Friday, 30 January 2009

And I'm back

Back from a 10 day trip with FP to Bangalore (now Bengaluru of course), Mangalore and Cochin (now Kochi). This was a reunion of sorts, with FP and I meeting old Muscat friends KD and EN during our 3 days each in Bangalore and Mangalore respectively, along with their families, before finally travelling to Cochin for 4 days.


Left home at 5.00 A.M on Saturday the 17th of January after a quick breakfast. Took a rick to the airport where I met up with FP for the 7.30 A.M SpiceJet flight to Bangalore. This was only the second time I was meeting FP since he arrived from Toronto in Nov. The first time was in early Jan. And our only previous visit since he left Muscat in 1996 was in 2005. He seemed quite impressed with the departure lounge of the Mumbai domestic terminal.

Didn't mind there being no breakfast on the flight. Landed at the swanky new Bangalore airport and made our way to the BMTC bus stand.

It was nice and cool outside - 16 degrees the pilot had said. KD had given us good instructions on how to reach his place - details of the Volvo bus service from the airport with routes, numbers, timings and fares; and a map of how to get to his house from the bus station, which didn't completely work. Everything went like clockwork until we got off the bus and couldn't figure out where we were. We ended up asking around, making a call, and taking a rick to a landmark nearby from where we walked it out.

KD has a lovely spacious home in a quiet part of Bangalore, which we reached at around 11.00 A.M. We were greeted at home by his mom, who fed us a second breakfast, and later on by his dad returning from work, and then his sis back home from college, whom we all had lunch with (delicious pork), and finally KD himself in the evening, back home from work, after we had taken a nap. In the whole process, FP had to tell his whole Canada experience story around 3 times.

We went out in the evening. KD's dad was kind enough to drive us around in his van and show us Bangalore by night. It was a bit chilly and KD lent me a jacket before we left, saying my sweater made me look sick. We drove about for a while before going to Ulsoor lake. Really beautiful.

Also saw a few weird houses around Ulsoor lake, constructed in such a way as to accommodate trees growing in and out of them. I would never have seen them if KD hadn't pointed them out to me.

Went back to KD's place and had a great dinner - tandoori butter chicken - before turning in for the night with a lot of late night joke cracking.

Day two in Bangalore started with us all going for Mass in the morning, it being Sunday, the 18th of January. We then had breakfast at a good south Indian fast food joint nearby. They make the best masala dosas I've had in a while, and excellent large mehdu wadas as well.

We then went back to KD's home for a quick break before going for a long drive with him and his family. The first place we visited was KD's dad's work location and the interesting tree in its compound.

We then saw Mallya Hospital and Complex, Vijay Mallya's and Rahul Dravid's houses, Trinity Circle, M.G Road, Brigade Road, and St. Mark's Road.

Then on to Cubbon Park, created in 1884 by a British engineer, which seemed really peaceful and well planned. We had a look at the large red Seshadri Iyer Memorial Hall situated in it and its surrounding gardens.

Disaster then struck as the van wouldn't move. Apparently, it had a weak battery and we had to give it a push to make it move, which it finally did. We then saw the other buildings nearby - the legislative house of Karnatika, Vidhana Soudha, and Vikasa Soudha next door.

We drove on to Lal Bagh, Bangalore's large central park, where we spent a good amount of time taking in the interesting botanical sights. It was a photographer's paradise. We also visited the flower exhibition in the garden, which only runs once a year on the Republic Day week.

Next we drove to St. Mary's Basilica, the oldest church in Bangalore and a truly spectacular sight. This has got to be the most beautiful church exterior I've ever seen.

Pushed the van to get it going again and then went to KD's home to have a late lunch at around 4.00 P.M. The evening was spent in a jam session, with KD and FP playing guitars and the rest of us singing along - it was a mini MIPC session.

Day 3 in Bangalore - Monday, the 19th of January. KD showed us around Electronic City. It's size was mind boggling. It's a city within itself.

Unlike Mindspace in Malad, companies here don't own floors, but entire buildings or building complexes, and golf carts to ferry employees between buildings, and gyms, restaurants, lounges, etc. I wondered aloud at the lack of food and drink joints around the place, and KD told me that each building had its own CCD, KFC, Pizza Hut, etc. Security was tight around the area and rightly so.

