Return to India – revisiting some favourites, Feb 2017

Our route round south India and up to Udaipur in Rajasthan.

1st-2nd Feb. A long 26-hour journey to Hyderabad, then a long 40-minute drive to the Best Western Ashoka hotel in the centre of town. It’s a bit of a shock because there used to be 100 rupees to the pound last year but now there are only 83, so everything is a lot more expensive.

Hyderabad, Telangana state (a new state split off from Andhra Pradesh since last time we were here)

Fri 3rd. We spent most of the day racing up and down Hyderabad in auto-rickshaws struggling with bureaucracy. We tried to buy a SIM card for the phone but the rules have changed (or they are making them up) and we had to get extra paperwork from the hotel but that still wasn’t good enough. We tried to exchange some out of date demonetized Indian banknotes left over from last year’s visit but each bank referred us on to the next one. We tried to book our overnight bus to Hospet but went to the wrong bus station and had to cross all the way across town to another one where we finally succeeded.

Hyderabad Residency
However we did succeed in finding the huge, monumental former British Residency building, built around 1800 by James Kirkpatrick, featured in the novel White Moguls by William Dalrymple, in the grounds of the women’s university where we chatted with a very nice tutor and some pupils, and posed for the inevitable selfies.

By the time we’d done all this it was 6pm and we headed across town yet again, in the awful rush-hour traffic, past the lake and huge Buddha statue again, to go back to Hunter’s Roost restaurant at YatriNivas hotel, a favourite from 10 years ago. We didn’t sit in the garden because of the mosquitoes but went inside and had a delicious meal which was just as good as we remembered. One of the dangers of going back is that things can change (often for the worse) but this was no disappointment.

Sat 4th. We hired a car with driver for 8 hours for £22 to go sightseeing and found there were more things to see in Hyderabad than we expected. We started at the Salar Jung museum, a huge sprawling place where the highlights were a wooden statue of Mephistopheles and Margaretta, cleverly carved on each side of one large piece of wood with Mephistopheles on the front and a well-placed mirror so you could see Margaretta carved around the back, a statue of Rachel in a veil, the veil looking so realistic that it was hard to believe it was marble too, and an old chiming clock set in a sort of theatre, where all the audience cheered heartily when the model of a man came out from the back of the clock and rang the chimes.

Purana Haveli wardrobe
From there we went to the Purani Haveli, one of the former Nizam’s residences and now also a museum, with the longest wardrobe in the world where he kept a huge selection of fabulous clothes (he never wore the same one twice), a fascinating wooden hand-operated lift and a wonderfully carved tiffin tin.  We tried to go to the Chowmahalla palace, another of the Nizam’s lavish residences but it was closed, so we went on to Golconda Fort, perched on a hill, a favourite from our last visit and still good. By the time we left the fort it was 6:15 and we had over two hours until we had to be at the MG bus station so we thought we’d go to the Marriott hotel for a relaxing snack and a drink on the way, but the traffic jams defeated us.
Super delixe sleeper bus
It took over an hour of traffic chaos to get to the Marriott so we turned round and took over an hour to get to the bus station. We sat by our bus stand and had a nice glass of chai then boarded our ‘super deluxe’ non-A/C sleeper bus for the 10-hour overnight drive to Hospet. It was neither super nor deluxe but it was cosy and private with the curtains drawn and if only there hadn’t been so many speed bumps we’d have had a comfortable night. The driver went carefully over each bump at the front but accelerated away catapulting the hapless passengers at the back (us) into the air – we made a mental note to get a berth at the front in future sleeping bus trips.

Hampi, Karnataka state

Sun 5th. We arrived at Hospet bus station in the chilly morning and went with Kai, a nice auto-rickshaw driver, through the countryside to Hampi and although it was only about 8am we were able to check in to a room at the very nice Clark’s Inn. Hampi is quite spread out and Clark’s Inn is rather a long way from anything, so we agreed to do a full-day rickshaw tour with Kai, starting now! First we went to the Hampi Bazaar area, the travellers’ part of town, which had all been demolished and rebuilt a bit further away from the historic monuments since we were here 10 years ago.

