Silly traditions and our last days in India

Today we got up and got some breakfast at the hotel.
We planned to meet at 12:00 with the bride and groom, but they didn’t expect the people around them to be so strict with traditions.

Apparently they couldn’t leave the village they were in for the next 3 days because of Indian wedding traditions. Unfortunately we weren’t be able to meet up with them anymore since today was also our flight back to Bangalore (and a drive to Pandithapuram would take 1,5 hours) but we agreed to catch up once we were all back in The Netherlands. So we headed into Guntur again to check out some shops.

Of course near the silver/gold shops there was quite a few beggars,but one girl who was also leading a cow was really persistent. No matter where we went and which alleys we took, she always managed to find us again. When we finally were able to lose here we went back to the hotel to pack up our bags and head towards Vijayawada airport for our flight to Bangalore.

At 22:45 we arrived at our hotel in Bangalore. We quickly signed all the papers (although it stated my nationality was Indian, probably because of friend of the groom booked it) and quickly head out since we didn’t have any dinner yet and we could only find a nearby “restaurant”, the McDonalds, to be open until 23:00. We got there at 22:55 and, after getting through hundreds of flying ants which were crawling on the floor, they fortunately would still take our order.
Luckily we could eat upstairs, where there were no bugs crawling on the floor.

Afterwards we went back to the pub we visited during our first days of India where we ordered a pitcher of Kingfisher.
5 minutes after we got the pitcher, we were kindly asked to hurry up since they were closing.
Rhonja and I set a new time-record for drinking a 1,8 liter pitcher and we headed back to hotel for some sleep.

The next morning after breakfast we did some last minute souvenir shopping. The places we went during our holiday gave us a true Indian feeling, but for the most part they weren’t really aimed at tourists, so we had to get most of the stuff in Bangalore.
We made a quick stop at the same pub again for a 1+1 Kingfisher pitcher and some vegetarian nacho’s.
When we were done we dropped off our shopping at the hotel and headed towards a new friend of ours.
Rhonja unfortunately was starting to feel a bit sick, probably the Nacho’s or the beer at the pub was spoiled since she had a huge stomach ache. (luckily it was only a stomach ache without any “side effects”)

At first we wanted to take a cab, but our friend advised us to try Uber, which we had never used before. When using Google Maps in India, it also shows you options to book an Uber driver, which makes it amazingly easy to book a cheap ride to wherever you want to go.
(A rickshaw is probably cheaper, but with a regular car our ride would already take 50 minutes)
We headed outside, called an Uber driver and within 1 minute we were headed towards our friend.

When we arrived he showed us his house and we also got some Indian snacks. We forgot the names unfortunately, but one was savoury and looked like spaghetti, the other was sweet and looked a bit like dates.
After a while we decided to grab some snacks nearby, and while walking downstairs I was asked whether I would want to the bike to the food stalls. Being Dutch I thought: “I’m perfectly fine riding a bike in The Netherlands, so riding one in India should be only slightly harder”, so I agreed.

Once downstairs I found that of course by “bike”, they meant motorbike. Seeing I had never rode one (or actually participated in Indian traffic aside from being a pedestrian) and we also had the 1+1 pitcher deal today, I quickly passed and accepted the back of the seat as mode of transportation.
We made a 10 minute drive towards a street where there were a lot of food stalls.
Although we were advised not to eat on the streets, but seeing Rhonja was already sick (and I would probably be as well very soon, since we ate from the same plates today) we went ahead and had a really spicy chicken kebab.
Afterwards we grabbed a few beers and because Rhonja wasn’t feeling to well we called another Uber and headed back to the hotel to get some rest.
At the hotel we packed our stuff and got ready for our trip back to the airport at 23:30.

During this time Marcel also wasn’t feeling too good, so all the waiting at the airport at check-in and customs was a really uncomfortable. (Why do Indian customs take 5 minutes per person to check your freakin’ passport and airplane ticket?!)
Finally we were able to board at 03:15 for our flight to Abu Dhabi. Marcel skipped the meal on this plane, Rhonja was feeling a bit better again so did eat it, but afterwards agreed Marcel made the better choice since it wasn’t really tasty.

Rhonja had a decent sleep on the plane, while Marcel slept terrible.
So kinda exhausted we landed on Abu Dhabi at 07:15 and we could board the plane to Amsterdam an hour later.

Everything else went kinda smooth. We safely arrived back in The Netherlands, drove back to home, our stomach aches went away and are fully rested again.
Time went really fast, but we had an amazing time in India and we feel honored we were able to experience the wedding of our friends in India!

