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Kodaikanal

11 Feb

There isn’t a lot to say about Kodaikanal or “Kodai” as it is known by most people here, except that it is a world away from the stifling heat of the plains. In fact, the high temperatures here are only in the 20s° Celsius. It gets cold at night- very cold for southern India- around 9-10° Celsius.  And it has rained a little every day that we have been here save one.

There are hills everywhere in the town and you get an amazing workout as you walk around- which is the easiest way to explore. Astrid and I took a “walk” yesterday to Silver Falls, about 7km out of town. Our hotel concierge told us that it was an easy walk to take a shortcut through the town. And it was..until we reached the end of the path and realized we had to climb down the side of the mountain on a single track dirt path to get to the falls- in sandals. We finally made it…and the falls weren’t that nice, garbage everywhere, interstate tourists clamoring for a photo, clothes hanging from the branches of nearby trees as if they were swept down the river that feeds the falls. So we stayed for a little bit, ate a pomegranate and walked back- this time by the main road…uphill…very uphill. We figured that we walked about 14 km yesterday- around 9 miles.

That isn’t the only place to walk in Kodai though. A huge attraction is the man-made lake just below town. We have walked it everyday since we got here and it is beautiful- watching the mists roll in over the hills while families paddle around the lake in pedal boats, red and blue kingfishers search for food and purple and yellow Lotus’ float in the water. The lake circuit is 5km and it has been great to be able to get some exercise while we’ve been here- something that you can’t do in most places in India.

I’d definitely recommend coming here, but only for a few days, it can get tedious after that with frequent blackouts and restaurants that close at strange times. Check out Cloud Street Cafe, the best coffee in town, Pastry Corner for a mean brownie, and the Royal Tibet Restaurant which serves up good Chowmein and Momos. Hotel Hilltop Towers has been our address here for a week and the people are really nice and have been good to us. The rooms are clean and it is close to everything.

We leave tomorrow morning to Coimbatore to fly to Mumbai tomorrow afternoon where we’ll meet our friend Hana and check out the most expensive city in India.

Cheers until then!

Varkala, life on the edge

24 Jan
Well we arrived here in Varkala almost a week ago and I find it a very nice change from the normal beach scene in India. The imposing cliffs (see photo at left of sunset from the cliffs) stop the buildings from pouring onto the beaches like most resort towns and that makes the air and environment a little cleaner and more relaxed. The state of Kerala understands that the beaches here are an important resource and they take care of them and their tourists accordingly. There are teams of women in olive-drab sari uniforms that come and clean the beach daily, lifeguards that actually make sure people are not drowning and police that chase off the ever popular gawking Indian males and drum salesmen.

They fail on one area however and that is what to do with the massive amounts of garbage that accumulate on the cliffs. There does not seem to be a dump anywhere around so garbage ends up being swept off the cliff onto the cliff sides on the approach to the beaches. The cleaners only clean the beach itself and will not clean the cliff sides. The result is very sad; potato chip bags, plastic water bottles, leaflets, and lots of other garbage end up on the cliff sides everyday- and nobody does anything about it. The prevailing theory is that as long as it is not on the cliff top, it doesn’t exist.

But aside from that Varkala is a beautiful place. Watching from the cliffs as the waves and swells on the Arabian Sea roll in while fishermen in small boats along with their helpers bobbing up and down in the blue-green waters, pulling in the days catch is something that can take up hours. The sightings of dolphins in the area are frequent and amazing- the sight of them gliding and jumping through the water stop people on the cliffs dead in their tracks.

We are staying in an interesting place- I don’t know if I would recommend it or not, but the name in itself is something to write about. You see we are staying at Santa Claus’ All Seasons Village and Ayurvedic Resort. Yes, you read that correctly because as we all know when he is not making tiny elves slave over toys in the North Pole, Santa and Mrs. Claus spend all their free time in Varkala, India having Ayurvedic Panchakarma treatments and eating continental food. The room is cheap at Rs. 500 per night and there is a “swimming pool” of which I use the term loosely as it is more a place to wash off the sand from the beaches nearby. The lock broke on our door the other day, and in typical Indian fashion a man came to oil the lock with lavender-scented Odonil, a room freshener. That lasted for a half day and then the lock went out again. Luckily there is another door that leads out to the pool which we can use. The coconut palms around the property are painted with all kinds of interesting scenes including traditional Keralan Kathakali dancers and St. Nicholas. It kind of makes you scratch your head and wonder…

Getting past the hawkers on the cliffs is another story- every shop owner lurks outside their business which looks EXACTLY like the one next door imploring you to “Yes, have a look my shop?” Some are more aggressive than others and I simply try to ignore them. The restraunts on the cliff are very similar- as the dinner hour approaches the workers lay out the days catch to try to entice you. When that doesn’t work they get in front of you while you are walking and lure you with promises of “strong drinks and chilled beer.” When that doesn’t work they ask you questions like; “You walk by here every night and you never come eat here, why not?” Last night a man asked me this question and I turned to him and said with a smile, “I only eat in restaurants where people don’t attack me as I walk by.” He seemed so confused by this statement as if people enjoyed being hounded by restauranteurs as they take an evening stroll.

