Sri Lanka – Destination 2

mask dancing

We arrived to Sri Lanka at Colombo airport, the only way to enter to this island just south of India is by flight. There was a ferry before but it no longer runs. We decided to head straight to Kandy as we’d heard that there wasn’t too much to do in Colombo. We got a bus to Kandy, a short drive away from the airport in a tuk-tuk, Sara was lucky enough to get a seat but Jimmy had to stand half the way holding on for his life. Buses in Sri Lanka are driven by rally drivers that never made it, or at least that’s what it seems like. You also get a free movie or Sinhalese disco complete with surround sound. Our theory is that they put these distractions to divert your attention from the crazy drivers.

We were very excited because we were hooking up with an old friend and she had been travelling in Sri Lanka for a week before we got there so she gave us a lot of tips. She told us about a hotel in Kandy, the cheapest one she could find so we headed there. After being in India for 2 months Kandy seemed very modern to us. The city was very clean and people were obeying the traffic lights but we could still find similarities with India. It was early December when we arrived to Kandy and we were very shocked to find the place decorated with Christmas trees and all the shops playing the usual songs,  even the shop assistants were wearing Santa hats!

Kandy is home to the famous temple Sri Dalada Maligawa also known as “The Temple Of The Tooth” which houses the relic of the tooth of the Buddha. Rituals are performed three times daily and we were fortunate enough to be there during one. It’s incredible how dedicated people are to religion, worshippers were there in the masses, praying and making offerings to the Gods. Unfortunately the Tamil Tigers bombed the temple in 1998 and you can still feel the paranoia in the air, there is a photography exhibition in side showing the damage caused by this.

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Whilst in Kandy we visited the colourful and aromatic market where you can taste all kinds of exotic fruits as the vendors are very friendly and are always offering tasters. The market is famous for its spices, Ayurvedic products, batiks and traditional masks. It’s a good place to buy souvenirs and experience a Sri Lankan market.

Kandy is a very charming city and you can take a stroll around the man-made lake next to the Temple of the Tooth where you can see monitor lizards, turtles, turkeys, kingfishers and the funny monkeys that will rob you given the chance. Close by the lake you can enjoy the Ragahala Kandyan Dance at the Red Cross Hall. It’s a cultural dance and they also do fire walking at the end. For only 500 rupees you can enjoy an hour-long show, bargain!

We spent a few days in Kandy getting soaked by the rain and woken up daily by the local temple before deciding it was time to head up to the mountains…

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Our guide to India

India flag

10 tips to help you survive India

1. Get a sim card

Your phone must be unlocked so make sure you do this before you leave your country. Having a sim card is an essential whilst travelling as it enable you to  make calls or use internet [if you have a smart phone] on the go at very cheap rates. I would also advise you to get who ever you buy the sim card from to help you set it up too as everything is in Hindi!

2. Always book train tickets in advance

Especially during the festival season. The main form of transport used by Indian people is the train. We met more than one person travelling during Diwali that couldn’t book train tickets. A website we found very useful whilst we were in India was The man in seat 61 where you can check the timetables, routes and lots more info.

3. Book a tourist bus for long journeys

We were only fortunate enough to board one tourist bus on our adventure in India but it was the best bus by far. It was a little bit more expensive but it sure beat having a sore ass and stopping at every corner in every village with the driver constantly hanging out the door shouting whichever destination you are heading to. Local buses are very dusty too as the doors/windows are always open. We are not saying don’t take local buses as it’s an experience in itself especially during peak times! You can tell the conductors love to see tourist too as they look after you and make sure you get off at the correct stop.

Tourist bus (1)

4. Always bargain

It goes without saying you are gonna get ripped off in India, everybody does haha! Always, always, always haggle! When buying packaged products the price is always somewhere so make sure you look. In markets/bazaars etc they are always going to try to overcharge you so nicely try to reduce the price. BE CAREFUL when buying souvenirs and always shop around first. NEVER EVER let a guide take you to a shop as they get 40% commission and you will be charged three times the price.

