This place will definitely be an important step of the trip. Tirupathi is not tremendous but it is the start of the pilgrimage to the Venkateshwara temple, one of Vishnu's incarnations.
I woke up during the night to start bare feet at 2am. I walked the 3600 steps but thankfully I met a connoisseur, Ramesh, with whom I teamed up for mutual support and guidance - otherwise I would have missed the ticket for the darshan !
The way up, littered with statues of different avatars of Vishnu (that's what I understood), gopurams and altars is gorgeous.
It took us about 3 hours and half to walk all the way up, without going fast but I was dripping of sweat ! Fortunately there were quite a fez small shops on the way for water, chai, biscuits...
Once at the top, Ramesh got his head shaved - to show his devotion to the god - and we left our cameras, mobile phones and shoes at a specific counter. So I don't have any pictures from there :( We went to the Temple and started queueing. we met another pilgrim who confirmed Ramesh's sayings : there wasn't that many people and thanks to our darshan, picked up halfway through, we would auickly get in. Unfortunately, after half an hour in the queue, we got parked in rooms shaped as theatres. 100 seats but 700 people all in all.
People would sleep on the steps. We were given hot milk with sugar and some kind of breakfast looking like idli but much better. In the end we waited 4 hours and half. When the doors opened, it became mass hysteria. We managed to access the temple's core, crushed against each other, with people sreaming something like "Oinda" for the god and then we saw the main temple (yes there temples inside the temples, like chapels inside churches) covered with gold where people, hands praying, would make quickly a wish before the sacred statue of Venkateshwara. It's only a few seconds - the temple's women push you away. Intense !
Once outside the temple, everything is much more chilled out and you can then enjoy the details on the golden temple. The rest is about some altars and a stone where you can write a wish.
Outisdem I waited 45 minutes for my pilgrimage mates who went to get a ticket for extra laddu (personally I couldn't queue anymore) and we got our laddu (food ball) We got our stuff back and swapped email addresses.
I had beem told to come here but I haven't been impressed. It's very touristy, so it's not very genuine. First you can't swim. The stream is way too strong ! I tried to swim but I couldn't go further than 5 meters, the very powerful stream pushing me back continually.
The temples and the rathas who survived the sea streans for centuries are very beautiful but can be visited very quickly.
In the end, what I preferred was seeing the full Moon above the sea at night.
And then the sunrise.
It was the first time I went to a former french colony. It was quite weird. I enjoyed eating fresh croissants in the morning but not so much seeing some french bosses treating their indian employees like shit (I didn't see many do so though).
The catholic presence is still quite strong.
The most interesting part however was Auroville, a city envisionned by "Mother", famous yogi Sri Aurobindo's wife. The manager of my hostel, somewhat bitter, told me : "It's a sect with idiots who work and, when they realise they get fucked over, go away, but you still get new idiots coming in !" Basically, some hippies wanted to create a utopic city where people of every nationality could live. If the project is still not finished (10$ have been built), the Matrimandir, this modern meditation centre is great. It has even been inaugurated with the indian president of the time. "Mother" had that influence. The place declares itself as non-religious but it is always referring to the divine, the afterlife... I couldn't visit inside the Matrimandir and it would have been interesting to stay a day in this place to discover how this community works but my experience of Vipassana dissuaded me.
I ate really well in Puducherry, the chocolate mousse was even better than in France. I even got sick.
- 04 December 2013 at 12:45
Expensive rooms and disgusting restaurants, theis is the first thing I saw in Rameshwaram. Still, I could find a cheap room but what a room ! Leaking toilet flush, cockroaches and a sink falling when you want to wash your feet !!
Still I met a very nice Indian guy who took me to the town's gorgeous temple (I even got blessings).
I wanted to see Dhanushkodi (we were 28 on the van !) but I was sick and tired and many domestic tourists were asking me questions and pictures. I didn't even have the strength to smile by the end of the day.
I tried to have a meal there one last time but I couldn't eat their horrible thali. I couldn't handle more than 24 hours and went straight to Puducherry and its french restaurants.
The change between Kerala and Tamil Nadu was clear and sudden. As soon as we crossed the border, the roads became very basic and dirty.
My first impression of Madurai was bad : dirty, decayed and stinky. Many guys come and chat you up in order to sell you something, it's nearly harrassment. But then I had lunch in a restaurant where they didn?t give me a fork or a spoon. So I ate the indian way, with my hands. The people opposite me had pity for me and explained to me how to do it properly.
I saw the Sri Meenakshi Temple and it was just magnificient. Big, colourful, lively.
Then I met Pandi, a 70 year-old (non motorised) rickshaw driver who took me to the Gandhi museum and the restaurant. In the difficult moments, I gave him a hand to push the rickshaw and he even let me drive it for two minutes - it was very hard ! I gave him twice as much as he asked for, his dignity and his courage had struck me (first I thought he was a beggar but he refused to take my money).
I then had tailor-made clothes and I left.
