A Travellerspoint blog

India

A little tired in Trichy

and our goodbye to India..

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We got to Trichy or to use its full name Tiruchchirapalli very late on and we were both incredibly tired. Still that didn't stop us checking out a number of hotels, although in the end we did run out of steam a little bit and ended up in a fairly run down place. Not that it mattered much, as soon as our heads hit the pillow we were asleep, even the fan which sounded like a jumbo jet taking off couldn't keep us awake.

The next day we resigned ourselves to the fact that we would not spend another night here and set out to find somewhere else to stay. This proved more tricky than you would think. There seemed to be the same problem that we had found in Madurai, the price for a room which we considered to be less than satisfactory was quite high and then the price seemed to jump quite a bit. That's if you could even find a room, a number of the hotels were completely full and when Adam asked one of the hotel workers why this was he told us that this was marriage time. I had noticed that a lot of the hotels have marriage halls and I thought this might be the case, the whole hotel would be taken over for a number of days with all the wedding celebrations.

We had almost given up when we decided to try one more place, we had actually rejected it early because it looked tatty from the outside. That is why you should never judge a book by its cover! We found a nice clean, airy room and a place where we could relax for our last couple of days in India. We managed to negotiate the price down a little bit and it also included breakfast, so all in all we were happy and pleased to get out of the other place.

The next day we did absolutely zip. Although we have really enjoyed our time in India and we have seen and experienced lots of wonderful things, we are both ready for a change and our motivation has been drained slightly. Also we have both lost interest in the food to some extent which means that we are finding it hard to get excited about eating and have ended up going hungry a few times, therefore our energy levels have been a bit down. Having lazed around for the day we knew we had to get out and have a proper meal, so we walked down to one of the hotels we couldn't afford to stay in and had a meal there. It offered a bit more choice and it was fairly tasty, not up to the standards of Abad Hotel but it offered some much needed nutrition.

We are now up to date with this blog and I apologise for bombarding you with so much in one go but finding a decent place to upload is not always easy. It is a fairly slow and sometimes painful process, especially putting on the photos when the internet is going at snails pace. Today we did manage to get out and see what Trichy has to offer, it has some temples like those we found in Madurai.
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I think I liked them a little better though, they had the same brightly coloured stucco-work but when you got inside there was a little more atmosphere and elephant!
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It seemed to be in a trance, and kept bobbing its head up and down and shaking the bells around it's neck. People would come up and offer it a coin which it would take with it's trunk and then pass it to a priest. It would then turn back to the person who had given it to him and bless them on the top of their head with the tip of its trunk. Quite magical to see.
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We bought a few more mementos from the temple stalls and then headed back to the hotel which is where we are now. We leave India tomorrow at 09:25 and hopefully all things going to plan should arrive in Kuala Lumpur at 15:40. I think I speak for us both when I say that we are really excited. India has been a great country to travel around and it is quite unbelievable when I think about all the things we have seen and done in the last 2 months and 1 week. The highlights for us have been the Taj Mahal, Varanasi, Benaulim, Bangalore and Munnar. The downsides I think are just linked to the fact that we are Westerners and we don't exactly fit in. Some people have been incredibly welcoming but others have at times ended up coming across as rude. Which without wanting to sound offensive and only from picking up on what we can from how they are with each other, I think this may just be the Indian way. Whatever the reason it is still a wonderful place, which has provided us with an insight into how a country can exist in a way which is completely different to anything we would experience at home. It is definitely worth a visit.
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Next time we post it'll be from Malaysia!

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 07:11 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Temple Town

and a tailor or two!

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After witnessing a lovely sunset on the train ride we arrived into Madurai at about 22:30.
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We didn't have to walk very far to find a street with a number of hotels, our search for a room began. Unfortunately we didn't seem to be able to find a good cheap room, the not very nice rooms were quite expensive, so we pushed our budget slightly and found one which we considered to be good value for money.

We did get breakfast included though and we were told it was a buffet. We got quite excited by this and had images of a good continental spread. The next morning we went along with high hopes which unfortunately were dashed, we were probably being a little naïve anyway. We tried some of the Indian food that was on offer, but it just doesn't seem the right kind of thing to be eating first thing in the morning so I stuck to the bread and butter and Adam had cornflakes. Not exactly the spread we were hoping for but it filled a spot.

