Indriya in India (9) – Rishikesh and Kerala

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… 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

Indolent in India (8) – A week in Delhi and Lucknow

I am back in Mother India for a moochy month.  I realised my travels in December and January were at pretty high speed – mostly spending only  1 night in each place.  I saw a lot, but it wasn’t very relaxing.  So this trip I am taking it easy, will be drinking more tea, doing a bit more mooching around and spending more time in each place.    

Chaos in Delhi

First up, I decided to spend a couple of days in Delhi.  I hadn’t visited as a tourist since 1997 (when I fell prey to at least three scam artists), and I was keen to revisit the Red Fort, Humayan’s tomb, the Qutab Minor, the Jama Masjid and wander around the streets of Old Delhi.  I arrived at 2am so had an easy night at the Ibis aerocity near the airport – but I am rocking this trip mainly old school, so moved to a typical Old Delhi tourist hotel for £30 next to the Jama Masjid for the next two nights with the muezzin’s prayers thrown in for free at 5am.    I had an easy afternoon wandering around chandi chowk which is as loud and chaotic as I remember it.  I mostly find the chaos soothing here now – and I have no idea why.   

The Red fort and a thali

I wandered to the red fort, which wasn’t the most picturesque, with lots of bits cordoned off and many many local tourists, but still an impressive site and lovely to sit in the garden.  By 5 I was starving so I battled my way into Haldirams – a Delhi favourite.  It was a mosh pit.  Ordering was easy – paying at the cash counter was easy.   Getting food was slightly harder – and entailed taking the slip from the cash desk, standing at the food counter and shouting at the man behind the counter for 15 minutes to get your order.   I shouted only a little bit, but the locals more than made up for my deficit.   The thali – when it came – was fine, but not a patch on Gujarat.


I wandered back through the jewellery alley which has the most amazing wedding jewellery, had a pot of masala chai on the terrace overlooking the mosque in the moonlight (surrounded by Indian couples celebrating valentines day) and had an early night. 

Jama Masjid and Chandni Chowk

Prayers woke me up early and I roused myself out to wander around the alleys of old Delhi trying to get lost.  I visited the old mosque in the quiet morning. I meandered through all the quarters – the spice market, wedding outfits, fruit and took in the Fatehpuri Mosque.  I love wandering around towns when they are waking up. 

Humayun’s tomb

After a couple of hours wandering I took an Ola (indian uber) down to Humayun’s tomb which was a lovely respite – especially some of the nice buildings out of the way of the main people.   This was my favourite place in Delhi so far – lovely gardens and quite quiet.  I was hankering for a thali so headed to Rajdhani – which took me right back to Gujarat.  Plus it was only 399 (£4) rupees as it was women’s Wednesday. Then I couldn’t resist a wander around Connaught Place and buying yet another new dress (though this one could probably be worn in London). 

I had an afternoon lie down and then went wandering around chandni chowk eating streetfood. The dahi kebab was excellent as was the parantha. For more detailed inspiration check out this link on what to eat

Qutab Minor

After a night of not much sleep (between the mosque across the road and the disco upstairs), I got up early to head down to the Qutab Minor – the loveliest site in Delhi. I arrived in my taxi at 7.30 am and we had to wake up the carpark attendant – an excellent problem to have as it meant I had the entire site to myself with the sun coming up. The light was excellent and it was a delightful hour and a half. After that I headed to the airport for my flight to Lucknow.

Lounging around Lucknow

The usual bonkers flying experience in India…., lots of shoeless smelly feet, but more objectionable is the preponderance of mobile phone usage to watch tiktok videos really loud and without headphones. I had decided to come to Lucknow as the British and Islamic architecture is famous, the food is apparently some of the best in India (especially the kebabs) and it is little visited by tourists. I was quick off the plane, no bags, and grabbed an ola to the lovely Lebua hotel. I had a lazy afternoon, ran some errands and then had an excellent mixed platter of kebabs in the Arzak restaurant at the hotel – one of the best in town.