Kumily is a village located next to the Periyar reserve where elephants and tigers live. I met a British girl, a Dutch guy and a German girl at the bus stand and we immediately teamed up to find lodging and activities. A nice guy called Nazeer Babuh guided us during the whole stay.
First we walked in the reserve for one day where we had to face quite a steep way as well as leeches ! We managed to see elephants and it was very nice (for tigers it's nearly impossible, a ranger who's done that trek for 20 years told us he saw tigers only four times !)
Then Fiona (the Brit) and I decided to treat ourselves with an ayurvedic massage and a steam bath before spending the night with the guys.
On the last day Fiona was gone but Bart (the Dutch), Stef (the German) and I checked out the tea factory and the spice garden before attending to a Kathakali show where only men can play - so female characters are played by men. We had two comedians, one playing a man, the other a woman, who ended fighting and of course the tranvestite gets killed in the end.
We finished with the bar where we could see some vers drunk Indians and no woman, that was interesting.
I finally could take the indian train. The 1st one was cool and took me to Mangalore where I stopped a few hours to sleep. The second one though was hardcore as I didn't have any reservation and found myself in a coach so full of people we were like sardins in a crushed tin box for 9 hours. At least I could sit.
Once in Ernakulam, I went straight to Fort-Cochin on a taxi and on a ferry. I took a cheap guest house and went for a small walk in the area, which is said to be romantic. I saw a rococo cathedral...
Chinese fishing nets...
And a polluted beach with a view on cisterns that i guess contain oil.
The day after I went for the famous backwaters of Kerala, these small canals around which villages have settled. The guide knew a lot and showed us many things about life in the backwaters. The canoe part was nevertheless much more interesting than the one in the houseboat.
I met very nice people during this tour and so we decided to meet up again later that night. After the sacred cities of Hampi and Gokarna where alcohol is prohibited, I was longing for a glass of wine.
We ended up at the XL Bar where I could drink indian wine and happened to find Sebastian, the english guy from Hampi. In the end we were about 10 people arpund the table exchanging about our indian experience.
We finished with a walk on the beach and swapped Facebook contacts. ?
After Hampi I decided to go to the other sacred town in the region : Gokarna.
The arrival was difficult : the bus dropped me in the middle of nowhere at 3.30 am. Thankfully there were rickshaws but the guest houses were all closed or full. The rickshaw then suggested to drop me at the beach. So I found myself at 4.30am under a big lamp post among camping cars. Indeed, it was Diwali and many Indians had come to celebrate. So I had chai with domestic tourists. Nice.
Gokarna has many temples (Unfortunately they are not accessible to foreigners) but it is still very simple and its beaches are very attractive. I ended up settling on Kundle Beach, 15 minutes away from town by foot so that I could wake up with the perpetual crushing of the waves and take a bath in the morning. Hummm :)
I went to a private clinic for the forst time in ordre to heal my diarrhea and it went well but the doctors pills just killed me. So I couldn't do much in the morning, too exhausted.
Gokarna, like Hampi, is sacred so you theoretically cannot find alcohol. This trip is looking more and more like detox for me !
Leaving was not easy ! The indian rail website was always closed according to the travel agent. I have to keep that in mind.
On the bus I had met some very nice Swedes : Sara, Lina et Noah. They were just 20, freshly released from high school one year earlier, they decided to save money and go travelling for 6 months in Asia. Wow !
When the bus stopped we got assaulted by people who wanted us to come to their guest house, climbing on the bus and opening the windows. Crazy.
As soon as I arrived in Hampi, I met these Indian magicians who did some tricks and stuff so I gave quite some money but I couldn't say no to such well-dressed people. And they were really nice !
We walked around the village and we chilled out on the first day. The day after we saw the holy elephant take a bath.
We wanted to tour the temples with a rickshaw but some guy offered a job : take part of an indian movie ! So I played a tourist fascinated by the beauty of indian women #lol !
I had to recite english and telu but I slaughtered their language !
We went up the Mathanga Hills where we could get a nice view while night was falling. We did the Hanuman temple on the other side of the river.
I met a very nice english guy.
I got sick so I didn't do the rickshaw tour. Shame, I must have missed some nice temples but I'm sure I'll find many others !
What is important while traveling is not the destination, it is the journey... on a bus !
If Indian buses quickly reminded me of South America with their messy organisation (but even worse and they are often late) and their driver/assistant system, they also managed to surprise me. Especially with the sleeper bunk. I lied in that booth and opened the window by half, that is, down to my waist.I then saw India horizontally. The trees, the houses and the temples were parading from bottom to top whereas horns were screaming everywhere and the wind was cuddling my face. The stars wouldn?t move, settled on the left. It was really magical. At that moment, I felt... in control of my existence ! Ha !
I made a short video but it's very dark :/
NB : I totally don't recommend putting your arm outside the bus, as Indian vehicles tend to get very close from each other !
Oh and I had a great soundtrack :