Virupaksha temple cows
We had a quick breakfast at the Mango Tree restaurant then went to some of the free-entry monuments, starting with the most impressive Virupaksha, a working Hindu temple with cows both real ...
Virupaksha temple
... and carved ...
Virupaksha temple elephant
... and Laxmi the temple elephant who will bless you with a gentle tap on the head for 10 rupees.

We went to the impressive Nandi (the bull) statue, carved from one huge piece of black rock, and the equally impressive Ganesh temple and statue carved from one huge piece of white rock. It was now 11:30 and quite hot, so we took a break and returned to the hotel to cool off. After a bit of a rest and a cleanup we set off on the second half of the temple tour and visited the Queen’s Bath, the Royal Enclosure, Lakshmi Narasima temple and others. We were tired after the bus ride and a busy day so we had a room service Indian meal, a delicious chicken dish, veg dish, raita, onion kulcha, big portions all for about £5, and a few glasses of wine from the bottles we bought at a bottle shop in Hyderabad.

Mon 6th. Kai was easy to recognize because he looked like an Indian hippie, he is doing the Hindu equivalent of Lent or Ramadan, not smoking or drinking alcohol, eating pure veg meals, not cutting his nails or hair and not changing his clothes (although he is allowed to shower) for three months.

Hampi Lotus Mahal
We bought the expensive tourist ticket, £6 for foreigners or pennies for locals, and continued the temple sightseeing tour with him, visiting the wonderful Royal Centre with the picturesque Lotus Mahal ...
Hampi elephant stables
... and our favourite, the ornate elephant stables with the adjacent mahout’s building which is now a museum. At first it was quiet and peaceful and we were able to take photos without tourists on, but before long the school parties arrived and we were surrounded by eager children wanting selfies with us and asking our names, country, etc.
Hampi Vittala Temple chariot
Then we went to the very impressive world heritage Vittala Temple with its musical columns and beautifully-carved stone chariot.
Hampi Hanuman Temple
We then retired to the hotel for a refreshing spot of lunch. In the afternoon we had a quick look round the Archaeological Museum opposite the hotel, then set off for the Hanuman (monkey) temple, perched on top of a hill on the other side of the river. It was a half-hour ride in the rickshaw through colourful agricultural landscapes, then a breathless 575-steps walk up to the top of the hill. Sheila went up in a commendable 10 minutes while I gradually puffed my way to the top in 20 minutes.

We did a quick puja in the temple and admired the views, then returned to the bottom of the hill and back to Hampi Bazaar where we had a couple of nice veg curries (me) and mashed potato with fried onions, mushrooms & cheese (Sheila, always a favourite at some stage in India), with a couple of coldish beers at the Chill Out restaurant overlooking the river valley (the river was there but invisible in the dark).

Tues 7th. We had a big drive out to see several important temples from the early south Indian Hindu civilisations, which thrived from the 5th to 8th centuries.

Banashankari market
First we stopped at Banashankari village where there was a colourful, bustling but fly-blown market with noisy motorbikes whizzing through while we tried our best to get in their way, a colourful, bustling temple ...
Banashankari temple chariot
... and a spectacular temple festival chariot.

Next stop was Badami where there are four rock-cut cave temples with spectacular well-preserved carvings of Hindu deities and Jain saints, with a resident population of evil Macaque monkeys pinching water bottles, bananas and crisps from the tourists.

Pattadakal temple
Then on to Pattadakal where there is a group of stone-built temples in different styles with more impressive carvings.

Finally to Aihole with more temples in earlier experimental styles. It was all fascinating but we were all templed out by the end and dozed through the two-hour return journey through the villages and agricultural landscapes. In the evening we had another very tasty room service picnic and finished our bottles of wine.

Nandi Hills and Grover vineyard, Karnataka

Weds 8th. We had a relatively lazy day, having a pleasant breakfast at Clark’s Inn then driving with Samir, our long-distance driver engaged by Kai, towards Bangalore, stopping for a nice thali lunch at a roadside restaurant, then turning off and going cross-country to Nandi Hills north of Bangalore, arriving about 6pm. The Nandi Hills do indeed have a distinctive Nandi shape like all the statues in Shiva temples. We stopped at the Mount Palazzo hotel which wasn’t bad for £20 a night except for the aggressive monkeys – we had just got out of the car when one tried to grab one of our carrier bags, but Sheila wasn’t letting go and it skulked away empty-handed when she tried to bash it. We were still full from lunch so had masala papads and pakora snacks and a couple of Kingfisher beers in their bar. We seemed to be the only people in the hotel because it’s midweek and all the crowds come from Bangalore at the weekend.

