52 days travelling and we are starting to get ill from being so rundown
10th November 2018 (Madurai)
As we have a sleeper train almost every other day for the next week, we all thought it would be best to upgrade to another private bus for todays five hour journey to Madurai – make the most of it whilst we can, I say. It turned out to be a good choice, as it meant we were able to break up the journey with a few interesting pit stops.
The first stop on our journey was a vineyard. I’m no expert and certainly don’t drink much wine, but I’ve seen my fair share of vineyards whilst living in France. I was really surprised to see them grown in India with their vines twisted through a sort of makeshift pergola. The shorter amongst us could easily walk underneath it, whilst I came out with a crick in my neck. Near the end of our journey we made one last stop to visit a brick maker. It was interesting to see the process and we didn’t realise they could make up to a thousand bricks a day – considering how simple it was, it looked like back breaking work, especially in the heat of the day.
Once we had arrived at our hotel in Madurai, we had some lunch and set off to Sri Meenakshi Temple for a guided tour. The complex itself houses 14 gopurams (gateway towers), some of which are over 45m high – they seriously tower over you. These entrance ways to the Hindu temple are elaborately decorated with sculptures and carvings depicting various themes from the Hindu mythology, all of which are brightly coloured. I left my camera at home (we were not allowed to take it inside) and the photos I pinched from someone else’s phone just didn’t do it justice.
Whilst inside the complex we also visited the the 1,000 pillars of Aayiram Kaal Mandapam – which supposedly only has 985 carved pillars, but who is counting? It was interesting to walk around and see all the various carvings housed inside. As my wife wasn’t feeling well we opted out of the evening cycle rickshaw and dinner, heading back to the hotel for room service and Netflix instead. I didn’t take much convincing.
11th November 2018 (Madurai, Overnight Train)
Having been on the move almost every other day, and inevitably burning the candle at both ends, unfortunately we had both managed to catch a cold that we couldn’t quite shake. We thought it would be best to spend most of the day resting, especially as we had a 14 hour overnight train to Mysore ahead of us. We made sure to visit the Gandhi museum in the morning to learn more about the man himself and his noble pursuit of India’s independence. That evening our hotel tried to cheekily give us smaller portions for our packed dinner (almost a third of the size), although my wife wasn’t having any of it – for which I am grateful for, as it was delicious.
12th November 2018 (Mysore)
I didn’t want to write about this, but felt I ought to at least acknowledge what happened. Generally speaking travelling on the trains in India is safe and pretty uneventful. Unfortunately, on our journey to Mysore one of the women was grabbed inappropriately in the morning (when we were all awake) and was rightly shaken up. It was immediately reported and we were all impressed with how quickly and professionally the whole situation was dealt with by both the Indian railway company and local authorities. When we got to the railway station, my wife went with the woman and our guide to the local police station so she could make an official statement.
Once the group was reunited, we had an enjoyable roof top meal together before heading to the beautiful Mysore Palace for our guided tour. The palace itself is large, especially the grounds surrounding it. All along the outside the palace is covered in an array of lightbulbs. It turns out on certain days the whole palace lights up in quite an impressive display – sadly it didn’t during our time there. It is the inside of the palace where you get to appreciate its real beauty. There are several highly decorated rooms with rather impressive pillars and doors. I was just glad it was too busy for us to stop and get those “Instagram” shots.
The final stop of the day took us to a small family run outfit that made incense and various essential oils by hand. The latter of which was pretty useless on my wife and I, as we both still had blocked noses. Still, they insisted we smell every single one of them. As part of the experience we were given an aloe vera facial, which felt like being plastered with gloop. Apparently we weren’t allowed to wash our own faces, so like naughty children we lent over a bucket whilst a woman violently scrubbed our faces – oh the things that happen to you whilst travelling.
13th November 2018 (Mysore, Overnight Train)
Still recovering from our colds, we decided to take today as another day of rest – or at least attempt to do as little as possible. Nearby our hotel was a local covered market, which we spent half an hour walking through. Once you got out of the meat section, the fruit and flowers both looked and smelt amazing. On the other side of the market we grabbed a tuk tuk and headed over to Depth N’ Green Cafe, where I could have easily spent the day. They had the most amazing cookies and the best part was, I could eat it all – I squirrelled a few away for the overnight train.
