A Travellerspoint blog

An Unplanned Extension, Homecoming and Highlights

all seasons in one day

We obviously tempted fate by posting our last blog before we left India and things certainly didn’t go smoothly for us when we got to the airport to say the least. We had checked in and were going through immigration, boarding passes in hand, when the guy who should have stamped our passports told us that our visas had expired and sent us to an office where there was more bad news in store for us.

We were told that we had overstayed by 11 days (this wasn’t really our fault as the Indian Embassy in Indonesia had issued us the wrong visas - we should have been given 6 months and were only there for 6 weeks) and that we needed to go to an office in the centre of Mumbai to sort it out. If this wasn’t bad enough we were then told that the office would be closed until Monday due to public holidays and that we definitely couldn’t leave until then. It was Thursday when it happened.

After our bags had been taken off the plane and returned to us we were free to leave the airport. Slightly bizarre as we were in the country illegally at that point but definitely preferable to being detained by the Indian authorities. We initially decided to go back to Goa until the Sunday night and bought bus tickets but later decided against that plan so we got a partial refund, bought a bottle of rum, and got a hotel room in Mumbai.

On the Friday we went down to the office on the off chance and were pleased to find out that it was open on Saturday so we went back then and after filling in a number of forms, being sent between about seven different people many times and paying a fine we were cleared to leave on the Sunday.

This whole episode, especially as it involved dealing with Indian bureaucracy, was a bit of a nightmare but Mumbai isn’t actually the worst place to be stuck as it is quite a good city, or has nice parts to it at least. On the Saturday we met up with a guy called Huzi (a friend of one of Ellie’s friends) at the Hard Rock Café where he works to have lunch.


That night he took us to an outdoor rooftop bar in Colaba which was really cool and it revealed a slick and stylish side of Mumbai. Each table was set in it’s own gazebo and the waiters would supply shisha pipes, drinks (non-alcoholic) and amazing food to all the tables with slick house music playing in the background. There were also awesome views of the city from the roof.


We had a really good night and then got up early the next day to go to the airport again and this time left the country without any hitches.


As a result of being stuck in India we unfortunately missed a party that Ellie's friends had arranged for us in Cheltenham but were still welcomed home by Ellie's parents with some nice food and wine and went out for lunch with friends on the bank holiday Monday.


We got the train up to Edinburgh on the Tuesday as planned and were welcomed back by Mike's family when we arrived.


On the Saturday we had a night out in Edinburgh with some our mates.



We thought it would be a good idea to list our top 10 activities to remember the trip as a whole. It was hard to decide and we had to miss out things like our trip to the equator line in Equador and cycling down death road in Bolivia but here are our top 10 (in chronogical order)...

Scuba Diving in Utila, Honduras - We had a really enjoyable week where we completed our advanced PADI courses and had some good nights out on the island with the people we were sharing a house with.


San Blas Islands, Panama - Picture postcard islands which were incredible to explore.


Tayrona National Park, Colombia - Unspoilt Caribbean paradise where we camped in hammocks for a couple of nights with Jas and Clint


Machu Picchu, Peru - Cycling and trekking up to the famous ruins was all it is cracked up to be


Salt Flats, Bolivia - Amazing landscape and a good 3 day tour. This was almost the only time we were cold on the trip and provided us with a very short winter!


Christmas at Milhouse Hostel, Argentina - This worked out really well as lots of people had arranged to meet up and spend Christmas together. The xmas dinner we all cooked for 70 people wasn't bad either!


Cycling around Mendoza wineries, Argentina - A really enjoyable day buzzing between the wineries on bikes and sampling the produce en route.


Australian Open Men's Semi Final (Nadal v Verdasco) - We were unbelievably lucky to be given free tickets to this five set classic as we were preparing to watch it on the big screen outside.


Gili Trawangan, Indonesia - A relaxed, chilled out island with friendly locals where we had a really good week with a decent bunch of people.


Backwaters Trip, Kerala, India - Crusing around the backwaters on a houseboat with just the two of us, the captain and a personal cook whilst drinking lots of rum is something we'll always remember.



Lobster at Lobsterfest, Caye Caulker, Belize - This weekend was all about the lobster which is never a bad thing!


Mike's Birthday Cake, San Jose, Costa Rica - Probably the best chocolate cake ever made...


Continental Style Lunches, Colonia, Uruguay - Lazy afternoons spent eating nice meat, cheese and salads which often extended into evenings of drinking.


Steaks in Argentina and Chile - This speaks for itself really!


