Sunday, January 22, 2012

Exploring South India - Part 5: Ooty to Mysore

The morning in Ooty was incredibly cool. When I woke up, I realized my throat was sore and felt like I was coming down with something. It was probably due to the combination of 1) taking a cold shower the previous morning in Kochi as the hot water was not available, 2) being in a car for more than 8 hrs straight, 3) coming to a ultra cold place from a ultra hot place, and 4) just being tired after 5 days on the road.

We were supposed to head to Mudumalai National Park early next morning, like 5:30am, but of course we altered the plan the previous night. We needed much more rest than just a quick 6 hrs of sleep. So, we slept in, had a relaxing breakfast, and left for the park around 1pm. Before going to the park, we decided to take a peek at Ooty Lake.

The lake was just a lake :).  They were running a boat around the lake, which seemed to be an attraction for the Indian tourists. What was great about the area was the scenery. It definitely was a different India than I have ever seen. The houses on the hillside were small and not nicely built (probably pretty cold inside, too), but something about the way they were cluttered with each other, something about the way they lived with lots and lots of goats, something about the way the children were playing outside the houses, and something about the way people seemed to be keeping themselves busy and working hard gave me such warm feeling. Would I leave the village if I ever were born there?  Maybe not. The life there seemed to be self-contained and intact.

The road to the park was again a winding mountain road, and it took more time than we anticipated. The park offers two tours; one in the morning, which we missed, and the other in the afternoon, which started at 3pm. We got there around 3:30pm hoping that the line to get the ticket was not too long. It wasn't, but guess what???  All the tickets for the day were SOLD OUT!  Ouch!  We were shocked and very disappointed, but we moved on - yep, reluctantly.

On the way out to the park, we saw an elephant crossing in front of us. It was just a sight of one elephant, but we were very excited! Everyone stopped their cars and started to take pictures, like me :-)  According to the wiki article, there are about 1800-2300 (not sure why the range is so big...but anyway) elephants living in the park and the adjoining parks around the area. That's a lot. Also, Mudumalai National Park was declared as a Tiger Reserve in 2007, and I heard you get to see tigers roaming around IF you are lucky. But of course, all you see along the road were monkeys and deer.

We drove out of the park, kept driving along the winding road some more, and crossed the state border into Karnataka (strange that I felt "home" when we did...anyway).  We then realized that we were going through another park called Bandipur National Park. We came across the area where the elephants were chained (yes!) and fed.  Not sure if that was a camp or what, but the site of the elephants being chained gave me an odd feeling, as the park is supposed to be the sanctuary place for wildlife.

Then we found a place that was offering a tour. It was already around 4:30pm, and the line to the ticket was not short (and moving sloooowly, too), so we gave up on the entire idea of getting a tour of the park and moved onto Mysore. The decision was right, as it took more than 3 hrs to get to Mysore from the park with the occasional encounters with herds of cows or goats on the street.

Mysore was impressive with big and gorgeous buildings and we started to really look forward to the sightseeing the next day. Yet, the mood got semi ruined when we found the hotel we reserved. It was rather mediocre and unfortunately very tacky. We would have looked for another hotel if we had more energy, but there was no energy left, so we just checked in. The strange thing about Mysore is that the city is big but it is not as modernized as Bangalore. The information we get through Internet didn't seem to correspond with the reality. For instance, we found a couple of restaurants that we thought we can have our dinner, but one didn't exist (or we could not find) and the other was not open until 8pm. At least the restaurants in Bangalore are open at 7pm for dinner. So, we ended up eating at the tacky restaurant at our hotel.

Amazingly, though, the food was not too bad. The drinks were okay. Maybe the ice cubes that my hubby asked them to put into his drink were not such a good idea. Yep, that night, he got VERY sick. I was okay for some reason (the only thing I didn't have and he did was the ice cubes at the restaurant). gG usually doesn't lay besides my hubby voluntarily, but he was constantly by my hubby's side that night. He somehow knew that my hubby was not feeling well.

