No Phone, No Photos :(

My phones have died. Yes, you read that right. Phones, as in more than one. More specifically, two. They have died. Well, one really has, and the other is almost at the grave, so just as good as dead.

To be fair, they are both crappy phones. One is a 50$ phone I got in Costa Rica that has served me well for the last 10 months, but now can only survive for about 2 hours after being unplugged before it gives up the ghost. It also has a 2mp camera (who even makes phones like that any more?) which makes for terrible photos. The other is my mum’s HTC something, but it’s over 2 years old and has just suddenly died and refuses to turn on unless plugged into a power source. It was the primary source of all the pictures I’ve taken in India so far.

But anyway, now that both my phones are dead, I do not have any way of taking amazing pictures! Woe is me. And you, if you like reading my blog for the amazing (yarright) pictures and videos I put up. I’m going to try to buy myself a new phone, so any recommendations on what I should get for cheap with a decent enough camera would be recommended! Leave your comments! Also, if you’d like to contribute my phone-buying fund (or my next meal or my flight to the next cool destination, I’m not fussy), you can do so HERE and have my eternal and undying gratitude.

Well, till I get my new phone, lots of love everyone!

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3 years and 3 months.

39 months ago, I left Singapore, with not even a thought that I would still be doing this “travel thing” for as long as I have.

I am truly blessed.

I started this post with dreams of writing something wonderful and amazing, heartfelt and touching. But words fail me, and I find that the memories of the beautiful places I’ve been, the incredible experiences I’ve had and the simply amazing people I’ve met far surpass my abilities to adequately describe them.

People tell me they don’t know how I do what I do, that they cannot imagine living day to day with no plan, no plan B, not even an inkling of where I will be tomorrow. The reality is that their lives are just as hard for me to imagine. The reality is that I have been very lucky to have been given the opportunity that I have. I have no debts, I have no partner, no kids, nothing to tie me down anywhere. The reality, also, is that my life is a choice that I’ve made for myself, without letting my family, or friends, or society decide for me what is best for me.

When I was living in Costa Rica, I had a crappy job as an English teacher. I earned less than 600USD a month, and had barely enough to pay my rent and make ends meet. I lived in a crappy windowless room, barely 4m2 in size, and hung out with cockroaches in the day time, and mice at night. I was not happy, no. I was quite possibly miserable. Yet, I was fine…because it was my choice to be miserable.

Travelling for this long has not always been sunshine and rainbows. It’s easy to gloss over the awful bits in Facebook updates, Instagram pictures and blogposts, but some days were absolutely awful. The time I almost slid to my death off the side of a volcano. The time I got robbed. The time I fell overboard and ruined all my electronics. The time I was down to my last $200 and had another month before payday. The time they closed the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border and made me sleep at the border. Travelling can be really hard. But travelling is what I choose to do,and to be honest, I can’t imagine my life any other way.

Because while it’s absolutely shit at some points, and all you want is to go home to mummy and have her say it’s all going to be okay, when you do get yourself out of those awful situations, you can’t help but grin and walk a little straighter knowing that you’re going to be alright. That no matter what life throws at you, you’re going to get through it some how, and then keep right on going.

So here’s to another 39 months of travelling. Another 39 years, why not? Here’s to another lifetime of travel. Everything is super duper.

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It really is.

Kalpetta! Land of (failed) treks.

[I’m awful with updates – this happened maybe two weeks ago. I’m in Kochi about to head off to Munnar soon now.]

But not really. Ehh, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

Bus from Mysore to Kalpetta – a direct bus from the KSRTC bus station for 143Rs at 7am, and I arrived 4 hours later. Absolutely brilliant ride: I fell asleep part way, but woke up as we were driving through the nature reserve areas, hoping to see some wild elephants. No go, but it was still lovely scenery!

Reunited with Anna (from Germany/ Bangalore) in Kalpetta! So good to see her again – such a great girl. And she had a friend with her, Yossi from Israel. Cool cool cool. First order of business was food! Woohoo! Obviously I had the fish curry thali. Delish.

After that, we accompanied Yossi for a beard trim, and then Anna and I went wandering around the back streets of Kalpetta. It was lovely walking around the quiet streets and soaking in the atmosphere, and of course catching up with Anna!

Eventually, we headed back to the hotel to chill and discuss plans for the next day. We settled on hiking Chembra Peak (2100m, highest peak in Wayanad, 2nd highest in Kerala), so got our provisions for what was supposed to be a 6-8hour hike round trip. We also joined forces with a German couple who was also heading on the hike, and made plans for a 6.30am departure from the hotel the next morning.