As said in the previous entry Madurai is a temple town and the main one is Meenakshi Temple.
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We found our way there weaving through the narrow streets and as we approached we managed to find a friend without even looking for one. After telling us a little bit about the temple, without us asking, he then told us that he was a tailor and could make all kinds of things for us, exact replicas of what we were wearing in fact for pittance and in no time at all. We told him no thank you and then we found out that the temple was now closed to non Hindus and we would have to come back later. You could see the main structure of the temple from the outside though and walk all the way round it's perimeter. The elaborate gaudy stucco-work gopurams are impressive and the bright colours symbolise how prominent and vibrant the Hindu religion is in India.
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We wandered around for a little while, being trailed by our new friend and then found our way back to the hotel via a restaurant for some lunch.

In the early evening we left the hotel for the temple, not long after we got outside an old man came up to us and asked us where we were from, we told him England and he said he was an English teacher. He then said that it was very lucky that we were in Madurai today because there was a festival in the temple but we had to get there soon because it would be over in about half an hour. Although something about it seemed a little off we couldn't see how he would benefit from telling us this and the thought of perhaps seeing a festival was a little too tempting so we jumped in a tuk tuk.

On the way the tuk tuk driver picked up his brother, and guess what he turned out to be a tailor too! He also told us there was a festival and then we really did smell a rat. We managed to lose him fairly quickly and then we had to get rid of our shoes before being allowed into the temple. This involved getting in a 'queue,' which in fact does not exist in India. Thankfully we have both become quite adept at pushing in, even if it does go against every British bone in our bodies. The fact is if you want to get anywhere you have to just think of number one.

As we had come to expect we saw no signs of a festival happening, having happened or about to happen. So we just turned our attention to the temple itself, which is actually much less impressive on the inside, well to a non Hindu. There were certain areas where we could not go, the most sacred parts which hold the shrines that the pilgrims flock to. Instead we flocked to the little stalls to have a look at all the brightly coloured knick knacks that were on sale. Most of it was fairly nasty and a lot of it seemed in no way related to the temple where it was being sold but I think weirdly that was part of the charm. We did find one little stall that had some more tasteful items for sale, like some of the paintings we had bought in Fort Kochi.

The women running the stall was a real character and although she was clearly quite shrewd and definitely trying her best to sell and sell hard we both warmed to her. She gave us a couple of little purses for free and I suppose that sweetened us up slightly but we had a good banter with her and in the end we bought 2 paintings, some little elephants and a small statue of Ganesh. I think we may have paid a little more than we usually would have but we got her down a bit and we all seemed happy at the end.

On the way back we found a good place for dinner, Adam actually had his meal again in a parcel to take away.
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Parcel is what you have to say when you want the food to take out. We fell asleep well fed and woke up the next morning and caught the bus to Trichy, which is where we catch our flight to Kuala Lumpur from.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 07:06 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

The Sacred Tippy Toe

One Sea, Two Sea, Three Sea!

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View Around We Go on LauHot10's travel map.

Kanniyakumari sits at the southernmost point of mainland India and is a pilgrimage site for millions of Hindus. It is where the waters of the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea all meet. We arrived early in the afternoon and headed down to the coast to see this meeting for ourselves, unsurprisingly it wasn't exactly obvious but the water was the clearest and brightest in colour that we've seen it so far. Whether this was in any way related I am not sure.
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What we were not expecting to see was a memorial temple in honour of the Bengali religious leader and philosopher, Swami Vivekananda on one of two rocks about 400m off shore. Vivekananda came to Kanniyakumari as a simple monk and devotee and swam out and sat in long and deep meditation on one of the rocks in 1892. He left inspired to speak on Hinduism at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago. On his return, he founded the Ramakrishna Mission in Chennai, which is now spread across the world. The rock was renamed Vivekananda Rock and a memorial was built in 1970. What was more surprising and impressive though was the 40m statue of the poet Thiruvalluvar which has been constructed on the second of the two rocks.
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After our usual search we found ourselves a nice hotel room, it was lacking a little in the soul department but it was large, clean and seemed relatively new.
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A lot of hotels seem to go in for this kind of fake grandeur, an impressive facade which crumbles under closer inspection. Nonetheless it was perfect for our requirements.

The heart of Kanniyakumari throbs in it's pilgrims market which is filled with a plethora of tacky items, a lot of which seem to incorporate or be entirely made of shells. It is also has an abundance of watch shops, something which pleased Adam a great deal. His Casio Digital watch, which he is very fond of, decided to stop working a month or so back and while looking for a replacement we have discovered the world of Casio copies and all they have to offer. The leader of the copies seems to be Gasio, and Adam now owns a metal strapped solar Gasio, a plastic strapped, multi light Gasio, and a black faced dual time Gasio. We are still on the look out for watches which offer something new and exciting or the ultimate hybrid as Adam likes to say!

