’s – ladies in dresses, cocktail and evening, balanced on high heels, men and boys with sparkly bedazzled black suits and little girls in wedding cake frocks. Needless to say we felt under-dressed in our cotton shirts, jeans and sandals. Mass was going on under a huge tent – reminded us of the evangelical revivals of the Southern U.S. – lots of singing and penitent faces. A double line streamed out the front of the church – folks waiting to enter through the fake metal detectors to pay respects to something. We lined up with the crowd to check out the place and paused with them and paid respects at the alter – which had a statue of Mary on it – seems she is worshipped similarly to the Hindu gods – she was decorated with chains of marigolds, jasmine garlands and offers of fruit.

Surrounding the church was a colorful fair – typical of any church fair – food tents and stalls, plastic toys for sale, sweets (typical orange and yellow ladoo) and religious items. We were met by some stares, but mostly warmly greeted. There were also some women from Norway and Mexico there – we of course stood out amongst the local population – they asked us if we knew where and when the 3 kings – boys from the community who arrive on horseback – would come, or if we missed that excitement. We all thought we must have missed it, since most of the time processions precede the church service, but a man came up and heard our conversation and gave us the scoop. He explained that the 3 boys would come from different villages and meet up and then process into the church grounds. He showed us where to stand for the best view – and just as he said, eventually three very young boys came up the path on decorated horses and with a huge entourage. They had long hair – not sure if they had on wigs or if it was natural – and wore tall, red velvet bishop’s crowns on their heads. We snapped photos and enjoyed the excitement of the crowd who obviously wait for this moment each year. After the procession, we wandered around the fair a bit more – tasted a ladoo (really just an orange rice krispie ball) and some somosas – but didn’t have the guts to try the Portuguese sausage sandwiches. The women were scooping the meat out of the sausage skins with their hands and putting it into the bread rolls – no thanks – I will pass on that one. It was terribly hot, so we bought some cold sodas and rested under a tent for a while before walking down the hill to meet our driver.

Next stop was Old Goa. We followed the suggested walking route from the Lonely Planet guide. Old Goa is shock-full of big old churches and cathedrals (and not much else) – we wondered why a small community could possibly need so many – they must have been competing congregations. The heat was also getting to us there, so we stopped for lunch at one of the two grubby looking restaurant joints and ate some local fare – it felt good to get out of the sun. After we visited the Cathedral of Bom Jesus – where St. Francis’s crypt is – supposedly what is left of his remains are there, but that is unlikely. I wonder how many churches around the world lay claim to him.

Post Old Goa, we drove up to Anjuna for the Wednesday market. The place goes on and on – tent after tent after tent of hippie wares and Indian glitter galore. WE made a few small purchases, but mostly just wandered around gawking at the again baby boomers trying to re-claim their youth. Goa is one of those magnets in the world that attracts the dred-locked, Teva/Birkenstock wearing types – plus Russians and a smattering of Indians.

The last stop of our busy day was Panjim. We found the cathedral and attempted to follow the Lonely Planet walking tour, since we had been successful at it in Old Goa, but only got about halfway through it before we got lost. Before leaving we stopped and bought some drinks and a fresh papaya to take back to the hotel with us – we were beat!

As soon as we arrived back at the hotel, our trusty driver Ram arrived. All dressed in white and with flowers in his hands, we greeted him with namastes and hugs. Many of the Fodor’s folks have used Ram for their trips. He is a sweet guy – great driver and we were pleased he was available to drive us on our South Indian trek. (Ramesh Meena, [email protected], +91 9829807074.) We invited Ram to eat dinner with us at the hotel – we talked all about all the Fodor friends he had driven (BTW, he did not reveal any personal info – we used Fodor’s names) and how their trips went. After, we walked down to the beach and stuck our toes in the water. The beach is kinda scary at night – black water, bugs blindly flying at your face, and waves hitting the shore like gunshots (made me realize that I may have a bit of post-traumatic stress disorder – loud noises are making me jump – it may take me awhile longer than I thought to recover from hearing bomb and gun fire noises). Ram took his leave for the evening to return in the morning for our drive to Hampi.