5. Eat local

If it’s full of locals,  it’s for a reason. That was our motto after we got fed up of shit recommendations from the usual guides. Locals restaurants are always cheaper and they keep your dish topped up. A good way to save money and try different flavours is by eating “thalis” each region has their own style.

Rajasthani thali 2

6. Water

Always drink bottled water! make sure the seal isn’t broken. Most brands of bottled water in India is just treated tap water. Himalayas was the only one we found that was actual mineral water but a bit more expensive.

Foster water

7. Never ever book a tour

If you read our posts Rajasthan part 1 & part 2 you can read all about our nightmare tour! We are not alone in being ripped off as apparently it’s very common, especially in Delhi. If Delhi is your first stop in India don’t fall for anybodys sweet talking and be very cautious! It’s possible to do everything on your own and you will get it A LOT cheaper than through an agency. You’ll just need to do a little planning and have a little patience as some things a little longer in India.

8. Travel insurance

If you are planning to travel long-term its a good idea to get travel insurance. We say “better safe than sorry” and we don’t regret getting ours as we have used it. Also if possible waive the medical costs or you’re going to have to pay anytime you get ill.

9. Save and learn whilst travelling

We have been Couchsurfing and using sites like Workaway, WWOOF and HelpX whilst in India. Couchsurfing allows you to contact locals and get a taste of the real culture. You will need to sign up and make a profile [The better your profile the more chance you have of being hosted]. Workaway, WWOOF and HelpX are all volunteer websites where you have the chance to work in exchange for accommodation and food. Some projects charge a fee to participate towards food but it’s usually not much. Just make sure you research the project properly and the same applies about your profile.

naldehra us n sp family

You not only save money using these sites but you can meet locals, learn new skills and see India like you wouldn’t be able to on your own. India has a lot of opportunities to do both and we never had a bad experience.

10. SMILE

Sometimes India will get too much but our advice is stop, breathe and remember where you are. There will be days when you want to kill someone and days when you feel like you’re in heaven but its all part of the adventure so remember to SMILE and enjoy you’re trip!

smile

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Kerala – Our last stop in India

backwaters 3

Pattikkad – Volunteering in Kerala

We arrived in Kerala early morning luckily. Sara woke up and randomly peaked out the window and noticed we were actually in the station we were getting off at! We grabbed all our things and rushed off the train at Shoranur Junction and waited on our next train to our first destination in Kerala: Pattikkad.

We were greeted at the station by Sidique [the owner of the home stay where we would be volunteering] and his cute two-year old daughter [Sana]. We would be living/volunteering with Sidique and his family for 6 days. His wife Salma [an amazing cook] and the older daughter Heena also taught Sara about cooking, henna and other aspects of the Keralan culture and religion.

greenhouse home stay

sara n salma

Salma

Unfortunately we only did organic farming two days, the rest of the days we were weeding, painted some pots [we think there was nothing else to do] and Jimmy helped Sidique to repair the drive way. That aside we thoroughly enjoyed our stay here, Salma cooked a different Keralan dish every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some of the best food we’ve ever tasted even if a bit spicy at times, our taste buds were certainly expanded.

In these 2 days we learnt about basic ecological gardening. We learnt how to make fertile soil, planted seeds and transplanted seedlings into bigger pots.  We enjoyed learning new skills but we would have enjoyed it more if we’d done more farming and less weeding. The Greenhouse is a very relaxing and welcoming place where Sidique and his family look after you very well.

sara mixing the soil

Sidique and Salma teaching us

Some of the plants we planted

As you are cut off from everything at the farm, there’s not much to do there so we decided to go on a day trip to see the oldest teak plantation in the world, just 2km from Nilambur [the closest village to the teak plantation, 40 minutes by train from Shoranur]. We first went to visit the museum and took a walk through the beautiful and exotic botanic garden where you can see lots of different trees and rare plants. Afterwards we got a tuk tuk to the teak plantation also known as Conolly’s Plot, be aware of the monkeys here as we seen them attack people. It’s a short walk over a bridge to the plantation where we seen some of the biggest trees we’ve ever seen.

landscape connoly plot 2

jimmy tree

lotus

Alappuzha – The backwaters and the banter

When we arrived to Alappuzha and took a tuk-tuk to our guest house, as soon as we seen the red, yellow and green gate we knew we were in the right place.  Funky Art Beach House is a guest house with a difference, reggae playing all day long and they actively encourage you to do art on the walls and were nice enough to let us use the kitchen. We stayed for 7 days after only planning to stay a couple. We had a lot of fun with Sagar, Nihas and Poopy… they are legends!

