Bangalore, Alleppey, Fort Cochin,
20.01.2013 - 25.01.2013 35 °C
It was 6am on a Sunday when we jumped off the train at Bangalore en route from Hampi to Kerala. Bangalore is famous in certain circles for its very rapidly growing software industry and has already established itself as the silicon valley of India. Outside the station our minds were blown when we found our second auto-rickshaw driver in India who was willing to use the meter to take us, rather than quote us 10x the price upfront (sound of Hallelujah chorus)! :-D
We passed the early hours walking round the lovely Cubbon Park and being mesmorised by the diverse displays of morning exercise. It was clear from the clean wide roads and high rise buildings, ‘Bangers’ was doing alright for itself. We were sweaty and stinking and couldn’t wait to get to Kerala, but wanted to make the most of our time in this happening city. So after a lovely masala dosa for breakfast (rolled up lentil pancake with spicy mash inside) and a wet-wipe wash, we made our way over the road to Lalbargh Botanical Gardens (rock’n’roll!). This was the scene for an annual flower display (a 30ft Eiffel tower made from roses and a bigger than life size Barbie doll) which shows off the flowers to be used for Republic Day celebrations (Indian Independence Day).
Bangalore was just a day stop and we didn’t get to see a lot of sights other than the flowers, but the day will be remembered for two Indian families. We were sat in the park when a young girl with her two brothers started to chat to us. It took us by surprise when after 15 minutes her mother and grandma came over and started dishing up some tasty pilau for us. It’s considered very rude to refuse food so after a further 15 minutes of eating, showing them wedding photos, swapping stories and the kids referring to us as ‘Auntie’ and ‘Uncle’, we were starting to feel like part the family. However, the atmosphere changed dramatically for the worse when after about an hour of getting to know each other, the daughter, after much prodding from mum, asked if we would pay her school fees (120 quid). Not exactly what we'd been expecting. We said no. We did a lot of reading on the ethics of giving to beggars before starting this trip, and while this family weren't begging in the traditional sense, it amounts to the same thing. We always find it extremely difficult to say no and we certainly don't blame them for asking, let's be honest, what parent wouldn't do everything they could to ensure a better future for their child. You have to go with your gut when meeting people while backpacking and we’ll maintain they were a genuine family who just saw an opportunity to ask. Either way, it left us feeling both confused and drained. We’re not going to get to deep in to this, but the whole day was tainted by this exchange and we left feeling we’d been naive to assume they’d just wanted our company.
We were feeling down about what had just happened and the walk through roads stacked high with rubbish, rotting food and human waste, coupled with the depressing sight of starving cows, neglected dogs and malnourished people picking through those piles to find scraps of food, put us on an all time low for the trip. India is full of these terrible sights, but some days are harder than others and this was one of them.
As so often has happened in the past few months (especially in India), when we go through a tough experience, a great experience is just around the corner. We got our connecting train to Kerala that evening and were sharing our sleeper bay with a family we had met the night before on the platform in Goa. They were all lovely, friendly people, but the 10 year old daughter was something else! Full of beans and not remotely shy, she was the entertainment of not just us, but the entire carriage. We babysat for the evening while Mum kept up our energy with sweets, homemade chapatti and chili pickle in between catching up on her much deserved sleep. It was a massive contrast to our earlier experience that day and couldn’t have come at a better time!
We missed our Kerala stop by a good few hours, as we were told by our travel agent it was a 9:30am arrival, when in fact it was more like 5:00am arrival. What can we say, the alarm didn’t go off! ;-) So we took a couple of buses and 4 hours later than planned we arrived in Alleppey. By this time we’d been squashed into a couple of sweaty sleeper trains at 40oC and hadn’t been near running water for way over 48 hours…delicious. So we checked in to a guesthouse, readied the wire scrubbers and detergent, and had the best shower of our lives :-)
Alleppey is the houseboat hub for sailing the Kerala backwaters in style and we weren’t disappointed when we arrived at the dock to see our converted Kettuvallam (rice barge).
The boat was impressive enough but unexpectedly we had our own private chef and butler. To be honest it was a little overwhelming after slumming it for so many months, so we offered them a few beers and left them to it. We passed the time taking in the scenery, chatting and doing the blog over a few beers. It made a nice change to have a few days luxury honeymooning in amongst the budget backpacking.
Fort Cochin was our next stop in Kerala. We spent the first day walking round the mix and match of Portuguese, Dutch and British buildings this town offers and from what we’ve seen of India so far, it’s one of the prettiest places in the country.
Kerala has recently become a booming tourist hotspot, which along with the local council’s favorable land reform, health and education policies, gives it an affluence and rate of development rarely seen throughout India. The contrast between Kerala and the rest of India is evident in the cleanliness of the streets, the very well dressed locals and the ease of communication. It’s a very nice place to be and clearly has money.
The second day we spent walking round the rather bluntly titled ‘Jewtown’ in Matancherry. A 20 min walk from Fort Cochin, its home to one of the world’s oldest synagogues, spice markets and a small ornate palace converted in to a local history museum.
Interesting museum fact: Indian women used to wear dresses which left their arms and shoulders exposed, until the British came along as recently as the 1900’s and insisted they cover up. This certainly took us by surprise, as it’s now the Indian women who insist on modesty and look very unfavorably at British dress. How things change!
After a crippling yoga lesson at 6am (Louise was pushed too far in to a pose by an inadequate instructor and couldn’t walk for the rest of the day), the third day was spent catching up with family, the blog, photo uploads and general trip admin while we watched the streets of Fort Cochin bustle by from an internet café balcony. If you’ve wondered why the blog and photo’s have slowed down somewhat, it’s purely due to the fact we can’t whip out the laptop wherever we like (safety first) and wifi is a bit sparse! We’re doing what we can, when and where we can. Please bear with us… :-)