More when the internet opportunity arises!
travelaw is offline  
Old Jan 9th, 2010, 07:19 AM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,110
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I'm so glad you're back . . .
indianapearl is offline  
Old Jan 9th, 2010, 07:45 AM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 4,121
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Me too. How good. Only my frozen fingers prevent more gush. C-c-cooold here in Kathmandu.
dogster is offline  
Old Jan 9th, 2010, 10:01 AM
  #10  
 
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 1,655
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
WOnderful report , cant wait for more. Love the insight in Badhdad too!
live42day is offline  
Old Jan 9th, 2010, 10:11 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,447
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Welcome back! Can't wait to read more (that goes for you too Mr. Dogster).
Marija is offline  
Old Jan 13th, 2010, 09:14 AM
  #12  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 375
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
CORRECTION: Now that I have Ram’s card, I realized that I posted his email address incorrectly. His contact info is: [email protected] or [email protected]. Telephone is +91 9829807074.
travelaw is offline  
Old Jan 13th, 2010, 09:14 AM
  #13  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 375
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Boulder Dash

It took FOREVER to get to Hampi – apparently a flyover was under construction and that blocked out entrance to the highway we wanted to take, so we ended up on local roads, which quickly turned into terrible pot-holed roads, especially the stretch though the Danali tiger preserve. It was so bad that at one point we came across another car that got stuck in a huge hole, so we stopped and helped push them out. Alas, we saw no tigers. We did pass chili pepper production areas, where women were sorting the peppers (can you imagine what their hands feel like?) and drying them in the sun. Huge stacks of red chili peppers that were waiting to be processed surrounded the women.

We didn’t even stop for lunch and got to Hampi at dusk. We checked into the Padma Guesthouse, which is conveniently located in the Hampi Bazaar area. There are some nicer hotels across the river, but we were told that the last boat over there was at 6 pm. I don’t know if that is true – didn’t check it out. (Padma Guesthouse, +91 8394 241331, we paid about $45, including breakfast.) The rooms at Padma’s are about as simple as a room can be. Hard, hard beds, small, flat pillows and a tiny bathroom. You can do anything for a night, right?

We walked out to the bazaar area. Padma suggested Geetha Restaurant, but following her directions, we couldn’t find it, so we stopped at a bright little place run by an old man and his family and ordered dosa masalas and chai. The owner also threw in complimentary fried peppers wrapped in some kind of dough. After dinner we started walking toward the other end of the bazaar, and lo and behold, there was the recommended Geetha Restaurant. We all still felt a bit hungry, so we decided to try it out. The food turned out to be AWESOME. It was all cooked to order and very fresh – absolutely tasty and delicious. I had Dal Palak, DD had Palak fry and cheese (which turned out to be spinach fried with garlic and topped with cheese) – so yummy it touched the soul, and DH had the Palak Gobi and Rice with Peanuts – all excellent. Next door was an internet café, so we checked our email and then headed back to the guesthouse. We had hoped to get here earlier to be able to see some of the sights, but because the trip took too long, we weren’t able to do that. So, tomorrow we will have to dash through the sight and hit only the highlights.
travelaw is offline  
Old Jan 13th, 2010, 09:15 AM
  #14  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 375
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Think Pink!

Padma Guesthouse possible has the hardest bed I’ve ever slept on – it was basically a 1” mattress on a board – no sheets, and of course the flat little pillow. Yes, good thing it was just for a night. We ate breakfast on the rooftop, which had a fabulous view of the main temple and the surrounding boulders and rock formations. After breakfast, we explored the main temple, which sits at the very end of the bazaar area. There were lots of swamis in black roaming about, some even taking photos of one another in front of the temple. Some women selling bananas outside the entrance got into a huge altercation – voices raised, even fists flying. Tension, yaar. A severely handicapped boy made his way up the street and into the temple to beg. It made me better understand the biblical temple stories, where people are always hanging about looking for healing – and money, of course. Inside, the temple had some fairly ornate carving – monkeys walked about seeking bananas, and for an extra fee, you could meet Lakshmi the temple elephant. Seeing Lakshmi from afar was enough for me. Several groups of school kids asked for us to take their photos and hammed it up for the camera.