The heritage walk around the chowk

I had arranged a heritage walk with Lucknow tourism. The organisation was a little haphazard and I was required to call them to confirm. Piyush showed up to take me around, but the itinerary wasn’t exactly as indicated on the website (where they actually provide very good maps of the walks). Oh well, we had a nice walk around the flower market and the main chowk quarters. It was quite nice, but very quiet as most of the shops weren’t yet open. I would recommend walking around the market between 10-11 when the shops are opening but before rush hour madness. The guide also took me to an unrequested chikan (lucknow weaving) factory, but I wasnt too offended as I had meant to buy a chikan kurta anyway and it was much cheaper than the retail stores.

The Residence at Lucknow, lunch and buying a Sari

I left Piyush the guide around 11, and tried to visit the Bara Imambara, which was closed from 11-3 for lunch. So I wandered the 3km to the other famous site. The Residency was home to a 147 day siege that claimed the lives of thousands during the first War of Independence. The shot marks are still very evident on the walls of the buildings.

After wandering around the Residency, I walked to the shopping district past many lovely parks, ruins and gates. One of the parks I wandered through was completely empty, and when the man chased me down to pay my 10 rupee entry fee (10pence) I realised why. On the brightside, the park had a swing, so I had a lovely 15 minutes swinging like a fiend. Every day is better if you get to go on a swing. I stopped off at Naimat Khana for lunch. This place is famous as the local ladies cook their family recipes for the restaurant to serve. I had a delicious fenugreek and paneer curry with puffy pulke rotis. Delicious.

I wandered around town, found a lovely prestitched sari to buy (removes the need to pleat the skirt). Saris in India though don’t come with blouses though, as all women are different shapes, so you get a piece of fabric with the sari and have to get a tailor to make you a blouse. hmmmm. Google to the rescue and I found an excellent tailor (Sonika’s lady’s tailor), and more excellently an lady customer at the tailor who negotiated the full details of my sari blouse design with the tailor (it is quite the process – picking the length, depth of plunge in the back, front or back fastening, shape of neckline etc etc). It was quite the experience with a lot of hilarity, and they promised to have it ready in 24 hours. A busy day. I had a quiet night and a delicious dinner of more chicken kebab – thighs marinated in yogurt and then barbecued with salad.

Heritage Lucknow retry – Bara Imambara, Chota Imambara and Jama Masjid

Armed with the map, I attempted my own solo heritage walk. First up the enormous Jama Masjid which I could only visit from the outside as non muslims were not allowed past the gate. Then I wandered to the Chota Imambara – the tomb of Mohammed Ali Shah. It felt a bit like a wedding venue where they had a big party the night before, as there was quite a lot of plastic rubbish blowing around and the inside of the main building felt more like a chandelier shop than a religious building. From there I walked onto the Bara Imambara – which commemorates Imam Hussain (whose tomb we visited in Karbala Iraq last year). The vaulted ceilings of the main building were lovely and there was a pretty stepwell. The best part of the site, however, was the ‘labyrinth’ of corridors upstairs which took you through narrow passageways to the small internal balconies at the top of the vaulted ceiling.

It was hot, so I decided to have a lazy lunch at the hotel (excellent spicy fish kebabs) and spent a few hours lying by the pool. I then wandered back to town to pick up my blouse, and I wore my sari to dinner (after checking with the hotel ladies that I had it on the right way – youtube videos are quite helpful in this regard).

I have had a lovely chilled few days in Lucknow. I managed to work out in the hotel gym every day (on equipment that I haven’t seen since the 80s), and am feeling very relaxed. I have read some good books, and finally watched Ted Lasso. This is quite a lovely way to travel – shanti shanti. And Lucknow is a lovely town to hang out in. Now I am off to Rishikesh to do some yoga and hiking.

Lucknow, 19 February, 2023

India (7) – Grooving around Gujarat

The second week of my trip around the wonderful state of Gujarat – birthplace of Ghandi, home of the mighty Rann, and the makers of the best thali in India. This post covers Kutch, Gondal, Palitana, Champaner and returning to Ahmedabad.