There are a few good restaurants where they won’t attack you- check out Kerala Coffee House, which doesn’t serve very good coffee, but has great food, Clafouti- who boasts Thai food and a Pumpernickel Bakery-which doesn’t serve pumpernickel bread, and Trattorias (notice the random plural)- which also serves Thai food and has- you guessed it– a German bakery- that only sells croissants and other French pastries.

We are trying to decide what to do with only three weeks left in our trip- do we want to continue travelling or do we want to take it easy? We’ll let you know.

Cheers!

Leaving Auroville

15 Jan

Well, it had to come eventually…we leave Auroville this evening after over a month here in Tamil Nadu and one month in Auroville to head off to Trivandrum in Kerala. It has been a good month though, some great bodywork including Thai Massage and Reflexology, great dining-aka salads and healthy food, great exercise- like an Olympic sized pool and many walks, good people- including some new friends, and lots of freedom.

What I think I’ll miss especially is our little cottage that we rented for the last three and a half weeks. It was so nice having our “own” space, free from the rules and regulations of the guest houses. We had a small kitchen where we cooked our own food (exciting when you haven’t done it in months!), a seating area, and an upstairs bedroom. Our bathroom facilities were in an outbuilding, but it was doable. The place was set deeply in the forest in the Revelation community of Auroville with the croaking of frogs, the mournful help, help, help of peacocks, the barking of geckos, and many more woodland friends like a family of mongeese, and a little calico cat that adopted us and brought us “surprises” in the mornings- like half a shrew and some other unidentifiable bloody thing. The cottage was built almost 40 years ago when the land that encompasses Auroville was just a dry, parched plain with very little vegetation. The man who built the house was one of the many that reforested the area and he told us that at one point he could see the Bay of Bengal from the second story of the cottage.

Now all you can see are trees- it is beautiful. Hard to believe that an entire forest can grow in 40 years, but it did. When people complain (as I have heard many do here) that nothing has been achieved here in the last four decades- that the city has not been built as promised-I tell people to look around them and see this lush jungle that just didn’t exist before. I call that an achievement.  The intention of Auroville may take a little more time to realize, but I think that they are heading in the right direction.  I would love to see the vision come to fruition.  If you want to learn more about Auroville check out their website, plan a visit, and come see for yourself.

There are also things that I won’t miss:

  1. People who are more spiritual than God and ask you to bask in their golden glow.
  2. The thin layer of red dust that accumulates on EVERYTHING and works its way deep into your toenails and molars.
  3. Forest friends (e.g frogs and bugs) that find their way into our bathroom.
  4. Cold showers.
  5. Dampness and mildew smell on all our clothes, backpacks, books, pencils, etc.

We had a great time while we were here and we may come back at some point, but for now, we have one month left to go on our adventure and many things to see and do, so onward and outward!

See you in Kerala!

Why the Hell is it on the Menu Then?

12 Dec

Imagine walking into a restaurant, sitting down and starting to look at the menu.  You look through PAGES and PAGES of foods… Chinese, North Indian, South Indian, Italian, French, you name it.  After about 15 minutes of looking and finally deciding on something you call the waiter over.

“I’ll have a lemon soda wi…” “Sorry sir no lemon today.” the waiter interrupts.  “Okay, how about a Coke instead?”  Head wobble.  “Yes on the Coke?” Head wobble.  “And one Palak Paneer…”  “No palak, palak finished.” He says.  “Okay, give me a minute here.”  Head wobble.  Ten minutes passes, you find something else on the menu and call him back…

“Okay, we’ll have the half tandoori chicken and naan…” “Sorry sir the tandoor is broken.”  “Okay, what do you have?”  “Noodles sir.”  “Noodles?”  “Yes, noodles.” “Okay, we’ll have noodles then.”

And so it goes, day in, day out…the daily game of finding out what the restaurant actually DOES have.  Which leads me to ask the question…why the hell is it on the menu when you don’t have it and you NEVER have it? 🙂 No lassi, no prawns, no this, no that. SIGH….

Oh well, it just adds to the fun of the daily routine here in India.

Pondicherry…

11 Dec

Only because I like the name better. They officially changed their name last October (2006) to Puducherry, but hey Pondicherry sounds so much better.