We moved on to the Vitthala complex, which is the most well known of the sites and which contains the much-touted stone chariot. The chariot is pretty cool – apparently at some point the wheels actually worked, if you can believe that. The last of the main sites (you could actually spend several days or more here, there is so much to see) I wanted to visit were the Lotus Mahal and the elephant stables. Both were in the same enclosure, conveniently. At the elephant stables we bought some coconuts – a guy with a machete lops them open and sticks in a straw for about 10 Rs. Refreshing. The usual gang of school kids surrounded us – “Hello!” “Take my picture!” “Where are you from?!!”

On the road again, we left Hampi to drive to Mysore. We knew it was going to be long haul, but since we had underestimated the time to get from Goa to Hampi, we weren’t too excited to be back in the car. The road between Hospet and Chitradurga was awful. DD commented that if she ever has to be opened up for surgery, the doctors are going to find all her organs jumbled up and in the wrong places. After Chitradurga, the trip went great – the highway was very good and we picked up speed. For a little while we followed a truck full of bright pink goats – someone went wild bestowing blessings on the little kids. They had confused and embarrassed looks on their faces that said, “Why do we have to be pink?” Perhaps they were being driven to the special goat temple. Pink goats – I never in my wildest dreams expected to see goats dyed pink. I wonder what PETA would have to say about that!

Not long after the pink goats we stopped for road chai at one of the shacks next to the highway. I always wonder what diseases I am risking from drinking out of the glasses at these places, but so far I haven’t gotten sick (knock on wood). The scraggy guys that hang around the chai stall moved a rope bed out front for us to sit on while we sipped our tea – and we were visited by a teeny little, emaciated puppy. Again, my defenses go up – “don’t touch it!” I tell my daughter, worried about rabies, which is something to be careful about in India (there have even been some posts about that on this forum) – but she ignores me and feeds the little thing our leftover naan from last night’s dinner.

We saw a bit of traffic in Bangalore, but made it just fine to Mysore and found our hotel – Pai Vista. (www.paihotels.com, about $90 per night, including breakfast.) For dinner we ate at “ The Jungle”– a themed restaurant at the hotel, similar to the Rainforest Café. The food was pretty spicy, even though we asked them to tone it down, and the service was spotty, but overall it fit the bill – we were tired and didn’t feel like going searching for anything else.
travelaw is offline  
Old Jan 13th, 2010, 09:16 AM
  #15  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 375
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Holy Cow!

Breakfast at the hotel was served in “The Jungle.” It was okay, but everything about this hotel seems a little bit off. It must have tried hard in the past, as there are indications of luxury – slippers, amenities, a robe – but, for example, the robe is now rough and somewhat threadbare and the amenities look like they’ve been around for a while. The “luxury” room is actually two rooms – a small ante living room with a bathroom, and a fair-sized bedroom with a king-size bed and its own bathroom. Both rooms have a TV, handy along with the A/C unit for blocking the sounds of dishes clanking and trash pickup emanating from the frosted window that looks out onto the air shaft (there are otherwise no windows in the room). The bathrooms are a bit dingy and lack shelves – there are no niches in the shower to place your bathing necessities. The best way to describe the hotel is cruise-shippy – from the wall-bolted desk to the striped chairs and matching bedspreads to the themed restaurants (in addition to “The Jungle” there is also a “Cave” restaurant, which looks like a set from that old Nickelodeon show “Legends of the Hidden Temple” complete with fake wall torches and a huge head a la Angkor Wat.) All that said, it is a clean place and the staff is friendly. And actually, the location is pretty handy, as the Mysore Palace is easily walkable from here.

The Mysore Palace is definitely worth seeing. It is a bit over the top – but stunning. The marriage room is incredible – beautiful stained glass ceiling with inlaid peacocks, turquoise pillars and lovely wooden screens. It seems a bit Slavic in style with its onion domes and colorful halls, much like the Winter Palace or Catherine’s Palace in St. Petersburg, if you’ve ever been there. The gardens are very nice.

