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What are your favorite things in Chennai, Bangalore and Kerala???

What are your favorite things in Chennai, Bangalore and Kerala???

Nov 17th, 2008, 06:22 PM
  #1  
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Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 43
What are your favorite things in Chennai, Bangalore and Kerala???

Hello everyone!
I am planning the second half of my wondeful india trip, the southern half...
For the South I have from Dec 22 until Jan 2.
My friend and I are adventurous and low maintenance and budget girls, and want the 'real india'. I know there isn't much time to work things out (please don't fuss at me, beyond my control) but we have narrowed down our areas to chennai, (have a place to stay there with an american friends parents), bangalore and kerala. (we do want to do the houseboat thing).
Any advice and personal experiences would be warmly welcomed!!!
maltesa is offline  
Nov 17th, 2008, 10:21 PM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
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If you donít already have it, go out and buy the Lonely Planet book for India, and perhaps their editions for each area of India. This will be invaluable to you, IMO. You may also want to go to their website, lonelyplanet.com and to the Thorn Tree Post board where you can read advice and ask for advice.

A very useful website for hotels in India is http://sawdays.co.uk/, click on the book for India. This will also be very helpful to you with accommodations. You can also buy the book, Special Places to Stay India, but the website will give you a very long list of hotels to start with. A lot of these hotels are in the budget range, and all seem interesting and several, like the Imperial in Delhi, are outstanding (but it Ďs not a budget hotel by any means). Also try the Neemrana group which operate several interesting hotels in India, go to www.neemranahotels.com/. Two other good operators generally in India are the Oberoi group (http://www.oberoihotels.com, IMO the best hotels in India but generally not cheap) and the Taj group (www.tajhotels.com. ).

Use your friendís parents in Chennai shamelessly as much as you can for help and freebies (see below). I live overseas (Hong Kong) and I like helping out visitors, so letís assume they do too; donít turn down any offer of help from them.

I believe that someone on your other thread gave you the Indiamike.com link for trains if you still want to try to book trains. For long distances, if you can afford it, flying is good, but more expensive. You have a good bit of time in India; and I believe you are young (lets say under 35 and I am guessing under 30) so you can handle a few night trains (not so much for me any more, but I have done my bitÖ). I love Indian trains, and love Indian train stations even more if that is possible. The whole panoply of Indians religions and regions pass before you. Really, sit for an hour and all of India will walk by. You should experience at least one, IMO. Booking is confusing, I agree; what I generally do is have my hotel buy the tickets. Contact your hotel in each departure city (by fax, e-mail or phone) and ask them to get the tickets. They should be able to do this, in some cases you can wait until you arrive to book the tickets. However, some trains like the Shatabdi Express to Agra are very popular and should be booked in advance, and you are traveling at a very popular time of year. Therefore, while it may be unnecessary for all the trains, it may be a good idea to go ahead and buy all your tickets ahead of time. Most are refundable/exchangeable if your plans change.

You can even ask your friends parents in Chennai to help; I am assuming the American father or mother works for some company, and he can send a peon to the station to do this if they donít want to schlep over themselves. Chennai is a major train station and they may be able to get all the tickets you want for the whole trip and then mail them to you. (The word peon by the way, is a Hindi word for low-level clerk. You already know verandah, bungalow, thug and cummerbund, ---see? --- achchaa! you can speak Hindi so well already!)

In terms of the south and what to do, my suggestions would be:

Chennai Ė a very nice beach and promenade area. Some interesting colonial bits left. Good markets. Not many tourists, esp compared to North India in December where you will have come from. Here if you can I would rely on your friendí parents. If they have a car and driver please take advantage of it if offered, this will save you money and will be a good way to see the city. I have posted restaurant reccos over the years, but would think your friendís parents would be a more up-to-date source; also use the Lonely Planet guide.

From Chennai, my very strong recco is that you actually consider skipping Bangalore and hire a car and driver and go all the way down the coast to Pondicherry, stopping at the temples along the way, and then drive inland to Madurai and even Mysore if time permits. You can then train or fly (from Madurai) to Kochi in Kerala and do the Kerala part. A car and driver split between 3 of you will not be expensive (get your friendís parents to offer a recco, I can post one if necessary as well.)