Now we just have to sort out the 1500 pictures we made…

The wedding part 3/3. Reception in Pandithapuram

We had another midnight train, so we already expected we would’ve a terrible sleep. We were right.
Although the train was a lot less shaky compared to the previous one, the beds were still made for dwarfs.
At 03:00 we arrived in Guntur and headed towards our hotel for the next two days to get some rest.

We awoke around 11:00, and since we already missed the hotel breakfast we decide to head out into Guntur to check whether we could fine somewhere to eat.
While it was hot in Gangawati, Guntur was even worse. It was 37 degrees and quite humid which made it really stuffy. We had looked up a few placed on our mobile app, but unfortunately all these places were currently closed, so at 12:00 we headed back to the hotel restaurant to get some lunch.

The menu was quite diverse, but we soon spotted several dishes with the suffix “65”, so we ordered Baby Corn 65 and Panneer 65. We were quite happy with our decision.
When we were finished with our lunch we got a call from the bride and groom that they would be coming over soon, so we left the restaurant to freshen up a bit. When they arrived they first wanted to have some lunch, so again we went into the hotel restaurant.
Since we just ate we only ordered some small startes, while the others were eating away. I think during our stay in Guntur we only ate vegetarian, which was unexpectedly good. (Although we doubt we could ever make a vegetarian dish this tasty ourselves)

After our second lunch we headed towards Pandithapuram, where the second reception would take place. The decorations were a bit different compared to the wedding and first reception. There were LED signs everywhere of several gods and the stage itself was also covered with flashing lights and the color silver was quite present. Although it was well done, we personally liked the atmosphere of the first reception more.

Apparently Pandithapuram also doesn’t get a lot of foreigners, since we were surrounded by children who wanted to take selfies or wanted to show off their English skills. Luckily for Rhonja her friend Asa was also at this reception and she was taken away to get dressed. Of course she couldn’t wear one of her two brand new sarees she now owned,the bride arranged another one for her, this time in pink:

(Yeah, Marcel looks a really tired in this picture. The last night-train didn’t do him any good)

Aside from the location and decoration, the reception was a lot like the previous one.
This time however, the groom arranged to be blessed with petals instead of rice (so he wouldn’t have to wash out all the rice out of his hair for three days). They did have bowls with petals ready, but apparently some of the arrangers still found the need to add rice to the bowls. Seeing some people thought rice was the true tradition the bride and groom unfortunately still got several kilo’s of rice thrown at them.

Of course we were the chosen ones to have dinner together with the bride and groom. Since we were in the part of India where they grow red chili peppers, dinner was a bit more spicy, but nothing extreme. By this time we already went for the Indian standards of spicy wherever we ate, since we could handle their “less-spicy” fairly easily.

Since it was already getting fairly late, after dinner we arranged  with the bride and groom that tomorrow we would do some shopping together and  we headed back to the hotel in Guntur.

The wedding part 2/3. Reception in Kotayya Camp and a peculiar waiter

Today we got up early to get to the reception.
Marcel was already dressed (as in jeans with a shirt, which is the regular attire for a reception it seems) but Rhonja would be changed into her saree at the reception, since she wasn’t able yet to get it on by herself.

We started with some breakfast, which unsurprisingly was a lot like the dinner we had the night before. Still tasted really good, although having a warm curry for breakfast is still something getting used to.

Rhonja got called away by several ladies to get her changed. She was bit surprised when she found out the bride arrange a new saree for her.
They also had some matching bangles for the outfit, but since Rhonja already tried India’s largest bangle size in Tirumala she already knew they wouldn’t fit. However, this didn’t stop them. Somehow they managed to mangle Rhonja’s hand and get 12 bangles on her arm.

All set it was time for the reception. Again we got some seats in front of the podium so we wouldn’t miss anything. The reception was a bit like the traditions we’d seen in Tirumala, people got on the stage, filled their hands with rice which they then sprinkled on top of the bride and grooms head.
I remember talking about this tradition with the groom after the wedding ceremony and he kinda disliked this whole “wasting” of rice. If you looked closely you could see this in his expressions every time people threw rice at them. (We agreed with them. Although it’s part of their traditions, it’s still kinda weird kilo’s of rice are wasted)

Now, at the wedding ceremony the rice sprinkling as done by maybe 80 people.
This time, around 1200 people came to give their blessing, resulting in a podium filled with rice.

After we gave our blessings, we were given even better seats: On the podium next to the bride and groom:

It was a bit uncomfortable for us, since it wasn’t our aim to be in the spotlight, so after a few minutes we went back to our places in front of the stage.

The reception ended somewhere in the afternoon, after which we were taken to some paddy fields nearby. They were doing a photoshoot here and the location was perfect since the sun was just about to set.
When the photographers decided 500 pictures were enough we went to the house of the groom’s parents, where we had dinner.
Afterwards we were brought back to our hotel to get some sleep.

