Our third week in South India: Pondicherry, Mahabalipuram and back to Chennai

13 December 2016

After one week in Kerala, we were ready to discover Pondicherry, a city once administered by France. Our Kerala driver, Mr Ajit, dropped us at the airport where we took an Air India flight to Chennai (we arrived only one day after the big cyclone they had had and we could see the large amount of destruction it had caused). From the Chennai airport, we promptly drove to Pondicherry which is just two hours away.

On reaching there, we realised that we had been booked in Hotel Athiti, a fantastic hotel and, as you can easily guess, we were quite thrilled as we were going to spend three days in the city.

In the evening, we walked to the seafront and we were quite surprised to see that roads near the sea were closed to vehicles at night. A lot of people were walking, some were exercising and kids were having fun. We need to have something similar in Mauritius.

14 December 2016

We had a nice breakfast before heading to MG Road to do some light shopping. We witnessed some interesting scenes, in particular the very heavy and noisy traffic as well as the spectacular arrest by Pondicherry police of some men in a bar. What was interesting was that some of the policemen rode their motorcycles with the culprit sitting on the back seat. Some policemen, who didn’t come on motorcycles, stopped auto rickshaws which were passing by to drive them to the police station together with the remaining culprits.

In the afternoon, after having a nice beer in the hotel which I had purchased in that same bar, we went back to the seafront and took some quite spectacular photos during the blue hour. It is at this moment that Christina and I realised that Pondicherry was a special place and we could even project ourselves spending some months there in the future, probably when the kids will be at university.

We then had dinner in a good Italian restaurant, La Pasta World, whose owners, native Italians, had settled in Pondicherry for the past eight years. They told us that they really enjoyed the city and we could understand why…

15 December 2016

We discovered two beautiful churches in Pondicherry. At the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, we saw a priest conducting mass in Tamil with the audience consisting of mainly relatively old women in colourful sarees. We loved the subtly purple colours inside the church.

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was also beautiful. We were impressed by the stained glass (vitrail in French) and the lighting.

We walked from the basilica to a nice French café, le Café des Arts, to have a light lunch and a milk shake. On our way, we discovered the streets of the old French neighbourhood which contrasted quite sharply with, say, the noisy MG Road.

We returned to the hotel and dived into the rooftop swimming pool from where we could see Pondicherry from above. And we also realised that this was one of the few places in South India where we could see a really blue sky like in Mauritius.

16 December 2016

At 8:30, we were at Keralaa Ayurveda to enjoy a full-body Shirodhara massage. The masseurs were all from Kerala and we were delighted by the warm coconut oil dripping on our foreheads.

At breakfast, we had a last chat with the hotel staff, many of whom were from the northern Indian regions like Nagaland and Darjeeling. They were young people full of enthusiasm.

We left Pondicherry for Mahabalipuram, an ancient historic city dating back to the first century. Mahabalipuram has a group of monuments and sanctuaries carved out of rock in the 7th and 8th centuries (temples, caves, open-air rock reliefs and the Shore Temple). The monuments have been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We headed back to Quality Inn Sabari in Chennai.

17 December 2016

We had already planned to spend the last few days in Chennai doing some shopping. In the middle of Pondy Bazaar, we stumbled upon a Kerala hairdresser where I had a nice haircut followed by a vigorous head massage (Kyan would have the same thing two days later).

Before getting back to the hotel, we stopped at street vendors to have some delicious chicken momos and chicken curry wraps. It was the first time that we were eating on the streets in India and we were delighted at our prowess.

18 December 2016

A driver took us to Higginbotham’s as we wanted to buy some books. We were not very impressed by the bookstore but we did find some interesting books which are quite difficult to obtain in Mauritius. From there we went to Express Avenue, one of the largest malls in Chennai, where we indulged in some extensive shopping.