We were glad to be in a happy friendly village again, surrounded by locals who were constantly smiling and so welcoming even without understanding us. Sara would do yoga in the mornings with Poopy on the roof then go to the beach and get some fresh fish from the local fishermen on the beach, then cook it up back at the guest house. Our days in Alappuzha were unforgettable and we were always chatting, singing or rolling about the floor laughing. GOOD TIMES!

Funky Art House front

being artyy

nihas n poopy

funky art gang

Fishermen2

Whilst at Funky Art Beach House you can do a tour of the backwaters. We recommend that you take the canoe instead of the big boat as you are going to be able to explore deeper into the backwaters this way.  We did a day tour with another two Spanish girls, Brenda and Ana who were staying in the same guest house.

Our canoe driver was a legend, he was constantly smiling with a cigarette in his mouth rowing us through the narrow passages. When the heat got too much he took us to a backwater style bar, full of locals in there mundu’s [traditional men’s wear in Kerala] where we tasted the local coconut beer or “toddy”. Jimmy and Ana liked it but Sara and Brenda were not a fan, drinking warm beer is not for everyone especially the Spanish.

It was so relaxing bobbing in the canoe that were almost sleeping at points and you could help the driver row if you feel up to it. The driver introduced us to his eagles on the way back too which was an experience we will never forget.

backwaters paradise

boat driver

woman on boat

sara rowing for spain

eagle

eagle drinking coconut

us n girls

The Funky Art Beach House was the best guest house we were in India, you really feel at home because the guys are so welcoming and there is a good vibe. We recommend here if you don’t want to go to the more over-crowded/over priced places you can do the backwater tours in Kerala.

Trivandrum – Goodbye India

trivandum gang

Our last night in India was spent couch surfing at Manoj’s in Trivandrum, we had a lot of fun listening to him and his friends sing whilst he played guitar. We ate an amazing curry and drank some drinks until we headed to bed as we had an early flight to the next country in our adventure… Sri Lanka!

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Goa – Chilling like a villain

sara sunset

Our journey to Goa was long, mad and eventful. Two consecutive sleepers trains and a long wait in a very hot and humid Mumbai with a sick Jimmy was an experience we will never forget. Our first sleeper train was delayed by two hours not unusual in India apparently… The first train from Udaipur to Mumbai took 17 hours with an 8 hour wait till the next 10 hour train to Goa.  After 35 hours travelling arriving to Goa was like arriving to heaven.

sleeper

Jimmy had taken ill overnight on the train and Sara set herself the task of finding a comfortable environment for him to try to recover. Fortunately after a little stroll around the station Sara came across an air-conditioned waiting room where Jimmy could lie down for a while despite cockroaches using him as a playground. The peace didn’t last too long though as the waiting room soon filled up with Indian families.

[Unfortunately due to the circumstances we don’t have many photos of this journey]

After what felt like a life time we finally boarded our train to Goa and Jimmy thought he was feeling a little better. We were lucky enough to be on bottom beds this time so Sara could look after him. Sometime during the night Jimmy suddenly awoke from his sleep knowing what was coming he rushed to the toilet, an Indian style toilet. This was his first time using an Indian toilet in a situation like this and wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. He took off his body wallet placed it on the side and had his trousers round one leg squatting over the hole in the ground. All hell let loose out both ends!