The downside to Kanniyakumari which we soon discovered was the lack of decent places to eat. The first place we tried was really disappointing, and our slight disillusion with Indian food began. Still there are always fruit stalls to fall back on and as long as we can get our hands on a couple of mangos and a watermelon we're ok. Which after relaxing in the hotel for a while is exactly what we did for dinner, we just bought bits and bobs from stalls and took them back for an unusual pic nic. Which consisted of popcorn, peanut brittle, mangos, a watermelon, and a couple of very spicey onion bargies.

The next day we were quite lazy in the morning and seemed to find it particularly difficult to convince ourselves to get up and get motivated. Once we did we found ourselves a better place to eat, and then went to the train station to try and book our ticket to Madurai, a temple town north-east of Kanniyakumari.
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We completed the form with all our information as always and then handed it in, we were told however that for the cheaper seats that we wanted we would be on a waiting list. If we wanted to get confirmed seats we would have to pay about double the price. We were leaning towards just paying the money for peace of mind, but the ticket seller told us we would definitely get the cheaper seats we just needed to make sure we got to the station in plenty of time to confirm this. So we decided to go with what he said and save the money.

On the walk back to the hotel we caught a little bit of a local cricket match that was being played on a vacant patch of land by the roadside. Although we couldn't understand there were some speakers set up and someone appeared to be commentating on proceedings.
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We saw a couple of really good hits, maybe we witnessed a future Indian cricketer. It really is such a massive part of life over here, cricketers are as big and famous as movie stars.
Dinner again consisted of street food, we managed to get one guy to make us a couple of omelettes, well we asked for two and got three. Something about the way we say two sounds like three it would seem, it has been one of the biggest points of language confusion.

The next day we benefited from 24 hour checkout, something which seems to be quite common, at least in South India. Our train was due to depart at 17:15 and we had to check out at 15:00, so we left our bags at the hotel and went to find out whether we'd made it on to the train. When we were put on the waiting list for our train from Agra to Varanasi we had check a list, so we did this again when we got to the station. From what we could decipher it seemed we hadn't made it on to the train. We went up to check this with the ticket seller, a different one from yesterday and he confirmed that we hadn't been given seats. Feeling a bit annoyed we asked if there was anything we could do and he told us that if we came back at about 16:30 when the train arrived we could talk to the conductor and he would definitely give us seats.

After our last 'definitely' from a ticket seller didn't come to fruition we decided to hedge our bets and went to the bus station to check times and see whether there were tickets available. Thankfully there were a few buses that we could get and it was just a buy on the bus system, so if the train fell through we would still be on our way. We went back to get our bags via the Church of Our Lady of Ransom, a very attractive building set close to the sea.
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When we got back to the train station, we saw the end of the line and once again marvelled at the length of these trains.
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It is quite unbelievable how they can actually be full when they hold so many people. I guess it is highlights how many people live in India, it is certainly the busiest country I have ever visited. We found a couple of conductors and they told us to sit in carriage S4, seat 49 which left a bit of speculation about how long we would last on the train as we are two people and occupying one seat might be a bit tricky. This was rectifyed soon enough though and we were given two seats and were on our way to Madurai.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 07:00 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Off Season at The Sea Side

An Annexe & A Fish or Two

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View Around We Go on LauHot10's travel map.

We were a little unsure about what we were going to find in Kovalam, our guide book said that it had become a tourist hot spot but as we are now out of season in India we were hoping that we were going to find somewhere restful.

The bus dropped us off in Trivendrum which is a fairly sizeable town just north of Kovalam. We then got a tuk tuk to take us the last 16km to the beach. We stayed in the Southern part of Kovalam which is divided into two beaches, Eve Beach and Lighthouse Beach. The latter unsurprisingly has a lighthouse on a cliff at its southern tip.
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We decided to head to lighthouse beach as this seemed to be where the majority of hotels were clustered and we were hoping to splash a little more cash and find ourself a decent room in a nice establishment.

There is a main strip which faces the beach made up of hotels and restaurants, the rest of the places to stay are set behind these in the forest/jungle. It is all very hickledy pickledy and there are just little narrow walk ways between buildings that you have to squeeze down. The one time that we actually wanted to spend a little more money, to treat ourselves it seemed that everyone we walked past was offering us cheap rooms. It seems the pack on our backs kind of marks us out as cheapskates.