We just went to sleep hoping that my hubby would feel better the next morning.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Exploring South India - Part 4: Ooty

Although we wanted to spend more days in Kochi, it was time for us to start heading back up north. The next destination we planned was Ooty. By then, we knew the 5 hr estimate given by Google Maps would not be doable and were expecting to arrive at Ooty late. We left Kochi around 10am, went over the rough road up to Coimbatore, and headed north to Ooty. The road to Ooty was a mountain road, winding right to left, up and down, and every time we got stuck behind a truck, the driver struggled to pass it, which was not too fun as a driver myself who know actually how to drive. It was not a very comfortable ride for sure.

We were nowhere close to Ooty after 5 hrs. The scenery changed quite a bit.  I could tell we were at high altitude, as my ears started to pop once in a while (yes, my ears are ultra-sensitive). We saw villages built along the slope of mountains here and there. It looked like an artistic mosaic on the mountainside, as the houses were small and cluttered but very colorful. The clothes people were wearing changed, too, as the temperature was significantly colder.  Unlike in Kochi where people wore half-sleeve shirts and flip-flops, I started to see people with heavy jackets, shawls, and hats. They looked more like people from the Himalayas.

Around 5pm, we passed a decent size town (maybe Coonoor?).  All of us including gG were very tired by then. We took a quick break (well, gG and I stayed in the car, as it was cold, and I knew I would not be lucky enough to find a decent toilet ^^;). It said Ooty was 20km away. Whew!  Another 20km on the mountain road... I expected not to arrive to Ooty before 6pm.

It was a bit after 6:30 when we checked in to our hotel. Yep, 8hrs and 30 mins later, we were in Ooty so exhausted (not to mention about the poor driver who drove that long!). The only good thing was that I could see a beautiful sunset right around the time we were heading to our hotel. We had a quick bite and just tossed ourselves into bed.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Exploring South India - Part 3: Kochi Day 2

It was already around noonish when we decided to take a short trip to Fort Cochin. We asked our driver to drop us off at the ferry dock and headed over to Fort Cochin by ourselves. Fort Cochin was not as crowded as the previous day, which was Sunday. We walked around for a while and first visited Old Courtyard for lunch, which was highly recommended by the owner of our hotel. The food was good, and the ambiance was great. Just at the time we came out of the restaurant, one rickshaw approached us. We were like... oh god, not again, as we were typically hit by those money-grabbing auto guys who pick up foreigners and ask for a ridiculous amount of money for a ride. But, this guy seemed genuine. He said he would take us around the major sightseeing areas only for Rs 50!! It seemed to be a bargain. So we took it.

It was good that we did, as the sun was high and the temperature was rising. Plus, unlike Bangalore, the humidity was high, too. And the rick guy was pretty nice, as was his rickshaw (no comparison to the ones in Bangalore!). He first took us to the Church of St. Francis, said to be the oldest European church in India, and where Vasco da Gama who died in Kochi in 1524 was originally buried. His remains were later transferred to Lisbon, but you can still see the original gravestone. The church itself was very simple looking and not too impressive to be honest, but it was good to see the oldest church in India :)

We then headed to the Dutch Cemetery, but it was closed so we just peeked inside from the gate. But of course all you could see was a bunch of graves :) Our next destination was The Santa Cruz Basilica, one of the eight basilicas in India. Originally built by the Portuguese and demolished by the British, it was proclaimed a Basilica by Pope John Paul II in 1984. After seeing so many magnificent looking churches and basilicas in Europe, we were not so impressed by the structure itself, but it was again good to see one of eight basilicas in India :)

By then, we realized that Kochi was not really the place to do major sightseeing. But the auto driver wanted to take us to the handwash laundry place, so we said "sure!". And, it turned out to be the highlight of our little tour! Also on the way to the laundry place, we saw a huge tree decorated with a whole bunch of colorful strings. The auto driver told us it was a rain tree and that it gets decorated like that once a year. Pretty cool!

