After having faced the Himalayas’s we were ready for a holiday. Stuff had been stolen, Sabina’s bike fell of a bus (the wheel broke beyond repair) and we were both feeling really weak. The bikes had to do without us for a while. Time for some beaches and good food.
We stored our bikes in Kathmandu and booked a flight to Mumbai. India isn’t typically known as a place to relax, but we had high hopes for the South, and we were definitely not disappointed. Mumbai is the second city of India but immediately when we arrived it felt a lot more relaxed than Delhi.
Where to eat in Mumbai
The food the city had to offer was to die for. We pretty much spend most of our days eating. Our favourite places were all in or around Colaba, where we were also staying.
Olympia Coffee House, really good kheema.
Sahakari Bhandar, a local eatery with an amazing (spicy!) chili idly dry. Also famous for their pav bhaji.
K.Rustoms & co., best ice cream in town.
A taste of Kerala, the thali is served on a banana leaf!
Theobroma, imagine french toast made of a croissant served with melted butter. Heaven.
Mumbai’s must see’s
Colaba, but generally Mumbai, became one of our favourite destinations in India. Accommodation is notoriously expensive, but the food is cheap and most sights are free to visit. We walked around the city, watched people play cricket at the Maidans and got amazed by the hard work of the dabba-wallahs.
There are about 5000 dabba-wallahs (literally ‘food container person’s) cycling around the city delivering hot lunches to office workers throughout the city. Tiffin boxes (food containers) are picked up each day from restaurants and homes and carried to a centralized sorting station. More than 200,000 meals are delivered, every single day.
Worth a visit
One of our favourite activities, which wasn’t that obvious, was a visit to the mega shopping mall High street Phoenix. A bit out of the centre but totally worth a visit. After Nepal, it was so good to be surrounded by some luxury. We escaped the city heat in the air conditioned stores and shopped ‘till we dropped.
Taking the train to the beach
It’s really cheap to fly in India, but who wants that when you can take the train! It was an experience we were looking forward to a lot. We had booked our tickets online (an extremely complicated process) and were put on the waitlist. The day before departure the tickets got confirmed as RAC (Reservation Against Cancellation). Meaning we were on the train, but possibly had to share a seat. This wasn’t too big of a problem, since it was a day train and there are usually empty seats anyway. We got lucky and got two seats after all.
List of Indian Railway abbreviations you must know (CNF, RAC, PQWL, RLWL, CKWL, GNWL, RLGN)
- AC: Air-conditioned
- ACC: Air-conditioned coach or class
- ACCC: Air-conditioned chair car
- CC: Chair car
- CKWL: Tatkal waiting list , see TQ (lower priority than GNWL)
- CNF: CNF probability of confirmation is displayed in the form of a percentage
- ETA: Estimated time of arrival
- Exp.: Express
- FC: First class (also financial commissioner, also freight corridor)
- FT: Foreign tourist (annotation on reservation charts)
- GNWL: General quota waiting list (the highest priority of all waiting lists)
- Jn.: Junction (in station names)
- LB: Lower Berth (annotation on ticket for sleeping accommodation)
- MB: Middle berth (annotation on ticket for sleeping accommodation)
- NV: Non-vegetarian (meal or restaurant)
- PF: Platform (sometimes P/F)
- PNR: Passenger name/number record (you need the PNR, a 10-digit number to check the status of your reservation)
- PQWL: Pooled quota waiting list (lower priority than GNWL)
- Rd.: Road (in station names)
- RAC: Reservation against cancellation (half confirmed ticket, you might need to share your seat, but you are on the train)
- RLGL: Remote location general wait list (higher priority than RLWL)
- RLWL: Running line/remote location waiting list (lower priority than GNWL)
- SLB: Side lower berth (annotation on ticket for sleeping accommodation)
- TQ: Tatkal quota (a set of last-minute seats/berths that opens at 10:00am the day before departure)
- UB: Upper Berth (annotation on ticket for sleeping accommodation)
- V or VG: Vegetarian (meal or restaurant)
- WL, W/L: Waiting list; Waitlisted (ticket issued without confirmed accommodations)
- 2T: Two-tier (the number of beds above each other in a berth)
- 3T: Three-tier (as in “AC-3T” = air conditioned three-tier coach)
Our train took us to Madgoa, the capital of Goa. After six months of travel it was finally time for our first beach destination. We took a taxi to Palolem, a town in Goa that’s supposed to be a bit more laid-back than the crazy party beaches. The beach was lovely, but felt really touristy. Big beach clubs all playing loud music and serving cheap beer and cocktails. Not really our cup of tea (which we favour over alcohol anyway). The next beach Patnem, was a little more laid-back but still not our dream holiday destination.
Gokarna’s Kudle beach
Our friend Alexey (who you might remember from the yellow Lada on the cargo ship on the Caspian) had been in Gokarna a few weeks earlier and his Instagram stories of this beach looked like paradise. His tip to visit here was golden. After a two-hour local train ride and another thirty minutes on the bus, we arrived in the city Gokarna. This was not our final destination though. We were going to Kudle beach. Our home for the upcoming two weeks.
Kudle beach is a little harder to reach (10 minutes by tuktuk followed by a steep stairwell to the beach) and therefore much less crowded. Plenty of people gather here every day and there are plenty of restaurants and accommodations, varying from bamboo huts, to cottages and one resort.
Israeli’s, Dutchies and a Catalonian.
