Badami caves, in the heart of Selfiestan

India is sometimes also known as Hindustan, and has regions such as Rajasthan. ‘Stan’ means ‘land of’.

Selfiestan was a word I picked up from a road-side advertising board, it seemed to suit how India had changed since our last visit in 2011: everyone was taking selfies, and everyone had much better phones than me!

We all loved Badami, the caves were great, our hotel was good with great food and the place didn’t have any western tourists…well, there were 3…us. It does seem strange that we’re at our most comfortable when we’re the only westerners in any particular place, not sure why this is, but we’ve noticed it several times. The lack of westerners and particularly blond-ish haired teenagers was clear when it came to the photo requests.

Badami, up to this point, was the worst – or is it best? – place for photo requests. Most of the time we didn’t mind, and only once or twice we said no for some reason or another. We certainly didn’t mind the requests, it was the candid shots without a request we did mind and it wasn’t a surprise as I try to always ask permission before taking someone’s photo. Except that I’m quite shy in this regard which is why you’ll see very few people photos in my collections.

Here’s a little video of the caves, the surroundings and a few photo requests:

Aihole and Pattadkal

No real time to write about about these two places, except…

They are superb, and we especially liked the spread out ruins of Aihole. Pattadkal was also great but much more compact and remind Jane and I very much of Khajuraho.

Here’s some pictures:

Amy at Aihole:

I loved this carving:

A very old step well:

Cow adorned with India’s flag colours:

Amy and Jane looking at the dusty town of Aihole:

Pattadkal:

Badami Caves and the ‘I’d rather live in your country’ conversation

A few things drew us to visiting Badami: its rock caves – something we enjoyed in Ajanta and Ellora; its closeness to Hampi – which we loved last trip; its nearby temples at Pattadkal; it was a halfway stopping point between Mysore and Mumbai.

We’d had a great overnight train journey, sharing our 6 berth area of the train with two chaps who joined at Bangalore (two hours after Mysore) and stayed with us all the way. Whilst their thick accents were at times very difficult to understand they were fascinated by our ways of life in England in comparison to theirs. They started off saying how wealthy our country is, just viewed from TV/films, but once we’d told them how our life is they changed their minds, surprised that our kids are unlikely to own any land or a home, and the student debts they’ll carry for most of their lives. I think we all agreed that India’s focus on family before than money was for the better. I love that there is no quibble in India if a relative needs your help you just do it, putting up with hardships for the benefit of others. I’m not confident the majority of the UK is the same, I see this around me, instead of caring for elders it’s easier to spend money than time, it’s easier to put them in a home than put up with caring for them in their/your house. It’s easier to blame a busy life on not having the time to call the lonely parent. Makes me quite sad.

Anyway, on to Badami, or Bad Amy as we like to call it.

Arriving at our hotel, the Heritage Resort – its lovely – at 8am and they check us into our room and I fall asleep for two hours, catching up on the intermittent sleep on the train. A little food and we catch a ride into town.

Badami’s quite different from a transport point-of-view as there’s no empty tuktuks plying the road between us and the town. They’re all much bigger ones and everyone shares, there’s no personal hiring arrangements here. Our hotel guy crosses the road with us, stops a tuktuk and tells him to take us to town for Rs30 for all. The price comes back as Rs80 (£1) to drop the other passengers off in town and take us on another 1km to the cave entrance. Seems, fair enough, we’ll do it.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site caves cost Rs200 (£2.50) each to get in, 7 times that of a local, but still no money to us. Although the irony is that many locals who visit here drive here from Bangalore in their Audis, they’ve clearly got more money than us.

Rather than tell you all about the caves I’ll use pictures, but as an overview, there’s 4 temples built high into the rock, dating back possibly to the 6th century, some caves have only been discovered in the last couple of years.

Jane and Amy enjoying visiting the caves:

The view across from the caves, more stuff to visit although we ran out of time:

Jane and Amy, a respite from ‘selfies’ with the locals, to get hounded by photo requests from me 😀

Down at the lake for a drink break, watching the women wash and dry their saris:

A stroll from the caves to town, through the market with its vibrant colours:

This kid saw my camera and asked me to take a photo of her, that’s handy, thanks:

Badami caves turned out to be the place with the most photo requests so far on the trip, though Mumbai was soon to change that:

Schoolkid humour at place names all the way in India

The names of many towns in India have been translated into English from their native pronunciation in languages like Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi. Then many of them have been relatively recently renamed back since independence with Great Britain. As an example, Mysore is now Mysuru, Bangalore is now Bengaluru, Bombay is now Mumbai. What’s interesting for me about all of these is that all locals refer to the old name, regardless of age. What he a very long chat with two guys sharing our compartment in the train two nights ago and every time we said Mysuru, they said Mysore, everytime we said Mumbai, they said Bombay.