On the road to the Rann of Kutch

We left the little Rann of Kutch and headed north to the Rann of Kutch (pronounced like crutch).  The Kutch is famous for the local crafts people.  It was a long 5 hour drive.   Mr Singh (the driver) knew places that I hadn’t planned to go to. I was mildly worried he was taking me places to buy stuff, which would surprise me as he had been excellent, but he told me not to buy anything :-), and that it was fine just to look (and he was genuine).  The first place was the extraordinary Khatri family operation.  Every piece was hand block printed, and the son (four generations down) knew the measurements in his head of what block went where for each pattern.  The blocks were used on dyes, and then the fabric was died 3-4 times depending on the blocks used.  The underlying block pattern was often in a brown which would turn red on a 4th or 5th dye which used pomegranate.  It was surprisingly mesmerising (and I didn’t buy anything).  

Living and Learning Design centre

We stopped at the incredible living and learning design centre which has an amazing museum with the embroidery work of the women of the Kutch. This is genuinely not something I am that interested in, but it was fascinating to see the differences in tribal dress, and then within each tribe how the clothing was adjusted to signal your age, marital status etc.  It was fascinating.   No photos allowed unfortunately but I would highly recommend.  By this time it was 3pm and I had skipped breakfast (part of my healthy pursuits to stop myself eating vada – fried savoury donuts -, and multiple cups of sugary masala chai for breakfast.  Mr Singh knows all the best spots so we had a lovely thali for £2.40 for two of us.  Fantastic.    I was quite the tourist attraction as I was wearing the Rabari skirt I had bought yesterday, and a few people asked me for photos. Then we went to an amazing weaving show room in Kachori, where the men were weaving all the shawls by hand.  I crumbled quickly and bought two hand woven shawls in silk for £80.   

We then rolled up to the Kutch Safari lodge – home for two nights, and I had a stunning view of the lake from my cottage.  I was a little bit nervous as there were 25 college students also staying, and the boys next door were already blasting the tunes.  However, they turned it down when I asked.  Dinner was a lovely buffet of local food, and I went to bed early and managed a solid 10 hour sleep – champion.  

A full day in the Rann – crafts galore

I had hired a local guide for the day to join Mr Singh and I – Mr Rajesh, as I had heard from the Crown Prince in Poshina that not all of the locals were friendly. Our first stop was the best village of the day – Nirona. We first met the son of a family who produce rogan art, which is amazing hand painted fabric, done with paint of his hand, which is then intricately painted in. It looks like embroidery. It was beautiful, and quite famous in India as they gifted Obama a piece when he came. There was no pressure to buy, but they were clearly very proud of their wares

I next watched a man handmake a copper bell and pick the note he wanted to play. It was also fascinating. And then we went to see a family on the outskirts of the village who make very cool laquerwork. I didn’t really need a wooden spoon and a chapati roller, but they were not expensive, and this family were clearly not doing as well as the others I had visited.

The black hill

We then rolled up to the checkpost where I had to get a permit for the Rann later. I had an excellent chai, and let the locals take my picture. We then headed up to the black hill for views over the Rann – it was pretty hazy but lovely

The Meghwal weavers of the Kutch

The visual highlight of the day was visiting the Meghwal coop near the permit office run by Naran (pictured below) and also the Meghwal in Hodkha. Here there was quite a lot of pressure to buy, and in Hodka in particular I was told ‘no shopping, no photos’. I never take photos of people who don’t say yes, and I didn’t really need to buy anything so smiled, had a chat, and then left. I did buy a few ankle bracelets, a necklace, and a key ring, mostly from the younger girls.

The mighty Rann

I had heard about the never ending salt plains of the Rann which reached the border with Pakistan. The area is vast. I expected visiting to be like the salt plains in Bolivia – splendid isolation in all directions. Um nope. For the six months of the dry season an enormous tent city is built and bus loads of domestic tourists roll in every day. There are helicopter rides, paragliding, camel rides, donkeys, the whole kit and kaboodle. It was nuts. It took us a while to pass the checkpost, as foreigners need special permits given the proximity to the border. I made lots of friends walking the 1km from the carpark to where you can best access the salt, and giggled at the domestic tourists who were getting the camel ride to avoid the walk (exercise isn’t a big thing in India). I giggled even more when i saw the vendors renting clothes for the domestic tourists to dress up like tribes people. I was amused that I was dressed more like a local than most of them (lots of jeans and t-shirts in Gujarat). It was definitely worth a visit, and if you walked far enough you would have total solitude (take water). But actually it was quite fun just absorbing the energy.