I like Bangalore as a city to do work in, but there really is not much there for the tourist. It is very pleasant in terms of weather and quite green, but you are going to be in India at a time when the weather is very very good most everywhere. I also think you would just love the coastline south of Chennai. Great temples, some French colonial bits (like catholic churches and French bread) and interesting sights along the way, very much off the beaten tourist path. There are just hundreds of small fishing villages and other towns strung along lovely beaches along the way. In Pondicherry there is a hotel in a restored colonial building that has opened since I was last there and I would like to try it myself, it is called Hotel de LíOrient. It is run by the Neemrana group, see the website above. They also have a hotel called Bungalow on the Beach in Tharangambadi which is which is a former Danish colonial outpost south of Pondicherry.

If you really want to pick a city in south India, I would choose Hyderabad over Bangalore, which has long history and a large Muslim population and which would give you a totally different flavour from the other places in India where you will go. There are several good museums, the Golconda fort and other interesting architecture and good food. There is a high-tech city here, Secunderabad, so you can the Bangalore IT hit as well. Bangalore is not nearly as interesting in terms of history or sights, IMO. The main thing to do in Bangalore is go to Mysore for an overnight (3 hours); which I am suggesting you might do as part of an overall trip down the coast, or skip Mysore in favour of Madurai.

As for Kerala, you seem to have done some research and know the houseboat thing. It has been more than 8 years since I rented a houseboat in Kerala so I donít have any reccos, you might post a question here. I did look in my Lonely Planet and they recco using one of the operators listed by the tourist board in Kollam, called the KTPC Information Centre, go to dtpckollam.com. If you Google houseboats Kerala a lot of info will come up...I did find a reference to a 2004 Conde Nast article that recommend an operator, they charged US$190 a day, that includes all meals, you might contact them for current prices. The article is at http://www.concierge.com/cntraveler/...articleId=1084. The group which runs these boats also operates the Brunton Boatyard, which is a good hotel in the area, and some other hotels as well. We hired our boat out of Alleppey which is another town in the area. I think we paid like US$80 a day, but that was some years ago and it was not a luxurious boat (but certainly fine). My recco would be that you pick an operator that has a few boats and then go and look them over, as they can vary in the quality and size. We did a little inspection and choose the one we liked best. There is a small Jewish community surviving in Kochi, it would certainly be interesting.

Also, there is also the Western Ghat mountain area which I have never been too, but which I understand is very beautiful and untouristed with good walking and opportunities to see wildlife. This would be a few hours drive from the Calicut (Kozhikode) area on the west coast of Kerala. You can also drive there in a few hours from Madurai.

Jet Airways (http://www.jetairways.com) is also another very good airline if you canít get a Kingfisher flight. Indian Air is to be avoided if possible. Website for cochin airport is http://www.cochin-airport.com/html/0300f. .htm. Flights to and from Madurai are at http://www.maduraidirectory.com/travel/flight.php

Finally, all of India, is the ďrealĒ India. Even the micro-brew pubs of Bangalore and the discos of New Delhi are the ďrealĒ India. They are just modern India. While I would say that village life is the heart of India (just like perhaps many Americans consider farmers the heart of America), modern India is the ďrealĒ India too Ė itís just not quite as photogenic.

Cicerone is offline  
Nov 18th, 2008, 12:18 AM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Sep 2008
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Very useful advice Ciccerone.. I'll be taking a yoga teacher course in Trivandrum in Feb 09 and plan to do a short ten day trip around the area.. any thoughts on that besides what you already mentioned?Thanks!
ritagonc is offline  
Nov 18th, 2008, 02:47 AM
  #4  
 
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There is a large wildlife sanctuary at Periyar which you may want to see. If you are going to Madurai, it should be possible to include it on the way out or back. I wish I knew the area better, I have only been myself about 3 times (and once was a recent business trip where I only saw bits of Thrissur), and there is a lot to see and do. I am sure you will have loads of reccos once you are there. Lonely Planet is very helpful.