Some places are also quite humourous to us.

Let’s start with the place we’re currently at: Badami, pronounced badda-me.
Now, Badami isn’t funny really but when you’re travelling with your well-behaved-daughter named Amy, it then becomes ironic Bad-Amy.
*smiles*

Today we visited a great set of monuments named Pattadkal, or Pattakal, or Pattadakal, or Pattadkali, Pattada Kallu, all spellings used for the same place. That’s not funny of course but just beforehand we went to the spreadout set of ruins in the town named Aihole. Now, if I’m honest I have no clue how this is really pronounced, but for us it’s A-hole.
*sniggers*

Special mention should be given to Aihole’s Kunti temple, see ‘J’ above.
*snorts*

Saving the best for last, it can only be the place we travelled through 5 days ago on our way from Periyar to Madurai.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you…
*spits out tea*

Kochi’s Kathakali Culture Show

Way back many days ago in Kochi – we’ve stayed in 4 hotels since then – we spent our last evening at a Kathakali culture show. Kathakali is an ancient method of dancing which is probably fab, if you like that sort of thing, or more importantly, you go and see a different performance. For us this was, well, erm, dull and surprisingly both Jane and Amy wanted to leave early, although to be fair this was still 90 minutes into a performance which is probably still going on now as it showed no signs of finishing anytime soon.

We watched the actors ply themselves with the Kathakali make-up, that was interesting. Then we got demonstrations of the eye movements (very interesting), hand movements (not so much) and expressions of emotions (standard).

Watch the video to see how fast the actor can move his eyes, it’s pretty amazing.

Long story cut short: I won’t be attending a Kathakali evening anytime in the (not so) distant future.

Kev gets a new job in India

I’m not one to really have a bucket list, I either do it, plan to do it soon or shut up about it…well for most things.

There was one thing though… I’ve always fancied driving an autorickshaw / tuk-tuk.

Well, today I got the chance.

Yesterday we got an autorickshaw from our hotel in Mysore for Rs70 (I gave him Rs100, that’s £1.15) with a driver named Pappu, well I think that’s what he said. Pappu was very informative on the way, pointing out places and when we arrived at KR Circle, the happening place in the center of town, he gave us lots of warnings about scams and how to be careful. We liked Pappu. He asked if he could drive us around all day for today, total cost Rs500. Without even trying to bargain him down from £6 (for all day!) I agreed.

Our second stop today was at the huge Lalita Mahal Palace and after some lunch I went outside to photograph the building whilst Jane and Amy went to view the Viceroy’s suite. They looked out of the window and saw Pappu driving around and around the large empty driveway and parking area in front of the hotel.

Except it wasn’t Pappu, it was me, he was teaching me to drive his tuk-tuk. I had purposefully engineered the situation, asking him how difficult it was to drive, “I used to have a motorbike, the throttle and brake are the same”, “ah does the left grip control the gears and the lever is for the clutch?”. Pappu said “come on, sit here, I’ll show you”.


That’s me in front of our own small hotel, the Green Hotel, which is rather lovely.

This was seriously good fun, I loved it.

And here’s the video:

Madurai and the Meenakshi Temple

After three lovely days near Periyar we headed off in a taxi to the 2500 year old city of Madurai, dropping down very quickly from the cool 1200m-above-sea-level zone to the tropical plains of Tamil Nadu. Three hours later and we arrived in Madurai, mad, busy, noisy Madurai. It’s not like Madurai is any different from other cities but after spending the last four days in serene countryside the noise was deafening.

Straight off to the railway station to check our rucksacks ahead of our overnight train several hours later and then it’s time for some food at the rated Kumar Mess and shopping at Chennai Silks, which is massive.

After lunch and shopping we head straight for the Meenakshi Temple which was potentially built in the 7th century, making it the oldest temple I’ve visited. It’s 1:30pm, it’s closed until 4pm, or is 2:30pm or is it 3pm. It’s so confusing, even the entrance guards don’t know when it opens. Either way we’ve got time to kill, it’s boiling hot, it looks like it’s going to rain and we’ve got nothing particular to do. Ok then, time for more shopping I’m informed.

