So after 4 action packed weeks travelling the length and breadth of Sri Lanka, Soph and I have made it back into India. I say made it, because, as with anything, India is a nation that does not make things easy.
Firstly, at the airport in Colombo when checking in our bags we were told we were not allowed on our flight unless we have a return / onward flight booked from India at the end of our trip – something that is not stipulated in any Visa docs, and didn’t seemed to bother anyone when we arrived in Goa a few months previously. So, before we were allowed to leave Sri Lanka (who, due to visa regulations, were going to kick us out the following day anyway) we had to try to figure out when we were going to want to leave India and from which airport we wanted a flight – something we hadn’t really considered, and hadn’t really wanted to consider yet, but oh well thinking caps were on and internet at the ready – we leave on 22nd Feb from Cochin flying to Kuala Lumpur – assholes.
Then, after arriving into Madurai Airport, where every other ‘official’ person feels the need to check you passport to make sure you actually have a visa (I assume they just send you back where you came from if you don’t!), we saw a group of 3 western guys getting a lot of hassle at the desk, then being led away for a lengthy discussion about god knows what – we assumed we were also done for! To our surprise it all went relatively smoothly (really fucking slow because of the intermittent power cuts, but smoothly enough nonetheless), and we hopped in a tuk tuk to our hotel in Madurai city centre (via a few of the tuk tuk driver’s friends hotels along the way – just checking if we wanted to stay there instead), which was located very close to the huge Sri Meenakshi Amman temple. We stayed in the city for the night, the following day, and then caught a bus at the ungodly hour of 3am the following night to Kollam in southern Kerala.
I have come to the conclusion that I might be allergic to religion. I have very rarely become ‘ill’ or anything during our trip, other than a rather memorable bout of dysentery in Tanzania, however my strange short-term colds – which remind me of heavy duty hay fever, only seem to come around in the very religious and holy places I visit. The Temple of the Tooth in Kandy and the Sri Mennaksi temple in Madurai being key examples. It’s just a theory, but I think I am on to something. I will explore my theory further over the coming months!
After stuffing our faces in Madurai with delicious dosas and idli (some of South India’s favourite food – collectively known as Tiffin along with a few other variations), we headed off on our 4 – 5 hour bus to Kollam. We then made our way down to Varkala to find our £7-a-night bargain of a guesthouse (Cliff Garden Beach Resort), with individual private bungalows, complete with a communal kitchen so we can save some pennies and cook our own food. Ideal. Cooking in the kitchen is interesting, as yesterday, while cooking our lunch of an improvised veg curry and a dhal, we ended up with an audience of the cleaning girls that work here, and some other guy – I assume he works here too, observing with obvious intrigue (and probably some mild amusement) these two white people attempting to cook Indian food, probably badly from their point of view, but fuck it, it tasted good to me!
Varkala is a really relaxed beach resort. Although it is a little overrun with guesthouses, hotels, bars and restaurants, it doesn’t really feel like it, keeping some of it’s rustic, local charm with little dirt tracks leading through the village and a busy (definitely not touristy) town centre with more fruit and veg stalls than you can shake a stick at. The restaurants and bars with attached guesthouses at the north end of Varkala beach all run along the cliff top overlooking the beach and the ocean. This means the beach seems a bit quieter as there are no beach shacks cluttering the fringes. The fish here is incredible. Each night all of the restaurants line up their catch of the day outside on the path which runs along the cliff top so you can see what tickles your fancy – so far Tuna and Red Snapper have tickled mine, and holy shit they were good!
So here we are, back in India again. We have a week in Varkala (6 nights left), and over the next few days, with the help of our trusty moped, we will be braving the Indian roads once more and exploring more of the areas around Varkala.
Some photos of Madurai and Varkala to come soon – when I have better internet.