Tuesday, March 8, 2011

India - First Impressions

Note: Little delayed in getting this posted. Internet access has not been that good in India.

Purpose of this post is to put down in words my first thoughts on India. I haven't really been shocked by anything yet. It has pretty much been as I expected. Based on previous countries we have been to on this trip I would say that India reminds me of a mixture between China and Egypt. It reminds me of China because of the way people drive which means there are pretty much no traffic laws. It is every vehicle for itself. I am getting pretty much used to this type of driving since we saw this somewhat in other parts of Southeast Asia but not as aggressive as in China. Other China characteristics are there is sprawl in a sense of just people and stuff everywhere with little to no real organization. The Egypt resemblances come from some of the touts constantly offering to sell us various things plus I have a little but not quite as strong feeling that you need to be on guard at all times. I feel like people are staring at us and not always in a good way. I had this gut feeling in Egypt. I feel safe but I also feel the need to be on constant alert. For the last two months in Southeast Asia I didn't really feel that way. It was much more relaxed. Some other first impressions are is that I haven't seen the absolute grinding poverty yet like I had expected but we haven't been in an urban slum area or way out in the countryside yet. We've pretty much been in a tourist corridor. Don't get me wrong I've seen a lot of people that didn't look too well off but had expected things to be worse.

Santa Cruz Basilica in Kochi, India

As I mentioned earlier nothing has really shocked me but some things have disappointed me. I would say this is mainly because I've seen so much over the last six months that I am really kind of getting used to it. One disappointing thing about India so far is that apparently there are no trash cans. It seems like everywhere you look there is trash. Small bits of trash are burned which I've seen in many other countries but here there are fields of it with goats, cows, water buffalo, and dogs eating their way through it. Another disappointment is the lack of quality internet access. This is something that Alethea and I rely on. The primary purpose is to do trip research and stay in touch with friends and family. Only one place in Kochi had wi-fi and on our first day here in Panaji in the Goa area not even the internet cafes have wi-fi. They have heard of it but just don't have it. We've had to switch to offline mode meaning we've had to rely on old guidebooks at hotels and notes we've taken. We are writing and editing all of our stuff offline so we can post things once we get back to a place with good internet access. I am kind of surprised because of all the hi-tech industry over here but I guess internet infrastructure is confined to tech hubs cities like Bangalore, Delhi, and Hydrebad, etc. One other issue is that we are having some significant challenges with transportation. We had planned to move around the country by train but have discovered that many of the trains are booked when and where we want to take them. Apparently, the trains are booked up in advance more so than we expected. We have found out a couple ways to get stand by type tickets and last minute emergency tickets. We may have to fly once or twice in country which is still pretty cheap depending on where we want to go but it does add up. Train tickets on overnight trains that cover long distances are usually 1/3rd the price of a similar airfare. We'll be going over our itinerary here in the next day or so and see what we can come up with. I think we'll probably have to reduce the time spent in India by a little bit before heading to Europe but we'll see.

Alethea with a welcome drink for our Kerala backwaters trip

I don't want to go an entire post and not mention anything positive. One thing I did enjoy was a side trip that we took while in Kochi. We spent a night on a private boat cruising the backwaters of Kerala. There was some pretty scenery plus we saw how a lot of locals live in this area. The backwaters area of Kerala goes on for several hundred kilometers and has been used for trade for centuries. We cruised a small little portion of it and spent the night on our own private boat. We actually had a crew of three with only us two passengers. It can be kind of crowded on the backwaters since there are now more than 500 boats that do these tours but it is still relatively new to tourist since it just opened up about 10 years ago.

we had some company on the backwaters of Kerala

Another positive for me as been the food and not just because I haven't become sick yet. The food has been a wide variety and of good quality. I like the different curries and vegetarian and non vegetarian meals we've had. I'm sure I'll probably switch to a US meal within a day or so especially with there being a Dominoes just down the street but for now I'm really enjoying the food.

Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church - Goa, India

That is all for now. Nearly one week down as I type this up. Not sure when it will get posted since we've had poor internet access since we've been here. We'll be spending three nights in the Goa region which is located on the central west coast. I guess to sum it up is that I'm kind of neutral on India. Nothing real bad to speak of but nothing great either. Hopefully, things will get more interesting in a good way from here on out.

Link to photo album:

Daily Log

Sunday February 20th
Made it to India with no real issues.
Slept most of the flight to Mumbai. Alethea went to a lounge while I hung out by the gate. To get online you had to send a SMS text to a certain address.
Had my toothpaste confiscated in Bangkok. Packed a large toothpaste and forgot how big it was. A lot of countries don't check this.
India flights board either on time or early and depart early too based on the flights we took yesterday.
Had to go back through security in Bangalore for some odd reason. Airport is much smaller than I anticipated.
Taxi driver met us at airport and drove us 40 km to our hotel.
Hotel is called Bounty Yatra. Not impressed but it is only $20 a night. Breakfast isn't included, no internet access as their website advertised, no real shower, no hot water, helpers speak little to no English.
Took cold or really room temp shower and went to bed.