After cleaning himself up and returning to bed feeling worse for wear he woke again during the night and noticed his body wallet that contained his passport, driving license, credit cards and money wasn’t there! Shitting himself [mentally this time] he ran to the toilet expecting the worse but to his surprise his body wallet was still there! He took a look inside. Passport? Check! All cards? Check! Money? Check! He returned to bed feeling like the luckiest man alive and I suppose he was but once we arrived in Goa we realized that 4000 rupees [£40] were missing. We came to the conclusion that it was better being £40 down than losing everything so I guess Jimmy was the luckiest man alive in some way or another!

cockstown

We went directly to Cockstown on Arambol beach as we had been recommended it by a couple of friends. Arambol beach is situated in the North of Goa, lined with bars, restaurants and beach huts. We had planned to stay chilling for a couple of days but ten days later we were still there! We felt very comfortable in Cockstown, there was a good vibe about it and the guys who work there looked after us. Being so close to the beach with the reggae pumping all day, drinks and cheap sea food if we required it made it hard for us to leave.

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hut

We spent most of our days lazing about sunbathing drinking lemonana [pretty much a mojito without the rum] and enjoying the Goa lifestyle. You can take a nice stroll along to the sweet lake which is  next to the beach, half an hours walk from the main beach. Close by you can get a natural body scrub if you go through the bushes to the left of the lake, you will see people emerging from the bushes covered in white stuff… just ask directions. We didn’t really do much else here because Jimmy didn’t feel comfortable driving a scooter on the roads in India but if you think you’re up to it you should because apparently there are other beautiful beaches near by.

Here are some photos to make up for the lack of stories hehe!

We had to drag ourselves away from Arambol with tears in our eyes as we had a project in Kerala to attend…

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Rajasthan part 2

cheezin

Jaisalmer – The Golden City

Jaisalmer was one of our most memorable places we visited whilst in Rajasthan. The journey there was long, over night on a sleeper train from Jaipur but when we woke up to the arid landscapes we felt excited and glad to be away from the mad cities again! We could see the impressive Jaisalmer Fort crowning the ridge of yellow sandstone as we arrived to the golden city. We could feel the difference in temperature when we stepped off the train, it resembled an oven and it was very dry. We were definitely in the desert!

jaisalmer fort

desert 2

Jaisalmer is nicknamed “The Golden City” and is home to the famous Jaisalmer Fort where up to 3000 people still live to this day. Its narrow streets are filled with beautiful havelis and temples all built with yellow sandstone. You can get lost roaming the streets inside the fort and the views over Jaisalmer are breathtaking. During the day there is plenty of bargains to be had and remember to always haggle.

man playing instrument

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haveli

One of the main reasons people visit Jaisalmer is to do a camel safari and you can spend a night in the desert too if you wish. We done this and it was a magical experience, riding the camels into the desert to watch the sun set. We were met by 3 little boys who ask you’re name then sing a song and dance. Sara was loving it but they have blatantly been trained to do this as they ask for a tip (like most people in Rajasthan). Sleeping under the milky way like we had never seen it before was an experience in itself. We were woken by the prayer music in the morning…  Jimmy thought it was someones phone ringing haha. The sun rise was epic, we definitely recommend this!

steps to the sun

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sara kissin camel

sara holding sun

sara sunrise

our bed in desert

Jodhpur – The Blue City

There’s not really much we can say about Jodhpur unfortunately as when we arrived the agency had let us down ONCE AGAIN! We were fortunate enough that the hotel owner was kind enough to help us out and he confirmed that this agency was NOT a government agency! We spent the majority of our time in Jodhpur trying to get the service we’d paid for but after a lot of arguments with useless muppets on the phone we decided to drown our sorrows and watch Hindi music channels.

Heres one of our favourite songs we discovered and Jimmy enjoying a beer.

jimmy beer

Udaipur – City of Lakes

We arrived in Udaipur at night by bus to a colourful city ready for Diwali. The main street (where our hotel was) was closed off because of “the festival of lights”, the most important and biggest Hindu festival. The street was filled with worshippers going to prey and make offerings to the gods. The streets resembled Afghanistan with bangers and fireworks going off all over the place.

