So here we are in Mamallapuram, a small beach-side town just south of Chennai and tomorrow we will be flying home!
We really enjoyed the rest of our time in Southern India. After our short and very chilled stay in Fort Cochin we hired a car to take us down to Aleppey, where we bargained for a houseboat and stayed in the dingiest place by far of all our accommodations in India. However, as it was only one night, and we were looking forward to the house boat the next day, so we put up with it.
The ' Kettuvallam' (former rice barge) houseboat was a one-bedroom plus kitchen number with two oarsmen and a cook. Graham haggled hard and got the price down from the initial 8000 Rs to 5750 Rs, still a bit pricey but the boat was definitely the best of the 7 or so we looked at. We set off at noon, cruising the backwaters, lazing around on the deck and enjoying the view over the canals, little villages and rice paddies. The cook made us gorgeous food - by far the best we had in South India. At around six pm, and shortly before the rain hit, we docked up for the night. It is a rule for the houseboats to get off the canals by this time so the local fishermen can have their turn. It rained most of the night but we were nice and cosy inside the boat. The next morning, to Fran's surprise, Graham proposed and so we got engaged! A very memorable setting and a special day for us.
After breakfast it was back to Alleppey and back on the road, this time on two local buses (1 x change) which took us up into the mountains to a small town on the Kerala/ Tamil Nadu border called Kumily. Here we spent two nights and a whole activity-packed day jungle trekking, visiting the Connemara tea factory, elephant riding (so much fun !!!) and learning about spices (and then shopping for them - vanilla pods are soooo cheap here!!)
Next day we had another big bus-sing day - an eight our trip to Thanjavur. In hindsight we may have been better breaking our journey to Pondy in either Madurai or Trichy, for Thanjavur was quite off the beaten track and apart form the temple (which only took an hour to see) there wasn't much else. But hey - how were we to know, and we'd decided to go with the World Heritage list choice so Thanjavur just ended up being the pick of the day.
After another long bussing day we treated ourselves to some more upmarket accommodation for two nights in Pondycherry. Seeing the french influence in this Union Territory was interesting, and we spent a fair bit of time just walking the streets, doing some Xmas shopping and eating the different food - a nice change from the curries!
In Mamallapuram (just up the coast from Pondy) we are staying in a basic resort-style place in the middle of town. This morning we did a lap of all the awesome rock-carved temples, sweating buckets in the process (Having checked the NZ forecast, 18 degrees there will seem quite chilly compared to the 40 defrees here), before escaping back to the airconditioning.
And so we're nearly at the end of our trip and really really excited about getting back home!!
And India is still as endearing as ever. Our two week tour of Northern India culminated in Varanasi, one of the most spiritually important towns in the country. Varanasi, located on the mighty Ganges river, is a place where you can see every aspect of life, all of which are played out on the ghats along the river. We took dusk and dawn boat rides along the ghats witnessing the pollution, ritual bathing, washing of clothes, pumping of water, arti ceremonies and cremation of the dead.
We found it difficult to comprehend how a river so religiously venerated by the locals has been allowed to become so dirty. If it is true that the water of Ganga will wash away your sins then there must be a lot of sinners bathing in the river. However we have been told that if you believe in its powers the water (despite its bacteria content being way over the acceptable limit) won't harm you and this must be true for the Hindu believers. It's just one of the many contradictions we've come across.
In Varanasi we also took pleasure in seeing the latest bollywood release - 'London Dreams'. Funnily enough it was about an Indian band trying to make it big in London, and it was set there. The drama, exaggeration and unrealistic storyline were amusing but the music and and acting were entertaining.
On Sunday we had our last dinner with Ruby before we hopped on an overnight A/C 3-berth sleeper train to Delhi. It would have been a pleasant experience were it not for what must have been the loudest snorer in India sharing our berth! Still we made it in good time to Delhi to fetch our bags from the hotel and head to the airport. After a three hour flight and 1 hour taxi ride we arrived at our accommodation in Forth Kochin. If the laid-back feel of this town and the yummy two-course silver service meal for the equivalent 10 pounds we had last night is anything to go by we will be having a good time in Southern India!
Today we are shopping around for a Kerala backwater boat cruise from Alleppey to Kumarakom. From there we are aiming for the hill town of Kumily from where we hope to see some of the wildlife at the Periyar National Park. Then it's on to Trivanjur, Pondicherry, Mamallapuram and finally Chennai.
We're both also getting really excited about being back in NZ soon and catching up with everyone!