October 22, 2012

2nd Class (Varkala, Kerala, India)

You've heard Steph's first impressions of India (here). Some of my impressions are the same, such as the burning trash and the happy smiling people. Two of my other first impression were about the heat and the food. Having lived in San Francisco for the past 8 years, we're not used to much heat or humidity. And this place has no shortage of either. So far, at least once a day we have been coming back to our room, stripping down and laying still under the fan for 30 minutes to cool off. We are guilty of ducking into ATM boxes to enjoy the AC for 5 minutes (none of our rooms has had A/C thus far). The one benefit of this humidity is that our balled up clothes unwrinkle about 5 minutes after we put them on. The other thing that we have noticed is that, because we're so hot we are only eating 1-2 meals a day. We're just not that hungry.

Appam with Potato Curry
Photo from Yummy Tummy
Puttu for breakfast
Photo from mydiversekitchen

The first place we stayed, Vedic Hertitage House in Kovalam, is run, and managed by two men who have studied Ayurveda and owned Ayurvedic businesses. The first time we sat down for breakfast we had wheat puttu, which was delicious! It's steamed wheat (though traditionally made with steamed rice powder) and topped with fresh coconut that comes out piping hot. You mush it all down on the plate, toss on some mung beans, crumble on some pappadam, sprinkle on some sugar and then take a boiled plantain and mush it all together and eat it all with your fingers. I know it sounds strange, and Steph and I certainly shot each other some looks while our host explained how to eat it, but it was very filling but also very clean-eating. And really, it was very, very good. It's very high in protein, but has no cholesterol or fat. We both ate it all, and it was a lot of food. Usually when I eat a large meal, I feel overly full or tired. But with the Ayurvedic food, we don't get that at all. Instead, it just fueled us for the day and left us feeling satisfied, but not heavy. Another breakfast we had was appam with curry. They soak cooked rice overnight and then mash it and put it through a sieve so it's a batter-consistency. Then they add coconut milk and some yeast and fry it to make a white, spongy-in-the-middle and crispy-on-the-outside pancake. You dip the pancake in a mild potato curry. It is once again very filling, but in a good way. We haven't found wheat puttu since we left Vedic Heritage, but we've had appam a few other times at other home stays. So far, the wheat putty has been Steph's favorite dish, while I love the appam and would love it regularly for breakfast. Another food that we have fallen in love with his Kerala rice. It is a bigger grain and fluffier than normal rice, but once again isn't too filling. We are thinking about figuring a way to import it. (Puttu Recipe , Appam Recipe)

When we left Kovalam, we headed North by train about 50 km to another beach town called Varkala. This was our first train ride in India- our first of many so it was good to start with a short one. I walked up to the separate "Solo Woman Travelers/ Foreign Tourist" counter, and requested a ticket for 2 for Varkala. The man asked what class and when I looked at him blankly he asked if I wanted 2nd class on the express. Not sure of what to say and thinking that 2nd class sounded good enough for a 30-minute train, I said yes. I paid our 60 rupees (about $1.20, or 60 cents each) and confidently walked away from the counter with 2 tickets. Steph and I went to our track and asked a local Indian girl our age what car we should get on. She looked at our ticket and said we should get on the sleeper car with her. Once we got settled we asked someone else who said we had to go back to 2nd class! Once the Indian girl grimaced and gave us a sympathetic look, I realized we'd made a mistake. One thing we failed to realize was that there is no 3rd class in India. There are 3 first classes, 1 sleeper class and 2nd class. The sleeper class is what most people use with benches that can be converted into sleepers for long hauls. All the first classes are like sleeper but with AC and tinted windows, or a curtain added for privacy. We trudged to the back of the train towards 2nd class and realized there was no way we were getting on this train. The two 2nd class cars were so packed, people were waiting on the platform to hop on at the last second, and the smell was really overwhelming. Steph said she saw people with dead chickens in that car. I asked an official looking man, he looked at the ticket, shook his head sympathetically and pointed us towards the sleeper cars, apparently doing us a favor . Our first lesson in Indian railway was if you really want to rough it, take the 2nd class. Usually the ticket prices between a sleeper and 2nd class is only a few rupees, especially for a shorter trip. We got on the sleeper and decided if the ticket checker came we would just play dumb. It turned out, during our short train ride no ticket checker even came by.

Girl on train to Varkala
We arrived in Varkala unharmed and made our way to our guesthouse, Mummy Bamboo- our best deal yet for $9 a night! While the main town is off the beach, most home stays are located on the cliffs. It feels like one of those places that is growing quickly for the tourist crowd, so we had a hard time finding good food- as most restaurants had mostly western food. The cliffside is lined with open air restaurants and shops where young women step out of their shop and try to get you into their shop. They are trained negotiators and try to make you feel like you are getting a very good price, but lack charm and, at times seemed a little bit like clones, as they all said the same thing each time they hopped out from their shops after hearing our footsteps. "Hello Madame, You wear pretty dress. You look my shop. I make good price." You learn to avoid eye contact, walk quickly and, unless you are prepared to purchase, to never look directly at any of the items in their shops. The beach down the cliff is small and crowded with backpackers, but the beach north of the cliffs is black sand and very quiet, yet with very rough waves and a strong riptide, which makes it risky to go swimming (oh and garbage in the water- more on that later). There was not much to see in Varkala and with the beaches not that friendly we decided to push North toward Alleppey and the Kerala backwaters.....

Ladies and Foreign Tourists

Mummy Bamboo Guesthouse
Great for $9 a night!
Looking North toward Black Beach
Looking South
Check out all of our pics from Varkala here.

No comments:

Post a Comment