When we were walking onto the beach we asked a couple walking in front of us if they had found nice accommodation. Adi and Roy were staying at Gundappa, and it seemed perfect for us too. A clean cottage with a bathroom and a comfortable bed. Soon enough we’d spend most of our time here hanging out at Gundappa, eating at Sunshine café and playing in the waves. Later we were joined by Carlos, also staying at Gundappa’s.
Every year Carlos would come back here to Kudle, and he had befriended some young jewellery sellers on the beach. These kids have been working here for long hours in the blazing sun since an incredibly young age. Instead of just giving them money, he actually showed interest in them and treated them to a meal we all enjoyed together. He also brought [name] along on our boat ride we all took to a beach a bit further. The look on Prem’s face was priceless, he couldn’t stop taking photo’s. Thank you Carlos, for being such an inspiration.
Walk the line
Kudle was the perfect place for us to completely wind down. Not too many distractions, but enough to keep us entertained. We played frisbee, visited Gokarna town, practised slack line skills and all went on a boat ride together to a nearby beach.
After this time in paradise we did still want to experience some of what South India had to offer, Kerala was high on our bucket list, and someone had tipped us about Munroe Island. We booked a train again, that would take us there in about eighteen hours. A pretty long run, but trains in India are so entertaining. The sellers that constantly walk by yelling out whatever they are selling and the countryside just sweeping by.
We always try to avoid the typical tourist destinations, so we chose Munroe Island over Allepey. Allepey is well known for the expensive houseboats that cruise along the backwaters of Kerala. The houseboats are not only extremely expensive, they’re also a big impact on the environment. The government of Kerala has now limited the release of new licences for these boats.
Kayaking in Kerala
We opted for an environmental friendly water vehicle, the kayak! Unfortunately our kayaking skills weren’t up to par. We argued away about whose fault it was that we kept going in circles. Nevertheless, we got to see a great deal of the life on and next to the water in this mesmerizing part of India.
From November to March there are temple festivals somewhere in the region virtually every day. And as luck would have it, the Munroe temple festival coincided with our visit. There were ceremonies every day and there was food served for the whole community almost every afternoon. We visited a Naga ceremony at the Naga temple. A young man was brought in trance with a long meditation and some help of the hallucinatory leaves of the beetle nut flower.
When he finally became Naga (a mythical semi-divine being, half human and half cobra) he fell to the ground and started twisting and turning. He rolled around and the men surrounding him kept him from rolling into the spectators (young terrified girls) and into something that might hurt him. They poured coconut water onto his head when Naga seemed to get the overhand. In the end the man fell to the floor. He just laid there, covered in the coloured sand. Then all of a sudden the spectacle was over. Naga had left his body and his friends took him away to clean and cool him off with water. It was one of the most intense ceremonies we’d ever witnessed.
The highlight of the festival is the elephant ceremony. Every year a big parade of elephants walk through the streets of Munroe, through the river and around the temple. The elephants are beautifully decorated with golden head pieces and the riders hold colourful shields and umbrella’s.
We secured a good spot under the bridge to watch the elephants cross the water, But the police kept sending us and all the other spectators away. Of course everyone would go back as soon as the cops had left, and so did we. When the elephants finally came the police officers wanted to send us away again, but instead they started pictures of the majestic creatures. Together we took our photographs filled with excitement of watching these humongous but gorgeous creatures.
The festivities continue
As the parade continued, the elephants and their riders were accompanied by drum bands. And not one drum band as we would know it. But tons of drum bands, all playing as loud as they could and all playing a different beat. Add the lights, the special decorated spinning pieces carried by dancing men, women carrying oil lights and burning incense and all senses are running overtime.
We were overwhelmed by the magnificence of this event. There was so much happening, and we were loving every second of it. Munroe Island took a special place in our hearts.
Before continuing our journey to Kochi we had a two night stopover in Allepey. We took the eight-hour ferry through the backwaters of Kerala. It was a fun slow way of travel, but these bigger canals weren’t anywhere near as beautiful as the small canals of Munroe.
In Allepey we stayed at a really cool hostel, Art.packers Hostel and met some interesting people we hope to meet again someday. But besides that we didn’t really think much of Allepey. The hostel offered a ‘city-walk’ but with the highlight being a destroyed pier (only some poles were still standing) that should tell you enough about how uninteresting this place really was.
Jesus’ secret life
In Kochi we were pleasantly surprised. Kochi is a coastal city with a lot of English, Dutch and Portuguese influences. We drove around all the highlights with a tuktuk tour. The driver spoke good English and could tell us a lot about Christian history in Kochi. Even before the Dutch and the Portuguese had colonized India there were already Christians. There’s a whole theory that Jesus didn’t die at his crucification. Instead, he regained strength and travelled through Central Asia to Kashmir where he lived together with his mother and continued to preach. Apostle Thomas introduced Christianity to Kerala in the 1st century AD. Who knew…
Kathakali in Kochi
After so many European influences we were ready for some typical Keralan entertainment. A kathakali theater show. Kathakali is a traditional dance form, where the performers tell the story with only their dance, hand gestures and eye movements. A kathakali show typically takes eight hours, but we went to the tourist-friendly one hour show. It was the best drag show we have ever seen in our lives.
We want more India
We learned so much more on this visit to India than the last time, when we rode from Delhi to Nepal. We got to experience culture, eat all sort of different Southern Indian cuisines and talk to a lot of locals. One of them said to us ‘India is kind of similar to Europe, every state is like a different country.’ We couldn’t agree more. There is not ‘one’ India. But this side of India was one that we can absolutely recommend. For cycling but also for ‘normal’ travel.
We are looking forward to our next visit to India in the Northeast, also known as the seven sisters.
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