The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel. Unfortunately a lot of meals weren’t available, so we settled with several Masala Dosa’s:

Afterwards we walked around Gangawati for a bit, but seeing it was around 35 degrees we headed back to the hotel after a while to get some beers.  We were told we would be picked up at 14:00, so we went back to our room to pack up a bit and get some rest.

Suddenly someone knocked on our door. There was a waiter with a glass of Lasi (which is a bit of a yoghurt milkshake) and he also had the receipt.
We didn’t order anything, but I remembered Rhonja still wanted to try it, so I accepted it and paid the waiter.
The waiter however didn’t leave our room. He didn’t say a word but he kept standing in our room, so we were getting a bit uncomfortable. Since he didn’t spoke we figured he probably wanted us to check out. While we were packing up our final stuff, the groom called me and asked me if I could check whether another friend was in his room, so I left ours to check and immediately the waiter also left the room (it seems completely plausible he was scared of Rhonja). I checked on our friend and quickly went back into our room and closed the door, thus getting rid of the waiter.

We now could pack everything up slightly less awkward without the waiter watching everything, but after several minutes the waiter knocked on the door again. Luckily we were now done and headed down to the lobby to wait for our ride.
It was now 14:00 so according to Dutch standards we were perfectly on time.
In India however they use a different time format it seems, 14:00 isn’t at 14:00. It’s more somewhere between 14:30-16:00. So of course our ride came at 16:00.

We were now underway to the railway-station againfor another night-train, this time to get to the place of the next reception: Guntur.

Getting to Gangawati / Kotayya Camp

This taxi though. The driver was typical at first, not allowing us to carry our bags to the car. But he then proceeded to pack the small bags first and stuffed the three of us with two large suitcases in the car. Uncomfortable didn’t begin to describe it. We left and he began to discuss a price of 1300 rupees. We began to question this since until now our arranged taxi were prepaid. We offered to call our friend just to double check after which he stopped the taxi and disappeared to… somewhere. This was not an unusual occurrence but he didn’t seem to come back in a timely manner after we confirmed we still had to pay.

We were a little annoyed so we gave a short honk to no avail. Then we just kept the horn going until he quickly showed up.
We were not making friends. But he seemed to dislike us to begin with with his horrible packing skills and strange attitude.

The drive was the worst we ever had here in India. It was dark and he drove fast over those terrible roads, passing other vehicles.
It’s normal for taxi to drive fast on terrible roads and passing vehicles, but this felt more careless where the drivers usually stayed calm and calculating.

Thankfully we survived that and we arrived at Kotayya Camp.

We immediately were dropped of at the location where the first reception would take place the next day. There were two big hallways, one had a big podium and several hundreds of chairs, the other was used for cooking and dining. In the kitchen people were already hard at work for preparations for tomorrow. They even made us some dinner, consisting of roti with a delicious vegetarion curry, since we were starting to get a bit hungry

Next we were brought to our hotel in a nearby place Gangawati where we apparently there was a small bachelor-like party were the groom and friends were present. (Luckily Rhonja was also allowed there). We had some drinks and laughs, also were offered loads of snacks which we unfortunately had to turn down because we were stuffed. Afterwards we went to bed to get a little bit of rest for the reception tomorrow!

Midnight train to Hampi

The day after the wedding we did some sightseeing in Tirumala. A driver was arranged for us and we visited several places.
First we went to a temple, the path leading up there was filled with cute little stores. We were a bit surprised by all the attention we got.

During out trip we got used to being stared at. Some people literally stop walking and stare and keep staring even after you’ve passed them.
Here it was a bit more extremely. Although Tirumala is the richest and busiest holy spots of the world, it seems being a foreigner is still a bit special there. It started with a small family asking us to take a selfie with them. Of course just posing wasn’t enough, Rhonja had to hold their baby for the picture as well. After taking half an hour we finally made it to the temple. The temple was only 50 meters away but the amount of selfies that were taken was unbelievable.

The temple itself was beautiful. We had to take our shoes of to get inside. There was a man slinging some fire and blessing people, but as soon as it was our turn he held the fire away from us and yelled something. It seemed we wouldn’t get blessed here. We did get a red/yellow string tied  to our wrist, so at least we got something.

After this we went to a waterfall, which looked great. If you took off your shoes, went through the water and touched a certain stone, you would be blessed for life. We didn’t proceed with this though. There was an unbelievable amount of garbage in the water. This is something you’ll encounter all over India. They have really beautiful places, but you’ll also encounter garbage wherever you go. So out of health reasons (Marcel had a small wound on his toe when he dropped a chair on it) we decided to stay out the water.

Lastly we went to the Papavinasam Theertham which is a holy stream. You can take showers here and they say that it’ll get rid of all your sins and evil.
Unfortunately we’re probably still full of those, since we skipped the actual showering part.

