India: Calm, Caring and Chaotic
Stayed: 17 Days
When: 14 – 30 April
India is everything that you’ve ever read about and more. It is diverse, chaotic, intimidating, beautiful, spicy, colourful and wonderful. It really is a place that you will love or hate, nothing in between. We loved it. It was sometimes more of the same from our previous travels but then it was so different, the food, the people and the road system entertained us each day in an amazingly unique way.
The uniqueness prompted us to write two feature articles:
- 5 Cheapest Days of our Lives – It was incredible how little we paid to stay, eat and tour in Alappuzha.
- Indian Food in India for Children – We had no idea how to order vegetarian food for our children and so wrote down each meal they enjoyed and the result is in this article.
The size of the country means there really is something for everyone. In the far South we found the best Indian food, in Mumbai we sensed the cool vibes of an urban cultured India and in Delhi, Agra and Jaipur in the central region, we were overwhelmed by the sites, sounds and smells.
We began our Indian visit in the state of Kerala. We flew into the International Airport in the Capital Thiruvananthapuram, or as the British named it Trivandrum. Our first two nights in India were spent in a 4/5 star hotel resort not far from the airport and the beach. Unfortunately our beach loving children did not find Shanghumugham beach too inviting.
Short stay: 2 Nights
Accommodation: two double rooms in a hotel resort.
Trivandrum has everything a local and visiting Indian tourist needs but is limited in choice for foreign tourists. The backwater tours here pale in comparison to those found further North and the beach is a baren dark yellow waste land most days and then it turns into a busy carnival of colour for locals the next. The more popular tourist beach is 30 minutes South in Kovalam.
But for us this stay was perfect.
We tasted authentic Indian food, our first Keralan sadya lunch, visited temples and even the zoo.
- Shri Padmanabhaswamay Temple – it is shown in the feature image of this page. Non-Indian worshippers are not allowed to enter the temple, but we were able to walk up the path toward the entrance. I asked a local shop keeper about it and he said it was filled with gold and jewels. It is located near a busy shopping strip and you can expect to be approached by trinket sellers who are persistently annoying.
- Thiruvananthapuram Zoological Garden – this was a spur of the moment visit. We had nothing else to do after the temple, mentioned above, and so decided to see the zoo. It costs $25 Rupees for a family of four with two children under 14 years. If they ask you if you have a camera say no. We paid $50 Rupee to take the camera and unbelievably the battery ran flat almost immediately. Our mobile phone back up also ran flat. We couldn’t stop laughing but just managed to get some nice photos. The zoo was well laid out and some of the enclosures were large but many were too small for the animals, especially those for the large birds. It was very dirty and smelly but we were lucky enough to be there during feeding time. Our favourite was the hippopotamus enclosure, where we witnessed a mum and baby eating up close.
- There are also many tigers in the zoo. They had rows of enclosures in a style that I have only seen in photos from the 1800’s. Circular in shape with comical circus tent style roofs. Along the way we were stared at just as much as the animals but overall it was a nice thing for a family to do.
- Veli Tourist Village – only a short distance from our hotel, we thought we had to see it. It cost $10 Rupee for the four of us. It has a good sized playground for under 7 year olds, boating facilities, many picnic spots and a floating restaurant. It’s not fancy but was very busy and after walking the length of the village we arrived at the beach, where visitors can take a pony ride, buy cotton candy and ride 30 year old merry go-rounds. It has seen better days.
Our visit to Trivandrum enabled us to adjust to the country. We walked the streets in the city, visited local tourist attractions and bought food at street stalls, but at the same time, we swam in the hotel pool, ate some really nice food and got a small but welcomed education from hotel staff on the dishes we tried. After only a short visit to this city, we felt comfortable enough to take the train up to Alappuzha.
Alappuzha is the Indian name and is pronounced alapoola. This city, like our first visited, has a second name, Allepey. Confusing but both names were easy enough to remember. Our train ride took only two hours. The scenery was breathtaking. On one side we got glimpses of the ocean and on the other we saw the lush green forests that spring from the backwaters.
Short stay: 5 nights
Accommodation: quadruple room in a homestay.
