In Udupi I went to a hotel that the girls recommended to me. This hotel is so posh! It has marble columns, a bell boy, it's sparkling clean, has an aquarium in the lobby, a bunch of staff working, I couldn't believe that the room there can be so cheap! Oh, and it even has an elevator!!! My first elevator ride in India to the 3rd floor :) They helped me with the luggage, and gave me a real key which you then plug into the wall and the electricity goes on! wow!! Top class! The room had towel, soap, phone, closet, $8! I went to eat in hotel's restaurant. The decor and food was amazing! Everything had carved wood, nice wallpaper, Victorian style walls, carpets, and furniture, and the food was half the price! Everybody speaks perfect English! Another great thing about the hotel is that you pay for 24 hours, which is the best idea anybody ever came up with!!
I came to this city because the Lonely Planet recommended it. There is some important temple in it. In the morning, I went to the temple, and it was really nothing interesting. A lot of people praying, lighting candles, putting dots on their foreheads, kneeling or even fully lying down on the floor near their idols, buying oil and flowers, circling them around their head, and giving the donations to the holy people, and just walk in circles around any columns, touch them/the stairs, and kiss their hands. I secretly took pictures :) People donating lots of money, and considering how much they make, the donations are surprising! Religion is an excellent way of collecting money!
I wasn't too impressed by the temple, but I was glad that I went into the city. I was the only tourist, and non touristic cities are fun! There is no hassle, there is no bargaining, people are generally much more friendly, and everything is super cheap!
By 11am, I already saw the temple, used the internet and had breakfast. I still had time to do a return trip to Murudeshwar and back before the 24 hour checkout, and still make it to Mangalore, but decided against it. I took my luggage, asked for directions to the bus station. 1 minute from the hotel, I stopped to recheck my directions. Where is the bus station? I need a bus to Mangalore. "Mangalore, Mangalore!!" I turn around, a bus was just passing on the street and collecting more people! Lucky me !! :))
The bus driver was crazy, pretty much like all Indian drivers. With his hand 90% of the time on the horn, and mostly on the other side of the road.
The same story in Mangalore, not knowing what to do ... Bus/Train/Location? First decided on the bus, then at the bus stop, changed my mind and took a tuk-tuk to the train which left in half an hour. Thought to go to the beach, and bought a ticket for 80 cents. On the train, I always talk to people, asking what to do, where to go, recommendations. The girls told me that there is no beach in the town where I'm going to ... hm ... confusing ... What now? (Later I discovered that there is a beach, it's 7kms away from the city). But actually I'm happy that I didn't go, because it's off the beaten track beach, and it means that there are not that many tourists. Some would love it, I would hate it :) It usually makes for interesting stories, but I think I had enough interesting stories in the last few weeks.
The girls (Indian) were super helpful, wrote me a huge list of things to see. I have the list, but I won't go to any of the places :) I've asked them if they travelled a lot around India, and they mentioned maybe 4 places each. Of course if you've seen only 4 places in your life, all of them would be a "must go to" places ... not for me though, but thanks for the advice :) At least I initiated conversations between them, and by the end of the ride they were quite good friends :)
The minute I crossed into the state of Kerela, something very interesting happened! First of all, most people are actually friendly, second of all, there are advertisements everywhere for colleges, courses, summer fun computer courses, everybody's carrying backpacks and reading books! Unbelievable! Although, I'm yet to see an Indian reading a novel.
LP - In 1957 Kerela democratically elected a communist government - the first in the world to do so. Kerela has been labeled the most socially advanced state in India. Land reform and a focus on infrastructure, health and education have played a large part in Kerela's success. The literacy rate of 91% is one of the highest of any developing nations. The infant mortality rate is 1/5 of the national average, life expectancy stands at 73 years, 10 years higher than the rest of the country.