Monday February 21st
Got up around 8:30.
Ate breakfast at hotel. Had large pot of coffee, toast, and omlette. It was pretty good.
Walked around town for a couple hours to orient ourselves. Walked to the water front and saw the large Chinese fishing nets. A few offers for sightseeing and tuk tuks.
Bought small replacement toothpaste.
Found out that only a couple places serve alcohol and you have to go to govt. controlled stores to buy. Hiked 10 minutes past turn off for hotel for a coupe 640 ml (100 R total) of beer. It was hot with little shade. Probably wont be doing that much often.
Walked back to hotel. Took showers around 1 pm and drank beer and ate potato chips. Too hot to eat a formal meal.
Came back to hotel. Tried to read Southern India Lonely Planet books but kept getting bit by mosquitos. Came back to room and read but was tired and took a nap. Slept for at least 90 minutes.
Did some more reading. Alethea got online. Internet access is slow. Read email and got on Twitter. Facebook wouldn't load.
Went to dinner. Nice local place. Wasn't too expensive.
Came back to hotel room. Took another shower. Read some more Lonely Planet before talking with Alethea.
So far so good. Initial thoughts are that I thought Kochi would be a little nicer. It isn't bad just thought it would be nice. Kochi is supposed to be the nice relaxing part of India which should make the north very interesting.

Tuesday February 22nd
Spent hours in the morning until around 1:30 pm researching and putting together an itinerary for India. Went out for lunch. Ate a decent vegetarian place next to Princess Street.
Spoke to person about train tickets.
Checked out menus at a couple restaurants including the only one that sells alcohol in Fort Kochi.
Walked around until we located a restaurant that Alethea wants to go to except it is closed on Tuesdays.
Alethea got a haircut. I walked back to hotel. Took a shower since I was soaked in sweat. Read in the India Lonely Planet book about Varanassi, Goa, Argra. Took brief nap.
Went downstairs and researched trains for 90 minutes until we lost internet connection.
Rained quit heavily for a little bit.
Went into town for dinner. Ate at a place called Salt and Pepper after passing on an Italian place that was too expensive.
Definitely running into issue with transport options. Trains are booked solid in many locations. Waking up at 8 am tomorrow when they release emergency last minute tickets. May end up flying across country which would cut our time in India short.

Wednesday February 23rd
Spent a hour getting an overnight train ticket to Goa.
Took Tuk Tuk over to Pernasi Synagogue. Oldest in Kochi. Built in 1568. No longer in use.
Walked around Jew Town. Took tuk tuk to St. Francis Church
Walked around St. Francis Church. 1st European built church in India. Built in 1502. Vasco de Gama was buried in the church for 14 years before being taken back to Portugal.
Went down the street to Santa Cruz Basilica. It was built in 1505. Toured it and saw a just married Indian Catholic couple getting their picture made inside the church.
Ate lunch.
Came back to hotel to do some more trip planning. Electricity went out.
Went around corner to internet cafe which was just a hotel with wi-fi. No charge just sat outside and used the internet. We saw goats, ducks, crows, and a chipmunk. Booked hotel for Panaji (Goa).
Walked to restaurant for dinner but it didn't open until 6:30 pm. Went down to the water front for about 30 minutes. Arrived at restaurant and there were already a few people waiting outside. Owner opened the gate at 6:30. Very good dinner. Dal Roti was the name of the restaurant.
Walked back to hotel.

Thursday February 24th
Kerala Backwater cruise. We booked an overnight Kerala Backwaters cruise thru our hotel. The name of the company they use is Welcome Cruises.
Left hotel @ 10 am. Drove 2 hours (weaving in and out of traffic on congested roads) to boat dock
Walked through 4 boats to get to ours.
We had 1 driver, 1 cook, and 1 other person.
Cruised for 2 hours then tied up for lunch. Good lunch. Fish was the meat. Not sure what the veggies were exactly.
Ate lunch then walked around a little bit.
After a hour or so we cruised until about 5:30 around the different canals. It was pretty.
Tied up at overnight spot. Purchased two 650 ml beers for 150 R a piece (close to $4 and 3x the price on land). Drank 1 beer
Got online to blog.
Pretty relaxing trip. Glad we got to do it. Alethea has talked about it for some time. Not impressed with the drive down here. Pretty sobering the way people live both on the way down here and on the water.

Friday February 25th
Checked out of boat sometime after 9 am.
Driver picked us up went to beach to take a look at an India beach. Pretty wide. Nobody was swimming. Driver said they swim in the evenings.
Driver took us on a tour of a coir factory. Coir is natural fiber rope. I think from palm trees. We went to two factories next to each other. The state pays the workers 200 Rupees ($4 USD) per day for their work.
Drove 2 hours back to hotel.
Went out and ate lunch at place on Princess Street. Hot but good.
Came back to hotel. Took shower then took a 2.5 hour nap.
Got online for about 30 minutes.
Went to dinner at the Sheeva place close to hotel.
Came back to hotel and took another shower (out hotel had no hot water & our room had no AC).
Finished packing and left for train station around 8:30 pm.
Paid our hotel bill. Tried to charge us 400 R to use our room during the day after the boat trip. We thought it would be free. We only paid and extra 145 R to round it up to 15000 but not the full amount he was asking for.
Took 30 plus minutes to get to the train station. Went there early because people at hotel said the waiting room had AC. The waiting room didn't so we sat on some metal chairs. Train was supposed to arrive at 10:30 but arrived at 11:00. Once we boarded train left pretty quickly.

