I’m so sorry for keeping you waiting for so long with my new blog post, but life in the South of India has kept me busy! I’ve been in the South of India for the last one and a half weeks and along with a change of scenerey came a change of language. I noticed this very quickly when I greeted people with “Namaste!” and, instead of greeting me back, they just looked puzzled. As the hotel manager in Cochin explained, people in Kerala speak Malayalam, one of 1’592 languages spoken in India! Even though most people speak “standard Hindi”, the hotel manager explained that it is very uncommon to actually practice it in the South. So if Indians visit another state, they rather speak English to each other instaed of standard Hindi. Since I’m eager to learn the most important expressions and phrases in the local language, I asked the hotel manager to give me a few translations, which he was happy enough to do! So thereafter, I was prepared to face life in Kerala and to communicate at least a little bit in Malayalam.
As soon as I arrived in Cochin, I knew I would have a great time in the state of Kerala! The taxi ride from the airport to Cochin Fort already gave me an idea of the beauty of Kerala as I got a glimpse of the popular palm-lined backwaters. Not even the grumpy taxi driver could dampen my mood! I arrived only late in Cochin Fort and therefore didn’t have much time to explore the area. I was also tired after two flights and thus just relaxed in the hammock on the balcony.
The communal balcony at the homestay was really nice – my room not so much! Anyways, it was only for one night and I paid only 12 EUR for it, so I didn’t bother about it. I had a rather unpleasant night as the temperature just wouldn’t drop. The fan didn’t help much.. I had already been told that the temperatures of the South would be harder to bear due to the humidity, but I didn’t expect it to be that much of a difference to the North.
The next morning, I had a fairly early start as I took the bus to Munnar at 8:30am. Traveling by bus is very cheap in India. However, be prepared for breakneck speed bus drivers! The curvy and narrow streets to Munnar make the ride even worse! The English couple I met on the bus first wanted to complain but soon realised that this is just the way the traffic system in India works: every second counts! No time to waste! The faster the better! The worst part was when the driver overtook other buses – you better not think about what could happen! Anyways, I arrived safely in Munnar after a five-hour ride and then took a tuktuk to the accommodation. I stayed at the Ela Ecoland, which is not in Munnar town but about 18km outside of Munnar. I can highly recommend the experience at Ela Ecoland to anyone who loves nature. As the name suggests, it’s an eco nature retreat and entirely surrounded by greenery! The flora and fauna was breathtaking! I had one part of a bungalow that was really simple but had everything I needed! There are no showers but running water and buckets so that you could create your own kind of shower. It was a great experience!
Ela Ecoland organises different kinds of trips and tours. I decided to go for two hikes and a tour to Munnar town incl. the Tea Museum, the Eravikulam National Park, Mattupetty Dam and Echo Point. The hikes were my absolute favourites! Both hikes started at tea plantations, which were absolutely breathtaking, definitely among the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen! There is tea wherever you look! The nuances of green are countless. Just stunning! I was definitely left speechless and just couldn’t stop taking pictures.
On the first hike, I had two guides since the land was protected and wild animals can show up any time. The highest point of our hike was Kannati Para on 1’676 metres. The land stretched beautifully in front of us for kilometres! We just sat there and enjoyed the peace and quiet. I showed them our mountains and they were extremely fascinated! Unfortunately, we didn’t see wild elephants nor buffalos, but it was nevertheless a picture perfect day!
On the second hike, I had another guide whose name was Jason. Fun fact about Jason: He always hikes in flipflops! True story! To be honest, I felt a tiny little bit overdressed with my hiking pants and my hiking boots. Jason turned out to be a great hiking guide – despite his attire! We started our hike at 7am since it would get too hot soon after. We hiked up to the Pothanmedu View Point on 2’000 metres. Unfortunately, the view wasn’t that good because it was a misty morning. However, at some point, it cleared up a bit and we could enjoy the views over a myriad of tea plantations. It was just amazing!
On the way back down, we ran into the couple that I’d met the previous day. They looked a bit scared and asked me if I knew what kind of animals can be found in this area. My guide had told me about the buffalos and wild elephants. Yet, according to their guide, lepards and tigers also show up every now and then. This topic aroused a heated discussion between our guides because they didn’t agree on this subject. I still don’t know who of the two was right. I guess the only thing that counts is that we all survived!
Munnar really stole my heart! I’ve had such an amazing time! I enjoyed the proximity to nature to the fullest after having spent the previous fourteen days in big cities. Since I love nature, Munnar has been paradise for me! No wonder the people call Kerala and especially Munnar “God’s own Country”.
After three days in Munnar, I took a late bus to Alleppey, also known as Alappuzha. Alleppey is known for its beautiful backwaters. When I arrived, I was welcomed by the sound of waves. It was already 11pm, so I couldn’t see anything, but I knew instantly that I’d wake up and see the waves from my window! It made me laugh that the baggage boy asked me to carry my backpack because it was too heavy for him. He could hardly lift it up! So much for strong men! It is actually really heavy and a few others have made the same remark. Well that might explain why my back hurts..
For Alleppey, I had only one thing on my bucket list: Exploring the backwaters! Coincidentally, a French family who stayed at the same hotel also wanted to do a backwater tour. So we just rented a shikara for the five of us! As usual in India, vendors, tuktuk drivers or tour operators approach you and promise you the best experience and price! It usually turns out to be way too much money and in this case, the experience wasn’t very good either! I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed – not because of the backwaters but because of how little we got to see within three hours. We chose the first guy who approached us, just because it seemed convenient. In retrospect, that was a big mistake! The shikra was super slow. I’m almost certain that we would have been faster if we swam! Every other shikara overtook us and people even started to look a bit pitying.. So in three hours, we only managed to see a tiny bit, but we laughed it away and made the best of it.