Now it was time to get to our next destination. In our case that was near Hampi, which is about an hour away from where the reception would be.

It was easiest to get there by train which still took from 21:00 to 05:45. As you can guess this was a night train, so beds were booked for us.
We heard plenty of horror stories like waking up and having a passenger sitting on the end of your bed, or needing to secure your luggage with a chain. Combine that with India being a bit grimy and we were feeling a little anxious about the whole thing.

But Laxmi assured us everything would be fine. And yes there is even a western style toilet on board. So we get on the train and it’s indeed an outdated old train. But it appeared to be clean through all the wear and tear. Our seats were located and we got pizza from domino’s on board for our dinner.
You had to make your own bed with the bedding provided and it was short and strange but clean.
Before bedtime we decided to use the bathroom though… That was once and never again. It looked “clean” as in there was no puddle on the floor or anything, but the stench was terrible.

The night itself was not as terrible as we thought it’d be but still pretty bad. Rhonja sleeps in any location, even here, but even she didn’t feel very rested after.

The place we were staying at was a relief though. We ended up at Mowgli Resort and were greeted around 6am by a friendly employee who informed us only one of our cottages was already ready, the other would be around 10am.

The wait was relaxed though. They had a lounge area with a fantastic view over the rice paddies and they served black coffee!!
Though we planned to sleep some at 10am we couldn’t miss this opportunity. It was amazing after the way they usually serve it, with loads of milk and sugar there’s not much left to call coffee.

When the room became available to us Marcel opted to sleep some while Rhonja packed a bag to relax outside. She saw some pretty bugs though and spent the afternoon trying to take a nice picture.

Though the resort was a welcome relief after the previous night we soon realized this wasn’t much like India. It was very western oriented with their menu, and judging by the other guests it attracted a lot of hippies . Thr waiter advised us to head down to the river to take some nice “snaps”

We enjoyed a beautiful sunset down by the river but the next morning we were discussing asking Laxmi if it was possible for us to stay a little closer to them.
We also learned from an employee that he was called out of bed by his boss to prepare rooms when we were arriving at 6am the previous day. Apparently we were special guests and had to be treated nicely. From what we understood apparently Laxmi has connections to the owner of the resort.
We were VIPs it seems!

That day though we had a guided tour through the ruins of Hampi. Once a kingdom rich in culture and wealth. Now a pile of rubble, looted from all its riches.
The guide was very nice, but he repeated stuff a lot:
“These are 65 musical pillars. If you tap on them they will make beautiful sound. They were made to make music because this is the dancing hall. They made the music by tapping musical pillars which make sounds, there are 65 of them. They were placed in the dancing hall so people could make music. The music was made by musical pillars, which make a sound when you tap on them. In total there are 65 musical pillars here”

That was just a short part of his story. He made sure we at least heard about the musical pillars at least a hundred times.
(After some googling we even found out he was wrong, there are only 56 pillars)

Enduring the heat (37°C) we were shown several great places in Hampi. There were palaces, bathhouses and marketplaces. Unfortunately only the stone bases of these buildings was just left. The actual buildings were destroyed in raids some time ago.

Due to the heat and the fact most we saw were just stone bases, we asked our guide to bring us to the best remaining place after which we’d like to call it quits. We ended up at some impressive monolithic statues of some Hindu gods. A statue of Vishnu was 6m tall. It was very impressive and surrounded by a wall with beautiful trees outside it, where we saw a whole bunch of monkeys!
A few meters away was a statue of Shiva. Or rather it was a small stone building that didn’t look very special, but inside was the monolith. Rather than a humanoid figure though, we saw a cylindrical shape with a protruding part. It was standing in water. We were told this is how they also depict Shiva, the destroyer.
After that we took a short drive to see the monolith of Ganesh from where we had a great view of our surroundings and we could even see the temples we saw from down by the river last evening.

The temples were really nice to see. If you wanted to go further inside though you had to leave your shoes. Let me tell you those stones get hot in the sun! We mostly stuck to the shadows unlike some Indian people who walked across the huge square like it was nothing.
It’s strange though how you’re led along a path where a bunch of priests call you over for various blessings that they do expect you to donate for afterwards.
Marcel got himself a blessing in the form of a dot on his forehead.

At the end though we got to meet Laxmi the temple elephant!

She was being fed at the moment and you could get really close to her if you wanted to. If you held out some money she would hold out her trunk so you can put it inside, after which she would hand it to her handler and bless you by gently patting your head with her trunk!
Needless to say, Rhonja went and got blessed by an elephant. She remarks their trunks are really soft.

Though we could also visit the modern town of Hampi right next to the temples, we opted for a late lunch at the resort and some delicious cold beer.

