Temples, Trains, and TukTuks - Hampi + Mysore + Pondicherry, India

HAMPI

Hampi, once the capital of Southern India, is also known as the City of Ruins. Dating back as early as 100AD, this is an extremely sacred place in India. In search of some epic temples, we headed to Hampi through a vast range of transportation: two buses, one train, and two tuktuk (auto-rickshaw) rides. Not to mention that the train ride involved me riding in the overhead luggage rack for 3 hours while Mikaela was crammed on a bench seat with 4 other people and a baby. However, having only paid 2 dollars for the both of us we weren't complaining!!! In the end we found ourselves surrounded by a boulder strewn landscape with massive temple ruins on every horizon. 

Epic landscape!

Monolithic carving of Hanuman.

Monolithic carving of Hanuman.

Elephant stables at the Lotus Mahal.

Underground temple, Ganesha temple, and one gigantic granite slab!

Munchkin monkey resembling a gremlin? Possibly the funniest picture ever........

We spent five days in this small little town, walking miles and miles each day exploring some of the most amazing places thus far on the trip. Some of our favorite Hindu temples and sights included the Vittaya Temple (it’s columns being intricately carved unique instruments making various tones for which they were played on like drums), the Hanuman temple (the monkey god’s rumored birthplace atop one of the highest hills, ironically riddled with hundreds of monkeys) and the gorgeous river which divided the city into two sides.

Vittaya Temple. The small columns on the bottom right are the tuned instruments played as drums by 30+ people simultaneously for the king & queen.

Mountain top temple!

On the hill where the Hanuman Temple resides. The top right is the view from the bottom.

The number of temples that were built in such a small area was really a sight to behold, some of which we wound up staring awestruck, unable to believe its existence and the amount of work put into their creation. With a nearly endless supply of granite, the kings took advantage of what the land had to offer and were lucky to have such talented sculptors at their disposal. The history of this place has had crazy twists and turns from total annihilation in the late 1400’s to being colonized and rebuilt by the British, some 500 years later.

The Lotus Mahal.

Clan of mountain monkeys!

On the left, Mikaela standing above what was once the Jewel bazaar. The bottom right is the empty pool in which the queen of Hampi used to bathe.

The river dividing the city.

MYSORE

Once we had our fill of Hampi, we couldn't help but feel the urge to press onwards to Mysore, to finally get into a big city for a change! The train ride was pretty un-eventful this time around having booked sleeper class tickets with beds after finding out it was a 10 hour ride and thinking of the luggage rack incident! We arrived at 8 am and finding a hotel was priority number one. After taking a nice long nap we decided to hit the town and explore the sights of the new intimidating city. It didn't take us long to meet new local friends whom were so eager to strike up a conversation and show us around town for no cost, just wanting to have a conversation in English. Later we found out that the locals have deals made with certain shops, receiving up to 50 percent commission for any items sold! 

Mysore Zoo! 

Mysore Palace. The king of Mysore once resided here.

We eventually met a local yoga student named Ali, whom seemed to stand out from the rest. We decided to tour around town for a day with him and his brother-in-law for next to nothing. This made us a little apprehensive at first due to the low price, but we didn't want to miss out on a good time either. It ended up being a pretty amazing day which involved us visiting museums, traveling to some local mountain top temples, going into some pretty shady areas of town to see local beedie (natural cigarettes made from a eucalyptus leaf and tobacco) and handicraft manufacturing, and me driving the tuk-tuk! After the tour was over we said our goodbyes expecting some kind of catch, but in the end nothing else was said. What an amazing tour for such a cheap price! The next couple days passed in a blur and were spent wandering the endless streets of the city, shopping, trying new cuisines, and spending nearly a full day at the surprisingly impressive Mysore Zoo. With our time in India coming to a close, we wanted to see as much as possible before leaving for good, so yet again we packed our bags and set off on the open road.

Mysore market, Beedie factory, huge catholic cathedral.

PONDICHERRY

Pondicherry (Pondi) was a short and sweet stop for us which lasted 4 days. We stayed in the city’s well known French quarter right against the ocean. Like Mysore it was filled with small hand craft textile shops, which we took full advantage of and ended up filling our backpacks over the brim! But a quick trip to the post office cured our overflowing backpack problem, which was a huge relief. Twenty minutes north of Pondi was a really unique International city called Auroville, known for its progress in sustainable living. Without going into the 40 year history of Auroville, I will say that is was truly a spectacular feat what has been accomplished in the last forty years. What was once an empty desolate desert region, now looks like a well deserved tropical paradise after planting 1.5 million trees. The Matramandir (a huge spherical structure) is the city center bringing in most of the tourism to its visitor center. For our last day in India we took a SPECTACULAR cooking class, where we went to the local market and hand picked all the fruits and vegetables for the meal we were preparing. Two hours later we were feasting on rice, eggplant curry, potato curry and a lentil soup dish called dhal, with a cashew and raisin dessert sweet. 

The Matramandir Structure, heart of Auroville. Only a select few may enter and achieve ultimate concentration.

Pondi market & cooking class!

Pondi market & cooking class!

All in all it is impossible to put into words how much we enjoyed ourselves in India and were sad to leave such a misunderstood area on earth. It's not as intimidating as we once thought and 99% of the people ended up being more friendly than back home! That being said we also wish we would've had more time to explore the north because it seemed like everyone had great things to say about it. Maybe next time! With a short 2 hour plane ride, we say goodbye to India and hello to Sri Lanka!