We walked around for a long time checking a number of places, we even trekked up the hill to where the more pricey hotels were, but the rooms were really just too expensive. It seemed to us that there was just no middle ground. The one place that we really did want to stay, a hotel that I had read about in the guidebook was undergoing some kind of face lift so no rooms were available. They did however have an annexe on the beach so we went to take a look. The price was pretty low so we weren't expecting too much, however it turned out you got a lot for your money. The annexe consisted of a large room with sea views which contained a small kitchen at one end and then a lounge/dining area at the other.
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Then there was one double bedroom, one single and a bathroom. It maybe wasn't exactly what we'd had in mind but it was clean and had some real character, plus the price was too good to pass up, all of that for £5.50 a night!

By the point of finally taking our backpacks off we were well and truly wiped out, so a rest was in order and some rehydration. Once our batteries were recharged we headed out for dinner and really began to realise how quiet the place was.In one way this was nice, I wouldn't want to be there in peak season but you also feel sorry for all the restaurant workers who are trying their best to encourage you into their eateries as you walk past. We picked one which had a good selection of fresh fish on offer. It was all laid out on a table at the entrance, so we both got to pick what we wanted and of course had the obligatory haggle over price. I had a fairly large crab which ended up being pretty difficult to eat as they didn't supply anything to crack it open with! Adam had a white snapper which he munched down happily.

The next day we did very little which is really what we planned to do. Our laundry situation was pretty bleak, hand washing hadn't achieved very good results, so we were hoping to rectify this. Unfortunately when we asked if there was anywhere we could take our clothes to be cleaned we were met with shakes of the head. That part of our plan for the day having hit a brick wall we decided to try and sort some things out on the net and do a bit more research into the next part of our trip.

It was really very hot in Kovalam, the sea breeze did not offer much relief and the thought of sitting on the beach did not really appeal so we decided to relax in the annexe and make the most of staying in a nice place. There was also something slightly depressing about the town, perhaps it was the deserted air which hung around the place, but whatever it was neither of us had much desire to wander around outside.
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We headed to another fish establishment for dinner, I had tandoori tuna and Adam had another white snapper, much larger this time but it all went down the hatch. It was nice to get something different to eat. As much as we have enjoyed trying the Indian food, which really is nothing like what you get from your local takeaway, the chose available in the average roadside restaurant is fairly limited. I can safely say that I have had my fill of Masala Dosa for sometime!

We went back and got an early night, another bus ride awaited us in the morning. Having got an early start we went to settle the balance for the annexe and asked the manager where we could catch a bus to Kanniyakumari which is the town situated right at the tip of India, or the sacred toe. Thankfully one was going from Kovalam in about forty fives minutes so we didn't have too far to lug our packs.

A bit of waiting for the bus and a slightly longer trip than expected and we arrived where three seas converge.
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More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 06:56 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

A Glimpse of Backwater Life

Punting, Observing & Some Good Eating!

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Alappuzha or Allepey as it is more commonly known is where the majority of boats leave for trips on the Kerela Backwaters. We arrived early in the evening and found a little guest house close to the station. Even at that time of day wandering around with a backpack on for the shortest distance leaves you dripping with sweat and it always nice to dump the bags and jump in the shower, certainly makes you appreciate the little things.

We headed up into the town in search of some food and it was surprising how quiet the place was. Sundays have never really appeared to have an impact on places we have visited so far but here it seemed to induce a kind of sleepiness. We found a nice little place to have dinner which seemed to be popular with the locals and was really good value for money.

Having mentioned to the guest house that we were looking to spend a day and night on a houseboat they informed us that they could supply one. The only major consideration for us was the price. For a 22 hour trip including lunch, dinner, breakfast and drinks it was going to cost £48, which on the face of it is really good value but it was twice our daily budget. Still we really wanted to go so the next morning we went to have a look at the boat.

Kerela houseboats really differ in size and luxury, they can be mammoth; having two levels with big viewing areas and some have satellite dishes attached for those who can't face to just sit back and enjoy the quiet. The one we went to see was definitely at the more modest end but still very sweet with two bedrooms, and then a little area at the front with a table and chairs and a kind of day bed right at the front of the boat. The kitchen was situated at the back and there were three men to man the boat, cook the food and generally make sure we were comfortable.
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One of the things which attracted us to the boat was the fact that it was a punting boat instead of one which relied on a motor. We thought that it sounded more traditional and would be more peaceful.