The family was really nice and we had a good chat during the boat ride. They even invited me over to their beach house to have dinner with them, which was very sweet! I don’t mind eating on my own, but every once in a while it is nice to have company. I actually noticed that people seem to feel sorry for me when I go to restaurants and eat on my own. The family even accompanied me to the train station the next morning, which was really sweet! After two nights in Alleppey, I was heading to Neyyar Dam where I would stay at an Ashram for three days. I was a bit nervous about my first train ride in India, so I went way too early to the train station (Swiss characteristic I guess!). I ended up waiting for 1.5 hours on the platform, but I met a few people and time flew by pretty quickly. They were so nice and went out of their way to help me find platform and coach! I was very positively surprised! The train ride was only three hours, so it went by pretty quickly and was very convenient! It’s amazing how lively Indian trains are: People walk around and chat loudly and enthusiastically with each other. At each station, vendors enter the train and sell snacks, water and proper meals. It was a great experience: One you shouldn’t miss while traveling in India!
From Kochuveli I took a tuktuk to the Trivandrum bus station and from there a bus to Neyyar Dam. The longer the bus ride, the more beautiful the landscape! When I got off the bus, I decided to get a tuktuk to the Ashram since it would only be 20 INR according to the Ashram’s website. When I walked over to the tuktuk stand, I immediately noticed the disparaging look of the tuktuk drivers. Normally, they run to you and offer you a ride, but these men were just sitting there, not caring about a white tourist. And I’m saying that because my thoughts were confirmed just a few seconds later. So when I asked them how much it would be, they said 40 INR. I asked why it’s twice the price that it’s supposed to be and one guy said: “That’s Indian price. You white people pay twice the price!” You white people?! Even though I can understand their anger against white people due to the history of the country, I was taken aback by that kind of attitude! On the one hand, I was furious – not because of the additional 20 INR but because I had been discrimanted based on my skin colour. On the other hand, however, I was made aware once again how sensitive the subject of race and ethnicity is and how easily these aspects outweigh other principles.
Well, as soon as I arrived at the Ashram, this incident was forgotten because I was amazed by the grandeur of the place. I expected a much smaller Ashram, but this one was pretty big! I arrived in time for dinner, which was amazing! Typically for India, you eat with your fingers only, no cutlery! At the beginning, it was strange and difficult for me, but seeing all these other people doing the same, I got used to it quickly. After three days, you don’t even think about it anymore!
The schedule in the Ashram is quite strict and looked as follows:
5:20am Wake up bell
7:30am Tea time
8:00am Yoga (Asana Class)
11:00am Karma Yoga
1:30pm Tea time
3:30pm Yoga (Asana Class)
10:00pm Lights out
I have to admit that the whole program was quite a challenge for me! I LOVED the four hours of yoga a day, but I struggled with Satsang quite a bit. Satsang is basically a meditation and singing class. One Satsang class incorporates thirty minutes of meditation (crossleged position with closed eyes and absolute silent) and one hour of singing and praying. The first two Satsangs were okay, but afterwards it got really tiring for me. It was definitely not my thing! Fair enough if people are able to calm down their minds, bodies and souls this way, but I couldn’t find any benefit for myself! It was a very interesting experience though.
But as I said, the Asana classes were amazing! I really felt how my mind and body became more energetic after only three days! I will definitely try to keep it up and do yoga every day or at least every other day! By the way, Karma Yoga is a practical branch of yoga. In the Ashram, it simply meant cleaning and helping out with works that had to be done at the Ashram. So my Karma Yoga involved cleaning the dormitory.
After three days (minimum stay at the Ashram), I was ready to leave. I took the bus back to Trivandrum with five other yogis and after having lunch together, we all went our own ways. I decided to take a tuktuk to Kovalam as the buses were so crowded at this time of the day (people get really annoyed when I take up space in the buses with my huge backpack). I was excited for two days of relaxation at an Ayurveda Resort. I was debating whether I should cancel it because it is quite pricey for India. Yet, I decided to go for it and treat myself! And I haven’t regretted it! I’ve had an amazing time and have been able to recharge batteries before heading to Sri Lanka tomorrow!
When I arrived, I had a check up with one of the doctors who discerned my Ayurveda type. I was Pitha Vatha which is Fire, Air & Space! Based on the doctor’s recommendation, I got two types of treatments. It was so well-doing! Absolutely amazing! The resort also offers yoga classes, so I ended up doing another 3 hours of yoga a day! I absolutely loved this place and can only recommend it to anyone who wants to treat one’s mind, body and soul!
Unfortunately, the two days have passed way too quickly and so I’m already packing again. I’m going to spend one night in Trivandrum, close to the airport as I will leave early tomorrow morning. Next destination: Sri Lanka!
I will post another blog post, reminiscing about the last four weeks in India, which – in short – have been exciting, colourful and breathtaking! Stay tuned for it! Talk to you soon.
Accommodation: Goodkarma Inn
Accommodation: Ela Ecoland
Bus to Munnar: http://kyrosconnects.com/
Accommodation: Colonel’s Beach Villa
Bus to Alleppey: http://www.kurtconline.com/KURTCOnline/
Accommodation: Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort
Accommodation: Greenfield Inn
Restaurant: Villa Maya