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03/06/2014

The 5 essential items to travel in India

A website contacted me with an original idea: a post on what to carry (the 5 essential items) when traveling to India! And since their staff is very nice, I got quickly convinced. So here is what I prepared...

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1.     Large cotton scarf

Essential: can be used as a scarf to protect you from the cold in air-conditioned places, as a sheet (to lie on or to cover yourself) for an impromptu nap anywhere, as a skirt to hide your legs before entering a mosque, as a burka to get protected from the sun, as a towel to wash your face, blow your nose etc. Alternatively, an Indian dupatta can also do...

2.   Sarouel

Very convenient: it hides your legs away from hungry eyes and the sun, very comfortable and very airy (you don’t sweat much in it, even under 35 degrees!). It is in the same spirit as the Indian salwar (a kind of baggy pants, very light, to be worn under a tunic).

3.   Sandals

Flip-flops/chappals are very nice but not very easy to walk with and when you hit a stone, or a hole, while wearing them, you can really hurt your feet very very bad. Spartan sandals are comfortable, good to walk and they are easy to remove (a must in India where you spend your time removing your shoes to enter temples).

4.     Gavroche cap or Stetson Hat

When you love hats... The simple cap to avoid sunstroke, or the Stetson hat to be the star of the day ;)

5.    Ray Bans

Because good luck trying to walk around under the Indian sun without good sunglasses...

6.     1969 Denim Jacket by Gap

Just because I love it!

 

And we could add (though it is less fashion-oriented):

  • a camera,
  • mosquito repellant,
  • visa,
  • a good sense of humour,
  • sunscreen,
  • patience,
  • deodorant (a lot of deodorant) and double-skin bandages for blisters,
  • an Indian SIM (useful for air ticket booking (and time change, cancellation) and GoogleMap),
  • medicine to stop diarrhoea and medicine to stop constipation (which generally follows the stop of diarrhoea),
  • foam earplugs,
  • and for those who are not prepared to cross certain hygienic limits: wipes, tissues, anti-bacterial and tampons with applicator (for amateurs).

02/26/2014

A trip to Kanyakumari and Kovalam

When visitors come to see us in India, we take them to the "beautiful" places, to make sure they would come back (or at least they would not leave running) ... That’s how I recently went back to Kerala ...

In India they like to say "Work hard, party hard". So I took advantage of being in the south to go see the tip of India , Kanyakumari. I have been asked a few times if it was worth it and I thought I’d rather go check by myself!

So after a 6 hour journey on a night train (Cochin to Nagercoil), I found myself at 5 am on a train platform trying to open my eyes, spot a rickshaw, and go to Kanyakumari... Upon arrival, we immediately checked in a nice hotel - no window, yellowish painting, clean except for pilling dust and dead hair but with a TV! We hardly time to brush our teeth as we hurried to see the sunrise. The main point of being at the tip of India is indeed to be able to see both the sunset AND the sunrise! We took a nice little stroll on a pier, the sky was cloudy but the sun finally came out!

My feet were dragging on the way back... After a dosa (the local crepes) stop, my bed welcomed me with open arms (I was a bit worried at the thought that there may be rats in the room) but fatigue quickly took over my fears!

Three hours later, refreshed, we began looking for the ferry to go to the rock in the sea at the end of the tip. As for the sunrise sightseeing, we were not the only ones having with this idea: there was a line of several hundred meters! Fortunately there is a system where instead of paying 34 rupees, you can pay 167 (2 €) and skip the line! Not very egalitarian for sure but when it's 35 degrees and there are a thousands of Indians, it doesn’t bother you for very long...

We walked around the rock, visited the memorial of Saint Vivekananda of which I know nothing except that he meditated on this rock for three days and we left to catch lunch.

It turned out that we had done most of the activities Kanyakumari! Except for the Museum of Vivekananda and some churches ... And as it is a holy city it is super crowded, full of cheap hotels, and the food is pretty bad ... It was enough for us to decide to leave and reach Trivandrum earlier than expected. So much for the sunset! But after all we see it every day on Juhu beach from the office window!

The (only) taxi driver who was willing to take us proved to be a rogue (2,000 rupees for 80 km!) so we took the train (20 rupees each)! I love the train. There is such life in a train. The scenery is beautiful. The wind blows your face. Of course I don’t like it when we get stuck for hours to let other trains pass but hey, India teaches you patience! So it took us 4:30 to cover 80 km and land in the messy Trivandrum (the largest city of Kerala). To the natural mess of big Indian metros added the festival of Attukal Pongala – a festival for the goddess Devi which was recorded in the Guinness record as the largest women gathering in the world and that makes the happiness of earthen pots’ sellers (pots filled with rice and jaggery as an offering are sold by the millions, there are mountains of pots everywhere in the streets!).

Our rickshaw, a madman, pushed his way through and drove us to Kovalam beach. Somehow similar to Goa but more organized: with a beautiful promenade and people leave you alone (as in they don’t insist when you say no), good food (ah the beef fry we ate in the restaurant The Beatles!), Ayurveda treatments/massages available everywhere and a beautiful sea! What more do you need?? ;)

I always say: "The problem in India is that when you find a paradise and relax there, the traveling back home will kill your happiness." And BOOM! It took 1 hour and 10 minutes to cover the 12 kilometers separating us from the airport the next day because of the festival. We literally arrived 3 minutes before the counter closed for the last flight to Mumbai and I was ready to explode!

What a weekend! 24 hours of transport in 48 hours, 1 bus, 2 trains, 2 rickshaws, 2 planes. But I went home rather refreshed (and rather very red) and delighted!

Allepey, Kumarakom, Kovalam, Kanyakumari - Feb 2014

02/24/2014

Indian loos for dummies!

India,loo,Indian loo,toilets

Quite interesting this poster in the bathroom of German Bakery in Kovalam (Kerala), I even learnt a few tips! Maybe one day I will be able to avoid splashing urine on my feet… Indian loos are cool coz you don't get bored: all the while you're peeing you wonder: Why don't they put handles all over the wall (when your thighs are about to give in and you are in the middle of a stomach effort and you have to lean a hand on the wall, it is not easy to keep the pose!)? How do old women and pregnant ladies do? How do constipated people can squat for more than 3 minutes?? And old constipated ladies?? Well,apparently it is all a question of habit...

Despite all that I have started preferring Indian toilets to European ones: it is just cleaner (most of the time). My main problem is that I (most of the time) forget to carry paper so I end up with a wet ass (I do clean water, Indian style!) and it is not the nicest feeling - especially at the end of the day, when everything has been basking ;)

And also because one day my Blackberry took a dive in the Indian loo of Madurai airport, and I (by I, I mean the maintenance guy) was able to retrieve it – I for one would have never thought that the extension of the loo was an underground tray and not a pipe! And there was not a drop of water on the phone thanks to the case. Lucky nah??

Click here to read more about toilets stories in India: http://www.indiandacoit.com/apps/search?s=toilets