We’re staying in one of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram’s Guest Houses called Park Guest House. It is fantastic! Totally quiet, spotlessly clean, and RIGHT on the beach. The waves of the Bay of Bengal are breaking literally 500 meters from our balcony. There is a beautiful garden area with flowers and grass and it is very calm. There are a couple of rules, like you need to be in by 10:30 or the gate is locked, you can’t drink alcohol or do drugs, but those are easy. And if you abide by these rules, you can stay in probably the calmest place in Pondicherry and all for 600 Rs- about $15 USD.  Where are you going to get a beach front hotel for $15 anywhere?
We have been walking around for over a week now on wide, paved, clean streets, taking in the French influenced architecture and enjoying the Promenade that runs along the Sea. There are real bakeries here too, with croissants, brioche, real French bread, yummy! It’s amazing the food you miss when you’re on the road, but this has been nice.

The other day as we passed the courthouse, directly on the Promenade, a police officer came out and stopped us. He looked incredibly gruff and for a moment, I thought we had done something wrong. He reached out to shake my hand and asked where we were from. “The US.” we told him waiting for the ticket book to come out or something. He smiled from beneath his huge bushy mustache (huge mustaches are the norm inTamil Nadu) and asked if we had a camera. I didn’t bring it on that trip so he asked us to come by the next day and take a picture with him. We said we would. The next day we arrived and he told all of his friends that we came back to take a picture, so with rifles in hand, we all took a picture with him. He asked me to email him the pictures when we could. Now every time we pass the courthouse he waves to us!

We head off to Auroville, about 10km away in the next couple of days. I don’t know how much Internet access we will have but I’ll try to post as much as possible.

Cheers!

The sad state of restaurants on Palolem Beach

26 Nov

After having some markedly awful meals on Palolem Beach including a nasty Caesar salad with very little lettuce, tomatoes that tasted like fish, and lots of mayonnaise at the San Francisco Beach Cafe and other inedible delicacies at other places on the beach, Astrid and I finally found Moksha Lounge, a place that serves good food at decent prices.

We happened to meet Jane, the English co-owner of this cafe while she was playing with her son Jack and dog Kuti in the water. We got to talking, and she told us that she and a local Goan man, Julio, just opened the cafe eight days ago. She was very cool so we decided to give it a try.

I’m glad we did. The menu was still “multi-cuisine” but the difference here is that everything is good and they take pride in serving quality food. We’ve been back a few times and everything we’ve had from kebabs to pasta dishes to tapas have been spot on. Jane even makes real English sausages from her own recipe and won’t tell anyone else about it- so you won’t see them being replicated anywhere else on the beach. They also have the newest sun beds on the beach with clean towels and everything!

Anyway, Moksha Lounge is right between the San Francisco Beach Cafe (GAG) and Inn Joy Seafood Restaurant halfway between the main entrance and the south end of the beach.

If you go, enjoy and say hello from Anthony!

Cheers!

Palolem, Goa

22 Nov

Hey all, just a quick note to let you all know we haven’t dropped off the face of the earth! We moved down south to Palolem Beach on Monday and it is like a slice of heaven. Sure, there’s as many taxis, shops, and dolphin watching boat trips as you want to take…and as many touts trying to get their commission as soon as the whities step off the bus, but AHHHH…it really is paradise. I can imagine what it must have been like twenty or thirty years ago when the hippies happened upon the beach for the first time. Pristine jungle with swaying coconut palms, huge green mountains in the background, blue-green sea and blue skies that go on forever.

It is really beautiful here, the water and the beach is cleaner, there is more wildlife- like the hermit crab pictured to the left, and if you don’t want to, you never have to step foot in a polluting vehicle, everything is right there on the beach for you…as long as you want the ubiquitous “multi-cuisine” restaurants, (which we don’t) because while they may do multi-cuisine, they hardly ever do any of them well. Me, I much prefer a good curry and rice or for a real treat here in Palolem, walk off the beach and into the main part of town to go to either of the two health food restaurants there. Both Brown Bread and Blue Planet serve up tasty salads and GASP, tofu dishes like tofu with mushroom sauce, mashed potatos with grilled onions, carrot orange salad, and bread with cashew butter for $120 Rs., a totally fair price! Now I never thought I would say this, but give me a good grilled tofu with brown rice, steamed vegetables and peanut sauce any day of the week.

We are staying in a beach-front shack toward the north end of Palolem Beach called Brendon’s, it’s pretty good although a little over priced for what you get. I mean, it really is a shack, plywood walls, sloping floors, it rattles and creaks when you walk in it, but hey, look where you are, it’s freakin’ beautiful! If you stay out of the room all day as we do and close your eyes when you do come in, then everything is alright. Besides, the staff are the best bunch of guys we have met anywhere. Bobby, Kumar, and John are our favorites, but everyone is very nice. To the right is a view from our front porch watching the sunset over Green Island and the Arabian Sea.

We’ll be here until Thursday and then off to Chennai and Tamil Nadu.

Cheers!