The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. The festival preparations and rituals extend over a five day period but the main festival night coincides with the darkest, new moon night of the Hindi Lunar calendar. In the run up to Diwali people light up diyas [lights and candles] and on the night of Diwali people dress in their best clothes and offer each other sweeties. You will also see lots of rangoli designs too, a colourful patterns made with salt crystals dyed with different colours.

prayer

diwali

diwali

Udaipur is the most romantic city in India and has the largest palace in Rajasthan. We visited the Jagdish temple which has some interestingly beautiful architecture and inside we were lucky to witness the happiest people we had ever seen singing and dancing for Diwali.  Afterwards we went to the attractive City Palace Complex and then took a stroll to Lake Pichola to watch the sunset. We then returned to the now lit up City Palace, which is even more attractive at night and enjoyed the beautiful views over the city.

temple 5

reflection

boat in the sun 2

palace from front

After all the complications with the tour agency we had a great time in Rajasthan although we know it would have been better if we done it on our own accord. Now it was time to head south, two sleeper trains with a long wait in Mumbai in between whilst Jimmy had food poisoning. This and more in the next post…

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Happy new year from us!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

We wish you all the best in 2014!

nye1

We went for a nice dinner followed by the quickest new years eve party we´ve ever attended…

nye2 nye3

Before and After… 2 hours later and everything was clean and back to normality WTF!

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Rajasthan part 1

tajstraight

We booked a tour in Delhi to visit Rajasthan on our first day in India. We were sweet talked into it after being taken there by someone who told us they were taking us to a “government tourist office”. We had heard all the stories before and thought this would never happen to us but it did. Our advice is seriously never book a tour! If you research properly and book everything yourself you will pay ten times less and you will enjoy it a lot more! We’ve decided to break Rajasthan into 2 parts as one post would be too long! So here is the first part of our adventure…
(We booked the tour at The Delhi Travel Transport Destination Centre, one of many dodgy tourist offices in Delhi I’m sure but at least you will know to steer clear of this one!)

Agra – The gate to the golden triangle

Our nightmare began on the train to Delhi when we received a phone call from one of the travel agents from the office where we booked the tour (Imran). He told us that he was waiting for us at Delhi train station with our driver and that we didn’t need to get a train to Agra. We were happy until we realised that he was coming in the car with us. He was really nice and invited us for dinner but we didn’t expect what was going to happen.
After a long drive we arrived at our hotel in Agra. We were very impressed and were delighted to have a comfy bed and taps with hot water for the first time in weeks. We had what felt like the best hot shower we had ever had then went to bed as we planned to go to the Taj Mahal early to catch the sunrise. When morning came we couldn’t drag ourselves out of bed, we thought we were still early but the crowds had got up earlier than us.
The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan in 1631 for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal who was giving birth to their 14th child. Shah was said to be so distraught by the death of his wife that his hair turned grey over night. It took over 20 years to build the Taj Mahal and not long after it was finished Shah was overthrown and imprisoned by his son and spent his last days gazing at his creation from his prison cell window.

taj 2 sara indian taj transcript

We were overwhelmed by the magnificence of this creation, it really is a must see if you get the chance. You can tell he must have really loved his wife. The entrance is a bit expensive but its worth it… We would recommend getting up early and trying to beat the crowds as we think it would be a lot more enjoyable.
Afterwards we headed to Agra Fort and were greeted by the most intense touts we had come across yet… we didn’t want to buy a whip or a doll so we ignored them and proceeded inside. Agra Fort is huge and by the time we got there after the Taj Mahal it resembled an oven! We would recommend going early in the day or at dusk. Agra Fort didnt seem so much after the Taj Mahal really but it was the first fort we seen of many.
That night we went for the dinner at Imran’s [the tour office guy] we ate dinner and were having a good time with his family. After dinner they insisted Sara put on a saree [traditional indian dress] and put henna on her hand. While this was happening Imran was telling Jimmy in another room that he needed 4000 rupees in advance to pay taxes or something and that the taxi driver would give us it back the next day. We discussed it and decided to give him it but once we got in the taxi Jimmy asked the driver about the money and they started arguing in hindi. We then realised what was happening and took our money back. We made the driver drop us off at the hotel leaving us very confused and angry.