In the afternoon, we drove to Marina Beach but couldn’t find a parking spot. We settled on Elliot’s Beach, a few kilometers away, where we had a great time walking on the beach, witnessing some interesting scenes (people playing crickets, a few drunkards trying to swim and kids having fun on a boat).

On our way back, we stopped at the Periyar Science and Technology Centre, not unlike our own Rajiv Gandhi Science Center, but on a larger scale. Unfortunately, time was short and we couldn’t see everything. We enjoyed the visit and the kids had a lot of fun. One interesting observation I made was that India is not afraid to work with different foreign countries to make things happen. For instance, its nuclear energy programme was done in collaboration with Russians (and so is its military aeronautical programmes). India also worked with the USA on some projects as well as European countries and China. This is something we need to learn in Mauritius: working with other countries when we clearly don’t master everything. It is not only a question of making people come from abroad and do some work in Mauritius. It’s about working together and have a real transfer of knowledge and technology.

19 December 2016

We wanted to watch a Rajinikanth movie in Chennai but we finally settled on the next best thing, Rogue One :-)

The new Star Wars installment had just been released the previous day and, because it was on a week day, we had excellent seats and we greatly enjoyed the movie including the 3D. Interestingly, the ticket was just INR 150 per person, which is about Rs 90. A bonus was where Christina and I were seated: a comfortable two seater sofa.

20 and 21 December 2016

Our last day in South India was spent doing some last minute shopping, packing everything in our three suitcases and two backpacks and trying to sleep a bit as our flight to Dubai was scheduled at night.

We left the hotel after having a very tasty dinner thanks to Mr Vasu, the maître d’hôtel, and his staff. They were instrumental in making our stay in Chennai enjoyable and comfortable.

We departed from Chennai very late at night as our flight had been delayed and got to Dubai early in the morning. We did some shopping in the duty free shops there and took our final flight to Mauritius.

We reached our beautiful island around 16:30 after spending a quite intense but very memorable three weeks in the South of Incredible India.

Discovering the South of Incredible India over three weeks

Our second week in South India: Kochi, Munnar, Thekkady and Allepey

6 December 2016

After spending one week in the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, we left for Kochi in the state of Kerala on 6 December. Our friend, Dilip, was kind enough to drop us at the airport where we took an Air Asia flight. A driver, Mr Ajit, was waiting for us on arrival and he took us to our hotel, South Regency, in the middle of Kochi (also known as Cochin or Ernakulam).

We were a bit tired so we just walked a bit around, had a nice dinner at the hotel and slept early.

7 December 2016

This was a very intense day. We started by visiting the Dutch Palace, then went to Jew Town to indulge in some light shopping and to visit the historic Jew synagogue there. At lunchtime, we had some nice sandwiches, burgers and salads at Café Crafters. We then visited St Francis Church where Vasco da Gama, the famous explorer, was initially buried before his remains were transferred to Portugal. Near the church were some beautiful colonial houses designed in a Dutch style.

We walked to the seafront where we finally discovered the famous Chinese nets still used by local fishermen. We spent a lot of time watching them manipulating the nets and catching quite a lot of fish.

In the afternoon, we went to the Kerala Folklore Museum where we discovered Kerala art, especially masks worn by performers during plays. We were also quite amused to see small replicas of boys’ genital organs offered to Gods by aspiring parents wishing to have boys around 1000 BC (i.e. 3000 years ago).

8 December 2016

We left Kochi in the morning to drive towards Munnar. On the way, we visited an ayurvedic spice garden and bought a few ayurvedic oils. We reached our hotel, The Munnar Queen, early afternoon.

Close to the hotel was a small theater where we attended a Kathakali show. This typical Kerala classical performance only features male actors, some of whom dress up as women, with large costumes and heavy makeup (not unlike Chinese opera as a matter of fact). The story was about a princess, her father the king as well as a villain. The exaggerated eye and body movements were fascinating. The live music being performed as well as the singing were also of very high standard.

At the end of the play, Christina and I posed with the performers and we were very happy.