We then made our way to Forum mall. KD and FP had a small lunch at a fast food joint opposite. Like the one we visited on Sunday, this one also had no seating arrangements, and only tall round tables at which we had to stand around while eating.

Forum mall was huge, larger than any of the malls I've been to in Mumbai, though I haven't been to Nirmal or Oberoi yet so I can't really compare. It was definitely larger than Inorbit and Infiniti though. We had a chicken kadai pizza at Pizza Hut there and visited Baskin Robbins later, where I tried the Chocolate Ribbons flavour. Not as good as my favourite flavours - World Class Chocolate, Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Fudge and Bavarian Chocolate.

Rested in the evening when we got back, and looked through old Muscat photos. Surfed the net for a while before turning in early for an early morning the next day.


We woke at 4.30 A.M on Tuesday, the 20th of January, and left KD's home at 5.30 A.M, saying our goodbye's. KD's and his dad came with us to the BMTC bus stop, KD's dad driving us there in the now infamous van which thankfully started easily. We ended up taking a cab when the bus didn't arrive and we could wait no longer. The drive was lovely and cold. I noticed I could see my breath when I spoke - a novelty for me.

Bangalore airport I noticed again was incredibly modern looking. Our 8.55 A.M Jet Airways flight to Mangalore took off more or less on time and was characterised by a delicious breakfast which we passengers unfortunately couldn't really enjoy and had to wolf down when we were told, a minute after we started eating, that we would be beginning our descent in three minutes.

We reached Mangalore airport at 10.00 A.M, the smallest airport I have ever seen, and met EN outside, who, like KD, looked more or less the same after all these years. He seems to have got quite far in his career, so far that FP and I began riddling him about the amount of power and clout he seemed to hold in Mangalore.

We drove for about a half hour to Mangalore city and EN helped us check into the Prestige hotel that he had booked earlier, where we promptly took a long nap while he returned to work. We woke at around 3.00 very hungry. EN was supposed to meet us for lunch but couldn't make it and we found a text message from him telling us about a Chinese place across our hotel where we might lunch.

This turned out to be a place with authentic Chinese food, unlike the mostly Indian Chinese hybrids we get in Mumbai. There, we stuffed ourselves with noodles, fried squid and pork in oyster sauce, all at a reasonable rate, before going for a long walk along what seemed like a main street, where we passed two lounge bars - Liquid Lounge and Amnesia - the latter being the one that would become the center of attention in a few days, and soon found ourselves beholding Milagres Church in front of us, resplendent in the late afternoon light.

We walked back to the hotel to rest, and met EN in the evening for dinner. He took us to Froth on Top where we snacked and drank a bit and then to a pretty posh but deserted restaurant at the Goldfinch hotel where we had a hearty meal.

Mangalore as a whole really didn't seem crowded at all. It had a more laidback feel to it, more akin to that of a small town than a city's. I guess Mangalore is to Bangalore what Pune is to Mumbai. EN told us that like Bangalore and all other places in Karnatika, all pubs had to close by 11.30 P.M. and the city in general was more or less dead, with nothing much happening after 10.00.

Day 2 in Mangalore, Wednesday, the 21st of Jan. EN hired a car and driver and took leave from work for the full day to show us around and visit his home. We started the day with breakfast at the hotel cafe - sheera, mehdu wada and coffee for me.

After breakfast we drove outside the city to where EN took us to a famous 1000 pillared Jain temple at Moodabidri.

We then went to see a 40 foot statue
of Bahubali (Gomateshwara) atop a hill, with a breathtaking view of surrounding countryside.

We got to EN's home by lunchtime, where we greeted EN's parents, who treated us to a feast. His dad humbled us by opening a rare brand of scotch for us, Swing, which was followed by a huge Manglorean meal - beef rice, vegetables, pork, mango chutney, and koriroti.

We rested for a while at his place, surfing the net and then EN gave us a guided drive through tour of the university town of Manipal, before visiting Malpe beach in time to watch the sunset.

FP and I then dropped EN off at his home and had the car take us on a long drive back to the hotel. I was feeling a bit dizzy with all the driving, and with us still feeling stuffed after the huge lunch, we decided to skip dinner on our return and just sleep.