It was all clouds and fog as we set out early the next morning, but undeterred, onward we went. First a bus to a neighboring village, Meppady, then breakfast there, and we got in a jeep (900Rs, round trip) to the forest ranger office to buy our tickets.

At the office, we were told in no uncertain terms, that we were not allowed anywhere near Chembra peak. Apparently, as of 4 years ago, authorities had ruled that the last section of the trek was out of bounds, and the highest we could get to was the heart-shaped lake, but Lonely Planet didn’t get the memo. Since we’d already come all that way, we coughed up the 1500Rs Group Entry fee and headed off on our trek with an unsmiling fellow, the mandatory local guide. The trek was fine, not really as easy as it’s made out to be (kinda steep in some places), but completely worth it for the great views enroute. Well, the great views we would have seen if everything hadn’t been shrouded in a blanket of mist.

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“But I swear in the days still left, we’ll walk in fields of gold.” – Sting

Still, the lake was lovely (not really heart-shaped, unless you’re somewhat creative in your interpretation of shapes), and we hung out eating the ton of food we’d bought in anticipation of an 8-hour round trip hike.

The views on the way back were much nicer, and seriously, Lonely Planet, if you’d updated your info to include that bit that the last segment of the hike is closed, we’d have gone later and caught some other incredible views. In any case, Trek 1 semi-failed, but it was still a great day.

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Anna was a little confused about where the scenery was supposed to be.

Deciding that it would be prudent to inquire with the local tourism office before heading out on any other hikes, we headed out to do exactly that the next day.

After much back and forth and explaining over and over again that we wanted to hike and not just walk to someplace for 20 minutes, and having the official there call the forest department for us (he had no idea about opening and closing hours or anything, really), we were finally told that no, it was not possible for us to do any hiking because all the parks/ reserves were closed. “Dry season, ma’am. High chance of forest fires, ma’am.”

Well, fancy that. With not much else to do , we started back toward our hotel in town but hang on a sec! What’s that building on top of that giant boulder? A temple?! Let’s get there!

We headed off in search of this mysterious temple on top of a boulder, after asking several passers-by (who were convinced that the 2.5km was far too long to walk and that we should take a tuktuk instead). Obviously, we ended up walking straight up some jungly path and over bare rocks and lost the non-existent path for a while before we finally arrived, in a less conventional way, at the temple. Gorgeous views, and totally worth it.

 

Two random local guys who were hanging out by the temple told us (well, me. In Malayalam, no less. Gonna add that to my ever growing list of languages) that there were some caves down another tiny path. Our original trekking plans may have been foiled, but this sounded even better. The caves were pretty cool, except for the part where the two guys decided they would follow us around, but Yossi’s presence was useful in deterring them (somewhat).

 

 

Cave exploring done, we decided to find an alternative route back to town and started off on a rather tiny, probably animal-made trail. It might not have been that smart in retrospect, but after quite a bit of slipping and sliding and swinging and swiping through the forest, we emerged right by….someone’s backyard. She must have been quite startled at the sudden appearance from three random foreigners the forest, as was her mother. They stared at us as we walked by smiling quite happily, pleased with having survived our forest trek. The mother inquired (in Malayalam) where Anna was from – her blonde hair and blue eyes are a constant source of amazement to the locals, and she seemed quite pleased that we were well and healthy.

Forest adventure over, we started making our way back to our hotel, smiling and waving at the locals to whom our presence was most unexpected. Some of them called out greetings which I tried to reply to (probably not very successfully), and as we were checking out a really cool tree that was growing out of the rock at an impossible, a middle-aged couple passed us by, bickering. They were speaking in Tamil (a language I am marginally better at than Malayalam), so I said hello to them.

 

The change in the lady was remarkable – she broke into a huge grin and came over and grasped my hand exclaiming “இது நம்ம ஆளு, நம்ம ஊரு பொண்ணு!” (She’s one of us, she’s from our land!). It was absolutely adorable, and although I had to correct her misconception that I was from Tamil Nadu, she was absolutely thrilled to find someone who spoke Tamil and besides, she was fascinated by Anna and Yossi. She asked us a bunch of questions in usual Indian fashion (Where are you from? What are you doing here? How old are you? Are you married? Why don’t you want to get married? Are they married? Do they have children? Why don’t they have children?), and invited us to her house for tea.

 

We didn’t have anything else to do, and she seemed really keen on having us visit her (she actually said come again tomorrow and I’ll prepare lunch for all of you, but when we said we might be leaving the next day, she insisted on tea), so we followed her to her house. Along the way, she asked more questions and I translated for Anna and Yossi and we all gradually learnt her life story – From Pondicherry, but moved to Kalpetta about 40 years ago when her father passed away (her mum passed away when she was born), because she had no other family. She had six children at a young age because she felt lonely, and she worked as a cleaner at several banks in town. She’d saved up money little by little over time to buy the plot of land where her house now stood and had finally finished building the house just a year ago. Her name – Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.

