I happily admit that I took the title of this post straight from G Adventures and the name of our Southern India itinerary.
We finally made it to our hotel in Kochi after staying awake for a whole day and night (minus the short nap we all took on the flight) and I fell asleep for so long that Emma had to wake me up for the new group orientation meeting (“Wait for me, I have to put on a bra!”). Half asleep and probably with pillow lines on my face, I walked into the dining room of the Gama Heritage Residency and met my new group members. Those of us who had already been traveling together for two weeks were quite sad to be getting new travel buddies (or should I say, to not be traveling with our old buddies anymore). Turns out we had a decent crew and I clicked with one or two of the newbies really well.
We spent the first evening in Kochi walking around the waterfront, stopping on the beach for some fresh air. I met my first water buffalo, who was chilling out in the sand. He looked like he was crying, which is something we did not forget a few days later in Alleppey while enjoying a supper of slow cooked water buffalo (awkward!). We quickly decided that upon our return to Kochi at the end of this leg of the trip, we would finish up our shopping before going home. Kochi has some great markets and it was pretty easy to find all the items we were still looking for (spices, perfumes, teas, etc.).
Our new guide, Muthu, is a food lover and proud of it; I knew we would get along. If I wasn’t sure what to order, I only had to ask Muthu for his suggestion and I knew I would soon be enjoying a delicious meal. The first time our group ate together in Kochi, I had Malabar Fish Curry with rice. I am so glad I decided to try out the seafood in Southern India…scrumptious with a zing! We toured Kochi some more the next morning; checked out the Chinese finishing nets, St. Francis Church, the Paradesi Synagogue and the Dutch Palace (now museum).
Our week in Southern India then took us to Alleppey, Kollum and Varkala before returning to Kochi.
Alleppey and the backwaters were definitely one of my (many) highlights from India. We drove from Kollum to Alleppy and pulled up river side. Our bags were loaded into one boat and we were loaded into another (very precariously and more than a little shakily). We crossed the river by boat and arrived at our homestay. Maria welcomed half of us into her home and the other half into her mothers home. I could have spent longer here; it was so peaceful and calm and the food they cooked for us was AMAZING! Yes, even the water buffalo (actually, that might have been the best part…along with the banana fritters). Each meal consisted of so many different dishes, I truly cannot remember everything I ate, but I’ll tell you what…home cooked Indian food is the way to go! Along with with cold filtered rain water, Alleppey offered me the best food. Hands down.
We did a village walk that evening and it poured rain! We were drenched and muddy by the time we made it back to the house, but none of us were really upset. When your travelling, you have to just surrender and go with the flow. This especially applies to India.
Before moving on to Kollum the following day, some of the group opted to go kayaking along the river. I chose to just chill out on the porch, drinking masala chai and doing crossword puzzles with British Steph and Adam. I wasn’t dead set on kayaking and enjoying a “normal” day in Alleppey with my friends was absolute perfection.
Kollum was a short one night stop. It was worth it though, because we had a nicer hotel then we were used to, which was a welcome treat after two weeks of basic, non-luxury (but still clean) accommodations. Before heading out to Varkala, we woke up early and visited the Kollum fish market. Lots of activity; fishing boats coming in and unloading their morning haul, mini auctions happening dockside, fish being cleaned and gutted, baskets of shrimp and crab and tiny fish everywhere you looked, birds swooping down from the rafters to pick up their breakfast from the fisherman’s stock. I had dared Adam to purchase a single prawn at one of the auctions (or just from the market in general), and he would have done it if I hadn’t changed my mind at the last minute. I mean really, what I am going to do with one prawn and nowhere to cook it? Waste not, want not. Right?
If you’re thinking of travelling to India and want some beach time, you can forget Goa (in my humble opinion). Varkala is a hundred times more beautiful and the beach is huge, the waves are big and playful and everything looks stunning when you’re looking at it from the top of a cliff. Everything from shops, cafes, bars for happy hour and restaurants were all perched along the edge of the cliffs. To get to the beach, we walked down a set of steps (some in rough shape), from the top to the bottom of these cliffs. The beach is wide with soft sand and lots of room for everyone. I found it less crowded than Goa, bit still with a balances mix of tourists and locals. I would come back to Varkala in a heartbeat.
We spent two nights here, both of which we ended up in at cliff side dive bar near our hotel were they served badly made 2-for-1 drinks and allowed us to control the music. Adam’s taste in music is…wicked! So naturally we let him be the DJ. The owner and bartenders seemed to get tipsy quicker than the tourists, so there was much dancing, losing track of tabs and terrible drinks. We didn’t care, not really. I danced along and when I tired of that, I sat with my travel mates and looked out past the cliffs, listening to the tide.
The six hour drive back to Kochi involved one Bollywood movie, five extra seats after piling our backpacks on the roof of the van, one stop at a bakery, two jalebi, one barfi, one ice cream cone and one shared bag of salty banana chips.
Some last minute shopping and a final (delicious) supper together and it was soon time to part ways. We figured out who had flights at the same time and divided into groups or pairs to share taxis to the Kochi International Airport. One by one, group by group, we hugged and said “See you later” (no goodbyes here). I shared a taxi with Adam, as we were booked on the same flight from Kochi to Bangalore.
Just when I thought the adventure was over, India threw me one last curveball. And she threw it hard.