My wife went with our travel-partner-in-crime to another hotel to make use of their pool, whilst I relaxed horizontally on a couch – I guess some things never change. I’d missed the cut off for ordering a packed dinner and we couldn’t get through to the restaurant on the phone, so my guide was able to organise a free tuk tuk for me to go in person. They didn’t have anything I wanted on the menu and without my phone to be able to check I panicked and gave it my best shot at ordering what I thought I should be able to eat (more on that later).
To thank the driver I offered to buy him some chai opposite our hotel and we had a good chat, which turned into plotting against the tour guide. The driver returned to the hotel and pretended to have lost me, whilst I was happily sitting across the road – in plane view, I might add – enjoying my chai. Turns out our guide isn’t one for jokes, but took it on the chin.
Once reunited with my phone as we boarded the train to Hampi that night, I quickly realised that I couldn’t eat my packed meal (it had been made with soy sauce). Despite my earlier prank, the guide was kind enough to source some food for me. He had one of the train attendants jump off at one of the stations and grab me some fried rice so I could have something to eat. I didn’t care that it was now 10pm at night, I was absolutely starving and incredibly grateful.
14th November 2018 (Hampi)
As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s not that easy to sleep on an overnight train with a cold. Thankfully the hotel we were staying in was pretty plush and had the most amazing bed – just what we both needed. It was located just outside of Hampi, which is a protected town situated on the banks of the Tungabhadra River. It is surrounded by hundred of ruins and temples, so without wasting time much time we headed out on our orientation walk. One of the women misplaced her foot and took a pretty bad fall on the road, so had to be rushed to hospital to get looked at. We powered on in her name and were reunited later in the day.
That afternoon we all decided to visit a handful of temples and ruins on the far side of the river (we’d be doing the side closer to our hotel tomorrow) and embarked on the long scenic tuk tuk ride to get there. It was a pretty hot day and were glad to stop off at a small rock pool and tiny waterfall to cool down – I forgot my board shorts, so only went up to my knees. We really enjoyed exploring the ruins of the Vijayanagar Empire and the huge boulders on the outskirts of town.
The plan that evening was to climb a rather ridiculous amount of steps to get to the top of an enormous boulder. After dodging vicious monkeys, sweating profusely, almost losing the will to live and cursing a lot we finally made it to the top. The panoramic views of the valley and landscapes were breathtaking (using that word quite literally). I’m so glad we took the time and effort to climb to the top to watch the sunset. Definitely another highlight of the trip.
15th November 2018 (Hampi, Overnight Train)
One of the girls had pretty severe food poisoning and ended up having to sit out on the days activities – I made a mental note to avoid her, as didn’t want to risk catching anything before the train ride. This morning we visited, among other places, Vittala Temple, home to the popular stone chariot – which according to Hindu mythology was the vehicle of the Lord Vishnu. In an effort to save a bit of money, we didn’t bother paying to go inside to see it. Instead we climbed the ruins next to it and had a birds eye view of inside the walls – I’m glad we did that, as it wasn’t much different to what we’d seen previously. It was also amazing to see the remains of the ancient bridge that crossed the river, how they managed to build it was beyond me.
We then headed into Hampi and had a fantastic lunch at a restaurant called Mango Tree – their special curry was to die for. Afterwards we toured a nearby temple and visited a couple more ruins before calling it a day. Things started to look the same and it was a little unbearable being out in the heat for so long.
That evening we were “blessed” with a 4 hour bus ride to the Hubli train station. It was pot hole galore and boy did we hit almost every single one. I’ve never been thrown around more on a straight road in my life. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was like that for almost the entire journey and sitting at the back, as we always do, we got the worst of it – I hit my head once when we flew into the air. We stopped at a truckers restaurant on the way and we were all convinced that we were going to get food poisoning. Thankfully we didn’t, although I did accidentally eat a chilli pepper and melted half my face off.
Until next time.
P.S. I think I need to stop being so stubborn and actually take some medication to kick this cold once and for all.