After an unsuccessful search for Bengal tigers in Bandhavgarh National Park, eight hours south-west of Varanasi, we embarked on an epic journey down the eastern coast (as there didn’t seem to be any major sights on the way) to the town of Pondicherry. We covered over 2,000km on three trains, taking four days. We met lots of chatty locals, some of whom shared their delicious food with us.
After all the travelling we were looking forward to a nice steak and maybe even some wine (it is very difficult to get alcohol in the country) as Pondicherry was formerly ruled by the French. However, we couldn’t have visited at a worst time as it was the run-up to an election so alcohol was banned for the three days we were there.
Nevertheless we wandered the shady streets and admired the old colonial residences and appreciated the see breeze after sweating inland in 40C heat for the last week or so.
After a brief stop at the disappointing hill station of Kodaikanal (we expected a small town on top of a mountain but it was just a big city with the odd nice view), we reached Madurai and checked out its famous huge Hindu temple.
Next up was our first Indian beach, Varkala, on the west coast. It had a lovely setting as the sand was backed by red cliffs and on top were cool restaurants and bars. For a few days we lazed on the sand by day and gouged on plates of fresh grilled seafood by night.
A few hours further north we reached Allepey and the Keralan backwaters. A huge area just inland from the sea where there are numerous canals and boats are the main form of transport. We took the local ferry across a nearby lake and down some of the tributaries to get a glimpse into the traditional lifestyle.
Fort Cochin, a former Portuguese settlement was our next stop. We checked out the European architecture, visited Jew Town and snapped some churches.
It was soon time to get back to the beach and we headed further north to Kannur where we spent two days at a homestay right on the coast lazing in hammocks and eating delicious Keralan home cooking (lots of coconut dishes). From there we spent a few days on the quiet beaches around Gokarna.