Having seen the boat we went back to the guest house and managed to negotiate a bit of a discount with the boss and in the end we knew that it was worth the extra cost, especially as generally we have made good savings each week.

Our trip began around midday and two of the men began punting us along the backwaters.
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Sitting up the front we both felt pretty guilty as we relaxed and gazed at the passing scenery while we watched the poor man physically exerting himself in the midday heat to get us down river. Especially as we watched other boats pass us by with their raucous engines blaring, we didn't envy that bit. We almost told him to just put the engine on but with the language barrier and also the possibility of insulting him we just decided to keep our mouths shut.

The backwaters are lined with little clusters of houses and behind them vast expanses of farmland. The water here is what life for the local people revolves around; they wash themselves, their clothes and their pots and pans in it. They water their animals, their crops, and fish in it. Despite being fairly remote in some places, life here still hums along and the lifeline the backwaters supply is evident.
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We moored by a palm tree filled bank and were served up more of a banquet than a lunch. We each had an individual fish to eat, along with rice, vegetable curry, and a couple of curried coconut salads.
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It is some of the best, most authentically Indian food that we have eaten and our bellies were certainly very full when we had finished.
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After satisfying our thirst and hunger we were told we would be staying here for a couple more hours so we should lie back and relax. Which was quite easy to do on the day bed, with the gentle sound of the water lapping against the boat.
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Once we were moving along again we headed out into a wide expanse of water, more like a lake than part of a river and for this we had to use the motor because the water was too deep.
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We headed for the more narrow channels which some of the bigger boats could not go down and as the air began to cool a little, although it still remained very muggy, the men began to punt us along again.

Around half five we dropped anchor for the evening and we went for a little walk along the banks.
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We had been told there was a village a little further up and we were expecting something a little more organised and central but a village here is drawn out along the river, all of the houses obviously desiring easy access to the water. We came across a couple of boys doing some fishing and asked if we could take their picture, they looked a bit confused by this, not sure if they had ever had a photo taken before.
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There are lots of lovely flowers all along the banks, and the colours are all amazingly vivid.
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It was certainly one of the nicest walks that I have been on in a long while and all the people were very friendly.
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It does make you feel very stupid at times when they speak to you in English and you cannot say a word in their language.
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When we got back to the boat, the captain came and sat with us and we played a game of cards which he wanted to teach us. The aim was to get rid of all our your cards but the rules seemed to change half way through and when it came to it their seemed to be absolutely no way I could avoid picking up extra cards and so I lost, twice. Which he seemed to find thoroughly amusing, so I left the boys to it and went to get ready for dinner.

Dinner was just as impressive as lunch, the fish was replaced by chicken curry and we also had homemade chappathi to munch on. It is not very often that we manage to finish off our meals here, the portions are always so generous. Unfortunately people seem to take it as a bit of an insult when there is anything left and it is always quite difficult to explain that we are simply full and that we really did enjoy the food. So once again we were left with the difficult task of letting them know that we loved the meal but our tummy's were bursting at the seams. Thankfully they seemed to understand.

After dinner we lay around on the day bed and enjoyed the drop in temperature. During the day we had spent some time planning out the next part of our trip around South East Asia and how long we were going to spend in each country. Having done a little more research we are now hoping to incorporate some time in Taiwan and would also like to go back to Kuala Lumpur from the Philippines via Borneo and Brunai. It will mean that things are a little tight but once you start thinking of all the things you could see it is hard not to try and squeeze more in.

We headed to bed for an early night knowing that we would want to get up early in order to appreciate the rest of our time on the boat. It seemed we were up before the crew, although I don't know how they could sleep through the persistent cock-a-doodling of the cockerel which woke us up at about 5:30am. Breakfast was served before we made the final part of the journey back to where the boat is moored, and it was once again top notch. Money wise there is no way we could complain about the standard of food that we were served, actually the whole experience was well worth what we spent.

It was not very far back to the moor, and along the way we saw people beginning their day on the river. One of the sights I will not forget was a whole flock of farmed ducks, more than I have ever seen in once place before, being released onto the river.
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Once back on dry land we took a tuk tuk back to the guest house and picked up some stuff we had left their for safe keeping.

We then headed off to catch our next bus to the beach town of Kovalam in the south of Kerela, with just a quick stop off at the post office to post back Adam's suit amongst other things. Hopefully it all makes it back in one piece after being securely wrapped in cotton by the tailor!

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 06:47 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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