I decided to continue to Cochin, although the problem is, I don't have a proper ticket! The girls assured me though that in general class and especially in women's wagon, they rarely check for tickets, and yeii, they never did! Although karma has its ways. There are 2 stations in Cochin, I needed to get off the 2nd one, well guess what? The train never stopped at the 2nd one! It's an express train and it stops at like every 3rd station! Grrr ... it was already 12am, and I've been on the road for 13 hours already. The train passed next station, and the station after that. Then it stopped, and it didn't even look like a station, at 1:30am, it finally arrived somewhere where there are people. I got off, and took the next train back to Cochin, it was 2am, and I was sure that there won't be anybody checking for tickets at that time. General class at night is fun, people are sleeping on the luggage shelves, on floors, on newspapers, towels, 3 on one seat. It's like a mine field to navigate between all that mess. Got to Cochin at 3:30 in the morning, and went to look for a hotel at the train station, alone, in the dark. It's NEVER a good idea!!! Most of the hotels were closed, the ones that were open, were full, and I stopped at some expansive, dirty, tiny-sh room for the same price as the palace of Udupi ... oh well, what can you do?!? Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
In the morning ... ok, the afternoon, I got a rickshaw to the center of Cochin. The owner of the hotel helped me with the price, and told me that it's $4. $4!!! This is outrageous price!!! But after going for an hour(!), I felt like leaving him a tip :) Cochin is a cute, small, touristic town that's filled with Indian tourists, elder people and of course backpackers. The lonely planet goes on and on about it's colonial heritage, but what interested me more were the Chinese fishing nets. These huge nets take 4 people to operate. Sometimes they're built right in the middle of water, and use weights (rocks) system to lower the net into the water. All the nets sell their catch right there, and you can buy anything you want, bring it to a restaurant, and they'll cook it for you :)
Kerela is famous with the men wearing the skirt thingis, and I was obsessed with taking way too many pictures :)
I found a very nice cafe that served french toast with whole wheat/grain bread, with wild honey, and so much fruits that they were falling off the plate. OMG so good!! I couldn't wait till next morning to have my favourite breakfast again and again and again :))
Next day had to wake up at 7 to go for the famous Kerela backwater boat trip. But Sherrif got me hypnotized and I put my alarm clock for 6:30 to do my daily morning stretching/push-ups/abs routine! Could you imagine that? Now that I write it, I even can't imagine that!! :))
The boat trip was excellent. There are backwater man made canals used for irrigation and transportation. It's still used right now and not only for tourists :) It's green, peaceful, operated by two men at the front and the back pushing long bamboo sticks into the ground and walking along the platform while steering it and pushing it forward. It would've been very quiet too if it weren't for the noisy Indian group :) We made a few stops on the way. One was a factory that produced powder from the shells. The locals would collect oysters, sell them at the market, and then would sell the empty shells to that company. It would heat it, and the shell would become a white powder which is used for making chalk, white paint, put into cement to make it stronger. We then saw how rope is being made. Coconuts are softened in the water, then the hair inside of it is taken out, dried, and if you take a small portion of it and start twisting it, the other hairs would get attached and be made into a rope. Now the women have a twisting machine and a bunch of coconut hair in their bag. They attach a small piece to the rotating bolt, and walk backwards. That's it! Rope is done! Fold it in half and twist it and you can't tear it with all the power that you've got!
We stopped for lunch and had thali from a banana leaf :)) Then we transferred to small canoes, but that wasn't as relaxing. The canals went through very populated area with houses and roads nearby, and my feeling of "lost in the jungle" had gone :) We stopped at a spice plantation, and saw how things that we eat or buy in the box actually grow. Peppercorns grow on trees, cinnamon is a bark of a tree, and trees leaves are bay leaves. On the way back, kids were running along the boat and asking not for money or sweets ... for pens!!!! Am I in a different country? Did I cross an invisible border?? Checked the map, nope, still in India!!!
All the air is still foggy :(( Damn that construction in Mumbai!!!! ;)))
Next day went to the beach. I thought that the beach was in a touristic area. An hour later when I got off a local bus in the middle of a local town with short short shorts, I got quite a few jaw dropped stares. Oooppsss ... ok, I agree ... my fault now! I can understand the Indians now. Sometimes when I spent too much time with the locals, or even not, but with people who alter their appearance for the benefit of the local culture, and then you see some backpacker with a too tight dress, or way too short shorts, or a huge cleavage, sometimes my jaw drops too. Imagine what would happen to a guy who never saw that in his life! Of course he'll think that all white women are whores ... can't blame them! I try to dress conservatively, but after looking at the mirror, or at other properly dressed backpackers, you just can't hide the shape of the body. You would still see the round shape of a butt and breasts and waist unless you wrap yourself 10 times with a sari that would hide absolutely everything there is too see or even imagine. I met a woman who has slept with an Egyptian and an Indian. At first she said they were looking all over her body, she couldn't understand why. They said that they thought that the white women were built differently!