Day 3 in Mangalore, Thursday, the 22nd of January. We had booked an evening flight to Cochin to save costs so we had the whole morning and afternoon to ourselves. EN was at work and couldn't join us, but promised to meet and drop us to the airport in the evening. After the same breakfast we had the previous day, I hit the ATM with FP in tow for my first withdrawal since we started our trip. We had already decided to see St. Aloysius church that morning which was more or less opposite Milagres church but on our way there from the ATM came upon St. Sebastian, with its bell tower.

Went to a local barber next, for FP wanted to experience a shave and massage. Little did he know what pain, torture and agony would befall him. As I filmed, he got a shave, followed by a facial, and a massage which to him seemed no different than being beaten up.

Walked to St. Aloysius next, which took a good deal out of us, it being noon and hot. FP's face had turned red by now with the combined effect of the facial on his sensitive skin and the heat. While Milagres is at the bottom of a slope, Aloysius is at the top of a hill. There is now was I can describe its beauty. From the outside, it looks like the most unassuming church building or school extension, but once you step in, it's a different story, with carved pillars and every inch of blank space on the walls and ceiling painted with words and pictures of well known bible themes and stories.

We took a rick to Sultan Battery next, which I thought was a major fort. We were disappointed on finding just a small watchtower when we got there, though it wasn't that far away from the city. The watchtower overlooked the Gurupura river, which was clean and blue.

We took the same rick back to town, and FP tried out his Manglorean Konkani with the driver, asking him to suggest a good local place where we could lunch. The driver suggested Pereira's and drove us there. We were not disappointed. It was a Mangalorean fast meal place, sort of like one of Mumbai's Irani joints, with no menu's and just a handful of items on offer. We had the chicken and mutton curry with parothas, which are unique to the South. Good tasty cheap food. We were happy to taste the local fare for two days in a row.

And as all the travel guides I read told me, no visit to Mangalore would be complete without a visit to Ideal's, the ice-cream parlour, which was just about next door, and their famous Gadbad ice-cream.

So we settled down at Ideal's for dessert. FP had a Kulfi stick and I had the famous Gadbad. It was very filling, but not exactly the best ice cream I've had, though it wasn't bad at all. I'm not sure what I can call it. It was topped off with a scope of strawberry ice cream, with pieces of jelly below, chopped fruit beneath that, and a scoop of vanilla at the bottom. Now I love fruit salad, and I love trifle, but this was different, and vanilla and strawberry aren't my favourite flavours. Still, it was filling. We sat there killing time and cooling off in the air conditioning, and then did a bit of shopping at the bazaar nearby.

Around 4.30 P.M, we walked back to the hotel where we had left our bags in the morning while checking out, and decided to go to Liquid Lounge to kill time again until EN arrived with the car. The place was almost deserted, it being a weekday afternoon. We talked and lazed around and then went back to the hotel and read a couple of magazines until EN picked us up at 6.00 P.M for our 7.50 P.M Kingfisher flight.

We said our goodbyes and entered the airport, I again noticing how small it was.


Unfortunately, our flight was delayed, and we only reached Cochin airport, which was pretty, with its roofs covered in tiles, after 9.00 P.M, taking another hour to reach our homestay which we had booked in advance with Errol's help. We were exhausted by the time we got into the room that FP and I were sharing, and I went straight to bed; both of us skipped dinner for the second night in a row. I only got a glimpse of the area we were staying in - Fort Kochi - on the drive there.

Woke late the next morning, our first day in Cochin, on Friday the 23rd of January. FP had already awoke, gone for a walk and, starving, had woken me so we could go out and get some breakfast. I could have slept the whole day.

So we walked to a nearby cafe that's managed by the same family managing our homestay and had breakfast there. It was there that I first noticed that Fort Kochi was the tourist district of Cochin, dotted with numerous restaurants and with a predominantly white crowd, like Goa, but with absolutely no Indian tourists. I also noticed that it was a heritage district, like Colaba, and that all the buildings were quaint old European style houses, most now converted into hotels or homestays with shops and restaurants but retaining their original designs and many of them painted in pastel shades of cream. Other things I was to observe during our four days there would be the prevalence of continental food on the local menu's, catering to the foreign tourists, and that their prices would rarely be exorbitant, but expensive by South Indian food standards. The prices would in fact be quite comparable with restaurants in Bandra.