Thurs 9th. We got up at 8am and went for a tour of Nandi Hills, which is a pleasant park at 1,500 metres on top of one of the hills, with spectacular views and a sweet little stone temple with interesting carvings built on the bare rock.

Grover Vineyard, Nandi Hills
We had a cup of chai and drove down the hill and along to Grover Vineyard where we went on the winery tour. Salman (a Muslim!) took us round and explained the nuances of grapes and winemaking, and then the wine tasting where he explained how to savour the different wines and how to pair them with Indian or European food.

We had lunch (included in the winery tour) despite rather bad tummies from the snacks at Mount Palazzo then had a rather exasperating four-hour drive to Mysore because Samir the driver had turned into a monster who hooted at every person or vehicle that we saw, as well as shadows and empty space, of course with his headlights on full all the way. It was nice to arrive at Clark’s Inn in Mysore where they had upgraded us to a nice, sound-proof suite (we appear to be the only Europeans staying) and after unpacking we went for a very tasty meal in their rooftop restaurant.

Mysore, Karnataka state

Fri 10th. We were both still a bit under the weather so we had a quiet day loafing around in our nice hotel room. Both the Clark’s Inns have been very nice hotels with staff who couldn’t do enough to help us, especially Razim here in Mysore. We had laundry done which was very good value at 350 rupees for three shirts, a blouse, three underpants and three hankies (it was 380 + tax for one shirt at the Marriott, our next destination).

Sat 11th. We set out in an auto-rickshaw from the stand outside the hotel and went to the very efficient computerized reservation office at the station where we went straight to the ‘senior citizens and ladies’ window avoiding the long (take-a-ticket) queues, and booked our train to Chennai for tomorrow. We were lucky to get seats from the ‘foreigner allocation’ (only available 24 hours before) because all the normal places are always booked up weeks in advance. Then we got another rickshaw out of town to Srirangapatnam, Tipu Sultan’s stronghold in his wars with the British in the late 1700s. We joined the long queue of weekend pilgrims at the Ranganathaswami Temple and shuffled our way through the old, stone-built halls with impressive sculptures until we were face-to face (almost) with the reclining Vishnu deity lying on his five-hooded cobra. Next we stopped briefly at the grim dungeon where Tipu’s British captives were chained to the walls for up to 10 years (if they survived) as the dungeon was flooded, then on to the simple memorial on the spot where Tipu was shot aged only 48 in the last of the Mysore wars. Finally we had a quick look at Tipu’s summer palace before returning to the town. We went back to the Adhi Manor hotel where we had stayed 10 years ago and had wonderful meals but that was a mistake because now the hotel is very run down and the food very ordinary. Sometimes you shouldn’t go back. We went to an Airtel office to have another go at buying a local SIM card and after more bureaucracy managed to complete the paperwork and buy one which they assured us would be activated tonight. Outside the office we got the oldest rickshaw with the oldest driver we’d met, and struggled back to Clark’s Inn at a snail’s pace – he may have been old but still tried to overcharge us.

Mysore full moon
We were settling down for dinner in their restaurant when the waiter called us onto the rooftop terrace to see the spectacular orangey red full moon.

Sun 12th. After a lovely breakfast we were going to have a quiet morning but we ended up auto-rickshawing back and forth into town to the Airtel office because the SIM card they sold us didn’t work. Eventually they gave up and refunded our money and we went to the station just as our Shatabdi Express chair-class train to Chennai pulled in (£11 each for what should have been a 7-hour journey). At first the journey was fun in the comfortable seats, as they came round giving us bottles of water, afternoon tea and snacks, dinner and chai (all included in the price). However, at one point we just stopped for a long time for no obvious reason and eventually arrived in Chennai two hours late about 11pm. Our unintentional experiment has now proved that there is no satisfactory way to travel long distances in India - trains are always annoyingly late, buses are unpleasantly bumpy and car drivers are just infuriatingly bad. We had booked the Marriott hotel as a bit of luxury on Sheila’s birthday and assumed it would be well-known, but the taxi driver hadn’t a clue and we went round in circles avoiding the works for the new metro, until we eventually got there and he demanded extra money because he’d got lost. We refused and went and had an expensive calming beer and wine in the lobby before retiring to our nice room. We learned that the ubiquitous Kingfisher beer is no longer available anywhere in Tamil Nadu because of some tax dispute with Vijay Mallia, the owner of the company.