BBQ's in New Zealand and Australia - There's no excuse for not getting involved in the national pastime.


Dumplings in Melbourne, Australia - Alex and Nicole took us to their favourite Chinese restaurant and we had no idea that dumplings could be this good.


Food Halls, Singapore - Very cheap and lots of exotic food to choose from


Noodle Soups from street stalls, Indonesia and Thailand - Really tasty and healthy noodle soup. Always a winner.


Veg Curries, India - Vegetarian curries in India are not to be missed.


Seafood, Goa, India - Fresh seafood served on the beach at ridiculously low prices can't be beat


As this is our final blog we thought we'd take the opportunity to thank all of you who read it and to say that we've really enjoyed putting it together and had a fantastic trip.


Mike and Ellie

Posted by elliemike 06:12 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Hampi and Goa

18th - 30th April

sunny 36 °C
View Ellie and Mike's Round the World Trip on elliemike's travel map.

We arrived in Hospet quite early in the morning after the night train from Bangalore. We got a rickshaw to nearby Hampi where we stayed for two nights. Hampi is a village in central south India and is famous for the temples, ancient ruins and weird and wonderful rock formations that surround it.


On our first day we hired bikes and cycled around the main sites which include Vittala Temple, the Zenana Enclosure and the Elephant Stables (which no longer house elephants unfortunately but are impressive in their own right). We really enjoyed this as the ruins and temples contained some intricate stone carvings, there were some interesting buildings in the Zenana enclosure and all sorts of intriguing landscape and smaller ruins along the way.


The following day we walked up Hemakuta hill so that we could watch the sunrise. The sunrise itself was worth getting up for but it was also nice to see Hampi at a cooler time of day with hardly any people about.


Later that day we explored more of the area on foot which was hard going as the sun is ridiculously strong in the middle of the day at this time of year. In fact it has been said that 'only the most foolhardy or ill-informed tourists dare venture to India from April to September'. Nevertheless, we were there, trudging along, and still appreciating the scenery.


Probably the most interesting part of the day was the coracle ride to Anegundi, a small village close to Hampi. Officially the bridge to Anegundi is 'under construction', however in reality there is no work going on and the site looks as if its been hit by a bomb leaving coracles to fulfil the function of the bridge and take people across the river. Coracles are small, mostly flat, oval rafts made out of some kind of reed with a plastic sheet lining the inside. They don't look like the most sturdy of vessels so we weren't filled with confidence when the one we were about to get in started to fill up with people and motorbikes. Everything and everyone was delivered safely to the other side though.


Whilst we were in Hampi Ellie's friend Will and his mates Bill and Malcolm were also there so we would bump into them at various points in the day and go for dinner with them in the evenings.


When we left Hampi we got a rickshaw back to Hospet at 5.30am and got on our train to Goa. The train, or at least our carriage, was extremely busy and we found six guys on our seats (which were essentially an upper and lower bunk). The guys were quite polite and all got off our seats when we showed them our tickets but we decided to only use the lower bunk and let some of them pile back onto the top bunk. There was some amazing scenery along the way so it wasn't the worst of train journeys although towards the end when we were late and the carriage was roasting we were keen to get off.


The train arrived in Margao and from there we got a rickshaw down to Palolem, a well known place in South Goa. We found ourselves a beach hut and almost immediately went onto the beach to catch the last of the sun and cool down in the sea.


A lot of people complain that Palolem is over developed, which is probably true, but the number of beachside bars and restaurants certainly make for an easy and agreeable stay. We had some really good meals, particularly at Magic Italy. Over the weekend we went to a bar called Cafe del Mar in the evenings where there was a good atmosphere, decent tunes and the FA Cup Semi Finals playing silently on a plasma screen.


One thing that didn't go as planned in Palolem was Mike's bodysurfing. He went over the top of a wave as it was breaking and was thrown into the seabed where he hit his head and cut his face. He is now OK in case you are concerned!


We left Palolem after three nights which was earlier than we would've liked but we wanted to get to Anjuna for the weekly flea market which takes place on Wednesdays. It is actually a sizeable distance between Palolem and Anjuna so we got a train most of the way with short rickshaw rides at either end. We expected the train to be a bit of a nightmare so were shocked when we were confronted with something we were sure didn't exist in India: an empty carriage! The only people in the whole carriage were a couple of kids who were wandering around the train. This was by far the most pleasant and easy train ride for us in India especially as it lasted for less than two hours and there were really good views.