 

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Her house, nestled on top of a boulder too.

 

We arrived at her house and she immediately called out to her daughters to prepare tea for us while getting us chairs to sit on. She disappeared for a while, leaving us to sit in the sparse living room and attempt to cajole her granddaughter to smile at us (baby Gayathri started bawling instead). When she returned, she served us tea and vadai, and she sat down on the floor to ask us more questions and tell us all about her children and her life.

 

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Baby Gayathri was not impressed by us.

 

Thinking back on it fills me with a warm sort of happiness, at how she didn’t even think twice about inviting three complete strangers into her home and sharing the little that she had with us. All three of us may be richer than her in terms of the amount of money we have in the bank, but truly, she is a goddess of wealth. Eventually, we said our goodbyes, and as we were leaving, she told us that we would always have a place in her home in Kalpetta, should we return. Many people may say thing like that, but there are few who actually mean it, and I know that if I do one day return to Kalpetta, she would welcome me to her home like a long lost daughter.

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The delightful Lakshmi and her family.

 

We spent the rest of the day chilling at the hotel, the next day, I decided to leave Kalpetta and head to Alleppy for some backwater exploration.  I booked myself on a RedBus sleeper bus and made arrangements for my hostel in Alleppey, and off we went to spend our last day together in Kalpetta by the Pookot Lake.

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We decided to investigate an abandoned property nearby. Just because.

 

 

It turned out to be much nicer than any of us expected it to be, and we spent a blissful few hours hanging out in the shade of some trees.

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Very chill lake.

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That’s actually full of water lilies.

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Minions.

After that, it was lunch, a rest and all too soon, time to say goodbye to Anna and Yossi. 😦

 

Some friends you meet on the road become friends for life, and I knew I would miss these guys dearly. But such is the traveller’s life, and Alleppey awaited!

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Mysore, The Sequel!

I’m writing this post from #Kalpetta, in the #Wayanad district of #Kerala! But today’s post is going to be about #Mysore, in #Karnataka and the rest of my adventures there!

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Mysore Palace by day!

Sundays are a special day in Mysore. First, because you can great some great Mutton Pulao at Hanumantha Hotel, a serious hole-in-the-wall, that serves some of the most amazing pulao I’ve ever eaten. The rice was light and fluffy but bursting with flavour, and the mutton was cooked to an incredibly tender state where it practically melted in your mouth. Thinking about it is making my mouth water, but here’s a picture instead.

My walk to Hanumantha Hotel also brought me to a really old-fashioned market selling veggies, fish, and meat.

Goat intestines are somewhat of a delicacy in India, and I’ve had it before (super yums!) but this was the first time I’d seen someone actually in the process of cleaning the innards. He blew into the pieces to expand them, filled them up with water and repeated this process a few times before emptying out all the water. It was gross (raw innards O_O) but also really cool.

Second reason why Sundays are special in Mysore is because the Palace, the historical residence of the Wodeyars, gets lit up from 7 to 7.45pm with almost 100,000 light bulbs. I spent most of the day in my hostel apart from going out for pulau (teaching online does require one to be present in an area of decent internet connectivity) so I was quite excited to see the palace all lit up that evening. I started my evening with some Mangalore bajji and filter coffee at Cafe Aramane (literally, Palace Cafe), right across the street from the palace.

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Cheap thrill: Eating Mangalore bajji while eavesdropping on some old men.

At about 6.45pm, I headed over to the palace and I was quite disappointed that I had missed the actual lighting of the palace, because it was already rather well-lit, and hundreds of people were milling around taking pictures. Still, it was a gorgeous sight to behold.

I decided to hang around for a while anyway, and wander around the ample palace grounds for a bit since I’d decided to skip the actual tour of the palace. And suddenly, out of nowhere, the 100 000 bulbs were lit and the palace was illuminated like something out of a fairy tale! It was super bright (and probably a huge waste of electricity), but very impressive nonetheless!

After the palace light-up, it was off to meet some of the lovely Couchsurfing ladies of Mysore for dinner. Wonderful girls and great conversation at a pretty cool cafe in Mysore! That’s why I absolutely love Couchsurfing – it’s such a great platform for travellers and locals to get to meet each other and have a great time!

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Couchsurfing crew – Pavna, Laura, Anna, Spoorti, Anjali and Amanda!