Chennai (formerly Madras), Tamil Nadu state

Mon 13th. Today was a mixture of bureaucracy and sightseeing, and good and bad taxi/rickshaw drivers. First we got an ‘Uber’ taxi (very good value) down to the Fort area and tried to get into the Reserve Bank to change our demonetized notes, but the government or the bank had invented some new rules to make it impossible for foreigners.

Channai Tombs of the Apostles
Then we got a good rickshaw driver down the coast past the beach to St Thomas (Doubting Thomas’s) cathedral and tomb, which was nice. There are three churches built on top of tombs of apostles, St Peter’s in Rome, Santiago de Compostela in Spain and this one.

Then we got a completely clueless rickshaw driver who went round in circles trying to find the Airtel office (we gave him the precise address), where we eventually got another SIM card. We will see if this one works. Finally we asked the chap in Airtel to call us an Uber taxi but it turned out he just called a friend with a car who got lost then hugely overcharged us to get back to the Marriott.

Channai Marriott
It all became much better though when the Marriott upgraded us to a lovely big suite with a bathtub in a quiet part of the hotel because we had sadly mentioned the noise from the building works in part of the hotel that they are currently renovating. It was a nice birthday present for Sheila (one of many, it turned out!)

Our Marriott gold status, left over from many business trips in the working days, gave us access to the Executive lounge where we spent the evening nibbling the excellent food on offer, chicken tikka, little massala poppadoms, tasty sandwiches, feta salads and an assortment of puddings, while the waiter generously topped up our glasses of wine, all for free.

Tues 14th. The excellent breakfast at the Marriott was supposed to be a buffet but the friendly, attentive waiters (we counted at least 20) were so keen to serve us that they ended up bringing everything we wanted, and more. The chef would cook eggs any style and the highlight for us was ‘pig bacon’, real smoky bacon, a rarity in India. Afterwards we walked a short way down the road to post a letter at the post office, then got a rickshaw further along to the historic Higginbotham’s bookshop (established 1844) in a big dusty shop with fans whirring and a marble staircase with heavy wooden bannisters. They said it wasn’t far so we walked to Express Avenue shopping mall, but because of all the metro works and the usual broken-up Indian streets it was a hot, difficult walk. We went to an Airtel office in the mall to activate the new SIM but still couldn’t get a straight story from the useless staff about how much it would cost to call England and how soon the card would actually be working. Calls in India are ridiculously cheap and quite cheap to USA & Canada, but not the UK.

Channai Amethyst restaurant
We carried on walking down White’s Road and luckily it wasn’t far to the Amethyst restaurant which was a wonderful haven of peace, where we sat on the shady verandah by the pretty garden, having a gooey Mississippi mud pie cake, a crème brulee, lime soda and coffee.

Our final taxi ride back to the Marriott was uneventful. We had another nice evening in the Executive lounge, spending two hours grazing on the different selection of nibbles tonight and the same nice, frequently-replenished wines. Subhasish, the really friendly, helpful man from reception, helped us to download some apps to the phone and he had an app to recharge Airtel accounts so we gave him some cash to recharge our phone and at last, after two weeks of trying, we had a working Indian telephone number.

Weds 15th.

Chennai Marriott
We had another lengthy breakfast at the Marriott then said our goodbyes to the multitude of helpful staff who had befriended us and they gave us lovely bon voyage macaroons.

We checked out and enquired about a car for the 1½ hour drive to Mahabalipuram – the Marriott’s own car would have cost a rather startling £85 but they happily rang a taxi company who did it for £14 and we were soon driving along the excellent dual-carriageway down the Coromandel coast in a nice 4x4 with a good driver.