The laundry place, just like the garment factory we visited in Tirupur, was the real-life thing. A whole bunch of women and men were there, washing or ironing clothes, pursuing the profession of laundry person. We had a chance to talk with a washing guy. Just wearing a tropical looking blue lungi around his waist, he looked around 70 years old. His hair was still thick, nice romantic grey I would say, and with nicely trimmed beard. He seemed to be proud of his profession. He told us he had been working there for the last 40 years! That is a serious devotion! He also told us that he makes Rs 10 per cloth (up from 1 paisa (0.01 rupees) when he started). That's not bad money in India. We were also impressed by the way they hang the clothes to dry. No clips or anything. They had two inter-twisted ropes going through poles, and they just stuck whatever the clothes they want to dry in between two ropes. Brilliant!!

Highly satisfied with the visit to the handwash laundry place, we asked the auto driver to take us to the last stop which had to be Dutch Palace. Also known as Mattancherry Palace, it is probably the most visited sightseeing place in Kochi. It was built as a residence for rajas in Kochi by Dutch people. Now the place exhibits furniture used by rajas, portraits of rajas, history of Cochin, etc. It was interesting, but I wish they had an audio guide as there were tons of information written on each panel.

The tour was over. We thanked our charming auto driver and headed back to Vypeen Island. The boat ride was as usual packed, but the wind, sun, smell of ocean, and everything was very relaxing.

gG was definitely waiting for us. We relaxed in our beautiful hotel room until the wonderful dinner was served just for us at the hotel. Life is good!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Exploring South India - Part 2: Kochi Day 1

Kochi or Cochin, whichever you may hear, is one of the major cities in the state of Kerala, God's Own Country, famous for Ayurvedic treatments, yoga, and backwaters. Kochi is famous because of its ports and the western influence by Portuguese, Dutch, and British. In fact, it has one of the largest Christian populations in India.

I had heard so much about Kochi but didn't quite know what to expect, to be honest. Kerala has been promoting itself (they even have their own commercials on TV!), and I was mixing the image of the commercials of Kochi along with other information I get from the guidebooks. So, I was expecting something between a luxurious Hawaii resort, historic New Orleans, and swampy Florida town (wherever it would be).

Again it took us much longer to drive down to Kochi from Tirupur than Google Maps told us. And, in conjunction with the confused Nokia Drive application that was running on my hubby's new gadget, we got lost again. We entered Kochi area from the northeast near where our hotel was supposed to be. So, we didn't have to drive all the way down to the center of Kochi or to Fort Cochin for that matter, but when we noticed we realized we were in Fort Cochin.

The Kochi area consists of small islands (see the map below), and once we figured out we were in Fort Cochin, we needed to somehow figure out how to get to another island called Vypeen Island (north of Fort Cochin). Luckily there was a ferry going back and forth every 20 mins or so between the two islands. And, yes, it would take our car on the ferry as well. The boat was big enough to carry at least 50 people, 30 bikes, and 12 cars!! All packed onto one ferry. The ride was very smooth, and in a matter of 5 mins or so, we were on the Vypeen Island side.

View Larger Map

Our hotel, Les 3 Elephants, which was very recently opened (in fact, we were the FIRST! guests in the hotel), was on Cherai Beach, approx. 20 km north of the southern tip of Vypeen Island. The hotel was located not right on the ocean but on the backwater facing east, which was nice, as you get to enjoy the beautiful morning sun glittering on the backwater. A French couple who fell in love with the place bought a piece of land there and started to build a wonderfully nice resort to relax and enjoy the nature.

Each hut had different design and structure (and in fact most of them were still under construction), and the one we stayed in was facing the backwater and a roof made out of banana leaves. The ambiance was just so soothing, and all of us including gG loved it immediately.

Instead of going out to the beach area, which looked rather crowded (just like any other part of India), we decided to stay in the resort and relax. The hotel also offered a nice dinner course, so we both had a very wonderfully prepared dinner at the resort.