We were playing some games and drinking beer. We hadn’t heard from Laxmi the human since we asked about our accommodations. We didn’t even know for how many nights the resort was booked, so we had thought we’d be staying another night when it was getting dark.

And that’s when our talkative employee came to our table! “I’m so sorry but I was just told you are leaving. Did you pack your bags yet? The taxi arrives in 30 minutes.”

Luckily our bags were mostly packed already. We finished our game and went outside with our bags to wait for our ride to the next destination.
Complete in style with us having no idea where we were heading off to next!

The wedding part 1/3

Current we’re staying at the same place as where the wedding will take place.
Compared to our previous hotels, things are… a bit different.

– The room itself is quite spacious, but we only have one light bulb and a fluorescent lamp.
– We do have our own bathroom, but the toilet doesn’t have any paper (luckily we were prepared for this and brought our own!).
– We also have airconditioning, but outside our window is a loud speaker which plays Hindu chants 24/7. (earplugs only partially solve this problem)
– If we leave the room we’ll have to lock it using this big padlock.
– Our blanket for the night is a fleece blanket which is not as wide as the bed. Luckily we have two since there are two beds, king and queen sized.

Still we feel very welcome here.

Today the wedding started which would be entirely on the roof.
We started with breakfast there with my colleague (the groom) and afterwards several ceremonies started.

The groom was partnered with his sisters son, and they were “bonded” together with a ritual on which they both had their nails and feet painted. Afterwards everybody took a bit of rice, and sprinkled it on both their heads while making a blessing. As a thank you we got two small bananas, a leaf and some nuts.
This process took about an hour.

Now it was time for the bride to undergo this same process. The groom wasn’t allowed to see his bride just yet, so he carefully had to leave the place the other way around so they wouldn’t bump into each other. So also with the bride we gave her our blessing while putting rice on her head and getting bananas in return. Right now the ground was beginning to be covered with rice.

We then had a delicious lunch. We sat at a table and got a huge banana leaf in front of us. First we had to wash it with some water, and afterwards waiters came and filled it with a lot good stuff.
We were told that one of the purposes of the banana leaf was, that when spoiled food comes into contact with the leaf it’ll turn black. I have no idea what exactly was on there, but it was either really really sweet, rice mixed with yoghurt or really spicy stuff.

It was around 6 that both Rhonja and I were going to get dressed. The bride and groom got us traditional Indian clothes to wear during the wedding:











Around 19:00 the big part started, both bride and groom were sitting on the stage and two people were holding some kind of curtain between them so they couldn’t see each other yet. Eventually they removed the curtain and we got to put rice on their heads again with a blessing.


I’m not sure what exactly happened after that, unfortunately most of the time photographers were a bit in the way. There were some games between the newlyweds to get to know each other in a playful way, which involved more rice on heads but also glitter and tiny colorful balls. But in total I think we threw rice with blessing about 5 times today.

After 4 hours of ceremony Rhonja and I decided to have a bit to eat.

Unfortunately I can’t really explain what exactly went on today, perhaps we’ll get some clarification on that in the next few days. But for us the highlights :
– very intriguing wedding. Although we didn’t fully understand it, it was completely different compared to Dutch weddings
– the atmosphere was really relaxed. Only a few people at the wedding knew how everything should go. Everybody else just went with it and were pointed in the right ways.
– the clothes we got to wear were great. We thought they were comfortable and really beautiful.
– on that topic, it was also great to see what saree the bride was wearing, she had three different ones throughout the day.

Rhonja made friends with Asha during the day. So after dinner (around midnight already) she came to our room to give Rhonja some mehndi (henna tattoo). Though we had a little trouble sometimes understanding her accent it was very gezellig. Rhonja now has more traditional patterns on her right arm, excluding the heart with Marcels name in it, and on her left she asked for a smaller, more modern tattoo-like style to match with what Asha had herself.
It was around 01:30 we went to bed, exhausted after a very exciting day.

Relaxing in luxury and getting to Tirumala

Yesterday morning we got up and first had some breakfast at the hotel.
When it was almost 8am we packed up our bags and headed to the reception to get our driver.
Before we could leave they asked us if we could give a short video review of our stay, so that’s probably going to be online sometime soon.

Shakeer then took us back to Kochi Airport, which was a three hour drive.
Things got a little sketchy when we arrived at the airport. Shakeer handed me and empty receipt to sign. I told him that nothing was filled in yet (there were areas where the amount of rupees would be written down) so I wouldn’t sign it.
He tried to convince me it would be okay, but after I refused a second time he said he would handle it. (luckily they don’t have any credit card info or something from me, so no worries)

Kochi Airport went kinda smooth. Both our check-in bags were weighted, mine was 1,5kg too heavy but apparently no problem for them. The same with our hand luggage which also was several kilos overweight.
Although our luggage was scanned at security, water bottles weren’t an issue and could be taken through security without any problems (saved us 20 cents for a bottle of water!)