It is here that we lived on a crazy low budget and used great wifi, ate delicious food and took a memorable tour of the backwaters.
Alappuzha is a busy city set on two canals that lead to the backwaters. The two canals run parallel to each other but do not connect and run in a West to East direction from the beach, the width of the city to the backwaters.
The backwaters are thousands of kilometers of in-land lakes all connected and serve many purposes. There is the ever increasing tourism, the rice fields, local farming and general livelihood for many Keralans.
While meat is available, there are many full vegetarian restaurants to choose from and as such the quality is great. Mind you, they don’t go out of their way to clean up after each diner in some places and so you either have to accept it or ask for clean glasses or napkins. Better still, take your own napkin and drink canned drinks through straws.
- We detailed our backwater tour in Winters Chilling Tales #56 ……….. It was a defining moment in our trip. We enjoyed the slow pace and no hard sell tour. The entire day was filled with special moments, from the ‘best ever’ curried eggs for breakfast to the hosts wife teaching us how to keep her fire going to the ‘worst beer ever’. We think about it often and it made us fall in love with India.
Spending time with locals in their home was an absolute highlight and the food was truly amazing. We enjoyed eating from street side stalls and walking around the streets, the quiet ones that is. It is not a modern city by any means, with many locals wearing traditional dress and alcohol not readily available in many places but it easy and safe, just what you hope the rest of India is like but know it will not be.
When we landed in Mumbai we had not booked accommodation. We simply did not know where to stay. While in the domestic airport we were able to pre-purchase our taxi ticket after speaking to the accommodation counters and learning that South Mumbai is the best place for us.
We caught a ‘Cool Cab’ to Chowpati for $563 Rupee. It sounds expensive but it is a long way and the traffic is bad in every direction in Mumbai.
Short stay: 5 nights
Accommodation: tiny triple room in a nicely furbished 3 star hotel
This city has heaps of attractions and is constantly buzzing, much to our detriment. If you find yourself looking at a hotel on a main road, keep looking, we were sleep deprived the entire time.
- Gateway of India – it is a monument that sits at the waters edge in Mumbai harbour. Security is tight around the monument and once inside the barriers we were inundated with Indian tourists wanting to take their picture with us. It was such an amusing situation and one we were happy to go along with.
- Colaba Causeway – this shopping strip is half street stall and half shops. The stalls line the curb and the shops hang their wares out the door in an invitation to enter. You will not feel overwhelmed by the stall workers here, who are polite in their approach, which was a big surprise to us.
- Leopold Café – it can be found in the middle of Colaba Causeway and has a rich history and great deserts. In the evening there is a line up to get in.
- Walking tour – Winter sat drinking with some locals on our first night in Mumbai and by the morning we were woken by one of them, mind you he was over 70 and he offered to take us on a walking tour to see the Hanging Gardens, the Tower of Silence and a few temples along the way.
- Mahalaxmi dhobi ghat – quite an experience. This is a huge outdoor laundry, occupied by the many males workers who use antiquated techniques to get the clothes of Mumbai cleaned. We wanted to enter but incurred the wrath of the local gangs. Interesting but not a must do in my book. BTW there are washing machines in there as well as some girls.
Mumbai was noisy, intrusive and assaulted our senses at times, but we were not to know that this was only a small attack compared to what we were to encounter in Delhi. While we felt relatively safe to wander the streets, in the populated areas you need to be aware of the many men waiting for the vulnerable traveller. We would also recommend not leaving the main streets at night, as soon as it was dark we headed back to our hotel.
The Golden Triangle
This is a well-known tour from Delhi to Agra, to see the Taj Mahal, then to Jaipur to see the pink city and back to Delhi. Read about our trip here.
We would highly recommend a visit to India by both couples and families. Tolerance to poor conditions and congestion on the streets needs to be either, built up through international travel or built in due to the travellers own home conditions. We would recommend doing research but also taking time to walk slowly through the streets with confidence and learn for yourself how safe or unsafe you think the area is. We felt the staring and unsolicited approaches were too much at times and longed for the quieter city of Alappuzha.
India is not like any other place we had been but very much like many places we have been and so for us we were able to cope with the extremes but mind you we did not travel to as many parts as we would have liked.