We didn't do much when we arrived in Anjuna and had an early night so we could be at the market early the next morning. The flea market is just behind the beach and is a vast maze of stalls selling everything from incense sticks to carpets, but mostly T-Shirts. We bought a large bag when we arrived and spent the rest of the day filling it up. There were some really good bargains to be had as it is so late in the season. In fact, many traders were saying that it was the last market of the season so they were giving much better prices than usual but you never know whether or not to believe anything they say.


After the market we were knackered and in definite need of a drink. Unfortunately it was at this time that we discovered about the state wide alcohol ban due to elections so we had to settle for chocolate milkshakes on the beach instead. It's a tough life!


We left Anjuna the next morning in a taxi that took us to Arambol. Arambol is a chilled out beach in North Goa and we stayed there for five nights. Again we got a beach hut and spent our time relaxing on the beach, in hammocks at the huts and in the sea (a little more cautiously than usual).


In the evenings we would watch the sunset, drink beer and cocktails and take advantage of the excellent and cheap seafood that was available.


We left Arambol and Goa on a night train to Mumbai. It was our last journey on the Indian railways and we felt almost nostalgic as we found people in our seats and heard the other passengers spitting out the window. One thing that we will genuinely miss though is the call of 'cccchhhhaaaiiiii' from the chai wallahs as they make their way through the train selling their hot, sweet tea that wakes everyone up. It was particularly needed on that journey as we arrived at 5.50am.

Once in Mumbai we got a taxi to our hotel, rested for a bit and then spent the rest of the day shopping and wandering around. In the evening we went out for a good curry, had another curry for breakfast (as you do) then got a taxi to the airport to go home.


One more blog to come....

Posted by elliemike 20:56 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Kerala and Bangalore

Varkala, Backwaters, Fort Cochin, Bangalore

sunny 33 °C
View Ellie and Mike's Round the World Trip on elliemike's travel map.

The 18 hour journey from Pondicherry to Trivandrum in Kerala wasn't actually that bad. Especially as we were in the slightly abnormal position of considering ourselves lucky to be on the bus at all. A local bus and a rickshaw ride later and we found ourselves in Varkala a few hours earlier than we would have been had we got the train as planned.

Varkala, or the part we were staying in anyway, is a beach resort with all the accommodation, restaurants and shops on a single road that runs along the top of large cliffs, with the beach and the ocean down at the foot of the cliffs. It is quite a touristy place but this suited us fine as we were happy to continue our break from the more hectic parts of India.


One of Mike's friends from Edinburgh, Paul, was there with his mate Bryan so it was good to catch up with them. We stayed for five nights and predictably spent a lot of time on the beach and in the sea amongst the waves. We also had some good meals at the restaurants and went out drinking at a few of the bars.


It was really nice to have a rest from all the traveling we'd done up to that point but inevitably this had to come to an end. When we left we got up at 6am and got a rickshaw to Varkala train station where we caught a train to Alleppey and sat in air conditioned comfort for the short two hour journey.

When we arrived we got a rickshaw down to the jetty and got ourselves a houseboat for an overnight trip. The houseboats are in the style of rice barges and slowly meander through the Keralan backwaters. The one we got had a small upstairs section with a sheltered sitting area and an open sun deck. We spent the majority of the day up there drinking rum and beer, listening to music and appreciating the scenery. Occasionally we would go down stairs and eat the tasty Indian food that the chef prepared.


We woke up the following morning expecting to have a few hours to slowly cruise through more of the backwaters. However, the whole thing ended quite abruptly when they gave us our breakfast, set sail, and it transpired that we had spent the night moored round the corner from the jetty! We were off the boat shortly before 9am and not long after that were on a bus to Ernakulam.


When we arrived in Ernakulam we were unsure whether we should go straight to Bangalore or spend some time in nearby Fort Cochin. We couldn't decide so we tossed a coin and it determined that we should go to Fort Cochin. We ended up staying for two days and were happy that it turned out this way.

On our first full day we got a vehicle ferry the short distance to Vypeen Island and then a local bus to Cherai Beach. Despite not being the most attractive of beaches it was worth going to and was interesting for us to see as it is popular with Indian holidaymakers who use beaches in a very different way to westerners. There is no swimwear or sunbathing and the women, dressed in full saris, timidly go up to the edge of the water to briefly stand in the shallowest point of the ocean.


The next day we stayed in Fort Cochin and looked around the sites there which include a few temples, some Catholic churches which were built by the Portuguese and massive Chinese fishing nets which line the northern shore. The whole place has a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere and looks like an English country village at some points and a regular Indian town at others so is enjoyable to walk around.