So we planned out our four days with one of the owners. Tourist activity in Cochin is very easily organised, with every homestay or hotel in Fort Kochi being able to help their guests register for an event like a houseboat stay or performance by selling them tickets or arranging travel. Rates are more or less fixed across the board and there are absolutely no touts or shady agents lurking about.

We walked to the beach nearby after finishing breakfast and the first thing we saw were the famous Chinese fishing nets. We couldn't miss them. After taking a video and photos of them, FP actually had me film him helping out at one of the nets.

We then walked the entire length of the eastern part of the region to Jew Town, where the ancient Cochin Jewish community lived and where their last dwindling descendants still do, through Bazaar Road, taking in all the sights and antique stores on our way to the synagogue, which was closed.

We walked back to our part of town at around 3.00 P.M, it being extremely hot, and we had lunch at an open air restaurant next to Vasco Square, Salt and Pepper, where the food was good but also took a good 45 minutes to arrive. FP had the Chicken Mushaka and fries; I had the Fish Malabari with some bread, my dish turning out to be non-spicy, more continental than Indian, and reminding me of Chicken Stroganoff.

We went back to the homestay to freshen up and bought tickets for a Kathakali performance in the evening. It started at 5.00 P.M, with the audience able to see the elaborate hour long make up session, followed by an hour long demonstration and performance.

For dinner, we went to a little restaurant called Taj Mahal, which was cheaper than the one we went to in the afternoon. I had the Aviyal while FP had the Prawn Curry, both if us eating them with chapattis. Our bill came to 175.

Day 2 in Cochin, Saturday, the 24th of January. We had arranged to take a backwaters houseboat ride that day. Had breakfast at the homestay and the minibus picked us up at 8.00 A.M. Drove for about an hour to where our group got into 2 canoes that took us on a picture perfect tour of a narrow Kerala river.

We then transferred to a houseboat that took us for lunch on an island.

The same houseboat then took us on a 2-3 hour ride along a wide river with islands passing us by.

We finished the trip at 4.30 P.M, at which point we were dropped off at our homestay. Went for Malayalam Mass at 5.00, at the Santa Cruz Basilica, the Mass being peculiar as it had communion before the sermon. We then made plans for the following day.

FP decided to skip dinner again and just have some chips, while I went to Chariot Beach Restaurant, another open air affair.

Day 3 in Cochin, Sunday, the 25th of January. We had planned to visit the elephant sanctuary at Kodanad for which we woke at 5.00 A.M in time for our car which was supposed to arrive at 6.00 but only arrived at 7.00.

Drove for about an hour to the sanctuary in the early morning coolness. We reached the banks of a river and waited there awhile, and soon we saw them. A bunch of elephants being led to the river to be bathed. It was a sight to behold.

Came back a few hours later, stopped for breakfast in in Cochin city at an India Coffee House. Being really sleepy, we skipped lunch and slept through the afternoon. We did go a Kalaripayattu performance in the evening from 4.00-5.00 P.M.

Surfed the net for a half hour and then had dinner at Elite rooftop restaurant, where we waited for ur food for 45 minutes. We didn't really mind waiting, as we had time to kill.

Day 4 in Cochin, Monday, the 26th of January. We had an evening flight again so that gave us the whole morning and afternoon free. We packed, breakfasted at Kashi Art Cafe, and then went to St Francis church nearby, the oldest European church in India, built in 1503, and where Vasco Da Gama was once buried.

While FP went for a walk elsewhere, I visited the Dutch cemetery nearby and then doubled back to our homestay, where we relaxed till lunchtime. FP wanted to visit a typical south Indian joint nearby that our car driver had told us about yesterday. We walked there at about 2.00 P.M, noticing hordes of Indian tourists on the streets, it being a public holiday. We found the lunch place more or less closed to lunchers till 3.00 and so sat and chatted nearby and checked out another restaurant before going back to the original place for dosas at 3.00 P.M.

We then took a rick to the Jewish Synagogue, built in 1568, which was open but crowded and didn't allow photography. Also, FP had to rent out long pants at the shop next door as they don't allow people with shorts into the synagogue.

Took a rick back to the homestay, passing the Jewish graveyard on the way, and checked out. It was 4.00P.M by then and our car was waiting outside to take us to the airport for our 7.15 flight back home to Mumbai.


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