Mamallapuram (formerly Mahabalipuram), Tamil Nadu

We found our way to the centre of the travellers’ town and got a nice room at the Sea Breeze hotel, a large sprawling affair at the end of a side street that we couldn’t afford on our last visit. We walked down to the beach to the Santana guest house where we stayed 10 years ago and found they had converted their unused roof space into a restaurant with a wonderful view of the length of the beach, the fishing boats and nets, cows, Indian ladies going into the water in their saris and the famous shore temple. We had pakora snacks and a couple of beers while they tried to sell us huge tiger prawns for the evening. We went on a fruitless tuk-tuk ride out of town to a couple of bottle shops to try to buy some wine, then strolled around the streets in the late afternoon sun checking out the restaurants. We settled for the Moonrakers and sat at a first-floor table overlooking the street and had a couple of curries and a beer. When we went in before 7pm all the restaurants seemed empty but by 8pm everywhere was busy even though it’s midweek. There was a wedding reception in progress in our hotel and all the grounds were decked out with strings of lights, a buffet was laid out on the lawn and groups of ladies in their best colourful saris were milling about being filmed by film crews.

Thurs 16th. Breakfast at the Sea Breeze was a buffet in the restaurant right on the beach where we did indeed get quite a sea breeze blowing through. Just like the Marriott the waiters (only two this time) couldn’t wait to serve us and hovered round anticipating our every whim. Afterwards we went sightseeing and walked to the historic Sea Shore Temple which was literally a stone’s throw from the beachside restaurant but, with no access to it from the beach, a lengthy walk around the streets to get to the ticket office. It’s very picturesque and we couldn’t resist taking all the pictures again that we took 10 years ago.

Mamallapuram Anjunas Penance
A couple of hundred yards back from the beach is a range of low rocky hills which have been elaborately carved over the centuries so we had a stroll along these, especially admiring ‘Anjuna’s Penance’, the world’s largest bas-relief.
Mamallapuram Five Rathas elephant
It was now pretty hot out in the midday sun so we had a sandwich in a café and retired for a rest. The expensive foreigner ticket to the shore temple, 500 Rs, about £6, also gave us access on the same day to the ‘Five Rathas’, a group  of rock-cut temples just outside town, with our favourite rock-carved elephant so we went there in the cooler late afternoon.

On the way back the rickshaw driver dropped us at the Radisson Blu hotel, very much the top-end option in town, and we strolled through their immaculately-kept shady grounds beside the swimming pool which wound its way through the gardens, had a look at their beachside restaurant with a tempting but incredibly expensive menu and impressive array of imported wines, but no Indian ones.

Mamallapuram beach
We walked back along the beach, past Bob Marley’s café, our former haunt which appeared closed, and up to the rooftop Santana restaurant again. Our waiter was as good as his word and after a short delay produced from somewhere outside, a cold bottle of Sula Chenin blanc, expensive but not Radisson prices (about £20 instead of £60+), which we shared as dusk fell over the view of the sea and the fishermen mending their nets.
Santana restaurant tiger prawns
Sheila had a couple of really enormous tiger prawns (£7 each) grilled in garlic and butter with salty chips (made from real potatoes) while I had a tasty prawn curry (with normal-sized prawns). The perfect end to a nice day.

Fri 17th – Sat 18th. We had similar days to yesterday, starting off with a bit of gentle sightseeing. We got a rickshaw a little way out of town to the Tiger Cave temple, completing one of the ‘big three’ by driving down the wrong side of a dual carriageway to get there with traffic bearing down on us, but we felt quite safe because our driver was beeping his horn at them! (We hung out of the door of a train on our way into Calcutta but we haven’t yet travelled on top of a train). The Tiger temple was set in a pleasant park where a school-children’s sports day was in progress and was probably historic but didn’t look old and wasn’t very impressive, it looked more like a sand sculpture than rock carving. We had a walk to the fish market where ladies were chopping up huge fish and shelling endless piles of small prawns. We had a refreshing soup (me) and mashed potatoes with fried onions (Sheila) and a read on the balcony before going out in the late afternoon for a walk up to the lighthouse with several more rock-cut temples en route. Then we went down to the Radisson for a stroll through their gardens and along the beach for another wonderful meal at our reserved table overlooking the sea at the Santana restaurant. The chilled Chenin blanc, huge tiger prawns and creamy prawns butter massala were wonderful again. Sheila’s birthday just goes on and on!

