Alarms went off at 5:30 a.m in Munnar. With the help of our headlamps we walked to the bus “station.” Tons of young and old local men sat next to us on the bus with their shovels as we flew down death hill.
We took the roller coaster bus five hours to Alleppey. A bridge en route was nonexistent so the bus dropped us off in the middle of a random road and told us to walk over a makeshift foot bridge and catch a bus on the opposite side.
That’s all great and dandy, but the entrepreneurial bus conductor decided to take advantage of this bridge construction phase and charged all of us to jump on the second bus. The bus was packed and I had some woman sit on half of my lap while my other leg was somehow on the back of the seat in front of us. Culturally appropriate, I’m sure.
After seven crammed hours we were more than ready to exit that thing.
In Alleppey we left the bus station and walked across a small footbridge to The Palmy Residency. At just 650 rupees this was the biggest room we had seen in awhile. We spent a chunk of time roaming around town looking into organizing a backwaters tour for the following morning. After being hassled and with all of the noise, pollution and just utter chaos, we called it quits and chose to go on a tour with the guys at our hotel.
Thursday, Feb. 19, 2014
We were up and out by 8 a.m. and on our canoe by 8:30 a.m.
We lazily cruised through the large and then smaller canals for six hours. Due to bridge construction at one point we exited our cozy canoe and went for a walk to see spice and fruit trees, rice fields and bats hammocking in the high trees.
We returned to shore at 1:30 p.m., handed over 1200 rupees ($20) to our boatman and made our way back to Palmy to collect our belongings. I know that travel guides and online forums will warn you against houseboat and canoe tours, but honestly, if you are avoiding them then simply don’t go to Alleppey or the backwaters at all.
Not every boat is a bad deal. Some were clean and it looked like a blast to lounge on the spacious balconies while sipping on juice, scarfing biscuits and watching the women doing their washings alongside the many mini-ghats.
If you are a budget traveler that doesn’t have a four digit figure amount of rupees to fork over for a romantic outing, then simply hire up a canoe for a few hours and venture into the quiet backwaters.
Every one of your five senses will thank you for the needed break from the rest of this chaotic country.
Do the backwaters trip. Go from Alleppey, not from Kochi. Once you arrive shop around and checkout the boats yourself so you know exactly what you are getting. Ignore Lonely Planet’s advice to skip it.
With all our belongings once again packed, we jumped on a bus around 4 p.m. and made the 90 minute ride on the bone rattling local bus back to Kochi.
A rickshaw took us from the bus station and delivered us on the doorstep of John’s Residency. The place is clean, quiet, and comfortable and John has a real “efficient” attitude, which is a refreshing quality to encounter in India.
We ventured out into the dark industrial area in search of food where we quickly got lost and uncomfortable so we turned back and found Hotel Colombo which was a bit closer to home.
Since we were the only people in the restaurant and that’s never a promising sign, we prayed to whomever not to get sick as we enjoyed our only meal of the day.
Friday, Feb. 20, 2014
At 4:30 a.m. we were out the door and on our way to the airport.
Our flight was a 7 a.m. on IndiGo Airlines. IndiGo is a budget Indian airline, but its quite efficient, clean and comfortable.
NOTE TO TRAVELERS: IndiGo currently doesn’t accept foreign credit cards through its website, but IndiGo flights can still be booked online for the same price through Expedia.com.
We arrived in Delhi and immediately saw a resmblence to Mumbai. A really pissed off Taxi took our prepaid pink slip (the only way to get a fair taxi rate in India) and furiously fought traffic for two hours to make the short 16 km journey.
I can’t tell if I have become desensitized or just entirely uninterested, but I slept like a rock in the back of the cab doing the Indian head wobble every time the driver slammed on his brakes.
We arrived at Hotel Amax and decided the 850 rupee room was way to big and expensive so we down-graded to a smaller urinal-smelling abode.
I decided to offload the three additional kilograms I collected in Goa, so I made my way to the Post Office.
Six different men were required to wrap one three kilo box.
After forking over 2200 rupees, I walked out of the post office and realized I probably just paid to be robbed as my package was never stitched and sealed. Thank you, India.
Next up on the counter-productive day was making a visit to the Vietnam Embassy on the southwest corner of New Delhi. We walked through hundreds of armed men likely leaving a bake-sale and after an hour walk chatted with the embassy workers.
With visa applications in hand, we now realized we would be visiting Delhi again soon to deliver the completed forms, so we made very little effort to see more of the bustling capital city.
Dinner was enjoyed at our hotel in the comfortable almost-rooftop restaurant.
With another early morning train to Agra, we said goodnight early to the insomniac capital of Delhi.