Colorful India! - Kerala and Goa

The first thing that stood out to me in our first few days in India were the colors. The clothes, the food, the paint on the buildings are all so full of life. Our experience arriving in India couldn’t have been better! We were both so nervous coming to this wild country not knowing quite what to expect. Thieves, hagglers, scammers, slums, and poverty are the words I hear the most when many talk about India. However, the first days we spent in the small town of Fort Kochi, Kerala were wonderful— filled with smiles, hand shakes, beeping cars, delicious food, and warm welcomes. 

Sunset on our first day in Fort Kochi! 

We stayed in a small home-stay in Fort Kochi called Green Woods Bethlehem and it has been our favorite hotel/guesthouse experience so far. It bears mentioning because the family running this small establishment were so incredibly nice and welcoming, giving us food to try right from their dinner table, helping us with all our questions about what to do and where to go in the cute little town, and overall making us feel like family. What incredible people! Interestingly, throughout history Fort Kochi was colonized by the Dutch, Portuguese, and British so it has many Catholic Cathedrals and religions vary from Christianity, Judaism, Hindu, Muslim, Jain and Buddhist. We spent our days walking the streets, looking at the cathedrals and walking down the boardwalk next to the water watching fishermen dip huge 20’ x 20’ nets into the water in hopes of a large catch. 

The massive Chinese Fishing Nets along the Fort Kochi boardwalk. 

One of the many cathedrals in the area. 

After being in Indonesia where there are so many tourists, India has felt a bit more secluded— we provoke a huge amount of staring and many people want to meet you, talk to you, and take pictures with you. However, everyone is very nice, more curious then anything and although we still haven’t gotten used to the staring, it feels better to be an object of fascination than an object of dislike. 

Sad to leave Green Woods Bethlehem, we took an hour long bumpy bus ride down to Alleppey in order to find a houseboat to travel through the backwaters of Kerala. We rented a 48 ft long one bedroom houseboat for a night with a captain and a young guide. When we saw the boat we were amazed! We felt like a king and queen moseying through large canals looking over small farming villages and rice paddies. 

Relaxing on the houseboat!

Rice paddy fields around the canals. 

On bottom left: Our royal houseboat. 

After a few hours lazying around on the deck reading, looking at the canoes passing by full of cut grass and eating a huge Keralan lunch, we parked the houseboat and boarded a canoe with a local villager who took us around the small canals to see inside village life. The women beat their colorful laundry against stone rocks in the canals, cleaned fish for dinner, and washed dishes while the men bathed themselves in the water and caught fish by throw net. The sun was casting rays of light through the shaded canals while we observed goats eating, ducks swimming, and fish jumping out of the water. We learned that every year during monsoon season the villagers’ small concrete or grass huts flood with up to 2-3’ of water and many must either live with their flooded houses or come into the larger towns to stay until the monsoon dies down. The tour was amazing but almost too intimate in that we felt like intruders oogling like children at their every day life. Even so, this was one of my absolute favorite experiences so far on our trip!!

Our local village canoe guide.

Canoe Selfie! 

Fishing at night on the houseboat. Caught a whopper!!!!!!

From Alleppey we took an 14 hour overnight train to Madgaon, Goa to spend some time in Agonda for Mikey’s 27th Birthday! We stayed in a very nice beach bungalow right on the beach with an outdoor bathroom attached to our hut (showering in the outdoors is a wondrous experience)! Mikey was able to rent the only surfboard in the area and surf for 2 days with only dolphins for company! We had an amazing dinner at a small European restaurant for his b-day celebration and it was nice to have a great relaxing time before starting our work-away.

Left: Delicious Keralan Food. Right: Mikey asleep on the freezing 14 hour train ride. 

Where's Mikey?... Mikey's Birthday celebrating his new ukulele!

Mikaela getting some henna

Beautiful Sunsets. 

Volunteering at Kaama Kethna (Yoga retreat/ecological village) was an amazing experience to say the least. Not being what we thought originally, it turned out that we were now involved in quite the project. The area was filled with a friendly group of locals who worked along side us and also cooked for us, which was incredibly delicious! The crew we were working with consisted of 3 Germans and 1 Portuguese (Tiago, Christin, Robin and Andy) and another volunteer named Pia from London. While Pia and I were tasked with 5 hour work days painting gigantic water tanks and racks, Mikey worked on the construction of a massive 9 meter x 9 meter yoga pyramid. 

Left: Mikey working away! Top Right: Mikey and Tiago. Bottom Right: Our Jungalow!

Mikey working on the Pyramid (the small scale model blueprint is located in the center). 

Our friend Pia playing with the beach pups! 

Our accommodation ended up being a bamboo hut in the middle of the jungle and it was quite interesting getting used to no electricity, running water or toilets. But the bucket showers in the nearby stream were more than enough to get us through. The local critters were another thing that seemed to never get old. Night time strolls included walking into endless spider webs which most definitely weren't there during the day and would simply vanish again by morning. These were not your average spider webs; some of the webs spanned 25ft gaps with dinner plate sized spiders suspended on 6ft diameter webs. After the work day, the group would meet up for an Indian style dinner and enjoy long conversations sharing stories and learning about Indian culture. We also rented a moped for the week which was a godsend because after each work day we would head to Agonda beach to swim and watch the beautiful sunsets. 

Some of the large critters living with us!

Three up on the moped! To the right: Our Jungalow- no doors and totally open windows!

After saying goodbye to the amazing group of people at Kaama Kethna, we decided to head to another beach town called Gokarna for a few days, before heading to the sacred temple city of Hampi.

Mikey talking to some very inquisitive children at the Train Station before heading to Gokarna.