WiFi was a bit of a problem though. I still needed to have the info on our next location, but halfway through my conversation with my colleague the Internet went down and we had no idea where we would be heading.

Luckily the WiFi on our arrival airport Chennai was a bit better, and we found out that a cousin of my colleague was already waiting to pick us up. He also arranged a hotel for us and brought us there.

The hotel wasn’t quite what we expected, it was way more luxurious than our previous stays. We even had a swimming pool:

But best of all, they served beer here! Also nice was that they had fast speed wifi, which unfortunately broke down 2 hours after we arrived :-/
We spend most of the time at the hotel here to relax a bit after the previous busy days. We drank some beer, had a swim, ate some food with some beers, and drank some more beers. During dinner we even got to hear the life story of one of the waiters (who came from Kashmir) and another waiter helped us pick out a decent meal so we wouldn’t have ordered a weird combination of Indian foods. Afterwards we went to bed in our oversized soft bed.

The next morning we met up with my colleague’s cousin again and he got us a cab that would bring us to our next stop: Tirumala. He also got us an Indian simcard with data, which would make the whole trip a lot easier, especially since a stable WiFi connection here is almost non existing.
During the 3 hour trip our driver stopped at the side of the road to get some snacks, it looked a bit like celery but is was actually a kind of cucumber:

Before we could enter Tirumala we had to go through a security check. Just like an airport check our luggage and bodies were scanned. I think the main reason for this is that alcohol is strictly forbidden in Tirumala and they want to be sure we didn’t take any with us.

After the security check it was still a 30 min drive uphill, but afterwards we finally arrived at the hotel (even had to help the cab driver a bit with directions) and met up with my colleague.

We went out for dinner and again it was really good! We had several “65” dishes, which are prepared in the same way as Chicken 65 so we knew they would be good. We had a cauliflower and mushroom variant of that, which both also had battered/fried peppers hidden on the plate, so sometimes you accidentally grabbed a pepper resulting in drinking lots of water. We also had our first Dosa, which is a bit like a filled crispy pancake which you dip in two different curries. Quite difficult to eat properly, since you have to use your right hand, but very tasty!

Tomorrow we’ll be attending the wedding, really curious how that will be!

Touring through paradise

Complete forgot I wrote this post already but didn’t post it yet. So here it is with 2 days delay:

Today we got up at 06:00 and prepared ourselves for our tracking trip through the area surrounding the hotel.
We had a very small group, it was just our guide, a couple with a child and us.

The guide introduced himself quite clearly, twice during his short introduction he mentioned his name was Philip. My guess is this has something to do with the ‘Guest review card’ which we have in our room, they specifically ask us for employee names of who we liked best during our stay.
Philip is a smart man, because so far he’s the only one who introduced himself with his name.

Philip showed us that around the hotel they had loads of different flower, fruit and vegetable plants and trees. I can’t remember all of them, but there was a fire plant which made a popping sound when you pinched it seeds and a tiny pinkish apple called a Chambakka. We even got to eat one of the Chambakka, but we first had to open it up and remove the ants that were inside, but they still were tasty.

We also went through nearby tea plantations and these looked amazing during the sunrise (unfortunately I only took pictures with my camera).
Philip also told us about the history of tea in Munnar, which was quite interesting. Apparently over 100 years ago some foreigners bought a lot of land dirt cheap (€50) and decided to grow tea on it, making a lot of money.

During our hike we also found out where our driver Shakeer is staying.
Apparently 50 meters down the hill there is a parking area with a few small huts. When we passed it during the hike we already thought Shakeer was proably staying there and this was confirmed when he waved and said “Good morning!”

After our little hike we went back to the hotel for some breakfast. Having curry for breakfast takes a bit getting used to though but it still tastes great.
Afterwards we called Shakeer and headed out.

He first brought us to some guys who were advertising with an Off-road Jeep ride. They explained it would take around 3 hours and that seemed a bit long too us. It also was “expensive” at €55, for that amount of money we could get a lot of other cool stuff here.

Second stop was a temple we passed. Shakeer told us we couldn’t enter through the gate so we just stood outside and took some pictures. (The Sree Ayyappan Temple Anachal)
Suddenly a man called Anthony (don’t let that name fool you, he was 100% Indian) appeared out of nowhere and asked us to come with him to the temple, but only if we took off our shoes.

First we had to wait outside for a bit because we heard some chanting coming from inside the temple, so we took some pictures of our surroundings.
Then we were invited in, and it was quite an experience.
We stood in front of some kind of closed altar where a guy was banging on drums. After a minute or two the doors of the altar opened where they offered fire to a statue while chanting. We then got handed several flower’s.
Unfortunately nobody there could really explain what exactly was going on (we have to check that when we come back) but we were still impressed by the whole happening.

