Tuesday, July 6, 2010

25 February – 18 March 2010 - Varkala, Kerala




Another overnight train and here we are, in Varkala, North Cliff.
Varkala is a small town of about 40,000 inhabitants in the state of Kerala. But our final destination was so-called North Cliff, a purely touristic spot on the top of a cliff adjacent to the Arabian Sea, about 5 km off from Varkala town.
The first line on the cliff is a chain of hotels, shops, cafes, restaurants and Internet cafes. Behind them you will find various guest houses, jewellery shops, drum and joga classes, and numerous ayurvedic spas. Life here is quiet. Unlike Goa with parties-all-night, Varkala is for families and health-conscious people. As our Lonely Planet book says, “It seems like every man and his dog has an Ayurvedic-related product to sell”. This is so true!
For me Varkala smells
Ocean….
Incenses from the shops…
Fresh fish and sea food in the evening from nearly every restaurant…
And it sounds
Reggae music (and don’t ask me why it is so popular here!)
Coconut fall that can make wake you up in the middle of the night
Invites from the shops with an unforgettable accent, “Have a look! Come to my shop!”
I should admit that food in South India is the one I prefer the most. It is less hot than in the north but still full of mild spices like coriander, fennel, cinnamon and a lot of coconuts. The specialty of Kerala is fish molee, fish stew with coconut milk, and for me, fish has never tasted so sophisticated! If you did not manage to go to Nepal, here in Varkala you will have a chance to taste Tibetan food as many restaurants here are hold by Nepalese.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

23-24 February 2010 – Goa

So we made our way to the south. Our coach in Mumbai-Goa train was full of foreigners, or better, it was a French coach. Our neighbors were a French-Japanese couple. They spoke Chinese between themselves.
We got off at Kolva, a little village with a white sand beach. Local people can speak 3 languages: Konkani, English and Russian. Portuguese influence fades away against a background of Russian signboards and vendors’ hails ‘Privet!’
Kolva beach is special. The sand is sparkling and cows are all around. High wave covered you? Don’t panic, the best lifeguard will save you!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

21-22 February 2010 – Mumbai (Bombay)

I’d say, only foreigners use a new name. For locals this city is called Bombay.
Slums… 55% of city population live in the slums. Dharavi, one of the largest slum districts in Asia, is spread between west and central railway lines. 800,000 people reside here. Slums were the first thing we saw on the way from the train station to the hotel.
I recommend checking these links:   





http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2007/05/dharavi-mumbai-slum/jonas-bendiksen-photography


Bombay does not look like a typical Indian city. There are pedestrian paths, European-style dressed girls,McDonalds, and shopping malls open till 22.00. Here I was tempted to get a henna tattoo.



This is the way Bombay looks for me: 



Thursday, February 18, 2010

17-21 February 2010 – Udaipur, Rajastan

With curved, airy palaces, narrow streets, lakes, trees in blossom, Udaipur is called ‘the most romantic city’ in India. I totally agree. Udaipur is fabulous. We spent 4 days there and in spite of forthcoming trip, we did not want to leave.





Wednesday, February 17, 2010

15-16 February 2010 – Jaipur, Rajastan

Having arrived in Jaipur, we immediately realized that we were in a completely different part of the country. The city is cleaner and greener, and the traffic is not as crazy as it is in Delhi. Once we got off the bus, a rickshaw driver approached us.

AMAR





I should admit that it is him who will always remind me of Jaipur. Amar belongs to Sikh. He has never shaved his beard or cut his hair. He has been living in Jaipur all his life and knows the city like the back of his hand.

On the way to Atithi Guest House Amar proposed be our driver for tomorrow for 300 rupees. Skipping ahead, I will say that it was a fair deal. Amar showed us not only those places that were not even listed in the Lonely Planet but also guided us against tourist traps (‘do not take a guide, there are plates in English everywhere and you will understand easily”, “do not buy water there, it is not safe”).

