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South India

Trasa Wyprawy


Introduction

It has passed 13 years since my first trip to India. This time I am visiting south part of India. I expect a lot of hardships during the travel. Passport holders of Western countries need visa to enter the country. The best option is to get visa online: https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/index.html
It costs 48 USD plus c.a. 2 USD transaction fees.
At Mumbai airport the passport control procedure take 15 minutes. You must print out email with visa confirmation and don't forget to take it with you. They collect your fingerprints.
You must exchange some money to pay for taxi, accommodation and food. I think 50 Euro is enough. The exchange rate is not good at airport and you will be charged commission fee of 300 INR.
A pre-paid taxi to Colaby (tourist district) costs 700-750 INR.

Mumbai

We spent at Holiday Inn Mumbai (it is not a member of Hilton's hotels empire) - email hameedameer.v(at)gmail.com. We had made a booking online without any costs. Triple room with bathroom and breakfast cost 2 600 INR. The room standard was fine and breakfast was delicious. The hotel was located close to Dharavi Slum district. It is a must to visit the district. You can do it on food, by taxi or buy special slum reality tours&travel tour. It is unforgettable experience to see living conditions of the poorest Mumbai inhabitants.
The next 'a must; is Dhobi Ghat. This is the biggest laundry in the world. A few thousand people live and work there. You can get to Bhobi Ghat by train. Get off the train at Mahalaxmi railway station. A bridge next to the station is the best, panoramic point of view. You can't miss Colaba district. You can find a lot of old, colonial buildings in Colaba. The most interesting are Taj Mahal Hotel, Gate to India and railway station Chhatrapati Shivaji. To avoid crowds of local people and cars, start the visiting at 7 a.m. If you are tired of big city noise, drop in Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. The entrance is 500 INR. The museum has big collection of Hindu art.
If you are not going to spend a few hours in Mumbai, you can deposit your luggage in Salvation Army hostel (50 INR per piece).
Elephant Cave is recommended by guide books. In my opinion you can quit it if you visit Ajante and Ellore.
A non-A/C taxi to airport from the city cost 500 INR. It is much cheaper than opposite way.

Ellora i Ajanta

Aurangabad is a perfect starting point to visit Ellory i Ajanta. It takes all night to go to Aurangabad by sleeper-bus. A bus-ticket cost us 900 INR.
At 7.30 a.m. we got off the bus and go to Panchavati hotel on foot. Triple room with A/C cost 1 500 INR. Room standard was very good. The breakfast was extra paid and you can have it at hotel's restaurant. The food is delicious and prices are reasonable. I recommend to have dinner at the restaurant as well.
We relaxed a little bit and went to bus stop. We took a bus to Ellora. It took half an hour to get there and bus ticket cost 30 INR.
Entrance fee to Ellora site is 500 INR. It is a rock-cut monastery-temple caves, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site presents monuments and artwork of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism from the 600-1000 CE period. The most impressive is a Cave 16 and this is the largest single monolithic rock excavation in the world. The rest of monasteries are great as well. You need c.a. 5-6 hours plus 2 hours for transport.
We rented a taxi for all day to go to Ajanta. It cost 1 600 INR. The site is located at beautiful remote river valley. There are about 30 rock-cut Buddhist caves at the site. The caves were built from the 2nd century BCE to about 480 or 650 CE. The entrance fee is 500 INR and again you need a couple of hours to visit all of them.
We spent a night in Aurangabad and went back to Mumbai by night sleeper-bus. This time we paid 670 INR for a ticket. We overpaid 230 INR for a bus from Mumbai to Aurangabad.

Varkala

It is a long way to get to Varkala from Mumbai. First we went to Trivandrum (6000 INR) by plane. We spent a night in Princess Inn (1 620 INR – triple room with bathroom and breakfast) Trivandrum. Next day we took a bus to Varkala (100 INR).
There are plenty of accommodation in Varkala. The town is divided for two parts: north and south. The north part is dedicated to people who like loud music and fun. Calm and relaxed people prefer south part of Varkala. We chose the south part and found accommodation at Panchavati hotel. Triple room without A/C cost 900 INR.
The Varkala beach is splendid. At one side you find warm sea (25 degrees) and at the other one there is beautiful cliff. There is only one disadvantage of the beach – no shadow. Most of the people enjoy sun and take a bath in the sea. Some people prefer to spend time more active. You can watch flamenco on the Varkala beach:

Varkala is not only the sunbath and swimming. It is an important place for Hindu religion rituals. The celebrations take place at the beach. It is very unique and you must see it. Please watch short film of the rituals:

Sri Shastha is another attraction of Varkala. The temple dates 2000 years. Sri Shastha is located at the hill. The best time to visit the temple is morning. You can watch many Hindu people praying at Sri Shastha complex. I am afraid foreigners are not very welcomed inside the temple. You can watch the celebration from the entrance door. Many Hindu believers pray, outside the building, in the small chapels and next to holy tree. The live local music is played at the complex.
Black Beach is popular site for taking a bath. The beach is famous of black sand. In my opinion it is nothing special. The sand looks dirty.
In the evening you can enjoy body massage. Full body massage cost 500 INR per hour. You are almost completely naked. Only small paper strip cover private parts of your body. Before you take off the cloth look around and check if there is web-camera in the massage room.
You can enjoy delicious fish and sea food in the local restaurants next to the beach in the evening. The fish with chips and fresh juice cost 250-400 INR. You can buy fresh juice and fruits at stalls located just outside the beach.
Varkala is a great seaside. Don't miss it.

Backwaters

At 7 a.m. we went to train station by rikshaw (100 INR) and took a train to Kollam (120 INR). At 10.30 we left a pier and enjoy boat trip at Backwaters.
Backwater is one of the most famous tourist attractions in South India. The Kerala backwaters are a chain of brackish lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian Sea coast. During boat trip we watched beautiful nature, settlements located next to the canals, people's life, small fish boats, and Chinese fishnets. It is very relaxing too. There are a few options of boat tours:
  • Public ferries and enjoy Backwaters with local people. This is the cheapest option. The boat from Kollam to Alleppey costs c.a. 30-50 INR and takes 3 hours. I recommend the option for longer trips by wide canals.
  • Tourist cruises is slower, more comfortable but expensive option of public ferries. The trip from Killam to Alleppey takes 8 hours and cost 500 INR.
  • Canoe boats are my favourite. The small canoe goes through small channels. It is perfect to see local house, people's life, beautiful nature. The boat goes very slowly and the trip is very relaxing but not too long. It lasts 2-3 hours and cost 1000 INR per boat.
  • Houseboat is the most luxury option. People hire house boat for 24 or 48 hours. The food and accommodation is on the boat. They enjoy very long trip, delicious food, sunrise and sunset at boat. It is very nice but very expensive as well, the prices start from 10 000 INR.
  • We spent in Alleppey a night. We paid 1 000 INR for triple room without A/C and without breakfast.

Cochin( Kochi)

Cochin is our next destination. We went there by bus (55 INR). It was unforgettable journey. A driver of public bus was insane. He drove a bus extremely dangerous. The driver wanted to go as fast as possible and he followed no traffic regulations. Almost every second I was sure this is the end of my life. Lucky we managed to complete the journey and were get off the bus in one piece.
We could not find accommodation in Cochin. The national holidays made a lot of Hindu people go for a short holidays. We were walking down the streets and checked almost every possible home-stays. There were many signs on the houses: 'Kerala – God's own land'. At the streets of Cochin we found many Christian chapels. It is very unique in India and western Europe. It took us almost 3 hours to find accommodation. Greenland Homestay is run by Christian family. We paid 1200 INR for triple room with A/C. The standard was very good.
There are many Christian churches in Cochin. Cathedral is the most splendid. Before you enter the church you must take off not only a hat but shoes as well.
The churches and synagogue is open at varied time. Check it before you go.
We went for a nice walk to Fort Cochin, located next to the see. We watch the show hot the ancient Chinese fishnets works.
In the evening we went to local theatre and watched classic India performance Katokhali. Only men are actors of the drama. Drums and singers accompany the actors. Costumes, make-up and masks are advantage of the show too. Come a half an hour before the show and you can watch preparation to the drama. The ticket cost 300 INR and show lasts c.a. 1 hour.
Please watch the movie made during the show:
Next day we visited Dutch Palace (5 INR), synagogue (5 INR) and local bazaar. I recommend the sites.
We went to Ernakulum by taxi and by sleeper-bus to Mysore.

Mysore

It is only 270 km from Cochin to Mysore but the bus needs 12 hours to complete the journey. The ticket cost 800 INR.
Mysore should be at your 'a must' list. The Mysore palace is impressive. I am afraid it is forbidden to take pictures inside the palace.
We wandered around the city. Local bazaar full of flowers, fruits and vegetables is very local and nice.
Selling meat is forbidden in Mysore. Only vegetarian food is available.
There are many Yoga centres in Mysore too. You can smoke hash and weed in the centres. It's legal if it's a part of the religion rituals or Ashtanga training.