Pondicherry, Puducherry state

Sun 19th. After going round in circles with Georgie in his tuk-tuk we eventually got a taxi to Pondicherry and checked into Hotel de Pondicherry, a quiet haven of French culture with a nice restaurant where we immediately relaxed with a glass of wine and Kingfisher beer (plentiful here but nonexistent in Tamil Nadu) and an absolutely delicious peppery seafood soup. While Sheila had her afternoon rest I had a stroll round town and a nice coffee at Hot Breads café. In the evening we had a stroll down to Notre Dame cathedral checking out some nice-looking restaurants and hotels along the way, then came back along the promenade by the sea which had been closed to traffic and was full of people having a pleasant evening stroll. Back at Le Club, the restaurant of our hotel, we had a wonderful meal starting with the peppery fish soup then a deliciously tender steak with blue cheese sauce (Sheila) and a pizza Napolitana from the wood-fired oven (me), with a nice bottle of Grover cabernet shiraz from the Nandi Hills vineyard we visited a few days ago.

Mon 20th. After a complementary coffee sitting in the nice garden at Hotel de Pondicherry we set off and walked along the shopping streets looking for an internet café. We found it but it didn’t work for our email system. 

Pondicherry fish market
So we walked on to the main fish market which was in full swing ...
Pondicherry fish market
... full of fishwives’ noise and fish and prawns of all shapes and sizes, with a knife-sharpening man and an ice-crushing machine in one corner, ...
Pondicherry fish market
... but not everyone in the market was paying for their fish.

We walked down to Sri Manakula Vinayagar temple to be blessed by another temple elephant but she wasn’t there and a bystander told us she’d be back at 4pm. We strolled back through the pleasant, leafy park and along the promenade by the sea. Back at Le Club restaurant we had a very tasty lunch of peppery seafood soup and garlic bread with cheese. I popped out for a look at the railway station and ascertained that the two daily trains to Chennai were slow and ‘passenger class’ (i.e. uncomfortable) and had a coffee at another bread and cake shop. We walked back to the temple and learned from a better-informed shopkeeper that the temple elephant wouldn’t be back until March. We walked a different way towards the promenade and looked into the Promenade hotel, and realized that we had sat in their garden ten years ago for a kir before dinner. So we went into their garden and found it was happy hour and had nice two-for-one wines and a bowl of tasty Thai massala peanuts. Sheila had a Himalayan salted caramel ice cream on the way back, much nicer than it sounds, then we had two delicious steaks for dinner at Le Club.

Tues 21st. We hired a car and went for a day out to Gingee fort, 1½ hours drive from Pondicherry.

Gingee fort
The fort is a huge walled area with a mountain in the middle and after walking through gates and gardens past temples and tanks we started up the steep, uneven steps towards the hill top. It was incredibly hot in the midday sun (only mad dogs and Englishmen to be seen) with only occasional patches of shade and I eventually stopped ¾ of the way up after 575 steps (coincidentally the same as the Hanuman temple in Hampi) but Sheila bravely carried on and arrived red in the face and exhausted at the top.

We came down a bit more easily but still with very red faces and drove back towards Pondicherry, stopping for samosas and chai for lunch and bottles of water to re-hydrate. We walked along the prom to the Promenade hotel for our happy hour wines and at first they really messed us around, saying we couldn’t sit in the garden because a big party was coming, they weren’t doing happy hour and they didn’t have white wine. They sent us to the rooftop restaurant but we didn’t like the menu there and they were messing us around too so we returned to a table in the garden right beside the prom. Sheila set off to sort them out and suddenly it turned into a wonderful evening, with large glasses of 2-for-1 wine (so four each in total), a nice Nicoise salad starter and absolutely delicious steak with paprika, sour cream and baked potato and salami pizza main courses. We strolled back down the prom feeling very happy and mellow.

Weds 22nd. We set off at 7am for the long drive with Ram and his brother to Kochi. It was a comfortable car and the brother was a very good driver. At first the countryside was very misty and quite cold until the sun got going and warmed things up. We stopped several times for a tasty dhosa for breakfast, chai, pakoras for lunch and more chai, until we arrived at the ferry to Kochi fort in the evening.