Next stop is St. Philomena’s Church with its tall spires and colorful windows. Kerala seems to be another very Christian area of India – we haven’t seen many Hindu temples, though there are quite a few Muslims it seems from the number of women in abeyas and head scarves.

We visit the market – also worth a stop – I’ve been to a lot of markets, but this one is really quite fascinating. The fruit and vegetables are amazing because of quality and quality – there are piles and piles of them just tantalizing us. The banana area is especially interesting, as are the flower area, where men sit and string jasmine and roses for temple offerings, and the numerous stalls selling pointed piles of colorful face powders. One of the face powder sellers asks me for a dollar – I dig one our of my bag and give it to him – he looks at it and says, “This one has been washed, do you have another?” Picky, picky! Then, when I oblige, he gives me 4 dirty Rupee notes back – what a guy! I walk away wondering if it is a scam. Do this to enough tourists and you make 4-5 Rupees on the exchange.

Across from the market is a restaurant called the Indus Café Parthas, where you can get South Indian thalis – quite good – but be prepared to share a table with others as seats are at a premium. We were seated with a young man who was also enjoying a thali, but he decline to speak a word to us. After lunch we bought some ice cream and ambled back through the market.

Chumundi Hill is another interesting Mysore site. You need to take a car or rickshaw there as it is a bit out of the center. At the top is the Chamundershwari Temple, which is currently overrun with swamis who are on the Ayapaswami pilgrimage. The swamis remind us of fraternity boys on a road trip – they travel about 6-8 per SUV, which are covered with sandalwood markings and draped with fruit and flower garlands. In the parking lot at the temple a cow saunters up to one of the parked swami vehicles and starts munching on the decorations. The swamis go crazy and start beating the cow. So much for the sacred cow! Also on the hill is a huge Nandi bull carved from a single boulder. There are great views of Mysore from here.

On the weekends and on certain festival days the palace is lit up with thousands of lights, and we are fortunate to be here on a weekend. They are spectacular. We were told that they are only on for an hour, from 7-8, so we arrived promptly at 7. There is a parking lot on the south side of the palace, which seems to be the best place to view them. We left at about 7:30 and they went off just as we returned to the car, so I’m not sure they even stay on for an hour.

Not feeling particularly hungry, we instead walked to the movie theater across from our hotel and saw “3 Idiots,” the latest Aamir Khan film. We couldn’t understand the dialogue (the real 3 idiots in the theater), but we could still follow the story and enjoyed it quite a lot. Indian movies are a fun way to spend and evening or two – especially if the “here” is popular – the patrons whistle and sing along, and it this case, laugh uproariously. May have to get this one when it comes out of DVD so we can finally understand the jokes.
travelaw is offline  
Old Jan 13th, 2010, 09:17 AM
  #16  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 375
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Of Elephants and Swamis

Today is another travel day. We are driving from Mysore to Fort Cochin. It is a long drive, especially because of the swami-mobiles – they are everywhere. When we pass the state line from Karnataka to Kerala, the topography changes instantly – suddenly there are bamboo groves everywhere.

The first part of the trip through Kerala we are in a state park. It is quiet and a little bit dark as the road winds though the heavy tropical growth. We come along a group of swamis stopped and standing by the side of the road looking into the woods. We stop and join them to find a wild elephant – and she has her obviously newly born calf with her, the cutest little baby elephant you’ve ever seen. And the baby is hungry – mama and baby are foraging for food. The swamis warn us to stay back in case the mama comes charging, but we of course grab our cameras and try to capture the moment. I crouch down to get a shot through the undergrowth, and as I try to focus in and get a clear shot of the baby I glance up to find a group of swamis taking my photo paparazzi style. Apparently, the white woman is far more interesting than a wild elephant and her calf!

The topography gets even more tropical as we get further into Kerala – banana plantations, mango trees, papaya trees, coconut palms galore – and tea plantations covering the hills. There are lots of flowers growing wildly alongside the roadway – bright purples, yellows, pinks and reds. We stop to get some local chai, and it is deliciously infused with cardamom and ginger. It tastes delicious. The aroma is sweet.

