November 26, 2012

Udupi'd Your Pants If You Were On This Bus (Udupi, Karnataka, India)

First of all, I'm very proud of this blog post title. Thank you for reading. We mentioned in our posts about Mysore (here, here, and here), that we took a bus to and from Mysore. This was a change from our usual transportation style via train, and it's worth sharing.

By the time we reached Fort Cochin (read about it here), we'd mastered the train system and felt pretty comfortable buying, boarding and riding on India trains. (More on trains later.) We had even started to enjoy them a bit. But there wasn't an easy way to get to and from Mysore via train, so we decided to take the bus instead, having been told that the government-run bus system had Airavat Volvo busses with air conditioning. The ride from Ernakulam (near Fort Cochin) to Mysore was 9 hours long, so we booked a night bus (leaving at 11:45pm) and chose our seats on the online booking system (KSRTC). 

After killing a day of extra time in Fort Cochin, we took a rickshaw to the bus station and found that, unlike the train stations we'd visited, the bus station was not a tourist-friendly place. No one spoke English, we were given lots of strange looks, and we were the only foreigners there. We weren't even sure we were in the right place, but stood around, hoping for the best and trying to come up with a backup plan if we'd really screwed up. As other (local) busses started entering the station, our anxiety levels went higher and higher because IT WAS CHAOS! People would run alongside the busses, fling open the doors, and jump onto the bus long before it was stopped. And I'm not talking about 1 or 2 people…I'm talking about 20-30-50 people all rushing after the bus and clamoring for a spot on the bus, throwing elbows and completely without sympathy. And the busses were in bad shape - only a few seats, spewing smoke, and absolutely packed with people. We started preparing ourselves to do the same when our bus arrived. 

This isn't our video, but I found it on YouTube and it's what the bus station looked like in Ernakulam. Pure chaos.

November 20, 2012

Wind Surfing on a Rickshaw

Auto rickshaws are a really common and cheap way to get around in India. We take them to and from train stations and around larger cities. When we were in Mysore (read about it here and here) we met a young rickshaw driver, Aslam, who took us to a couple of places around the city. He spoke great English, despite never having been to school, and was a great tour guide. We decided to hire him the next day to go see the Keshava Temple, a temple about 40 km outside Mysore that was built in 1268. After we visited Aslam's house (tea and henna), we headed out into the country. We were enjoying being in the fresh air and quiet and seeing local village life without other tourists. After about 30 minutes, a motorcycle passed us and yelled something to Aslam. He quickly pulled over and realized we had a flat tire in the left rear. We weren't really sure what we would do, because we were in the middle of a rural area - no shops in site. Aslam had a plan, though.

November 14, 2012

Breaking the Budget, Part II (Mysore, Karnataka, India)

Read Part I of our post about Mysore here.

The next day - we set out to really see Mysore. Our first plan was to tour the inside of the Palace but, as we walked that direction after a quick thali lunch, we were approached by a young, friendly rickshaw driver, Aslam, who told us that it was a bad idea that day because it was too crowded. He offered to drive us up Chamundi Hill to the temple, take us to the Muslim Bazaar, and to the palace for 150 rupees ($3). He was enthusiastic, and this was the kind of experience we were looking for, so we said yes (knowing we'd pay him more than 150r and also knowing he planned to take us to shops where he would get a kickback for taking us…and not minding either). 

First, we visited the temple on Chamundi Hill. (Read about Chamundi here.) On the ride, we learned more about Aslam. He is Muslim and lives in a village outside of Mysore with his parents, two sisters, two brothers-in-law, two brothers, and a niece and a nephew. He never went to school, but spoke perfect English because, he said, "God gave him a good brain." His mom gave him a rickshaw when he was 15 and he's been driving it for 9 years. Each day he drives, no matter how much money he makes, he gives his mom 250 rupees that she puts into savings for him. Most of the rest of the money goes to help support his family, though he uses some of it for new clothes. He's silly and laughs a lot and is, thankfully, a good driver. We both like him a lot.

November 12, 2012

The Hampi Frog Project

Remember when we had a third roommate in Alleppey? We loved Barry the lizard. He kept to his corner, he didn't make sudden movements, and he didn't invade any personal or private moments. 

Well, as it turns out, we're not open to all extra roommates. When we got to Hampi and checked into our guesthouse (much more on Hampi and the masses of chillum-smoking Israelis at a later time), we noticed that we shared our bathroom with 2 frogs. Really, they looked like bumpy toads and weren't very cute. One was about the size of a golf ball and he lived in the crook of the toilet, and the other was about the size of a tennis ball and hung out in the corner. No thanks. 

To make matters worse, they would decide to jump towards you the moment you relaxed on the toilet…meaning you could never really relax. We were both dreading taking a shower. The showers here aren't partitioned off. You just stand in your bathroom, next to the toilet and dump water over yourself and the water runs to a drain in the corner of the room, flooding the entire bathroom for a moment. We had this image of the toads jumping around, having a froggy heyday in the water and weren't really excited to share our bathing time with them. Enter: Operation Frog Removal.