When we were leaving the temple Anthony told us our driver couldn’t enter because he had the wrong belief. Poor Shakeer.

For the rest of the day we mainly stopped at some good viewpoints:

(I snapped these real quick with my mobile, the ones I took with my camera don’t have my fat finger disrupting the view)

We also made a stop at a Tea Museum, where we learned even more about the history of tea in Munnar and we also stocked up on tea there.

Lastly we stopped at Mattupetty dam and Echo Point. These places had some decent views (but we’ve seen better here) but they both had a large amount of shops we could snoop around here.
Rhonja even tried to haggle there, and after a few attempts she finally managed to get some discounts.

Back at the hotel we rested for a bit and headed towards the restaurant again.
As a starter we took one dish we also had yesterday: Chicken 65 Kerala style. We both agreed this was the best chicken dish we have ever had. We will definitely try a recipe for that one when we get back home.

For our main course we had a vegetarian curry, mutton roast and Kerala Paratha. Paratha is a bit like a flaky pancake and you use it to pick up other foods, but also on it’s own it tastes great!

Tomorrow morning we’ll be heading back to Kochi, where we’ll take a plane to Chennai. No clue yet where we’ll be staying, since my colleague has made the arrangements for that!

Arriving in Munnar like a king

This morning we got up at 05:15 to get a shower, pack our suitcases and be on time for our ride to Bangalore airport.

We got to the hotel reception, the guy behind the counter reminded me that I still had to pay. While he was printing my receipt I asked him “The cab will show up soon? It’s almost 6am”
“Uhm, sorry sir. I know nothing”

Great! While I was already stressing whether the cab would make it in time to the airport because of traffic, there apparently was no cab at all to take us.

Luckily the reception called a cab for real this time, and after a 20 minute delay we were heading towards the airport.
Unfortunately our troubles weren’t over yet. Halfway we came to a halt because of traffic. Some guy rammed his car into the railing and this caused our three lanes to come to a complete stop.
People started to figure out how to get around it (some where even making a 180 degree turn and headed back, on a highway…) but fortunately for us our cab driver could continue after a few minutes.

Arriving at the airport we had little trouble finding the check in counter of our airline. We knew that our check-in luggage had a maximum of 15kg (as opposed to 23kg with the international flight to India) so the night before we stuffed our hand luggage cases to make sure our big suitcases would be allowed.
(otherwise we would have to pay a whoppin’ €1,50 per extra kilo)

Our two big suitcases were weighted, and it was exactly 30kg!
“Now put on your hand luggage sir”
Whoops, this was the first time someone actually weighted our hand luggage.
Now we were exceeding the weight by 11kg.
“You’ll have to pay extra charges sir”
“Fine, I’ll pay”
“Just a minute sir”
She called somebody, and when she hung up she suddenly told out it was alright and we could proceed. (No idea why she did that)
She did tell us our hand luggage was too big and had to be stored on a special place on the plane during the boarding process.
When boarding our 2 propeller plane, our handluggage was indeed taken from us but we were given a receipt.

After one hour of flying we arrived at Kochi Airport. We got our luggage (no idea why we were given a receipt for the handluggage, since we just took it without showing it to anyone) and headed outside where Shakeer, our driver for the coming three days, was waiting for us. Next stop was Munnar, which is up in the hills.

Shakeer is not a man of many words, he is more like the silent protagonist you see in videogames. It looks like he takes his work very seriously. When you ask him something, most of the time he won’t even respond, that’s how committed he is to being our driver.
Jokes aside, he knows how to drive.
The roads to our next destination, Munnar, seem like they aren’t even finished, yet Shakeer manages them with ease.

Before every corner he makes sure that everyone is aware of his presence, of course making use of the horn. Turns were really sharp, and people tend to take over in turns with low visibility.
After 3 hours, of which Rhonja and I mainly tried to sleep since it was mentally better to keep your eyes closed, we arrived at our Hotel, the Munnar Tea Country Resort.

Before we were able to open the car doors, they were already opened by the staff. We were really surprised by their kindness. At the previous hotel it was only directed to me. While they kept always carried my suitcase for me, Rhonja had to drag hers along herself.
But here it was different. When we got out of the cab we were instantly greeted by 4 people, one of which gave us a flower necklace and another gave us a bindi on our forehead (a dot).
We got freshly made juice and all of our luggage was carried to our “villa”.

