An Indian Adventure 4 – Kochi, Nilgiri hill station and Goa
Kochi and Fort Cochin
We had a mosquito plagued night of restless sleep in Ernakulum, got up and had Biryani for breakfast. We took a short ferry journey to an island called Kochi. Kochi and Fort Cochin were under control from the Portuguese, then the Dutch and then the British from the 1500s until 1947 when India was liberated. It therefore has a colonial and European feel to it, due to the mixture of these countries different style of architecture. The fort was built to protect the rulers various commercial interest and also features Chinese fishing nets which are thought to date back to Chinese traders. We walked through the streets and stood by the nets watching mesmerised as men winched up nets of fish out of the sea.
We’d read about a restaurant on Kochi with a very good reputation called Dal Roti so went there for lunch. Its reputation was well deserved and it didn’t disappoint. The owner was very welcoming and the food was out of this world! If anyone visits Kochi they should go there. After a pleasant afternoon’s wanderings we caught the ferry back. It is possible to stay on Kochi but lodgings we found in Ernakulum were much cheaper.
That evening we were catching a train to Metupalaiyam, but first we had to go to Coimbatore to transfer. We had a two hour wait in the middle of the night but had researched and found that we could rent a pretty grubby sleeping room (for the cost of a hostel) in the train station. By now anyone reading will understand that I do not deal well without sleep so was willing to pay that price. We woke at four and caught the next leg of our journey.
When we arrived at Metupalaiyam we were going to catch the Nilgiri toy train, a miniature steam train which is a very popular way for tourists to travel to our next stop. The Nilgiri hill station town of Ooty. We queued for an hour feeling nervous. If we didn’t make this train (there were more people in the queue than seats available on the train) our journey from Ernakulum would be a waste of precious time because there was only one train a day! Luckily we managed to get a seat; unfortunately it was on the side of the train that had the poorer views.
It took the train 5 hours (with a couple of stops for refreshments and toilet breaks) to chug through the green hills. Along the way we saw hill after hill of tea plantations and hillside villages with houses positioned haphazardly up the slopes. The low of the journey was realising we were sat next to an unbelievably ignorant guy from London who kept shouting and being a general idiot. The highlight was when a group of men at the back of the train started singing and clapping and having a right old jolly!
We were surprised when we got off the train at Ooty and felt a cool breeze! At one point I had to put a cardigan on. The climate in the hills differs greatly from other areas of South India. We were trying to find a specific guesthouse which was supposed to be cheap and scenic and were almost lost until a teenager on a bike offered his help. It’s bad to say this but up until this point we’d experienced so many people trying to make money off us for the simplest thing that we were a bit suspicious of his motives. This turned out to be total unjustified, as the pleasant teenager led us to the door chatting away and then cycled off without asking for anything. That taught us not to pre-judge people, even if that can be difficult sometimes. We found a man-made lake and relaxed there for a while, watching Indian families playing on peddle boats in the water. Ash still wasn’t feeling 100% and the guesthouse was on a quiet road away from the centre so we didn’t stay out too late that night. We were catching a bus early in the morning to start our journey to Goa.
We got to the bus station early the next morning. We’d been unable to buy tickets in advance so had to make sure we got there super early to avoid being stranded. Yep Indian transport can be a bit chaotic! Everything went smoothly and we sat at the back of the bus next to an open door surrounded by little children catching the bus to get to school. I really love travelling by train and bus; you get to see so much more. We were heading down to Kozhikode to get the train to Goa. Before getting there though, the bus weaved down tiny roads and took 15 terrifying but also exciting hairpin turns, sometimes with enormous drops on one side. My nerves were slightly on edge by the time we got off!
Going to Goa
A few hours later we caught the train to Madgoan in southern Goa. We’d done so much rushing around that we were looking forward to a few days unwinding before flying home. We arrived in the middle of the night and saw the most westerners we’d seen since Hampi at the station. After an hour of deliberating and a good five cups of ginger chai (nom) we walked a little away from the station (good advice if you’re not alone I think because the prices might be cheaper) and caught a rickshaw to the bus station. We waited for the first bus to Palolem, ate street snacks and people watched. It might sound scary waiting around in bus stations at 4 in the morning and I probably wouldn’t advise it if you’re alone and female, but there was lots of activity with people in the same situation as us and market traders setting up shop for the day. The journey was only 40 minutes or so and the driver shouted when it was time for us to hop off.
If taking the same route as us and catching the bus, please don’t be fooled by the bunch of rickshaws waiting by the bus stop like we did. We hopped in and out again in the space of five minutes! It’s definitely walkable. The accommodation on Palolem beach consists of beach shacks of varying levels of luxury. We looked for the cheapest shabbiest looking ones we could find and asked for a price. Ash’s infamous bargaining skills got us four nights at a very reasonable price. We spent the next four days on the beach with the cows, snoozing, swimming, souvenir buying, getting my hands henna’d, drinking beer and eating lots of food. Basically it was just a really chilled end to a crazy holiday.
Feeling a lot more rested but with a still poorly Ash in toe, I caught a 12 hour day train to Mumbai. I felt pretty sad that the trip was coming to an end. We were meant to have a layover on our flight in Istanbul for 12 hours, but I was concerned as Ash still wasn’t well.
Once at the airport we waited for a few hours before a customer services lady came over. She apologised profusely and told us our flight was overbooked. Would we consider staying in a 5 star hotel and receiving $500 in flight vouchers whilst they sorted us another flight? Hhhhmm let us think about that (for literally ten seconds!). We couldn’t really turn down an opportunity like this, especially with sick boy’s condition, so ended up at the Mumbai Hyatt Regency for over 24 hours. We had an enormous room with the comfiest bed ever and a bathroom with two showers, all you could eat buffets three times a day and a swimming pool! Ash had time to recover and we both had time to chill before flying back to reality.
I fell totally in love with India during that trip. Sure, there were times when being a westerner was a disadvantage and we were stressed when being hassled or ripped off, but we saw the funny side to all of these things! It’s an amazingly vibrant, stunning and really diverse country. It gave me crazy wanderlust and helped motivate me to get my arse in to gear for moving to Korea. I can’t wait to go travelling in 2014 and travel down from Nepal to North India and have another adventure, this time for longer.