The original footage has a Blair Witch-esque quality and the video was taken during one of the many many power outages in Hampi, so I was wearing a headlamp while Tom manned our shower buckets and a stick. I swear, we should be on The Amazing Race.


Update: The biggest toad returned! Amphibians strike back! I was sitting on the edge of our bed, writing this very post on the laptop when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. The large toad was very deliberately and casually strolling across our floor. I mean it. He was strolling. He wasn't hopping. He wasn't jumping. He wasn't being froggy. He was being smug. After I screamed in shock, I noticed there's a huge gap between our hut's door and the floor - a general invite to any and all creatures in the vicinity. Tom chased the frog (Jackson? Willard? Argus?) around the room with our monopod and, as he moved his backpack to find the frog, a lizard darted up the wall. Once again, we found ourselves giving a warm welcome to the lizard (Richard, aka Dick Lizard) and continued to chase the fat toad. We finally convinced him to jump into our shower bucket and we've re-released him to the wild. And now we keep a towel or something jammed under the door to send a message to all slimy and bumpy critters. "Stay out. No vacancy." Who's smug now?

Update 2: The smaller toad came back as well. I give up. Take it toads...the room is yours.

November 9, 2012

Breaking the Budget (Mysore, Karnataka, India - Part 1)

It happened faster than we had hoped. Tom got a cold and a nasty eye infection. I was desperate for a hot shower. While in Fort Cochin (read about it here), we made the impulse decision to skip Munnar (too many tourists) and Wayanad (too much rain) and head straight for Mysore to catch the last 2 days of the Dasara Festival (also spelled Dussehra), a 10 day festival celebrating the victory of truth over evil and the day when the Hindu Goddess Chamundeshwari killed the demon Mahishasura. The highlights of the festival are seeing the Maharaja's Palace lit up with over 100,000 lights and watching the parade on the final day. We were anxious to get to Mysore, but couldn't find a reasonably-priced home stay, guesthouse or hotel room anywhere in the city on short notice. Realizing that one of the things we promised each other when we planned this trip was that we'd splurge on a nicer hotel when we were sick or burnt out…and that we were both sick and burnt out, we booked 4 nights at the Fortune JP Palace Hotel in Mysore. We got it for a "steal" on the Indian travel website Agoda, but it still broke the budget…and we didn't care. We booked an overnight bus from Fort Cochin (really, from nearby Ernakulam) to Mysore and prepared ourselves for a night of no sleep and terrifying driving. The bus didn't disappoint. The driving was terrifying and we didn't sleep.
Isn't it beautiful?
Just seeing this picture helps me imagine air conditioning and clean sheets.

November 6, 2012

Playing Cricket in Fort Cochin, Kerala, India

We left Alleppey (read about it here) and headed to Fort Cochin (or Fort Kochi), a region in Kochi in the state of Kerala. The area is a peninsula with a really interesting history. Over the past 700 years, Fort Cochin has been occupied by and influenced by Arabs, Chinese, Dutch, British and the Portuguese. All the past influences in Fort Cochin has resulted in some great architecture and a different feel of anywhere else in India we've visited. In the old town, the alleys and cafes have a European feel (plus cows and trash, minus good coffee), and the Kapithan Inn (about $13/night), where we stayed, made a good starting point for exploring the area on foot, which we spent most of our time doing. And, as usual, the best experience of Fort Cochi came without planning. Here's a sneak peek. Details are further below.

November 2, 2012

It's Hard to Enjoy Your Dosa

I'm sure you've heard all about India's free-roaming cows (they're considered holy animals by Hindus and, thus, aren't farmed or butchered, and allowed free reign), but nothing can prepare you for having to compete for precious roadside space with a horned bull until you're actually doing it. In Kerala, most of the cows we saw, while common and in odd places, were tied up and used by families for milk. In Karnataka, things got a little more exotic, and our first few minutes in Mysore included pushing a bull out of our way so we could make it to a street median before local busses, rickshaws and honking cars ran us over. Cows are everywhere. They have no owners, but are taken care of by everyone. People give them food scraps and water, and the cows go wherever they want. They try to enter shops. They roam busy highways, they hang out at temples, and we've even seen them head butt a few innocent passers-by. Due to the head butting and being from a country where it's a known pastime to master this animal (a la rodeo), we are, naturally, a little leery of these animals and try to "steer" clear of them when possible. (See what I did there?) 

A small selection of the (mostly) friendly cows in India

November 1, 2012


This post is long overdue (and Steph has been on me to get on with it), and I agree, it needs to be said.

Our cross country road trip (Read those posts here), took a month and a half, and we spent the last 4 weeks staying with friends and family - from Colorado all the way to Connecticut, and down to North Carolina. We spent nights in 14 different homes, and shared breakfasts, dinners and drinks (sometimes accompanied by a hangover) with many others. Beginning with our going away party in San Francisco, and each time we were moving on to another place, a big topic in the car (which logged 4,800 miles) was how lucky we are to have such amazing people in our lives. (A very small, incomplete sampling below...)