Saturday, November 7, 2009

India Day 2 – Sightseeing and a long Train Ride - 0 cycling miles

Jim, (who I met on a cycling tour) from Bangkok to Saigon and his wife and daughter (Jean and Abby) had arrived in the early morning after two days of delays involving ticketing problems and having to detour because another passenger on their plane (well one of them) had a medical emergency.

The day’s plans turned out to be a bit flexible, we were going to tour Trivandrum from about mid-morning and then catch the train around 4pm. In the end it turned into a lazy morning with a lunch at Wild Palms on Sea around 12 noon followed by some sight-seeing and then the train journey to Madurai.

There was time to pop down onto the beach for a look around before breakfast. There were lots more fishermen pulling in the nets than on the Sunday.P1000875

This is the where the Wild Palms at Sea fronts onto the beach. The yellow picket fence shows the boundary. The building to the left is where we ate our meals and the building to the right is where the owners live along with some rooms I believe. There is a pool inside along with two other buildings, both have rooms but the main one is also the reception area.

The owners moved to England 40 odd years ago but have returned to India. They used to visit India, now they visit England. They also have a Homestay place in Trivandrum. They provided an interesting insight into the differences between England and India. In the UK things can easily be arranged by phone or the internet, in India it can be more complex with a little more bureaucracy.


One last look at the Wild Palms trying to make their way into the sea – each side there were groups of fishermen

P1000880 Lunch turned out to be 1am rather then 12pm – but was delicious none the less. We had already packed our bikes and suitcases off so we were carrying our hand luggage. We got onto our mini-bus to be given a plastic bag containing our meal for that day along with a bottle of water. It was baking hot and the breeze from the windows was great as we drove into Trivandrum.

We had 45 minutes for sight-seeing and then had to be at the station. We were first driven to the back entrance, with strict instructions to be there by 3.45pm and then driven, what seemed like miles, through the town to the temple. It was not really that far – however it was baking hot and we had to carry our hand luggage and our dinner with us and then navigate through the city to the station.

Although I have been calling the city by its common name Trivandrum, its real name is Thiruvanathapuram and means Holy City of Ananda (Ananda is the many-headed snake on which the god Vishnu reclines on in the main temple.)

Here is the Temple – Sri Padmanabhasvami, a Hindu temple and privately owned (i.e. not by the government). It has seven stories on on the right just outside of the picture is the temple pool for devotees to wash in. It looked like a large “swimming” pool.

A man came out to tell us all about it – but non-Hindus are not allowed inside so he showed us various vantage points from which to take pictures. He was a bit concerned that none of us was giving him a “tip” however Bob our tour organiser was going to take care of it.


This view is looking back down the street from the Temple.


A close-up of the stone work – it looks as if it has been selectively cleaned in places – but not the whole lot. It is perhaps a trick of the way in which water runs down it?


A picture from one of the vantage points – as shown to us by our self-appointed guide.


It was then time to head back, clutching our dinner and hand-luggage (cameras, money, laptop – how else do I get these posts done!). I just managed to catch a picture of this Indian gentlemen cycling serenely on, barefoot and dressed in white. Ben did think that the style of “shorts” – dhoti, was good for aeration.


A typical, chaotic street scene – shops, people cables lining the road.


One thing we had not factored in on our return to the Railway Station was the challenge in crossing the roads. It seemed as if the vehicles, particularly the auto-rickshaws were approaching from all directions. At various crossings a policeman would direct traffic with a small stop sign –drivers seemed to obey him as well.


This striking poster caught my eye, although I am not quite sure what it tells us. There are many languages spoken in India, in the Kerala region the main language is Malayalam – the script is rather flowing. Adipoli means wow or awesome.


Walking back to the station I saw this sign. There is a lot of litter about so I guess rats are a big problem. More on the litter problem later in the post.


It was a relief to reach the station, it gets quite wearing negotiating the traffic in the hot sun. You can see why motor bikes are so popular, inexpensive to run and you get built in air-conditioning. There were loads parked in the station car park.


Whilst waiting at the rear station entrance this gentleman walked by, not sure if he was on his way to work or delivering something. This place is part of the Railway Works where the carriages were overhauled.


The train is an important means on transport in a place the size of India. The trains were long with quite few carriages. The higher class carriages had air-conditioning. I did not see any “passengers” on the roofs though. X marks the spot.


Our train was a sleeper train. There were “compartments” with a corridor through the middle. There were 6 places on one side and 2 on the other. During the day you could sit on the bottommost bunk 3 facing 3 and then for sleeping two further bunks could be let down on each side. We had a selection of seats throughout the carriage and so caused some confusion as we did not always obey the rules.

The journey was around 7 hours and whilst it started it was fun towards the end it was a bit tedious. Ben ate his dinner as soon as the train got started.


Unlike in the UK the carriage doors were opened whilst the train was moving. Which meant I could take some pictures – I think they were a bit concerned that I would fall out though.

The tracks had a lot of litter on them. When Bob asked our Conductor where the trash can/bin was he motioned to throw it through the open door. Bob could not bring himself to do it and handed it to the Conductor – who promptly threw it out of the door. There was a bin (trash can) behind the open door but we did wonder whether it was just a hole through to the bottom of the carriage.

Speaking of things that get deposited on the track there were Western Style toilets on our carriage – but you had to supply your own toilet paper. These were not to be flushed whilst the train was standing in a station.


After ages we did see these mountains in the distance – the Western Ghats – we would be cycling up them shortly.


A few people wisely sorted out a bunk early on, including Ben, in this picture and Bob an old hand at this. Towards the end an Indian couple got on and were not too surprised to see that we had randomly taken seats and bunks around the carriage. They agreed that there were no “Hard and Fast rules”. It turned out that their sons both lived in the US one studying in Salt Lake city and the other working in San Jose.

One or two bunks were put down and it seems that other than the bottom bunk it can be quite tricky getting in and out of them. Ben struggled because he was too tall, he also had to fold his legs to avoid blocking the corridor door. One Indian gentlemen struggled to use the ladder to get into a middle bunk – he eventually used the lower bunk as a step. I think he was travelling with the chap on the lower bunk.


Eventually the train pulled into the station after travelling through some very whiffy districts – we had arrived at Madurai. Although it took a long time that was because the train took quite a roundabout route and Trivandrum and Madurai are closer than I thought. We had arrived in the Tamil Nadu region. The hotel was a short walk from the and was a welcoming sight when we walked into the foyer. When you are travelling good hotels provide a pleasant refuge. There were delicious smells coming from the dining area – we half-hoped maybe we would get dinner there - but it was too late. They had WiFi as well – great – I could get some Blog posts posted. I had spent my train journey writing posts about the last couple of days. I could now publish them.

It was not clear quite how I actually connected though – in the end I went to the Reception desk where they gave me a chit with a Username and Password good for one hour of Internet use for free – that’s what I like in a hotel – the difference between mercenary and welcoming.

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