After the performance, Kyan and Anya returned to the hotel while Christina and I tried a Kerala Abhyanga full-body warm oil massage.

9 December 2016

Munnar is well known for its beautiful tea plantations which are often featured in Indian movies. We were lucky to have an excellent weather on that day and we managed to capture beautiful photos. The kids convinced Christina and I that we should enact a typical Indian movie dance scene which we did with a lot of pleasure.

We visited the Munnar tea museum, tasted tea there and had lunch which we had brought from the hotel. We then relaxed at Hydel Park, a nice and tranquil garden full of beautiful flowers and with a beautiful view of the Munnar tea plantations in the background. Later, the driver brought us to the Pothamedu viewpoint where the whole of the Munnar valley could be admired.

In the evening, we attended a Kalaripayattu show, a Kerala martial art which dates from the 3rd century BC. We were amazed by the skills, the strength and the agility of the performers and we quickly realised that Kalaripayattu is as complex as Japanese Karate or Chinese Kung fu. Kyan was specially delighted and couldn’t wait to have his photo taken with the performers while putting on a menacing look (his words…).

Munnar was really an important milestone in our trip.

10 December 2016

In Thekkady, we stayed at Spice Grove hotel, surrounded by a cardamom and pepper garden. During the day, we rode elephants.

Christina and I wanted to have a drink and we had spotted a beer and wine parlour attached to the hotel. But when we got there, we were quite surprised to see that it was more like a tavern with only men drinking. We quickly returned to the hotel where we had a very heavy dinner. However something didn’t agree with my stomach and I was a bit sick.

11 and 12 December 2016

We checked in at a house boat called Ayodhya at noon. Our skipper, Vishal, and our cook, Vinod, welcomed us with a nice cocktail and, after setting sail, we had a wonderful lunch on board. We tasted typical Kerala food including the very well known Karimeen fish, fried to perfection.

Anya got very lucky and managed to catch three small fish on her first fishing attempt. Kyan tried to emulate her but couldn’t. We sailed across the Kerala backwaters to a small village where we bought two big scampis (langoustines) to have for dinner. Vinod fried Anya’s three fish and she was delighted to share them with all of us.

We greatly enjoyed the scenery, the birds and the beautiful sunset. Everyone felt very relaxed after ten intense days in South India.

Vishal took us to another small village where we docked for the night as regulations do not allow boats to stay in the middle of the backwaters at night. We slept well as the boathouse had quite adequate facilities including air conditioning.

The next morning, we had a substantial breakfast and sailed back to where our driver, Mr Ajit, picked us up to drive back to Kochi. There, we did some shopping in Jew town as we knew that we were going to leave the western coast the next day to go to the east of India.

Discovering the South of Incredible India over three weeks

Our first week in South India: Chennai, Bangalore, Mysore, Masinagudi and Bylakuppe

28 and 29 November

We had been thinking of visiting India for a few years now but we didn’t know where to start. A few months ago, we came across an Emirates advert for reduced-priced tickets for the end of 2016 to various destinations in the world including a number of Indian cities. The most affordable ticket from Mauritius was to Chennai and, on a hunch, we bought four tickets for ourselves and our two kids. Interestingly, when we went to the Emirates office to purchase the tickets, the lady there asked us how long we would like to stay in India and it’s only then that we decided for a little more than three weeks, that is from 28 November to 21 December 2016. Three weeks is quite long but we felt that this was the time needed to really discover the places we would visit. And we had had some prior experience of spending three weeks abroad: in the USA in 2011 and, last year, in France (part 1 and part 2).

We decided to concentrate on the south of India for this trip, leaving the north for another trip in a few years. We did extensive research using TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet mainly and, after a few days, we realised that, even though we could organise everything ourselves, it would be better to use the service of a local travel agent. Fortunately, one of my cousins knew someone very reliable in Delhi running an agency called Merrygo Travels. We contacted the director and he organised our trip based on our multiple and quite complex set of requirements.