 

monkey fort sara saree squirrel sara

Ranthambore – In search of tigers

The next morning we woke up still confused and angry about what happened the night before. Our driver told us to complain to the office and tell them everything and that we had a balance of 50 dollars. We had no idea what this meant so made a few phone calls and were told we didn’t need to pay anything as we had paid everything. We got this sorted eventually and were on our way to Ranthambore. The driver recommended we go see Bharatput bird sanctuary on the way, so we decided to go see it. We rented bikes and cycled around the park seeing painted storks, pond herons, egrets, cormorants, monitor lizards, a turtle and snakes. It was very nice but cycling in the heat was a bit much for Jimmy and at one point he was nearly sick.

 

pond heron sara on bike cormorent drying wings 2

After a long drive along some very bad roads we finally made it to Ranthambore and were furious to find that they had no record of a booking in our name. Our driver phoned the office and they said they had booked us in another hotel and had forgotten to inform us… What a surprise! We eventually got our accommodation and went to bed as we were up early for the tiger safari. We woke up at the crack of dawn and waited patiently on our gypsy to pick us up and take us to Ranthambore National Park. This famous national park is home to 32 tigers spanning over 1334 sq km alongside crocodiles, deers, monkeys and over 300 species of birds.
Unfortunately we weren’t lucky enough to spot any tigers due to being stuck with disrespectful noisy people who were too busy laughing and making noises. If you don’t respect nature it won’t show you anything. Jimmy was enraged by this but it taught him that he would never go on a safari again in a gypsy. We would recommend doing the safari in a jeep with like-minded people if possible because the gypsys are a lottery and you don’t know who you will end up with.

 

 tiger reserve sign deer n fawn landscape rhantambore

Jaipur – The pink city

When we first arrived in the chaotic Jaipur we were very shocked that people were obeying the traffic laws unlike most parts of India. The first night we went out for a dinner and we were looking for a place we had heard about called Rawat Kachori, our driver was stressing about the police in Jaipur and that he couldn’t park anywhere so we told him we would meet him back at the hotel. We eventually found the restaurant and it turned out to be a fast food outlet, the Indian equivalent of McDonald’s! We tried the famous kachoris, a deep-fried spicey snack filled with vegetables and washed them down with the popular, traditional lassi, a yogurt based drink infused with fragrant flavours. They were all extremely spicy and the lassi helped cool our burning mouths a little.
On our way back to the hotel walking under a bridge, we thought it was raining but it turned out to be debri from the workers building a bridge above us. No warnings or road works in sight… India style road works haha. We thought we knew the way back to the hotel and that google maps could help us but we got lost and were walking the streets for ages until we finally found it.

 

jaipur mojitos jaipur at night

 

Whilst in Jaipur we stupidly agreed to the agency giving us a tour guide for the day. We visited the Jantar Mantar, an observatory with what looks like a bunch of mad sculptures but they are actually time calculating instruments. Very interesting and well worth a visit. Afterwards we visited the city palace, a beautiful rajasthani style palace where maharaja was still living. Then we made our way up to the Amber fort, high on top of a hill surrounded by a man-made lake. We really liked the Rajasthani culture, style and history. We finished our tour visiting a textile factory and were able to see the textile making process.

 

observatory sara in ting scorpio
raj woman us with raj worker

 

By the end of the day we were very tired of the tour guide. He was very arrogant and was very rude. After the experience we had we promised ourselves that we would never take a tour guide again.
On our last day we visited the Hawa Mahal, the most visited monument in Jaipur. It was almost impossible to take a photo of the facade because of the crowds. We finished our trip meeting a very kind and interesting old man who worked at the Iswari Minar Swarga Sal, a minaret from which you can have excellent views across the whole city.

 

jaipur daytime 4 upwards shot hawa mahal

 

Part 2 coming soon…
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