Saturday February 26th
Didn't really sleep that great on the train. My feet hung off the end of the bunk. People ran into my toes when they walked down the aisles. I had to scrunch up in a ball just to sleep.
Sometime around 6 am one man got off but one woman then another family of at least 3 got on in his place. They had the lights on and making noise.
After breakfast train attendant came by and asked for a tip which we weren't expecting at all. We said we didn't know how much to give and he suggested 100 R per person which is more than some lunches. I gave him 40 R which was half of what I had left. He stood there wanting more and I said that is all I had left. He didn't look happy. I asked 3 times for hot water for Alethea for tea and they didn't bring it back.
Arrived at the Goa station for us around 10:30. Another attendant followed us off the train but didn't carry our bag and seemed to be implying that he expected a tip for letting us know where to get off. I didn't tip him.
Walked over to pre-paid taxi stand that we were told about and booked a taxi to our hotel.
Took 35 minutes to drive to hotel. Driver was around 60 and drove like crazy constantly weaving in and out of traffic.
Checked in to hotel. Ate lunch and walked around Panaji where we are staying.
Bought beer. Made an ATM withdrawal.
Worked on India blog post while Alethea napped. She calls it resting :-).
Walked around and found a cheap internet cafe. Still no wi-fi
Found local Indian food restaurant. We were the only people in there but the food was good. Felt odd. Discussed over dinner how we want the rest of the trip to go and what we want to do.

Sunday February 27th
Pretty much spent the day figuring out the rest of our itinerary.
Discovered that the India tourism govt sight and Thomas Cook locations were closed.
Walked multiple kilometers to the Marriott and went to a travel agency next door. Gave them our itinerary.
Took taxi back to a hotel and asked to use their wi-fi. They were going to charge us 100 R per hour but told us to come back soon.
Walked to a local restaurant for lunch. Ate pretty cheaply. Only 150 R
On the way back to hotel notices a travel agency that was open. Alethea spent 2 hours going over our itinerary with an agent.
Went to internet cafe. Access was very slow. Didn't get much accomplished.
Went back to tourist agency for 3 hours but the itinerary was too expensive.
Ordered Dominoes pizza. Walked to liquor store to buy 3 beers while waiting on pizza.
Alethea and I agreed to discuss itinerary 1st before going back the next day.

Monday February 28th
Pretty much spent this day finalizing our travel plans for northern Inida.
After a lot of planning and cutting out half of our plan from yesterday we booked a 8 day trip to the north starting on 3/2. There are some challenges such as it gets us back to Mumbai on 3/9 and the 3/10 flight (just after midnight) doesn't look good from an availability perspective. There is a very good chance we may buy a confirmed ticket either on Delta or some other airline and fly in to somewhere other than Amsterdam.
Booked two tickets on our own at an internet cafe. (Goa to Delhi & Delhi to Mumbai).
Did go to pharmacy to get some more toiletries. Still need to get some sunglasses.
Ate good lunch at Portuguese restaurant.
Dinner was good too but I wasn't feeling well. Just kind of worn out today. Used a lot of mental brain power plus walked around a little bit in the hot direct sun (did have long pants and sun hat on).
Did laundry with no issues.
Read Rick Steve's rail pass document. Pretty confusing.

Tuesday March 1st
Pretty much spent the day sick.
Started to feel a little worn out last night even though I didn't do much.
Had to get up several times during the night to use the bathroom.
Needless to say I didn't sleep well. I didn't really get out of bed until 1:45 pm. I ate some bread. Alethea tried to get me some water but the stores close in the afternoon. I drank the bottle water in the fridge. I think I got sick from eating food but there is a chance my water filter has been used up.
Was able to drink some natural fruit juice that Alethea got me.
At dinner I ate chicken noodle soup and steamed rice. Came back up to the room and drank more juice.

Wednesday March 2nd
Slept in and ate a light breakfast.
Packed and checked out around 11 am.
Taxi took us to Old Goa. Toured 3 churches for 60 minutes. Saw tomb of St. Xavier at Bom Jesus church.
Went to airport.
Flight was about 10 minutes later. Airport is small with no gate. Only buses to planes.
Arrived in Delhi on time.
Picked up at airport drove to hotel. Had to stop to take out money ATM would only let me take out small amounts. Had to take out several small amounts.
Checked in hotel went over itinerary to settle issues. Paid the bill
Ate dinner
Tried to take shower. Hot water not working.
Got online for a little over a hour
Came back and took shower.
Went to bed