This area of India is perfect for growing spices. It is the few places in the world where you can grow Cardamon. You can also grow pepper (black peppercorn) Tea, Coffee, Vanilla and a whole bunch of other great spices. We went on a spice farm tour. It was great, really informative and fun. We tasted a lot of different spices and fruits and all were tasty and interesting. We also learned a lot of about the different trees. I would highly recommend that anyone try to do a spice farm tour (especially for those plant loving foresters out there). Here are the pictures from our day.
Roads: Great until the very end, then rough
It was cold this morning (yay) because we are so high in elevation, I was actually cold riding for a good portion of the morning (as compared to yesterday where I don’t think I’ve sweat so much in my life). We started with a few kilometers of downhill (also yay!), which then led to the majority of the morning spent climbing againg. At one point I got ahead of Kelly, and waited at the bottom of a hill for him…and waited…and waited…just when I started to wonder if he had fallen down a cliff and was going to go back up, he came around the corner, photography is to blame with fantasic scenery and good earily morning light. We found a guesthouse in Kumily (with a homemeade chocolate shop below us) and plan on spending a day or two checking out this hill station town.
After our houseboat we caught a ferry to Kottayam. There was a few slight differences between this ferry and the house boat. It was a lot cheaper, and we shared it with about 40 other people. Bikes go on the roof, which was really easy.
Kottayam is a pretty prosperous town, due to the rubber plantation trade. We found a nice business hotel which was great value and the next day we were gone.
Distance: 72km Roads: great Traffic: light Elevation gain: ~1200m (3500ft)
A1200m gain is a lot, especially on a bike, in India where the temperature is 30 something degrees and you are carrying a sick amount of gear. We were doing great until about 1pm. Then we got hungry, so we stopped for a snack. It wasn’t enough so we stopped at the next place serving food.
The place didn’t look that bad, but once we started to eat, we thought it was a bad idea to eat there. The reason for this was because they were about to add cold tap water to one of the dishes. This made us worry (was there water added before? is it safe to eat?) 24 hours later we are not sick, so I guess it was ok, something to look out for in the future.
We didn’t stop climbing until 3:30, most of the time we are done by 1pm. We were tired and sore, moving very slow. Our muscles were screaming.
We reached the top, and there was a guest house there. It was great, inside our budget and it was clean. So we stayed. It is built on a 1000 acre spice, tea and coffee plantation. Designed like a resort, there were a number of things one could do at this place (canoe in there damn reseviour, nature walks, ect). I walked around a little taking some pictures.We ate dinner at attached the restaraunt. It was good, by the time we finished eating we were tired and ready for bed.
We treaded ourselves to a couple of days of house boating. We decided to go with the American couple on the houseboat (you save money that way) and we went for two days not one. It was great. Our boat was huge, the bedroom was very nice, the crew was friendly, the beer was cold, the company was superb and we had an upper deck (costs extra, but worth it).
Our houseboat left at 11:30, we got on and the first thing we really noticed was how many other boats there were. The locals claim that there are 400 boats, and I would believe it. From the upper deck of our boat all you could see was the roofs of other houseboats. We got settled and were off. At about 1pm we were served lunch. No real warning, it was just there, which was great because everyone was hungry.
The food was tasty. We spent the rest of the day chatting with Aaron and Jessie (the American couple we split the boat with). Around 5 we docked for the night.
The backwaters a really neat. I always try to imagine what it was like before people were here, making levies and dikes. There are hundreds of canals running throughout this area. The top of the water is about 1 meter above the ground, which is really important.
The ground is covered in rice paddies, and when the rice needs some water, they open a culvert and let gravity fed water soak the paddy. There is a very complex irrigation system in place which works with no power and provides an amazing amount of food. The backwaters provide a great way to see the landscape and this crazy place.
We had only planned on staying one day, and if it was really good, we would stay another day. We stayed for 2 days, and it was worth it. The food was amazing, the scenery was always changing and different. It was so peaceful. The water was teaming with life from all trophic levels and it was great to see how everything lived in this ecosystem. What a great experience.
I would recommend people do this if they get a chance.
Today we thought we’d check out a Kathakali performance, which is a very traditional form of art in Kerala. Kathakali as an art form that began when Shakespear was writing plays. It is basically a play but there are very few words and you get all of your understanding of what is going on through the actors movements, facial expressions, and especially eye movements.