Kochi, Kerala state

There is in fact a bridge a little further along but Ram’s GPS didn’t know that and the brothers seemed to be having a great time taking photos of the ferry and themselves to record their first visit to Kochi. We went to the Old Courtyard hotel but it was full, so went across the street to Fort Bridge View homestay where we got a really nice, clean, new-looking room with big, almost 4-poster beds, storage space (lacking in the last couple of hotels) and a clean, spacious bathroom, for a very reasonable £36. We walked round the corner to Menorah restaurant at Koder House, one of the historic old merchants’ houses near the waterfront, and had some refreshing beers and very tasty curry.

Thurs 23rd. We had a very pleasant day in Kochi Fort visiting old haunts. I had a tasty samosa chaat and a couple of pots of tea at the Teapot Café while Sheila was having assorted beauty treatments at the nearby salon.

Chinese fishing net
Sheila was a bit wiped out by the heat and humidity but I had a walk along the seafront past the Chinese fishing nets and through the historic old town and fort.
Kochi prawn dinner
It cooled down a bit at dusk and we went to the fishing harbour where boats were coming in and unloading piles of squid, and nearby at a fish stall we bought eight big tiger prawns for £20, which we took to an open-air restaurant in the adjacent park for them to cook (they weren’t as big as at Mamallapuram but still jumbos). First we went to the XL bar up the road and shared a bottle of Grover sauvignon blanc, then back to the restaurant where they cooked the delicious prawns for £2 and supplied two plates of chips from real potatoes for another £2.
Kochi prawns debris
Delicious, and a perfect ambience.

Fri 24th. We had a day out exploring the back roads of Kerala. We got the ferry from Fort Kochi to Vipin island and drove up to Kodungallore, formerly Cranganore, and went to the ruins of the brick-built Fort Kottapuram overlooking the junction of several rivers. There wasn’t much of the fort left but the location was nice. We drove along lots of minor back roads and over countless waterways with the GPS telling us to ‘slide left’ here and ‘slide right’ there, to Chennamangalam and visited a nicely-kept historic old synagogue.

Chennamangalam festival elephants
We were on our way through the village when we found a festival in progress at the Hindu temple ...
Chennamangalam festival musicians
... with a fantastic drumming and horns band ...
Chennamangalam festival elephants
... and three huge elephants dressed up for the occasion. There was no dragging Sheila away so we waited until the music had built up to a crescendo and they walked the elephants round the temple enclosure, then we drove away still deafened by the noise.

We had a quick look at a palace built by the Dutch in the 17th century and a nice old house, then returned to Kochi via the lively little town of Parur. There was a big queue for the ferry so we said goodbye to our nice driver and crossed as foot passengers then walked along to the fish stalls on the waterfront to buy our prawns for this evening.

Kochi teapot cafe
Then back to the Teapot café for a late lunch of samosa chaat and back to the hotel for a much-needed shower to cool down.

Our evening was very similar to yesterday, with nice half-bottles of Grover sauv blanc and cab sauv at XL bar while we chatted to Hunter, a nice American chap we met there, then huge prawns and chips at one of the open-air restaurants in the park. Unfortunately we had taken our prawns to the wrong restaurant and he tried to over-charge us for cooking them (£8 instead of £2 but we weren’t having any of that) but the prawns were still delicious.

Sat 25th. We had a walk round town, looking in at what had been the Grande Residencia where we stayed last time and the Malabar House, still a lovely up-market hotel where we first discovered Indian wine on our last visit. Then we walked back along the sea front enjoying what sea breeze we could find, and bought eight more huge prawns for tonight. We went to the Teapot café for some lovely cold refreshing banana milk shakes when they eventually came, and I went to the Elite bakery for a tomato soup which was nice when it eventually came (why is service so slow everywhere?) This evening was an almost exact replica of the last couple of nights; a nice drink and interesting chat with Hunter in the XL bar, followed by huge prawns and chips from real potatoes at the open-air restaurant.

Sun 26th. Up at 5am to go to the airport for the flight to Mumbai and Udaipur. We bought samosas and coffee at Kochi airport, then had endless free food for the rest of the journey – we had lunch on the flight to Mumbai, really nice hot and cold food in the lounge in Mumbai airport, then another meal on the flight to Udaipur. The new terminal at Mumbai airport was like a museum with elaborate traditional doors, swings and artwork, all annotated to describe what it was.