Foreigners only have to pay Rs50 (65 pence) to visit the inner temple, the outer courtyard is free, but we are quite rightly restricted to the non-sacred parts. In the outer courtyard there’s a queue for the inner courtyard, it’s very long but instead of queueing we decide to go for a little walk around it. At the entrance it turns out you can queue for 1 minute and pay the Rs50 to get in, it turns out queueing gets you in for free…after about an hour.

What we can see of the temple complex is stunning, its painted ceilings, its ghats, the carved pillars, all of it. With only so much to see we didn’t spend long here and we left feeling happy to have visited such an historic pla

Afterwards we headed to the Hotel Supreme’s rooftop restaurant where it duly pissed it down, leaving us to eat at a table just under shelter, watching the rain and lightning over the Meenakshi Temple a few yards away. We had a great meal and Jane’s Kashmiri Naan, with its layers of fruit, nuts and raisins went down very well.

Here’s a little video of the template:

Periyar and its “Tiger” “Reserve”


We loved the area of Kumily/Periyar/Thekkady* so much we altered our travel/hotel plans and managed to stay an extra night at the lovely Periyar Inn.
*Whilst researching it seemed strange that the three place names seem to be interchangeable but being on the ground it seems that Kumily is the town north of Thekkady, which seems to be the area which hosts Periyar and its lake and tiger reserve. Even more odd is that we stayed at the Periyar Inn which is neither in Periyar nor Thekkady.

The whole area sits at 1200m above sea level and delaying our travel to Madurai meant we could keep cool for a few more hours. When we did eventually get to Madurai yesterday with its blistering heat we realised what a great change of plans that was.

Anyway, back to Periyar.

Periyar Tiger Reserve is formed around a large lake, surrounded by forest and a few hills, it’s a beautiful area. The lake itself is a very irregular shape, with lots of inlets going off in many directions and definitely adding to the beauty of the reserve.
Away from the lake there was about 7 vertical metres before the tree line starts, and some years during August the bottoms of the trees are submerged. Clearly the monsoon hasn’t been so favourable this year.

A double-decker boat trip

The 90 minute boat trip on the lake is done by multiple double decker sightseeing boats which have noisy diesel motors. We’d been warned that the locals talk so much that they scare away the animals but I was surprised how quiet they were, in comparison to the engines that is.
NOTE: booking tickets for this is very confusing, so if you’re thinking of going please the the bit at the bottom of this article.

Birds, dogs and turtles

As the boats motored away we saw quite a few birds perched on the tops of the dead trees half sunken in the lake with its monsoon raised levels. The less-interesting cormorants gave way to a Common Kingfisher, then some different herons. A few turtles were spotted surprisingly at the top of the dead trees.
Two wild dogs appeared on our left, ran along the shore past the deer they had killed and stripped bare the day before, then jumped in the lake and started swimming. It looked like they were heading for the boat just in front of us but were very fast swimmers and before we knew it they swam in front of the boat and reached the far shore.
Sadly, that’s about as exiting as it got.
We didn’t really get to se much wildlife in this “reserve”, in fact I was shocked how little we saw. The contract is stark when compared to Ranthambhore where you hope-but-not-expect to see tigers but come away realising that animals and birds were everywhere.

Tigers?

Apparently the park has tigers: when you ask how many you’re told it’s difficult to count them exactly, then you’re told four tigers exist; when you ask when the rangers last saw one they quickly change the subject. I kind of knew this already as during a google images search of ‘Periyar Tiger’ you don’t get much back. TripAdvisor is the same.
So, Tiger Reserve? Hmmm.

Reserve?

I think I only spotted 6 species of birds, two dogs, 3 turtles and a water snake, just.
Nothing else.
There’s meant to be elephants too but we weren’t lucky enough to see any of those.
I’d really expect more from a reserve. Sariska and Ranthambhore showed us some animal or bird every minute, be it deer, crocodiles, boar monkeys, birds, mongooses and of course a tiger.

Would I go again?