I don't understand what this beach was doing in the lonely planet?? It was the worst beach I've ever seen! I haven't even taken one picture... very disappointing! There was no shade and the chairs and the umbrella were crazy prices. There were a few empty chairs, and I asked the woman lying beside if I can use them. Turns out they're from a resort (who would ever go to a resort in here?!?), and they're free. Yiepii :))
In the evening went to Katakali performance. It was very interesting. It's Kerelan style of acting, which doesn't involve speaking, and all the actions are done with either their special sign language and facial expressions. The make up and costumes are extraordinary. It takes an hour to put on a makeup. The audience is invited to watch that. So many colors, so precise, so pretty :) All the colors are natural. Black is coal, white is rice powder mixed with water, red and yellow are from some stones mixed with coconut oil. To make the eyes red, put some seed into an eye, and 2 minutes later, the eyes are red. In the beginning we watched different facial expressions of different feelings. It was hard to believe that the actor is actually not happy or sad or proud. He would smile and I would be smiling too, a second later, his face would be neutral. How he couldn't feel his own smile?? Then he showed us different words and phrases. They would be funny. A "go away" phrase wouldn't just be a point at "you" and then a whoooosh to the side. It would include stomping, angry face, some "I don't know" gestures of hands coming together and apart and only then a 3 times whooooosh to the side. I loved the introduction, but I felt like the play was very childish and actually couldn't wait for it to be over :)
Woke up early to go to a different city. I made a decision to move places early in the morning. Otherwise with a 4 hour move, I wouldn't be able to do anything where I am, and then it would be too late to do anything once I get somewhere else, and the whole day would just be a waste, and with frequent moves ... that's a lot of wasted days.
I bought a general class ticket, and when the train arrived, I walked all throughout the length of the train, and couldn't find general class seating. What can I do? I just walked into a sleeper class, and sat where there was most space. There was a 21 year old girl travelling with her father from Delhi. They've been on the train for over 2 days. She was going to Kerela to be a police woman. It was hard to understand her, her English wasn't that good, and sometimes she would start talking to me in Hindi despite all my attempts to convince her that I don't know any Hindi. She seems to be scared of everything. Scared of speaking English, scared of going anywhere on her own, her father is always with her, scared of going to the academy. She decided that she wanted to walk along the train ... ok, why? 2 girls walking on the train, it's fun! - Sure lets go. First she took 15 minutes to comb and braid her hair. I told her that she looks good with her hair spread, but she told me that she looks scary. I noticed that only girls wear their hair open. Once married, all women have their hair tied. I don't know ... maybe it's considered to be sexual as well. She took my hand while we were walking, and when we were sitting in front of each other, she would put both of her hands on my knees. That felt very uncomfortable! But that's the way they are in here. Men hug men, women hug women. You can't hug opposite gender, so might as well hug and hold hands with your friends. I wonder how many men here are gay?? She had one hand regular, and other hand with long nails and nail polish, I asked her why. She said that she does work with one hand and no work with other ... interesting.
Karma plays its role again. The inspector came to check the tickets. I gave him my ticket and he said that I'm sitting in the sleeper class, and my ticket is for general. I'm here illegally, so I'm gonna pay the difference plus a fine. Which came out to be 400 rps. 400 rps??? I'm not paying that!! I told him that I looked all over the train for the general class, couldn't find it, and besides, I'm sitting on a seat of a girl, so we're sharing a seat, and I asked her if I could seat here, and she agreed, so I'm not taking any extra space, besides, the wagon is almost empty. He started writing me the ticket, and I told him to show me a document where the fines are written. He showed me a document that he's an inspector, I told him no, a document with fines. How do I know that it's 250 and not 100? He started convincing me that it's the rate, but I wouldn't pay. He said that he'll call the police, and I told him to go ahead. Unless he shows me a proper document I'm not paying anything. We sat there quietly looking at each other. I told him, ok, I'll go to general class right now, he said no. Let me pay the difference - no. Ok ... let me give you 100 and we'll be friends - What?? I'm working for the government, not for tourist money. Ok ... I kept sitting quietly. I was surprised that the family didn't back me up. After a few minutes he started asking me a bunch of questions, where I'm from, and if we have trains in Canada, and some other stuff, and I knew that he gave in. We joked around, he made me promise that I will never do that again, I promised and he forgave me. Fweeeef!! :)) Although it would’ve probably be another interesting story of me mingling in the local police station :) It’s ok … next time :)