Just after the chai stop, a rainstorm blows in – a heavy one – and it arrives just as we have to weave through the hairpin turns over the Western Ghats. Yikes! The drive down is harrowing – skinny little roads clinging to the side of the mountains that turn into rivers as the rain gets heavier and the trucks slow to a crawl. The view from the mountain roads must be spectacular, but it was completely obscured and we felt as we driving off the end of the world into nothingness.

It stayed fairly cloudy for the rest of the trip out to the coast – and the coastal highway got busier and busier as we passed though towns and cities. The houses along side the road in Kerala struck as being very large – they are brightly painted in colors such as orange, magenta and turquoise. First we would pass through a Muslim town with burqa’d women – and some even decorated with Pakistani flags – and then through a Christian town – dotted with churches and some grottos to various saints. In several of the Christian towns we came across festivals –
Processions headed by someone carrying a large cross, followed by Mary in a box carried on a pedestal, trailed by row after row of sari’d women under colorful parasols, a band, and scores of worshippers. We never did find out what festival it was.

Eventually, we arrived in Fort Cochin – it was dark already and everything seemed closed up. We found our hotel with some effort and checked in (Fort House Hotel, www.hotelforthouse.com, $82/nt including breakfast). The front office folks were very friendly and helpful; the room was fine, although the beds, as per usual Indian standard, were quite hard. We walked down to the recommended History restaurant, but were told it was completely booked for the evening, so we opted to eat back at our hotel. The food at the hotel restaurant was quite good – I had prawns Kerala curry, some vegs fried with coconut, and lemon rice. DH and DD had the seafood platter, which they both liked. While the food was yummy, the service really turned us off. One server bused the next table from our table, setting his food tray down right next to me. Another server scraped and cleaned our plates right in front of us, piling the garbage and our used napkins in one of our food bowls right between DD and myself, very unappetizing after having just eaten food out of that bowl. And when DH asked our waiter for our bill, he physically turned his back on us, opting to obviously ignore us and to instead finish a cell phone call that DH hadn’t noticed when he asked, but that the waiter was incredulously taking in the middle of the tables. Among other minor problems, the service was quite slow, too. I wish I could recommend the restaurant because the food was simply delicious, but with the poor service, unless you can up with that, I’d have to tell you to give it a pass. Other than that, the hotel itself was good.
travelaw is offline  
Old Jan 13th, 2010, 09:18 AM
  #17  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 375
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
The Aroma of Spices

Breakfast at the hotel was good – watermelon juice, a glass of colorful fresh fruits (bananas, papaya, pineapple and pomegranate), crepe with honey, eggs to order, tea and real brewed coffee) – served out on the hotel jetty, right on the water. Again, it was delicious, but terribly slow service.

We found a recommended walking tour in one of the guidebooks and headed out. St. Francis Church was our first stop, built in the early 1500s. It struck us that the church had been built more than a hundred years before the English first settled in America in 1607. The old Portuguese tomb markers are interesting. Another church, Santa Cruz Basilica, was the second stop. A service was in progress, so we just sat on the benches at the back. The church is quite busy with murals, multi-colored arches and a double-decker Jesus Altar – the Jesus on the top has a halo that lights up in blue. Next stop was the Chinese fishing nets on the water, which weren’t operating at the moment, but looked awesome, all the same. We rickshawed to Jew Town and checked out the synagogue – upon request they will part the curtain and show you a scrap of a 200-year old Torah. The Jews have been here in Cochin since the Romans sacked the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Much earlier than that, we were told that king Solomon sailed here to buy and trade spices.

