Though we were reluctant to leave the houseboat, we continued on the next day to Cochin. We had landed there earlier in the week, but hadn’t spent much time exploring.
Cochin is the capital of Kerala, and is about the same population as Toronto. We wandered along the beachfront path to see the Chinese fishing nets before finding some lunch.
There was one thing the rural parts of India had lacked so far… shopping! Shafiq took us to Jayalakshmi, a store consisting of several floors stocked with sarees, kurtis, and lunghis of every design and colour. Beth, Julie, and I all selected a kurti (a long tunic/dress) and were brought some leggings to go with them. We wandered around the store observing brides decked out in amazingly vibrant sarees, many laden with sparkles and gold. Beth was fascinated by the electric colours, many of which were found in the children’s section. Each time she picked something up a saleswoman kindly replaced it on the rack, as if to say “No no, these are not for you.” This store can be compared to a department store in North America, but had a very different payment process. Once we had made our selections, a saleswoman whisked them away and returned with a slip of paper. We were instructed to proceed to the bottom floor, where you visit one desk to pay, and another to collect your purchase.
We also shopped on Marine Drive, where there was a tent filled with more clothing! We were lucky to have been in Cochin during “Cottonfab”, which was essentially an expo filled with vendors of anything fabric: clothing, shawls, rugs.
We continued to kill time between a restaurant and a dessert cafe until that night, when we dove right in to our first rail experience in India, boarding a train from Cochin to Calicut that departed at midnight and arrived at 5:00 am. At first I was terrified at the thought of Beth and I being alone in a compartment with two men, but as soon as the train started rumbling along they went right to sleep, and we managed to do the same.
Having arrived in Calicut at 5:00 am we were at a loss for what to do, but were told the sunrise at the beach was really nice. We sat there for what seemed like hours in the pitch-dark reading our Kobos, while Rignam and the driver napped in the car. When the sun finally rose (but not over the west-facing beach) we did some pretty great people-watching. The city slowly woke up as people walked to work, jogged along the beach, and we observed what we call “The Calicut Swing” – we saw a man swinging his arms as he walked, but so aggressively and quickly that his arms legitimately looked like rubber. I was at the point of exhaustion where everything becomes hilarious, so we erupted in giggles.
We were naturally exhausted the next day, but pushed through to explore Wyanad. We were driven around in an open Jeep, that really let us see, smell, and hear what was going on (the only issue being that we were all big, and the jeep was small – several head bangs proved that). The first stop was the Eddakal Cave which required a significant hike. The work was worth it, as we descended into the cool quiet cave and marvelled at the ancient carvings that clearly depicted people, wheels, and ancient Sanskrit.
The next stop was the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary where we spotted more deer, a lovely warthog, and more elephants! This pair was careful to shield their baby as we approached, but we caught a few glimpses of them in a very natural state.
On the way back we found ourselves in the middle of a parade of men, interspersed with some very coordinated boys who marched in time while banging on their drums/tambourines.
We’ve been very lucky throughout this trip to be directed and hooked up by Ronnie, one of Rignam’s roommates in Delhi. Ronnie is originally from Kerala, and his recommendations were usually fantastic! One of the best deals Ronnie scored for us was a discounted price on a cottage at Coffee Acres, a cute little resort in Wyanad where we all were happy to crash.
Feeling refreshed the next day we forged onwards to Bhallakupe, home to one of the largest Tibetan settlements outside of Tibet, and the Nyingmapa Monastery and Ser May Monastic University. The peace and tranquility of the temples was a refreshing change to the hustle and bustle of the Indian towns and cities, and I deeply inhaled the calming scent of incense while enjoying the feeling of cool stone under my bare feet.
For lunch we ate Tibetan momos, a type of dumpling. The first restaurant we ate at only had enough for two plates amongst the four of us. This simply was not enough momos, so we promptly went to another restaurant for more. I could eat momos forever, if my stomach was bottomless. Alas, there is a point of having too many, and Beth coined the phrase, “Mo momos, mo problems.” We think she should trademark it and make t-shirts!
After the day spent in Bhallakupe we drove on to Mysore, an unfortunately named city, which is not at all an eyesore (sorry Daddy, had to beat you to the punch on that one.) We spent the better part of an hour and a half searching for somewhere to rest our heads that a) didn’t cost too much and b) didn’t have bedbugs. When we finally managed to settle at the Kings Kastle we were greeted by wifi! Then began the most antisocial part of our trip: the four of us were lost in facebook, instagram, and blogging!
The next morning we visited the Myesore Palace, greeted by our first real experiences with touts and pushy salesmen. With sunglasses on, a confident stride, and a firm “no,” we were usually able to shake them.
Unfortunately photography wasn’t allowed inside the palace (even though Rignam snuck a few photos on his phone – we were prepared to deny knowing him if he was caught). The inside was endlessly ornate, from the millions of tiles in the patterned floors, to the intricate teakwood ceiling carvings. Out front, we were once again the subject of many photos.
We had time for lunch before needing to leave for our flight from Bangalore, and Rignam directed our driver to the Elements Bistro, found on Trip Advisor and popular for its sizzler plates. We all gorged on sizzling chicken, noodles, and vegetables in varying levels of saucy and spicy. The patron was very friendly, and suggested we try his deep-fried chocolate for dessert. To quote Grown Ups, we got “chocolate wasted.” There was also wifi at the restaurant, and comfy floor-level tables, so we all posted up in a row along a wall and feasted while checking our various social media channels. After quite some time without, it was nice to be able to reconnect.
I can’t believe I’ve only been in India for 9 days. I’ve quickly become adept at ordering food (and sort of knowing what it’s going to be), using the Indian-style toilets, washing my clothes and body in a bucket, and have started to more naturally tilt/nod my head from side to side to communicate. The best part of this head tilt/nod business is that it can mean whatever you want it to mean… this is also the worst part because sometimes you have no idea what anyone means! We’ve been spoiled by having Rignam to lead us, so it’s going to be different going forward as we find our own way. But now that we’ve had a nice intro, I’m confident we can do it!