We arrived in time to see the actors prepare for the performance, which is watching them but on very detailed face make-up (it took about an hour), all of the brightly colored make up they use is all natural from different colored rocks.
The performance started with a demonstration of some of the many typical movements and expressions and what they meant, so we had a general idea of what would be going on during the play, this was very helpful and informative!
The actual play started and we were really impressed by the skill of the actors and how professional the performance was (we were expecting something much more cheesy), apparently the actors train for 6 years and the accompanying drumers and singer for 4 years.
It was very well done and we were glad we went. The play was about a king who was trying to seduce a queen, finally he won her over and then he turned violent, then she went for help to the guy next in line to be the king and help she got becase that guy killed the king…and that was the end…very dramatic. At many Hindu festivals around India you can watch all-night Kathakali performances, ours was an hour and a half.
Roads: 50% the best roads ever, 40% good and 10% awful.
Traffic: very light
Today was one of the best days yet. Amazing, because last night was the worst sleep we had thus far. This all changed as soon as we left the guest house.
Fort Kochin doesn’t really have a lot a traffic at the busiest of times. At 6:30 in the morning there was no traffic at all. We headed west as far was we could and hugged the beach all the way to Alleppey. What a treat, we only saw sleepy fishing towns and excited kids. The weather wasn’t too hot, there was no headwind, no clouds just perfect. This is where you can really start to see the backwaters of Kerala. At one point we had ocean on the right, freshwater on the left and the land was only about 100m wide, amazing. Palm trees and Churches dotted the side of the road.
We stopped for a break in a shaded area. As we were just finishing up a really excited boy came up and started tot talk to us. His English was great and we was asking us a bunch of questions about our trip, our feelings about India and Canada. We went on telling us that he wanted to get his MBA (he hadn’t finsihed high school yet). It was a pretty neat to see him so excited. I think he was one of the lucky Indians that will get the chance if he so chooses.
Did I mention how great the ride was? It was a truly amazing day. About halfway through out the ride Tanya got the idea that we should start a business guiding tourists on this road by bicycle. With the thought of doing this ride for everydayfrom next November to March, the cogs were turning, trying to find a way to extend our trip. We arrived in Allepy around lunch, checked out many hotels and settled on the last one we found (good price and clean). After that we had lunch and ran into the American couple we met a couple of days ago (kind of fluky to met up with them again).
After lunch we went to look at some houseboats for tomorrow (24 hours on a house boat is 2.5 times our daily budget). Houseboats are highly recommended by everyone that has done them and by our guide book (Lonely Planet’s top 10 things to do before you die sort of thing). So we are going to splurge on it.
It is hard to describe the motivation behind waking up early on a Sunday. With the lure of Chinese fishing nets and the best light of the day I headed out of the guest house at 5:30am. As soon as I step out, I hear India, awake and doing its religious thing. In the distance I hear Muslim prayer calls, nearby I hear the drone of the morning sermon at the nearby Catholic church. I walk to the doors of the church to hear the preaching and then singing in Malayan.
As I continue walking, the comfortable cool air guides me towards the ocean. On my way a couple from Israel flag me down and I talk with them for a while. They just arrived by train and waiting for light before seeking a room. We talk for a bit, sharing stories and trading tips. After I head to the beach and wait for the sun to rise. Armed with only a camera, I walk up to the massive wooden contraption. It looks like a giant four legged spider, ankle deep in water. As I take pictures of the nets, the sea front starts to come alive. Fishermen arrive, tending to the nets like ants on a tropical tree. Balancing on the many booms, guiding the counter weights as the nets are lowered into the water.
After I have had my fill of taking pictures I walk back to the guest house. I make sure to take the long way and enjoy the heritage look of the town bathing in the early morning sunlight. I make sure to stop at the bakery on the way back, acquiring goods that I will tempt Tanya out of her groggy sleep.
There are a lot of images below, I treated this outing as an exercise, and I hope you all can learn from what I saw. It was pretty neat to see all this go on.
Our first day in Fort Cochin we actually spent in the big shiny city across the jetty called Ernakulam. We went in search of cheap brand- name peanut butter (which we eventually found 3 days later!),
we also checked out a couple of the many art galleries located in both Ernakulam and Fort Cochin. We went to Pizza Hut for lunch and met a couple from California on the ferry back who we went to dinner with.