We left Fort Cochin and got a night bus from Ernakulam to Bangalore. Bangalore is a large fairly uninspiring city but we easily kept ourselves entertained for a day. We went to a shopping mall where we bumped into Ellie's friend Will and his mates who we planned on meeting in Hampi. We had lunch with them and in the afternoon the two of us went to a few bars, one of which is called Nasa and is amusingly designed like the inside of a space ship. After a few pitchers of beer and a curry we went back to our hotel room, chilled out for a bit, then went to the train station to get a night train to Hospet.


Posted by elliemike 00:15 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Tamil Nadu, India

Mamallapuram and Pondicherry

sunny 32 °C
View Ellie and Mike's Round the World Trip on elliemike's travel map.

From Varanasi we had the longest single journey of our trip; 38 hours on a train down to Chennai (Madras) in the south of India. We decided to pay for a better class of ticket due to the length of time we would be spending on board so opted for an air conditioned carriage. Any illusions of luxury we had were shattered when a family came into our six person berth with an unbelievable number of bags and boxes and took up every bit of available space (they had other family members with them at either end to help them carry all the stuff). Their child had a particularly penetrating scream which she wasn't shy about unleashing at any point of day or night, often for long periods of time. The other people we were sharing the berth with were an old couple. The woman was fine but the man, when he wasn't telling us how we should eat, was wheezing, coughing and snoring.

We arrived in Chennai very tired but relieved to be off the train. We didn't want to spend any time in Chennai so got a rickshaw to take us to the bus station so that we could get to Mamallapuram which is two hours away. The driver then offered to take us all the way for a price that wasn't too bad. The choice between going to a chaotic bus terminal then cramming onto a packed local bus in the midday sun or sitting where we were and getting taken straight to our destination in comfort wasn't a hard one to make. We enjoyed the rickshaw ride along the ocean road and were in Mamallapuram in the early afternoon.


Mamallapuram is a fishing village on the coast of Tamil Nadu that faces the Bay of Bengal. It has become popular with travellers in recent years and with its long beach, cheap accomodation, good seafood and laid back pace (by Indian standards anyway) it is easy to see why.


At the southern end of the beach the impressive Shore Temple is set in its own grounds and looks out towards the ocean. The temple is comprised of two spires and is adorned with intricate stone carvings.


On one of the days we were in Mamallapuram we hired bikes and cycled to Shore Temple and some of the other main sites. These included the Five Rathas where there are a number of stone carved temples and life sized stone animals including an elephant and a cow.



We also went to Ganesh Ratha where there are more stone carvings and Krishan's Butter Ball, a massive rock which is precariously balancd on a slope. After that we cycled 4km's out of the village to the Tiger Temple.



The only other activity we did in Mamallapuram was visit the sculpture museum. We also spent quite a lot of time relaxing in our hotel or swimming in its pool or doing the same on the beach and in the sea which had some excellent waves. After three nights we got up early and caught a bus to Pondicherry at 6.45am in order to avoid the heat and the crowds later in the day.


Pondicherry (now called Puducherry) is only a couple of hours down the coast from Mamallapuram so we arrived the same morning we set off (a first for us in India). We got a cycle rickshaw to a hotel, chilled out for a bit, then went to explore the city.

Ponidcherry was a French colony unitl the 1950s and as such is characterzed by French architecture, tree lined boulevards and a seafront promenade. It still has a distinctly Indian feel to it but is a world apart from the hustle and bustle of some of the other places in India that we have visited.


We walked along the promenade and past the large statue of Ghandi, into Bharathi Park, had a quick look at the Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception and down to the Sacred Heart Church which is distinguished by striking Gothic architecture.


The following day we checked out of our hotel and walked to the Botanic Gardens which don't seem to have been tended to much since they were opened in 1826. Maybe that's a bit harsh but they certainly aren't up to the standards of most botanic gardens.


We then went to a few cafes to kill time until our night train to Trivandrum in Kerala that evening which was going alright until we found out that we didn't actually have seats for the train. There is a strange system for booking tickets online in India which often involves being put on a waiting list and not finding out if you have a seat until a few hours before travel. Every other time we have been on a waiting list we had got seats, but not this time. We went down to the bus station to see if we could get a bus and found out there was only one every 24 hours. Fortunately it was leaving in two minutes so we got on board and were glad that we could continue our journey without a delay.

Posted by elliemike 00:07 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Agra and Varanasi, India

24th - 30th March

sunny 30 °C
View Ellie and Mike's Round the World Trip on elliemike's travel map.