Hampi

We went go Hopset by night train, 3AC class. The standard of the journey was a nice surprised. At my first trip to India I had to travel in the train full of rubbish on the floor. The train was overcrowded. It was 13 years ago. This time it was very comfortable travel.
We took a bus (15 INR) to Hampi. Hampi is a village divided for two parts by river: tourist and local. We found accommodation in local one. Triple room with bathroom cost 1 000 INR. You can't have meat meals in Hampi.
Hampi was the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire from 1343 to 1565. There are many well preserved historical monuments located over 36 sq km. You need at least 2 days to visit them. The most interesting sites are paid (500 INR – combo ticket). The rest of the sites are free. We rent a bicycle (100 INR per day) and went around the monuments. In my opinion Vittal Temple is the best one. The picturesque trail to the temple is extra advantage. You need to buy the combo ticket to go inside.
In the evening we went to the rock hill next to the village. We enjoyed beautiful sunset.

Palolam ( Goa)

It took all night to go from Hampi to Palolam. This time we went by sleeper bus. We got off the bus at a junction, 3 km from the town. We went to Palolam on foot and it was nice walk at the sunrise. It was difficult to find nice accommodation next to the beach. Most of the bungalow were too small for three people. Finally we managed to do it. Bungalow was located 30 meters from the beach at Lacto Cressida Coco. It cost 1 300 INR, with bathroom. The A/C was extra paid.
The beach is beautiful in Palolam. In the morning you can find shadow under palms on the beach. The sea is warm and you can spend hours in the water.
There are many restaurants next to the beach where you can have lunch and dinner. In the evening fish and sea food is served but the prices are high (400 -400 INR). It is cheaper in the town.
Palolam it is perfect spot for relax.

Accommodation

  • Mumbai: Holiday Inn (it is not a hotel of Hilton corporation)– email hameedameer.v(at)gmail.com. We booked triple room via email. Triple room with bathroom and breakfast cost 2 600 INR. The hotel and room were ok. The breakfast was good.
  • Aurangabad: hotel Panchavati. Triple room with A/C cost 1 500 INR. There is a restaurant at first floor. The food is delicious and prices are cheap. You can have breakfast and dinner at the restaurant.
  • Varkala - hotel Panchavati. Triple room with bathroom and without A/C cost 900 INR.
  • Alleppey. KTC hotel. Triple room without bathroom and without A/C cost 1 000 INR.
  • Cochin - Greenland Homestay. Triple room with A/C cost 1 200 INR
  • Hampi – There are many homestay in Hampi. We paid 1 000 INR for triple room with bathroom.
  • Palolam - Lacto Cressida Coco is located next to beach. Banbulow with bathroom and without A/C cost 1 300 INR.
  • Don't choose hotels, home stays close to mosque or Hindu temples. At the dawn you will be woken up by loud prayers or religion music.

Sleeper bus

Trains are the most popular way of travelling in India but I think it is not the best way. It is difficult to buy train tickets. Sometimes you must do it a few days, even weeks before departure. Train ticket, sleeper class 2AC, 1AC are expensive. Trains are as slow as the buses. I recommend to travel by sleeper buses. The buses are very comfortable and clean. Instead of seats there are beds. The length of the beds are 185 cm. Single and double beds are available. The tickets are usually available just before departure but it is better to book a ticket 24 hours before the departure. Ticket price is approximately the same as 3AC-class train ticket. You save time and money because you travel at night. The best beds are between bus wheels at ground level.

Domestic flights

Book domestic flights a few weeks before departure. You can do it by Internet. We planned to buy last-minute plane ticket to Madurai. It was mistake. We lost a lot of time in Mumbai and were not able to find cheap ticket. We had to give up the destination. To sum up, buy domestic ticket by Internet a few week before departure.

Food

I was very disappointed by India food 13 years ago. The food was to hot and spice for me. This time it was completely different. South India food was delicious. I have been used to eat hot and spice food for years or the it was much better than Rajasthan food.
As usually I ordered local food. Not only meat but also vegetarian food was very tasteful. Sometimes I had western-style breakfast. The cost of breakfast was from 60 to 150 INR. I recommend to drink fresh fruit/vegetables juice ( 30- 50 INR). Lunch or dinner cost from 150 INR to 400 INR. Vegetarian food is cheaper than meat one. The most expensive were sea food/fish. Beer and alcohol are expensive.

People of South India

I was in India two times. The time distance between the first travel and second one was 13 years.
I have different experience at my second trip. In my opinion people of south India are very different to north ones. My favourite people live in Karela state. They are chilled out. Salesmen don't bargain to much. Prices are reasonable.
Not only people but India has changed by this time. You can order black tea at restaurant and waiter is not surprised. You can find more and more western-style toilets. There are rubbish bins in big cities. Local governments try to make cities clean. India people attitude to 'white' people is changing as well. Westerns are not rich sahibs any more. India IT guys earn more money than a lot of white people in Europe.