Relaxing in Rishikesh
I didn’t make it to Rishikesh in my earlier tours of India. Its famous for yoga – the Beatles (and the west) discovered yoga here. It is also a hardcore travellers hang out with lots of restaurants selling hummus and shakshuka for the long term Israeli travellers. And of course, it is a deeply religious destination for Hindu worshippers to visit the temples that line the banks of the holy mother ganges.
I wanted to chill out for a few days, try some yoga, hike, eat some salad and read some books. I found a lovely quiet backpackers in High bank (quiet and surrounded by trees), where I had the luxury studio for £30 per night.
Most days, I got up early, hiked up a big hill to a temple for a few hours (aiming for 20km distance and 1000m of climbing every day). I would then eat shakshuka and roti or buckwheat pancakes, drink masala chai, read a book, and have a massage (90 minutes for £15). In the evening I would wander the ghats and enjoy evening prayers – the music and performance at ganga aarti, when Hindu worship the mother ganga is always delightful. One day I even went in my sari, much to the delight of the locals. It was tough.
I did try and enjoy some yoga – but the universe spoke to me on my first day when I arrived at the yoga studio nice and early to be told there was no yoga that day due to a crisis. I felt like that was the signal for me to quit my yoga aspirations for the week (i hate yoga, it is too slow and dull, though i can tolerate a bit of reformer pilates). I tried to mentally get excited about it a few other days that week – but nope!!!
While much busier than I expected, and sadly full of very naff backpackers (who are still wearing the terrible baggy pants that they were selling in Kathmandu in the 90s 🙂 pics below), it was a cheap and fun place to hang out for a week and I left feeling utterly relaxed.
I stayed at the small Hosteller in Tapovan, ate regularly at the Soul Cafe in Ram Jhula and Bistro Nirvana in High Bank. Excellent massages are on offer everywhere for about £10-£15 per hour (though you will need to specify a female therapist if you want one). Lots and lots of places offer yoga, if you like yoga :-), they probably have more yoga schools per square metre than any other place in the world.
Somehow I ended up going from the hippie backpackers in Rishikesh to the Fours Seasons Hotel in HK to do some work for five days – it was quite the culture shock – the most amusing was that the laundry went from being 10 pence a piece to £16 a piece – obviously I kept my dirty laundry until I arrived back in Kochi after five days. Oddly I found the quiet, masks, and cleanliness of HK a little disturbing and was reassured when I landed back in Kochi airport to a blast of heat, lots of noise and elbowing crowds at immigration.
Knocking around Kochi
Fort Kochi is famous for fishing, street art, and has a very ‘Pondicherry’ vibe with lots of wonderful colonial buildings. I had landed late, but couldn’t sleep so was up at 6am for my customary stroll around town. I headed to the Fort Kochi beach and I was delighted to see many men and women out power walking, a couple of joggers, and some excellent street gyms. I hit the coast and then walked up the length of the beach, admiring the street art (pics below) and the old buildings.
Chinese fishing nets
Kochi is famous for the fish and the counterweighted fishing nets which are dropped into the water and then hauled out on a counterweight system. It was quite nice to watch from a distance, but I wouldn’t approach too closely as the rubbish on the shore was disgusting (photo below) and there was quite a lot of human crap on the shoreline. I definitely didn’t eat the fish.
Kochi Art Biennale
Every two years 70 global contemporary artists descend on Kochi for the Art Biennale. It is housed in some lovely venues in Fort Kochi, primarily at Aspinwall House, and it was a lovely way to spend the day wandering between colonial buildings enjoying the art.
After all the art I was pretty hungry so I stopped for a late lunch at the David Hall – shakshuka and salad in the sweltering heat. And then I had passed some nice dress shops, so may or may not have added three more dresses to the backpack :-). After that it was 3pm, sweltering, and I retreated to the guesthouse to enjoy the AC and do a few calls
In the evening, I went to the Katakhali centre to watch the local dance – a highly stylised form of dance with heavy makeup, much eye movement and highly intricate hand gestures. Apparently traditional performances can go all night, but the tourist performance was more than sufficient at one hour of make up application and one hour of dance. It was pretty interesting
Morning stroll around Matancherry
I got up at 6 to head out for a stroll and was delighted to see the streets busy again. This time I headed across town to Matancherry, and the streets were really busy. I passed 8 busy mutton butchers, some very sad live chickens about to be slaughtered, and a whole lot of restaurants feeding morning workers. There was a lot more commercial activity here than I would have seen in North India, and I wonder if it is because it gets far too hot in the afternoon so everyone gets going early. I made it to Matancherry and visited ‘Jewtown’ (yes that is what it is called) and the oldest synagogue in India.
My trip to Kochi had been shortened to a day and a half given my trip to HK. I managed to squish in everything I wanted to see, but would happily come back – it is very chilled, lots of nice restaurants, art and cafes. I stayed with Joseph at the Fort Bungalow, which was terrific value, quiet, spotless and two minutes walk from everything.
Mooching around Munnar
I wasn’t really sure why I was going to Munnar. It was on everyone’s tour itinerary for Kerala, but as far as I could figure out, it was pretty much a region owned by the Tata company where lots of tea was grown. How interesting could tea plantations be? The main national park was closed for the goat calving season, so I couldn’t even hike up to Raja mala. Hmmmm. And none of the trekking agencies would give me a private guide, so i was forced to join a group (i hate group treks, everyone walks so slowly…….)
It turns out that I LOVED the tea plantations, the lines of the bushes were beautiful and mesmerising. I did two group treks. One a ‘full day’ 19km trek, which was very leisurely with a brit, a swede and a french woman who was very inappropriately attired for India. This went through some tea plantations but also through a lot of spice farms. The next day I did the half day 11km Letchmi trek which only went through the Letchmi estate with a Pole, two french and Tamil. Both were great, if you were short of time I would just do the half day, as the scenery was spectacular. I went with Srinath from Munnar Trekking Adventure and he was delightful (and his wife made the breakfast and lunch provided). I stayed at the Tea County Govt Hotel in central Munnar which was perfectly fine and ate there, Saravana Bhavan and Arabian Grill.
Heading to the beach, via the backwaters
Everyone asked why I didn’t go cruising the famous Kerala backwaters – honestly it didn’t really feel like a solo adventure…..so I will save it for when I have a hot french man in tow. But I did stop over one night at Paravoor to see the view. Not bad. And so I rolled downward to Kovalam to stay at an Ayurvedic spa. It was bliss – work out in the morning in their gym, have masala chai, curry and hoppers for lunch, lie in the hammock, have a massage, occasionally swim, and then eat dinner. This mooching holiday approach is surprisingly relaxing. I also managed to catch up with a lovely friend and his wife who were holidaying in the same spot. This is possibly the most dull travel blog I have written in years, but it was a lovely relaxing three weeks. Off to Nepal next to hike up some hills.
Kovalam, March 11, 2023