From Udaipur we got a night train to Agra which passed without incident. We got a rickshaw to a hotel in the Taj Ganj area, relaxed there for a bit, then went on a tour of some of the sights with the rickshaw driver who took us to the hotel.

The first place he took us to was Akbar’s mausoleum which is a tomb commemorating Akbar who is regarded as the greatest of the Mughal emperors. Despite being a ‘tomb’, the massive buildings, gateways and gardens make it feel and look much more like a palace.


After that we saw Itimah-Ud-Daulah (known as the Baby Taj) from the outside then Chini-ka-Rausa, a riverside tomb which was set in nice gardens and actually resembled a tomb, albeit a very grand one. We also stopped briefly at a couple of mosques. This trip also gave us an opportunity to see more of Agra which was interesting although, like much of India, it is fairly desolate and poverty stricken.


Finally we went to the sandy banks of the Yamuna River for sunset where there are excellent views of the back of the Taj Mahal. It was really enjoyable to sit there, relax and take in a quintessential Indian scene; guys playing cricket in the sand with the Taj in the background.


We got up at 5.30 the following morning to be among the first to see the Taj Mahal that day. We were at the front of the queue with a few others until a tour group turned up, about five minutes before the gates opened, and barged their way to the front with the help of their tour leaders and the security guards. Despite this we still got the benefit of being there before it got ridiculously busy later in the morning.


After leaving the Taj we chilled out for a bit before going to see Agra Fort later in the day. Agra Fort is an immense sandstone structure built by the Mughals and is definitely worth a look.


On our last day in Agra we did the Taj Nature Walk which is basically a stroll through a park with occasional glimpses of the Taj in the background. We had time to kill before our night train to Varanasi so we stayed in the park for a few hours and drank chai at various cafes, including the one on the rooftop of our hotel that has yet more views of the Taj.


We arrived at the train station to find that our train had been delayed by an hour and this set the tone for the rest of the journey. When we got on the train and found our seats we were met by an Indian woman who asked us which seats were ours. We told her that we were 12 and 15 and then she started repeatedly and aggressively shouting ’42 and 44’ in our faces. Eventually we worked out that she wanted us to swap seats with her so we reluctantly walked down the carriage and saw that her seats were occupied. It was turning into a farce, with her shouting at more people in Hindi, so we went back to our proper seats which she wasn’t happy about. She then refused to let us put our bags in the space for luggage as she said that our bags would break the things in her bags so we spent an uncomfortable night with our big bags on our bunk beds. The situation deteriorated at about 2.30am when the lights were turned on and lots of people started playing Indian pop music on some speakers as well as talking and spitting loudly until about 5am.


Our predicament didn’t get any better when we arrived in Varanasi two and a half hours late. We got into a rickshaw and told the driver which hostel we wanted to go to. When we left the station the driver turned round and said that he wouldn’t take us to the hostel we wanted but to ones that were ‘better’ (i.e that he gets commission from). We didn’t like the first one he took us to so once more we asked him to take us to where we wanted to go. He agreed to this then took us to a different place. We’d had enough by this point and were really tired so ended up taking a room there

We relaxed in the hotel for a few hours, had showers, then decided to go for a walk. On our way out the owner of the hotel tried to sell us a tour. We said we’d think about it and left the hotel. He then followed us and said that he’d show us how to get to the ghats at the Ganges River (which are extremely easy to find) and wouldn’t take no for an answer. As he walked with us, and we tried to get rid of him, he was going on about how we shouldn’t trust anyone who might try to sell us silk whilst trying to get us to come to a silk factory with him so that he could sell us silk. It was all very strange and after he eventually left us alone we were glad to have some peace.

The next morning we got up at 5.30 to go on a boat trip on the Ganges River. This turned out to be the first ‘sunrise tour’ out of all the ones we’ve done this trip where we actually saw the sun rise so our efforts to drag ourselves out of bed were vindicated. Varanasi, and the Ganges River in particular, is the holiest place for Hindus in India and is regarded as being where the physical and spiritual worlds meet.


The trip along the river allows you to see the famous ghats. Most of which are bathing ghats but there are also some burning ghats where bodies are cremated. The river is unbelievably polluted with dead dogs and sewage visible so seeing people washing their bodies and clothes there isn’t very pleasant.


Whilst we were in Varanasi we also went on a tour of some Hindu temples and the university.


Other things we did included going to a swimming pool at an upmarket hotel for an afternoon, going on walks along the banks of the river and the narrow side streets and hanging out at Brown Bread, a German bakery with good food and comfy seating.


Posted by elliemike 02:09 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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