Next day, instead of getting up early and heading down to Fort Cochin for sightseeing, we slept in, had a late breakfast, and just enjoyed time passing by (which we hardly ever can do in a daily life) until noon. gG was also very calm and happy surrounded by nature.  [ be continued]

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Exploring South India - Part 1: Tirupur

Although extremely busy, we said to ourselves that we needed to take at least one long trip to explore more about India before 2011 ends. We thought about the northern India, but it required more planning due to our furry son gG (yep, he comes wherever we go). So, we decided to instead take a non-controversial route around southern India.

In conjunction with my recently opened online shop, one city that I really wanted to visit was Tirupur, which is famous for its garment factories. Also since our friend introduced me to a guy who owns a factory there, I wanted to take this opportunity to meet with him. The plan to go to Tirupur let us explore more options in terms of cities to visit. We picked Cochin, which according to the G map, should only take less than 4 hrs. We have not seen the ocean after arriving to Bangalore, so we liked the idea of spending a couple of days by the beach. And that led us to plan the next stop, Ooty, as we wanted to avoid the ride that is more than 7 hrs due to gG. Ooty, which is close to the wildlife sanctuary, was one of the cities we always wanted to visit anyway, so we chose to stay there one night before moving onto Mysore.

Like that, our itinerary was completed!

View Larger Map

Tirupur, Tamil Nadu

Our trip started on Christmas day. We got a hired driver, packed one suitcase for our stuff, multiple items for gG such as gG's litter box, food, bed, etc (yes, he takes up more luggage space for sure) into the rental car, and headed to Tirupur.

The road was amazingly very clean and nice, which made me think that we could have driven by ourselves. And the scenery along the route 44 was just astonishing. The main problem was the G map estimate. According to G, we were supposed to be in Tirupur in less than 5 hrs. WRONG! It took us close to 7 hrs. And by the time we got there, I guess the driver was tired and his driving started to get sloppy which was not fun at all :(

We first checked into the hotel called Velan Hotel, which was an impressively moderate hotel, and headed out to meet a person our friend introduced me. It was already past 5 o'clock on Saturday, but he kindly agreed to still meet with us and showed us around his factory. Thank you!! We really enjoyed the factory tour. It was an intriguing to see how the garments were made by so many people and so many processes!!

By the time we got back to the hotel, it was way past 8 o'clock, as the driver ended up driving us around the same place three times before finally finding the way back to our hotel. We had a cozy dinner at the hotel and hit the bed to prepare for another car ride to Cochin next morning.

To be continued...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Happy New Year!

OMG... time flies. It has been a while since I last posted. :(. I was tied up with too many things in December, which is called "Shiwasu" in Japanese, which means even the teachers would run around being busy. I guess teachers were not supposed to be busy in the old Japanese culture. I was busy keeping the online shop going (it was going better than I expected, which made me busier), socializing and partying, finding a descent looking x'mas tree and setting it up (nope I am not Christian but I am Japanese, which means I can enjoy whatever religious celebrations I would like), buying presents for those we care, writing year-end greeting letters, getting ready for our South India trip, etc. Whew. And, the year is gone!

Even leaving aside the devastating earthquake in Japan on March 11, 2011 (a day after I celebrated my birthday in Tokyo), 2011 was definitely more chaotic than I wanted it to be. We moved to India in May and started to work our way through the new customs and cultures here in India. I have to say I got VERY frustrated several times during the first three months, but I started to understand and accept the beauty in the frustration ingredients that I was getting, and I started to enjoy most things about India. Yes, I still get frustrated when people give me completely irrelevant answers to the questions that I ask (eg. "where can I find women's garments?" and you get an answer like "everything here is 20% off"), and I do have to say I still have a love-hate relationship with India, but all in all I am enjoying life here.

I was pushing myself a bit hard in 2011. It was like having a crazy horse in myself trying to run as fast as I could, but now I have told myself that 2012 should be the time to really settle down and look into myself and enjoy every single moment that I am living. Sounds dreamy but I already know it will be a challenge. But I want to challenge myself.

Thank you for visiting my blog, although I don't update too often (I update my Japanese blog more just in case you are interested in using Google Translate, which doesn't work ^^) and wish you all a very happy new year!!

# I will post about our trip to southern India soon! I promise.