­­So in the morning Amar started our tour. Long time ago Jaipur got the name of ‘Pink City’, so are all buildings in the old city center. The most beautiful architecture is certainly in the City Palace:

CITY PALACE




Monday, February 15, 2010

14 February 2010, Agra - St. Valentine's day at Taj Mahal



We left Delhi with a morning train. At first, we confused the trains (got into 2002 instead of 2002b) but kind local people noticed an extensive number of foreigners (that are not supposed to be on this train, well, at least not in this quantity) and sent us to a correct one.
3 hours later we were in Agra. We made a mistake by not booking a room in advance (for example, in Delhi there is no need to book a room without having a look at it as rooms are normally available). So we had to accept what was available. The room in Taj Mahal was quite dirty, with no glass in the bathroom window and with a swarm of mosquitoes. However the guest house manager was a nice man and we got our bed clothing changed, a fumigator. The window in the bathroom was securely closed with a plastic bag and scotch tape that I took from home. Result: all mosquitoes were dead.
In the afternoon we headed to Taj Mahal. The security check at the gates was fairly serious, every person should be inspected as well as his or her belongings. No guns, knifes, laptop accumulators, any food and chewing gums are allowed. The last two points are aimed at keeping the territory clean.
Taj Mahal is fascinating. So far it is the most beautiful building I have ever seen. Officially, no photography is allowed inside the tomb. Unofficially, everybody were flicking with their cameras even though it is not a good place for good pictures as it is dark like any other tomb. It was shocking to watch people taking pictures with the graves on the background, kids laughing, all that noise and crush.
There are lawns in front of Taj Mahal with the plates “no entry to the grass” that are totally ignored by people. There were families and friends companies on the grass. So we did too for a couple of minutes to take some pictures.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

February 11 to 13. Delhi, India


My feelings about Delhi are so mixed. Right now all I need is to leave the city. It is not because I disliked Delhi but during these 3 days I got so tired of noise, dust, smog and people screaming. And also people peeing EVERYWHERE.
Do you know what surprises me the most? Unwillingness of local people to safe what was created. Delhi is one of the oldest cities in the world but you won’t find that many ancient constructions. We have visited National Museum of India. It is just a joke of long history of India. It took us half an hour to go through all the rooms. If we looked at all exhibits in details, it would not take us more than one hour.
Fairy India for me started with Red Fort and Humayun’s Tomb. The architecture was such a pleasure for my eyes that are used to Soviet blocks. President’s House and Ministry of Finance are fabulous.





Thursday, February 11, 2010

February 10: Almaty-Delhi

Here I am, sitting in Almaty airport and waiting for my flight to Delhi. Again taxi hassle and rudeness of the airport officers (were they specially trained for that?). My flight is 40 min delayed.
Few hours later I was in Delhi. I have no idea how they manage to get your luggage ready when you are still standing in the line for passport control with so many flights! I exchanged some money and booked a pre-paid taxi. No hassle this time! The taxi driver brought me to the place and even walked me up to the hotel as the access was closed for cars. What can I say about the hotel? Beyond my expectations. The room is cosy and clean, white sheets are spotless. Just the bathroom is funny, I have to take show just standing on the floor and the bathroom will all get watered.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

February 9 - Almaty

Yahoo! I got my visa to France! This is the main event and I am so so blindly happy that forgot how I got terribly cold in the morning. Did I say it does not feel like cold in Almaty? Forget. It is just a weather trick: no wind and just when you leave a warm place you think it’s fine. In 10 minutes you will realize that the warmest shoes you have are not good enough.
Here are some pictures from my wandering around the city center:







Monday, February 8, 2010

8 February 2010: Aktau-Almaty


8 February 2010, and my long trip is started.
I left cold (-14) and windy Aktau and arrived to cold (-12) and still Almaty under snow. Don’t know why but it does not feel THAT cold here. And I also wonder why the snow is not slippery here….
After some usual hassle with taxi drivers at the airport (they are ready to bring you to the city center for just 2500 tenge while you are ready to pay no more than 1000), I reached the address I had for a pre-arranged apartment. If someone needs a basic place to stay in Almaty, I can give the phone number. The apartment was just in front of TSUM. Very well located for my needs.