Nearby is the Pepper Exchange – we went up, even though there isn’t much to see here these days, as it is all traded via computer now. In Jew Town, we try to dodge the endless shopkeepers who nag us to come in and take a look. Ram tells me that they are all Kashmiri. “How do you know Ram?” “ I just do. They can sell ANYTHING – they are the best salesmen in the world.”
Outside the Pepper Exchange:
“Do you want a pashmina, mam?”
“No, I have too many already.”
“How about some jewelry?”
“No, I already have plenty that I don’t wear.”
“OK then, mam, how about a painting, yes? A painting to remember Kerala?”
“No, I have no walls for paintings.”
“Nothing then?”
“Yes, nothing.”
“Okay then, thank you for speaking to me.”
“You’re welcome.”
“Where are you from?” Ut-oh – I can’t tell you how annoying this question becomes in India.
“Iraq,” I say just to throw him off.
“EE-RAQ?!!”
“Yes.”
“No, mam, REALLY?”
“Yes. Really. Where are you from?”
“Kashmir.” Ram was right! “You don’t look Iraqi.”
“That is because I’m not – I’m an American working in Iraq.”
“Where in Iraq?”
“Baghdad.”
”Baghdad, really? There are terrorists there.”
“Yes, I know. I’ve seen them. Besides, Aren’t there terrorists in Kashmir?”
”Well, actually mam, to tell the truth, yes, but it is because we do not like Pakistan and we do not like India – we want to be Kashmir alone. It is not a Sunni-Shia thing like in Iraq.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“So, are you sure you don’t want a pashmina? Because if you decide you want a pashmina I will give you the BEST price. Really, the BEST price, OK?”
“Okay, but I don’t want one.”
“Maybe later, OK?”
Whatever. It is getting pretty hot and steamy out now, and we can feel the sunburn, but first we want to check out the Dutch Palace. On the way, we spy a man standing in a blue doorway wearing a blue longi – an interesting-looking fellow. I ask to take his photos. He obliges and invites us in. It turns out this is a ginger warehouse and the smell of ginger is intense. Various grades of ginger root are gathered in piles on the floor, and burlap sacks full of it are stacked in the back. I stand there for some time just breathing it in – it seems so medicinal.

After checking out the Dutch Palace (marginal worth – but its only 5 Rs for a ticket), we find a rickshaw to take us back to Fort Cochin. It takes several stern warnings to the driver not to stop at commission stores (they all seems to do this in Fort Cochin), but otherwise the ride is fascinating. The driver takes us through the spice trading area. The aromas are to die for – ginger, cardamom and who knows what else. The warehouses are open to the street and stacked full of sacks of spices that we pay a fortune for a tiny amount of in the States. I know I will replay this ride in my memory many times to come in the future.

No trip to Cochin is complete without an evening Kathakali performance. The makeup and costumes and story are enchanting – well worth seeing. Get there early for the application of the makeup and for the helpful demonstration of the face and hand gestures.

After the performance we look for a restaurant for dinner. We try the Malabar, but it is full (even though there are obviously empty tables – is this a thing in Cochin? Do you have to stay at the hotel property in order to go to the hotel restaurant?) We end up at the Old Courtyard Hotel. This place looks like it would be interesting to stay at. Dinner is in the courtyard with musical accompaniment. I have the catch of the day wrapped in a banana leaf, while DH goes for the seafood spaghetti and DD orders the spaghetti putanesca. All was god until a giant, and I mean GIANT cockroach – two inches at least – cockroach swoops in (we call them palmetto bugs in the Southern US – but they are still cockroaches). I get very squeamish about cockroaches – a shiver runs down my spine. “Waiter! There’s a fish in my cockroach!”

More at the next hotel that has wireless internet!
travelaw is offline  
Old Jan 13th, 2010, 09:35 AM
  #18  
 
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 1,655
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Great. Cant wait for more. Thank you for taking the time to post
live42day is offline  
Old Jan 13th, 2010, 01:30 PM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,110
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
What a treat to find your next installment!
indianapearl is offline  
Old Jan 13th, 2010, 06:08 PM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,147
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Yes, very generous of you to work on this while you're on holiday. (Dying to know what you are doing in Iraq but I won't ask because if you tell you may have to kill me...) I feel like we're giht there with you. Love the back and forth quotes with the locals.
LAleslie is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell My Personal Information


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 04:41 AM.