Well, yes, I would.
In its defence we went on a busy boat trip with noisy diesel engines and crying children. The boats left at 9:30am.
All of the above is not conducive to animal spotting.
Yes, I’d go again but I would definitely make sure I did the 7:45am trip.
Alternatively though I’d do the bamboo raft trip, where you’re punted along on long bamboo rafts which have a couple/few rows of chairs. These trips go at 7:30am and 9:30 and last for a few hours, and they’re clearly done in an area away from the boat trips. With a silent 7:30am trip you’re much more likely to see some wildlife.
Or maybe I’d splash out and spend one night at the KTDC Lake Palace, right in the center of the reserve. It has disadvantages in you not being able to go anyway after 6pm – when the park shuts – but its advantage is that the animals can be seen at sunrise and sunset and just by walking outside your hotel.

Booking tickets for the Periyar Tiger Reserve Boat Trip

NOTE: this is not exactly we did, we cocked it up and didn’t buy a boat ticket at first. There may also be other methods, like using agents.
First, go to the booking office on the south-west edge of Kumily town.
Queue up – very likely unless you go really early. We had failed to get tickets the night before we actually went.
Buy your tickets (Rs550 for both, £6.50). You’ll get two tickets for your money.
One ticket is for the right to enter the reserve.
One ticket is for your return bus journey.
Join the queue for the bus journey to the reserve, get the bus and get dropped in the reserve.
Join the queue to purchase your boat trip tickets, Rs225 (£2.50) each for foreigners.
Find the boat trip holding area with its seats and as soon as you see people start queueing at the gate (for the boat trip), join them.
All the time you’re in this holding area make sure you are aware of the pickpocketing monkeys.
Finally, show your tickets to the officer and walk to the boats.

Our problem was that we were told that our Rs550 tickets included the entrance, the bus and the boat. So we just queued up for the boats straight away, waiting 45 minutes with the jostling locals. Then the guard told us our tickets weren’t valid and we had to rush to persuade an admin clerk to let us buy tickets without queueing, which he did after patronising me quite a bit suggesting that I didn’t want to queue as I didn’t think I was equal to the locals. *grrrrr* The reason of course was that I was told I didn’t need to.

Video: a day out at Elephant Junction sanctuary, near Periyar Tiger Reserve

Today we spent a couple of hours at Elephant Junction santuary, a wonderful place where the elephants seemed much loved and happy, and the employees were really happy and courteous too.
See Jane and Amy’s blog article for all the details.

Here’s the video:

Elephantastic – by Jane and Amy

We arrived at Elephant Junction excited for our 2 hour elephant experiance in Periyar. We were a bit apprehensive of the treatment of the elephants but were really pleased to see a friendly, safe and litter-free environment where both the staff and animals were extremely happy. After mounting our elephant, Ramba (who was 35 years old and 4 and half tonnes), Kev climbed on board his elephant who was ten years younger than ours.

Jane sat comfortably behind Amy who was thrilled to be just behind Ramba’s ears and we felt positively royal swaying slowly above the ground. All five of the elephants were rescued females from circuses or working in the forest – which is probably why Ramba had a hole in her ear 🙁 .

The skilled mahout steered Ramba through the forest, yet she seemed to know exactly where she was going anyway. Kev’s elephant needed a little more encouragement than our own as it continued to stop randomly along the journey. All too soon our hour ride was over.

Next we were shown Meera, formally a forest working elephant, and her mahoot who gave instructions to her using just his feet behind her ears so she moved the huge logs of timber. Jane jumped at the chance when she was offered pumpkin to feed Meera as a reward, and was shocked at the softness of the elephant’s tongue.

We were then ushered to the bathing area where Lakshmi, the teenage elephant, was lying on her side loving the cool water. Her mahout was throwing buckets of water over her stiff hairy body. We were promptly given scrubbing brushes and told to scrub hard as an elephant’s skin is 2cm thick. So we got stuck in, apart from Kev who was cameraman extraordinaire (or was it just an excuse not to get wet me thinks!). I can honestly say it was a privilege to be given this opportunity to get so close to one of the most beautiful, majestic creatures on this Earth.

The final part of our experience we shall never forget. In turn, Jane then Amy clambered onto Lakshmi’s back, once she had lowered her body into the pool. She proceeded to suck up clean water with her trunk and give us a shower, several times.

Pure magic!
One of the best days in India so far.

 

 

 
NOTE: For the animal welfare concerned people: this was in an elephant santuary and rescue centre, where elephants are cared for very well. In fact, they’d all be dead if the sanctuary had not rescued them as not many are willing to take on the £50 a day feeding/caring cost of elephant who is not allowed to work. All walks are conducted in the forest, the elephants are fed and bathed well, and the mahouts treat them very well indeed