The next day’s itinerary was to go to Srirangapatna, a town on a small island in the middle of the Kaveri river. I took bus 307 (again based on the information of the helpful front desk guys) and had a nice chat with another traveller on the way there. He was going somewhere else so I arrived in Srirangapatna alone. Upon my arrival, I was immediately accosted by an auto rickshaw driver who insisted on taking me around to the main sites. Since his fee was only 250Rs and the places to visit were at some distance from each other, I agreed and off we went.

First stop: Sri Ranganathaswamy temple from which the town gets its name. Home to one of the largest representations of Sri Ranganatha (Lord Vishnu) reclining on Adi Sesha (many-headed serpent), the temple was crowded with devotees doing penance. I took a nice walk around and the architecture of the temple was really cool too. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed within temples, so you’ll have to check it out for yourself. Fun fact about this temple – It is the temple featured in the song Oruvan Oruvan Mudhalali in the film Muthu!

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The gopuram is quite a sight to behold (and the only part of the temple that can be photographed).

Second stop: Colonel Bailey’s Dungeon. This was where Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore in the 1700s, imprisoned all the British soldiers but Bailey died there, so it was named after him. Pretty cool, and there’s a view of the Kaveri river from there too.

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But I can’t imagine being shackled to the walls like that. :/ Cruel.

Next, a brief stop at the place where Tipu Sultan was killed in battled by a bullet to the head, and then we passed by Jamma Masjid, a beautiful mosque.

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“The body of Tippu Sultan was found here.”

Daria Daulat Bagh was next, Tipu Sultan’s summer palace. Entrance is 200Rs for foreigners, but only 15Rs for locals, so I told them I was from Chennai and paid only 15Rs. :/ Maybe that’s awful, but maybe not. Anyway, it’s a beautiful place, with luxurious gardens and remarkably well preserved detailing on the palace walls. I could totally imagine life in the palace 400 years ago.

We headed to the Tipu Sultan Gumbaz after that, a mausoleum where the remains of Tipu Sultan, his father Hyder Ali and mother Fatimah are interred. It’s an absolutely gorgeous place, if somewhat somber.

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The resting place of some lesser relatives.

Our final stop on the tour was the banks of the Kaveri river. A sacred river that flows through a large part of India, dipping oneself in it is supposed to absolve you of all sins. I dipped my feet in it, so…I guess my feet are free of sin now. It was beautiful anyhow, and I spent a while chatting with an old lady who was there to do some prayers with her family.

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It’s lovely, although somewhat sullied by trash. 😦

Having spent my morning very fruitfully, I returned to Mysore by bus and met up with Amanda, a Mexican girl from the Couchsurfing group the night before. We walked around the city for a bit and got lunch before I rushed off in an attempt to make my 4pm incense-making, beedi-rolling tour, but that was when I fell and hurt my ankle, so that didn’t happen, and kept me in bed for most of the next day too.

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But even peasants can have Hyderabad biryani and palak paneer 🙂

But! The next day, I got to go on the tour after lunch, so that was fantastic. (So was lunch.)

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Tomato rice bath, vadai, and coffee. YUM.

This tour was organized by my hotel, Hotel Maurya, for a mere 25Rs. The guide, Zabi, picked me up at the hotel and off we went in a little auto rickshaw. Incense-making was the first stop. We stopped by a nondescript little alley, and Zabi brought me into what seemed like someone’s house, pointing out various things used in the incense making process. We climbed a flight of stairs, and ta-dah! There were 5 women hard at work, deftly rolling sticks of incense at an incredible pace with their nimble fingers. It was mesmerizing to watch. Did you know that one of the ingredients in incense sticks is …honey? Mad.

After that, we headed to someone else’s house to see how beedi, a traditional Indian cigarette is made. We settled ourselves on the living room floor of the beedi-rollers house, and he set to work. Made with only a sindhoor leaf and tobacco, beedi has zero preservatives or additives, making it a much healthier alternative to cigarettes…but then again, is it really?

Last stop on this tour was a place selling essential oils. The owner Sageer talked me through the various properties of some of the oils he had to offer and was such a persuasive salesman that I eventually bought a tiny bottle of water lily oil, supposedly useful as a mosquito repellent. I’ve been using in here in Wayanad, and I must say it’s pretty effective, and even if it isn’t, it smells amazing.

I had some real street food for dinner that evening, which was excellent and cheap – Masale Poori, a typical Mysorean dish. I returned to my hotel after that, where I spent the rest of the evening packing my stuff up.

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Masale poori in process!

Mysore had been wonderful, but it was time for a change of state. Up next, Kalpetta in Kerala, God’s own country!

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Ciao, Mysore!