(We wrote this post a couple of weeks ago, but haven’t been able to publish until now due to poor internet)
Eventually we had to leave the beautiful Hampi and head onto Kochi, our final stop. This was to involve two days of travelling; one night on a bus to Goa, and a second night on a train to Kochi.
The train is the quintessential mode of Indian transport; however when the train is fully booked, the next option for travelling long distances is the overnight bus. With descriptions such as “Volvo bus”, “Deluxe” and “Double bed”, we were both optimistic about our night ride. As it transpired, none of this was very accurate, and one major description was missing. The bus had no toilet, an amenity which when travelling for 12 hours we (wrongly) took for granted.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if we were given regular opportunities for relief; after lobbying the driver, the best we got was the odd street alley, and we were still left wondering whether the bus would be there when we got back. The following day’s overnight train was going to feel “Deluxe”!
We arrived in Panaji, Goa, at 7am – stiff, tired and laden with luggage. With our train not leaving until the evening, we had 12 hours to kill. There is only so much masala chai one can get through before reaching saturation point, and so with a cinema in sight we decided to watch our second Bollywood movie – “Haider”. This time it was an Indian adaptation of Hamlet, based around the Kashmir conflict. This was not the usual Bollywood plot, but nonetheless a really enjoyable movie, and more interesting for the fact that we had visited the same area just a few weeks ago.
After a more comfortable nights travel we made it to Kochi the following morning. Kochi is a major port city on the west coast of India, and the sleepy state capital of Kerala. It is unlike any other town we have visited, and with it’s Portuguese architecture it almost feels as through you are no longer in India. As a coastal state, Kerala is well known for its seafood, and whilst in Kochi we both enjoyed sampling the various fish thalis.
We only had a couple of days before returning to Delhi, so to make the most of our time we drove out of the city and took an organised boat tour around the rural Keralan backwaters. These are a series of interconnecting lakes, canals, rivers and islets. Much of the day was spent leisurely winding through the waters, taking in the scenery and watching the locals dig for shellfish. When we did leave the boat it was to explore the area, and in particular to hear about the medicinal value of the local plants. We were sceptical about most of these, particularly a leaf which reputedly cures diabetes!
As our time in the south of India drew to a close we reflected on how it had compared to our time up north. Generally we felt that the south was more relaxed, and more cosmopolitan. We weren’t stared at as much and there seemed to be less people wanting to sell, tell, show you something.
India is known for its chaos, and this can be off putting at first. Many parts are hectically busy, noisy, and smelly; there is devastating poverty, with countless people sleeping on the streets; there is a lack of basic sanitation and infrastructure, with millions not having access to a toilet or fresh water. However despite all this, there is a ceaseless energy and determination about the place and the people which is hard not to admire. The vivid colours, the enormous variety of culinary delights, and the fascinating culture and history all combine to make India a special place.
We flew out of Kochi and arrived into Delhi for the final time. By now we were walking the streets with the look of well seasoned Indian travellers, immune to all tout attempts. Ironically it isn’t until you leave that you realise how comfortable you have become in a country.
Tomorrow we head out to Nepal, where we hope to spend most of our two weeks trekking in the Himalaya.