Of course, if you are not going elsewhere in India, you might want to go north and see that area too.
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Nov 18th, 2008, 04:15 AM
  #5  
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Cicerone, thank you very much for your insights....
I love the idea of the hotel making the booking of the train!
By the way, my friends parents are INDIAN! yay!!!
I also appreciate your reality check about what is 'real India'.
Thank you again,
Maltesa
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Nov 18th, 2008, 06:18 PM
  #6  
 
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Well, even better, if your friendís parents are Indian, then they will want to help you and will possibly INSIST on it. You will be in for some great food when you get to Chennai, boy am I jealous!! By all means get in touch with them now to express your gratitude for their coming hospitality, ask if you can bring them anything from the US, and mention the trouble you are having with trains, and perhaps they will volunteer to obtain the tickets (wish they could also purchase flights for you at the Indian national rate which is much cheaper, but alas, you donít qualify). They may also have relatives in other cities who can come to your aid as well. A brief e-mail from you now may get the ball rolling.
Cicerone is offline  
Nov 25th, 2008, 04:59 PM
  #7  
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hi cicerone...sorry for this late response to your good advice...
I have repeatedly asked their son what he thinks they might like...he will respond to every question but that one! since i am San Francisco based i think i am going to bring see's candies and starbucks or peet's coffee...any other ideas?
oh..btw we booked 3 inter-india flights on spicejet...$100 or less per flight!!!. i am glad we have a train booked from delhi to agra...the shatabdi express...i begged our guest house to do it for us...they doubled the price of the ticket for their commision but i am not complaining! i must have indian train experiences!!!
i think once we are in chennai we will ask our friends to help with trains...we will be somewhat flexible so if one date is sold out we can try another....the first week in north india is very fast paced....looking forward to relaxing the second week...and eating a lot of yummy meals on banana leaves and cruising in kerala!
maltesa is offline  
Nov 25th, 2008, 07:28 PM
  #8  
 
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I think that the Seeís Candies is a very good idea, not sure I would bother dragging the coffee with you. Most Indians are tea drinkers, there are a lot of coffee drinkers out there for sure too, but you can get good coffee there, and there are chains as well (Starbucks is on the way as well). If they are not Muslim, and you donít mind lugging it, a good bottle of whiskey would probably be welcome IMO (but check with your friend). Premium UK brands esp, or something from the US like Makers Mark. These are available now in India but still expensive.
Cicerone is offline  
Nov 25th, 2008, 09:07 PM
  #9  
 
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You owe us one trip report, girls.

Big time.
dogster is offline  
Nov 26th, 2008, 09:37 PM
  #10  
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Whiskey is a great idea!!! I love Bushmills myself...but Makers Mark has its merits...Good call Cicerone...
Dogster...don't you worry...I am going to have stories that will raise the hair on the back of your doggie neck...just you wait.
And....almost everything is booked...including flights and drivers and even the shatabdi express to agra...so glad to have at least one train experience...
Our Chennai friends are going to book drivers for us for adventures in Maderai and Pondicherry...
We have a night in Bangalore taken care of (a late invitation from other friends!!!)...Kerala houseboats are better to pick out onsite (it seems there is a plethora to choose from)...and any leftover days we will go back to Delhi or Rajhastan....oh we are are going to squeeze Cochin in there...almost forgot...we will sleep when we come home!!!
thanks for all advice....I am eternally grateful!!!
It's all coming together!
maltesa is offline  
Oct 13th, 2009, 06:26 PM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 7
My Bangalore has the best shops so I'm glad you are not missing out. do walk down Commercial St....at one end is Mysore Udyog Bazaar (very crowded but great stuff and prices.)
For more fancy stuff, Dulhan...almost the other end of the street has fantastic glamorous stuff at unbelievable prices.
If your hosts don't offer, rent a car and have the driver take you to the Vidhana Soudha area...after eight it's not crowded.
As for gifts...almost everything is available there but kids love usb drives with mp3 players...adults like the liquor or if they don't drink...a digital camera is a favorite and should go down well with your Chennai host.
Indians rarely ask for anything but a good gift shows your appreciation and keeps the door open for future visits.
gnbob
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