We left Mauritius on 28 November and, after transiting in Dubai, arrived in Chennai on the next day. Naturally, we were all overwhelmed by the typical Indian atmosphere (and scent!), the more than heavy traffic (and the car horns!) and the air pollution (as we couldn’t see the blue sky with which we are so accustomed in Mauritius). After thirty minutes, we were delighted to arrive in a very good hotel, the Quality Inn Sabari in T Nagar, very close to the shopping areas including Pondy Bazaar.

30 November 2016

The next morning, after having a copious breakfast, we took an auto-rickshaw to go to the Kapaleeshwarar Temple with its beautiful and intricate sculptures. From there we walked to the Shirdi Sai Baba Temple which, in our opinion, was nothing special. We then took another auto to San Thome Basilica which we found quite interesting, especially the attached museum. In all three places, there were a lot of devout people and we quickly understood that religion holds a very important role in India.

After lunch, we walked through a fishermen area to the seafront. We noticed that some of the houses were made of straw and quite decrepit.

1 December 2016

The next morning, we took a 6am Shatabdi Express to Bangalore which we reached around noon. Dilip, a good friend who previously was our colleague at the University of Mauritius, took us around Bangalore to a guest house he had arranged for us at PES University. After lunch with his family, we did some light shopping as Avinash was in dire need of some T-shirts. It turned out to be much warmer than expected at this period in South India and we hadn’t brought enough short sleeves.

2 December 2016

We woke up very early and took a Toyota Innova (which seems to be THE standard car for families travelling across India) and, after some hours, reached Mysore. We visited the palace of Tipu Sultan which was quite magnificent, both the gardens and the interior of the palace (where photography was unfortunately not allowed). From there, we visited the Mysore Zoo which was also quite interesting with a lot of animals which we had never seen before. After lunch in a mall in Mysore, we drove through Bandipur National Park, a tiger reserve, to reach the Wild Breeze Resort in Masinagudi around 5pm.

At 7pm, we left for a night safari in the forest where we were lucky to see wild animals such as elephants, a bear, boars and deer. In the middle of the safari, while rain had started falling, our 4×4 got stuck in a muddy slope. The four people accompanying us took about 30 minutes to finally find a way to dislodge the car from the muck and, as you can imagine, it was a scary but so memorable experience for the four of us. We then drove to the center of the forest, switched off the car and experienced being in pitch dark wild, while rain was still slowly pouring down.

We got back to our lodge after one hour and had a substantial briyani there. We slept very well.

3 December 2016

We did a morning safari in a very cold and misty weather. We had to wake up at 5am and this was tough. One thing we found quite interesting was the inhabitants doing their morning chores: women going to the river to wash clothes, men bringing their cattle to graze, etc. We also saw some animals: deer, peacocks, boars, monkeys, etc.

We returned to Mysore and visited the palace of the Maharaja of Mysore. We were amazed by the gardens and the magnificence of the buildings. The interior of the palace was magnificent, especially the majestic terrace where we could imagine the Maharaja addressing the crowd. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside. After visiting the palace, we checked in at the Ruchi The Prince hotel where we had a good night of sleep, surely dreaming about wild elephants and tigers chasing us through the forest…

4 December 2016

From Mysore, we traveled to Bylakuppe, a Tibetan village about 80km away. When the Tibetans were exiled, a large number settled in India, including, of course, in Dharamsala, where the Central Tibetan Administration resides as well as in Bylakuppe which hosts various monasteries and study centers, the most well-known being the Namdroling Monastery of Nyingma also known as the Golden Temple, which we visited.

The atmosphere was quite different from the other parts of India. We felt we had been transported to Tibet (apart from the excruciating heat…) Bylakuppe was, as a matter of fact, a bonus in our trip, carefully arranged by our good friend Dilip. Thanks to him (and his driver, Manju), we discovered places such as Mysore, Masinagudi and Bylakuppe, which we had not initially planned for.