The next day we spent in an area in Fort Cochin called Jew Town and also in Matttancherry. Jew town is a busy port area and even has a synagogue (which was closed for lunch when we were there) and also a centre for spice trade, with numerous spice markets that sold spices such as ginger, cardamom, cumin, turmeric, and cloves, quite the aromas! Mattancherry is also home to numerous art galleries of which we went to several.
Roads: Great (a shoulder most of the way)
Traffic: Took the NH, traffic was good unitl 9, from 9-11 it was really bad, and we were done by 11:30 To Kochi
Traffic: Pretty busy, we avoided the NH
The last two days have been pretty good, however not without the usual sores one gets after riding for some time. My hands are sore and Tanya’s knee is sore. Our brooks saddles seem to be fully broken in and are pretty comfortable (much more comfortable then synthetic ones). I am still amazed that there hasn’t been a stretch of 100m without a house or other dwelling of some sort. There are no farms and no forested lands here, just housing. This place is crazy populated.
When we rolled into Kodungallor we looked for a hotel. We saw a sign on the way into town which we liked, so we looked for it. It took us some time to find it and after looking at a few others we found it. The only room was Rs1000, it had AC and a hot shower. It was nice to have a little treat. The room was very nice (but small), and it was great to have the AC and the first hot shower in weeks.
Amma was in Kodungallor, which was cool, we will be visiting her ashram later. We decided to check it out and hopefully get a glimps of Amma. There were a bunch of chairs set up and many TV screens and speakers broadcasting Amma, however it was a pre-recording and Amma was nowhere in sight. The stands where packed with two types of people. Indians (which is a given, and the majority), there were also many westerns there as well. The westerners were all wearing white and dressing very similar to the way the Indian men do.
We waited around for a while listening to Amma speak another langage, but after 15 minutes I started to have chronic yawns (we have been very active you know). There was also the lure of an AC’d, brand new hotel room. Over the past few weeks Tanya and I have developed a slight TV addiction. Like junkies, we mope around when we can’t see our shows (30 Rock and Scrubs). We have to be careful as there are many other luring shows on the TV that could easily suck us in, we did not come to India to watch TV.
The next day we slept in, as we only a short ride to Kochi.
We left our very nice hotel room and were looking forward to the tourist hub of Kochi. We got onto Vypin island in hopes of avoiding too much traffic. It didn’t quite work out as well as we had hoped. I don’t know if it was the morning commute or what, the traffic was pretty heavy. Although it was only cars, bikes and buses, there were no trucks. You have to take a ferry to Kochi from Vypin Island, which was packed, but uneventful.
Once arriving in Kochi, we did as our guide book said we would, we took a sigh of relief. This place is so laid back. Riding our bikes though the town is a breeze, there is no traffic (oviously there was some traffic, but for a small town of 1.36million you would expect a lot more). It was about 11am and we took our time looking at many homestays for a place to stay. The guide book warned about the busy season and how one must book ahead if you wanted to get a budget accmodation. I don’t know if it was the Mumbia attacks or the recession (if you read this some time in the future, remember that at the time of this post, there was a really bad world wide recession happening). We had no problem finding a place, in fact we had many to choose from, all were afordable and pretty clean.
Roads: Amazing, first time seeing a paved shoulder in India
Traffic: Moderate (since there was a shoulder we could ride on, we didn’t notice the traffic so much).
Today was a long day, both of us had sore muscles from the previous days rides, I was getting over a cold and Tanya was coming down with one. No big deal though, pop a couple Cold FXand hope we don’t get too sick. The scenery today was superb, with great views and our first tea plantation, Kerala is turning out to be a great place to ride. The ride today consisted of rolling hills, you ride up a hill for about 500m, then you go down a hill for 500m. Good fun because you are always being rewarded for you uphill efforts (which is nice). The only exception to this was the huge hill we fortunately had to descend. About 10km of 8-15% slopes. My hand was sore from pulling the brakes the whole trip down. The road was very windy with many switchback corners.
Now we are in a place called Calicut (or Kozhikode if you want to be correct). We will take a rest day tomorrow. This is not the most ideal town to do such a thing, there isn’t much here for the tourist, just congested busy streets. Although this town is very clean (by Indian standards at least) and there were far less bad smells here as well (I didn’t smell raw sewage once). People here have money, although, it looks like the last big boom was in the 70’s, some buildings are run down.