Udaipur, Rajasthan

Kankarwa Haveli Udaipur  
It was nice to see the taxi driver holding up our names on a signboard at Udaipur airport, and he drove us into town and to our favourite spot in Lal Ghat where we were delighted to meet Mr A, our friend the travel agent, and check into the Kankarwa Haveli in the uppermost room with the fabulous sweeping view of the lake and palaces.
Udaipur Kankarwa Haveli
After unpacking we sat on our private balcony drinking sparkling Sula wine from the bottle shop in Pondicherry and eating crisps from the lounge in Mumbai while the sun set and the lights came on around the lake.

Mon 27th. After breakfast on the terrace at Kankarwa Haveli, watching the lake and feeling the air go from chilly to hot, we went on one of our favourite Udaipur walks. First to the old clock tower and down ‘mending street’ to get some of Sheila’s necklaces restrung.

Udaipur market
Then back to the clock tower and all the way down the busy Barra Bazaar to the fruit and veg market near the new clock tower,
Udaipur market
where we bought ½ kilo of peapods for 20 Rupees to nibble as we walked, and a kilo of mangoes for 60 Rupees which the nice cook back at the Kankarwa sliced up for Sheila when we got back.

On the way back we stopped for a chai at the little samosa & chai shop, and dropped in for a chat with the marvellous Mr A, our old friend at Lake City travel shop. A bit later we went in an auto rickshaw to Chetak Circle where we revisited the flower shop we’d been to before to get an arrangement of 18 red roses in a basket to decorate the room for £4, then the nearby wine and beer shop to get a couple of bottles of wine, then across to the Ambrai restaurant to book our favourite corner table by the lake for tomorrow (Sheila’s birthday just never ends). As the sun was setting, on Mr A’s recommendation we went to the nearby Rainbow rooftop restaurant which used to be a ‘black hole’ café but is now a really nice restaurant with a full bar list, and had lovely butter chicken with quite a smoky flavor (Sheila says the best she’s ever had and she’s had a lot), with dal, rice, kulcha and raita. Afterwards, back in our room, we sat on our balcony and sipped our wine as we looked at the fabulous view of the lights on the lake.

Tues 28th Feb – Thurs 2nd March. We got a tuk-tuk round the palace to the other end of the lake and went up the ‘ropeway’ (cable car) to one of the hills overlooking the lake, with fabulous views of the lake and palaces on one side and sprawling Udaipur city on the other. We walked up to the top of the hill where there was a half-built temple where a puja started, with drums, bell-ringing, blowing conches and lots of waving a little fiery chalice. We spent a lot of one day having marathon mending sessions with a 2-hour shoe mend and a 1-hour handbag mend and polish, sitting with the shoemaker man by the side of the road, being watched by the friendly crippled beggar chap who squatted in the road expecting cars and bikes to avoid him, which they did somehow.

Shree Sheetal Nath Jain temple Udaipur
While we were waiting we had a look at the adjacent very sparkly Shree Sheetal Nath Jain temple.

We had lunches at the Rainbow café of masala papads, soup and rice pudding, or a delicious sizzling chocolate brownie. In the evening we walked round to the Ambrai, trying on the way to sort out the jumble of buildings we could see from the other side of the lake. We went up to the rooftop restaurant at Udai Kothi which we used to like but the tables seemed too crowded together now. Right opposite we went into the lakeside Hari Garh which used to be a rather bare beer garden but now they’ve built a two-storey restaurant with a big bamboo roof and a comprehensive bar drinks list so we sat and had a pre-dinner glass of wine. Finally we went to our reserved corner table at the Ambrai restaurant and had a meal that was just as good as it always was, with half-bottles of wine at exactly the right temperature, smoky chicken and lamb with rice and raita, all delicious and the setting by the lake still magical.

Fri 3rd – Sat 4th. We had a rather irritating journey home via Mumbai and Abu Dhabi, with delayed flights, endless queues for check-in, security and passport control, and fellow passengers snoring like pigs in a farmyard, only alleviated by glasses of champagne in the Al Dhabi lounge in Abu Dhabi airport.

Cow ina jewellers shop Udaiput
This cow is clearly on a shopping spree.

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