5 December 2016

We spent our last day in Bangalore exploring the city. We started with the Art of Living in the morning, which was quite beautiful, then went to PES University to meet with some of Dilip’s colleagues. We then drove through the IT center of the city, had lunch, went to school to fetch Dilip’s son and niece and had tea at his place where we learnt that the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa, had just passed away.

In the afternoon, we walked in the city, visited a few temples, ate typical Bengaluru ice-cream and bought some books. We then returned to Dilip’s place to have dinner and we left after thanking him, his wife and his mum for everything they had done for us.

On the next day, we left for Kochi for the 2nd part of our journey in the South of India.

Discovering the South of Incredible India over three weeks

My Canon Holy Trinity

canon-eos-6d

I love taking pictures and putting them on Flickr. For the past few months, I have been using a Canon EOS 6D full-frame camera and I am amazed by the quality of its sensor, especially in low light. I am currently using a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens and a Canon EF 35mm f/2 (an old lens from 1990) with it and I am quite satisfied… To be honest, I would love to get the following Holy Trinity of Canon primes but I need to be patient:

Wide-angle: Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM

canon-24mm

A wide-angle lens is necessary for street photography and when taking pictures of group of people in small spaces. This lens has image stabilisation, features an ultrasonic motor and has a maximum aperture of f/2.8, guaranteeing some nice blurred background if needed. The lens was released in 2012 and currently costs $600 (Rs 21,500). At this moment, I am using my 1990 Canon EF 35mm f/2 as an alternative and, I should say, with really nice results.

Normal lens: Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM

canon-50mm

This is a lens that I already have and I have to say that it is a gorgeous lens. It’s very quick to focus, extremely silent thanks to its STM technology, opens at f/1.8 which is grandiose and, for a lens which was released in 2015, is very very affordable at $125 (Rs 4,500). No camera owner should be without one.

Telephoto/Macro lens: EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

canon-100mm

The third member of the Holy Trinity is the EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM. As can be easily deduced by the red ring and the L designation, this is a pro lens. Featuring image stabilisation, an ultrasonic motor, a f/2.8 maximum aperture and 1:1 macro capabilities, this is the lens to use for macro shots obviously but also whenever a short telephoto would excel. For example, it’s perfect for artistic portraits, for taking pictures of events from a distance (but not too much) or for compressing perspectives. The only issue is that it currently costs $900 (Rs 32,000) which makes it a hell of an investment for a casual (read non-professional) photographer like me. The lens was released in 2009.

So, money wise, this would represent an investment of $1500 (Rs 53,500) for me as I already have the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM.

Phew. I have some convincing to do with Christina :-)

25 players Liverpool has discarded in this transfer window

2016_08_15-13_22_40-1087

The summer transfer window for 2016 has finally closed. Liverpool has got rid of a number of fringe players who wouldn’t have played this year. Most noticeably:

  • Jose Enrique
  • Kolo Touré
  • Martin Skrtel
  • Joe Allen
  • Jordon Ibe
  • Luis Alberto
  • Christian Benteke
  • Mario Balotelli

and some youngsters who, unfortunately, have not been able to make the grade:

  • Brad Smith
  • Ryan McLaughlin
  • João Carlos Teixeira
  • Jordan Rossiter
  • Jerome Sinclair
  • Samed Yesil

while Steven Caulker has returned from loan. Additionally, the following players have been loaned to other clubs with the hope that they will develop further and, maybe one day, reach a level where they can play at Liverpool:

  • Adam Bogdan
  • Danny Ward
  • Ryan Fulton
  • Andre Wisdom
  • Jon Flanagan
  • Lloyd Jones
  • Allan Rodrigues de Souza
  • Jack Dunn
  • Lazar Markovic
  • Ryan Kent
  • Taiwo Awoniyi

Good luck to all of them!!!