We thanked them for the great reception and decided to freshen up in our room.
It’s quite different than our previous room. There’s a lot of space and also a refrigerator.
We now have a balcony with a great view:

When we checked the menu we had in our room, we noticed all drinks were non-alcoholic. After some quick online searching we found out that in this area almost no one has a license to sell booze, with the exception of a little government run store in Munnar. We found our first target.

We went to the hotel reception, who in turn called our cab driver to come pick us up.
We have no idea where Shakeer is staying all this time, but he’s always available within 10 minutes. (we would ask, but we know it’ll remain unanswered)

After a 20 min drive we arrived at Munnar. We did some more shopping there, and also found the place where they had booze. It was a really shady small shack, with an extremely narrow entrance. It kinda felt like you were buying drugs in a dark alley, everybody there looked at me with a face like ‘what are YOU doing here?! ”
Inside I arrived at the first barred windows where I had to tell a guy what I wanted and pay him. Then I shuffled sideways to the next barred window, where a guy got me my goods.
Since they didn’t have any beers we settled with a red wine called Dia.

Our mission was successful, so we headed back to Shakeer for a clean getaway.
Shakeer didn’t tell us, but he thought we should see more today, so he first dropped us of at a Hydel park. He did mumble something about waterfalls, but those were nowhere to be found.
The park itself was pretty nice though, it was relaxing to be away from all the car fumes and loud honking for a bit.

Afterwards we headed back to our hotel, but underway made a few stops to make some great pictures of our surroundings.

Back at the hotel we had to wait a bit for the restaurant to open, we forgot they weren’t open untill 19:30.
We had a great dinner, we started with some regional dishes, consisting of fried chicken which tasted amazing and was super crispy. As main course we also stuck to the Kerala Region. Rhonja went for fish (in a tomato heavy sauce) but I stuck with chicken. Both were fine choices! Unfortunately I can’t tell much about the differences in chicken dishes we had. They were all differently spiced and also tasted differently (in a good way) but I don’t have a clue how to describe it. Just try it when you’re here!

For dessert we both choose a carrot pudding called Gajar ka Halwa. Again delicious, aside from all the cashews that were in it but Rhonja was glad to help me out with those.

Right now we’re getting ready for bed. Tomorrow we’ll be up at 06:00 to do some Tea plantation tracking and see the sunrise!

Bangalore part 2

For yesterday’s schedule, Rhonja did some planning. We wanted to visit the National Gallery of Modern Art, the Musical Fountain and Bangalore Fort.

We started with some breakfast in the hotel, which was quite decent (but not “superb” as claimed). We aren’t sure what we exactly had, there was some idly (which is some sort of fluffy cake) which we combined with some vegetables and vegetarian curry and it was quite nice (at least there wasn’t a fish salad this time)

After breakfast we went towards the National Gallery, they lent out there complete collection and it would be back tomorrow.
Okay… Let’s check this musical fountain thingy then: Closed, opens at 7pm.
We did wander around Bangalore Palace for a bit (although we didn’t actually see it). We mainly saw the Palace grounds, which were a bit barren.

To cope with the disappointment we headed to MG Road to do some shopping and afterwards landed back in the pub we were in the day before.

This time we didn’t go for two glasses of beer, but we took a pitcher instead.
We also ordered some chicken snacks to compensate for the pitcher of beer.
When we finished our pitcher and just talking a bit, the waiter came to our table with a new full pitcher of beer.
A bit surprised we said “No thanks” but when he replied with “It’s free” we didn’t want to be rude so we continued with that one. Apparently the pub had a rule: before 6pm you get 1 free pitcher if you order 1.
Seems reasonable.

In the pub we killed some time by playing a mini boardgame I brought (which revolves around mints!) and when the second pitcher was empty we got up and headed for Bangalore Fort for which we called a rickshaw.

Rickshaws are really the best way of transportation in Bangalore. They’re dirt cheap since most of the time it’ll only cost around 25-40 rupee (€0.35-€0.55) for a trip of 2-4km.
Sometimes you’ll get drivers who suddenly don’t work with meters but ask 200 rupee, but we mainly refused those.

When we got to Bangalore Fort, we nearly passed it without noticing. It was a really small entrance and not busy. When we got inside we knew why, it was just a few a gate, 4 walls and a security guard.

After spending at least 5 minutes in the Fort we headed to Raja market, where Rhonja did some shopping for clothes.
From my previous trips to Japan I remember that people tend to avoid the Golden week as much as possible because of crowds. Golden week 2016 was nothing compared to Raja Market. People are everywhere and even Rickshaws try to get through the crowds. If you like the sound of horns this is a must.

We headed back to our hotel to freshen up a bit, and for dinner went back to Shivalli to try out some new dishes. We asked our waiter for two curry recommendations, both were delicious!

Back at the hotel we asked the reception to arrange a cab for us at 6am,since we would be flying from Bengaluru to Kochi!