This cafe was a very welcome treat and possibly the nicest place we have eaten so far in India. Not only is the cafe itself very trendy with wooden tables set in a partly open air garden surrounded by sculpts, paintings and a full wall covered in hanging plants but the food is really, really good. The menu is small but offers a good selection of healthy, tasty dishes. The Sprout Salad and Omlettes were our personal favourites and all of the drinks were yummy, particularly the lime soda made with fresh lime and ayervedic herbal sweetener – very refreshing!
Getting to Kerala from Hampi was no easy task, two overnight sleeper trains and a full day in Bangalore but our hotel room when we arrived in Allepey was worth it. We stayed at Vendanta Wake Up! a chain of ‘backpacker hostels’ which defy any idea of a hostel that I have seen – air-conditioning, flat screen television and a pitch black room at night for the best sleep we have had in a long time. They served traditional Indian breakfasts which were great to try – Puttu, a steamed coconut and rice cake with banana, Idly, fermented rice balls with dippings and Dosa, crepes filled with curried potatoes and dippings.
Kerala is famed for its backwaters, networks of canals that give visitors a glimpse of what life was like and to some extent still is like for the Keralan people. Along the canals people still use the water to swim, shower, wash clothes and dishes as well as to fish, and there is always activity along the banks. There are also rice paddies behind the houses that use the water from the canals to feed their crop. There are two ways to best see the backwaters, by houseboat or longboat and Allepey is just one starting place – Quilom and Kochi also have a number of backwater tours available. The houseboats have a very distinct style with a dark wood hull and thatched rooves and some are very luxurious with air-conditioning, kitchens, upstairs decks and sunbeds. We chose a tour on a longboat instead as even out of the peak season a night on these houseboats start from 6000 rupees for the most basic, whereas a three hour longboat tour was only 1800 for the two of us. Our boat was covered with chairs and sunbeds and we shared the trip with friends we made at our hotel, a dutch couple Wendy and Pim. The trip was very relaxing and it is more about the experience of lazily putting along the canals rather than sightseeing. Usually there is a pitstop at a local village on the way where you can meet the villagers and experience their way of life however Wendy told us there had been an attack a while back and they were no longer stopping at the village which was a little dissapointing.
Apart from the backwater trip there isn’t much to do in Allepey town, it has been labelled the ‘Venice of the East’ but even though I haven’t been to Venice I don’t think this comparison is accurate. There are a couple of decent restaurants, the Duck Stew at Hotel Cisirs Palace and the Chicken Sizzler at Royal Park Hotel were our favourites and there is a bustling local market that is worth a wander.
Traditionally in the south of India it is considered good luck to cover the ground in front of your house with a mixture of water and cow poo, it also helps to keep the dust away. It is particularly good luck around festival time and as we were in Hampi in the lead up to the Virupaksha Festival there were houses all over the bazaar spreading this smelly yellow poo mixture. Pong!
Hampi was unlike any place I have ever seen before, a mountainous landscape scattered with boulders precariously perched on top of one another that makes you wonder, ‘how did that get there?’ To add to the bewitching nature of the landscape the rocky mountains are flanked by coconut palms and thick green banana plantations. Because banana plantations are everywhere in Hampi, so are bananas and they are delicious, 10 rupees will buy you a bag full. Near the centre of the town are steps leading down to the Tungabhadra River, a popular swimming and bathing spot for locals and a boat crossing for those wanting to reach the laid back guesthouses on the other side, Virupapur Gaddi. Boats ferry back and forth regularly during the day but will only leave with a minimum of 6 people, so be prepared to wait for more people to show up. This river crossing also has coracles, half-circle boats woven from bamboo and paddled across the river, unfortunately these weren’t being used when we were wanting to cross.
Hampi is a major stop on the tourist route and in the small town bazaar there are a number of guesthouses and homestays to choose from, most of which had their own restaurants upstairs and travel agency downstairs. In peak season this tiny town would provide a base for masses of tourists with everything they needed. The Mango Tree restaurant has recently moved from its riverside location to the centre of town and with recommendations in Lonely Planet and a number 1 rating on Trip Advisor it was consistently crowded with tourists. The food here was delicious, particularly the Steamed Momo’s and the Felafels and Hummus.
The best way to get around to see all of the cities ruins is by bicycle or motorbike, we chose motorbike because I could think of nothing worse than cycling through the extreme heat and in the direct sun that is summer in India. Luckily we did because some of the ruins, particularly the main attraction, the Vittalla Temple is quite a long way away even on a motorbike. First stop was Matanga Hill and the Virupaksha Temple which provided the biggest ‘wow’ moment that I have had in a long time. Climbing the uneven rocky stairs and following a dirt track weaving in and out of boulders and temples made of stone led us to an elevated viewpoint of the temple. It looked like an oasis in the middle of a rocky desert and felt as though we had just stumbled across a hidden temple kept away from prying eyes for centuries. The bright green of the banana trees in the centre of the grey and browns of the temples and rocks as well as the fact that we were the only people wandering the ruins made it all the more special. As well as this temple we also stopped at the Queens Bath, underground Shiva Temple and made our way to the Vitalla Temple. This was the main stop for visitors to Hampi as it was home to the stone Chariot whose wheels were once able to turn – poor animal that had to pull that huge piece of stone. The entry fee for this temple was 250 rupees but apart from the Chariot there wasn’t much else to see and we weren’t very impressed.
Towards the end of the day as we were making our way back to Hampi Bazaar our bike broke down. Luckily a couple of friendly rickshaw drivers helped us reconnect a loose wire, kickstart the bike and away we went.
On our last day we found an amazing t-shirt shop which sold the coolest t-shirts that were fair trade and made from 100% organic cotton sourced from Goa. We hadn’t seen shirts like this before and bought a couple for ourselves as well as a whole bunch that we loved and will be available for sale on our soon to be stocked Etsy store ‘AYearMaybe – the Travelling Shop’. Stay tuned for more details!
We stumbled across a man selling Henna in the main street of Goa for 100 rupees ($2 AUD). As we had some done on the streets of Kolkata we thought ‘how hard could this be?’ Turns out its pretty difficult, but a lot of fun. Jess seemed to find a hidden talent for it though and ended up doing most of the artwork which turned out really well. Henna is made from bark of the Henna Tree and once applied is left to dry on the skin for around 20 minutes before hardening and it can be flaked off.
What do you think of our designs?