When planning my last year’s trip to India, I was a bit nervous.
For one, I was traveling with two other girls. Any travel advisory out there, from Lonley Panet to the UK Governement Travel advice will imply that might not be such a bright ideea. Couple or group might be better. Even so, in my view, as three is definitely better then one alone, I had good chances of survival.
Second, I had nothing booked in advance. No hotel, no clear itinerary and definitely did not use a travel agency. I had a vague ideea that I would like to visit Mumbai and then fly South as in Europe it was already pretty cold but that was about it. Of course, finally it turned out that I had nothing to worry and that people totally were used to travelers showing up at their hotel and requesting arrangements as they go.
The 10 days were shared as follows: 4 nights in Mumbai, flight (with IndiGo, booked online in India) to Kochin, one night Kochin, drive to Allaphuzza (organised in Cochin), one night in Allaphuza, drive to Munnar (organised in Allaphuzza), two nights in Munnar, drive back to Cochin Airport and flight to Mumbai (two more nights) before flying back to Brussels. This is a bit acrobatic as far as the drving time is concerned but it does give a good overview of Kerla, the South India province of the Backwaters and tea covered hills.
Now, if I were to do it over, I would cut the time in Mumbai. The city is huge, hot and loud at any time of day or night. In my view, it is not something to visit but more something to experience, different form any other place in Asia that I have visited before. The sheer number of people (about 23 million) can be suffocating and navigating the traffic is something that requires amounts of patience that I never knew existed. Of course, there are landmarks in any travel guide that will keep you busy for 2-3 days but this does not even scratch the surface. I would recommend taking in Mumbai little by little, maybe using it as a starting point for several trips to India. Too much too soon might leave you utterly overwhelmed and really tired.
When in Mumbai, I can recommend the yoga and vegan food at Yoga house in the Bandra neighbourhood (http://www.yogahouse.in/). They have delicious veggie burgers that I still dream about. Helped me take a bit of the travelling pressure off.
Now, the things not to be missed if you happen to be in the area:
- Hotel in Fort Cochin – Old Harbour (http://www.oldharbourhotel.com/). I loved the setting and the quietness of their garden (After 5 days in Mumbai, my head was spinning). Breakfast was delicious and the rooms were sqeaky clean. They have complientary yoga in the morning on a rooftop terace. I was really sad to leave after one night. The fishing nets are just across the street.
- In Cochin we stopped at the Kachi Art Cafe – http://www.kashiartgallery.com/ – for a cold…anything. They do great ginger lemonades. Even if it does not look like much from the street, they have a great garden more in the back.
- Trip on the Backwaters – we did not hire a liveaboard boat but many people do. We took a smaller boat organised by the accomodation (everybody will be able to organise one, even at short notice) that allows you to go into the smaller channels and disembark in villages. Big boats stay on the larger channels but cover more ground. We were happy with our choice and the half a day we spent on the river was sufficient to take in the atmosphere of the place.
- A B&B with a twist in the middle of cardamom plantation in Munnar – http://www.kaivalyamretreat.com/. They offer vegan organic food only but of an amazing quality. Also, complimentary yoga in the morning (unfortunatelly a bit too early for me to wake up) and complimentary tours of the spice plantation. The rooms are clean and great value for money. Also the view on the tea hills is to die for.
- View of the tea plantations and visit to a tea factory in Munnar.
- Gate of India, Victoria train station, the Taj Palace Hotel and watching people playing cricket in the park in Mumbai.
Looking back at the trip now, I realise that the small part of India that I visited did not leave me with the relaxing sense that you get after your usual vacation. It left me exhausted from fighting off touts and with a feeling of helplessness after witnessing the widespread poverty of the Dharavi slums of Mumbai. But, at the same time, I enjoyed the assault of all my senses with the sounds, smells and authentic curry tastes that I experienced during the trip. It was definitely not a holiday but an experience which I would like to repeat soon, maybe by discovering Delhi and the so called Golden Triangle in the North.