India: Parts of Kerala, Touch of Tamil Nadu Mumbai

Discussion in 'Global Trip Reports' started by belgarathc, Jan 27, 2011.

  1. belgarathc

    belgarathc Ol'Timer

    Hi,

    Here to share my India: Parts of Kerala, Touch of Tamil Nadu & Mumbai Trip Report. :)

    Motorcycle: Royal Enfield Bullet 350CC from Kerala Bike Tours at 110 Euros per week. Advance payment and deposit of 500 USD required. Royal Enfield is a unique bike that grows on you.
    Distance Covered: ~800KM
    Reference: Lonely Planet South India and GPS Map
    Spendings: SGD 1342 all in
    Summary: Give a discount to the stories you heard about India and you get a rapidly developing country with beautiful scenery, rich cultural heritage and friendly people.
    Blog Link: South Indian Ride

    Route
    Singapore > Kuala Lumpur > Kochi > Kumarakom > Kumily (Thekkady) > Kodaikanal > Munnar > Kochi > Mumbai > Kuala Lumpur > Singapore

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    Motorcycling in Kerala with a touch of Tamil Nadu, a train journey to Mumbai and Mumbai on foot

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    Detailed map of the anti-clockwise motorcycling loop which I took. I started off at Kochi and spent the nights at Kumarakom (near Muhamma), Kumily, Kodaikanal (Tamil Nadu state) and Munnar before returning to Kochi.

    Day 01 - Singapore to Kuala Lumpur to Kochi (Kerala, Inda)

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    My flight from Singapore to KL via Jetstar lands at KLIA (KL International Airport) while my connecting flight from KL to Kochi via Airasia takes off from LCCT (Low Cost Carrier Terminal). I only realised my bad planning when I was already on the flight. So here I am, on a KLIA to KL Sentral Express train. After lunch at KL Sentral, I took another train+bus to LCCT. Luckily, I have enough time to transfer between the two airport terminals (KLIA and LCCT). However, on the return trip, I have only a 3 hours buffer. After some illogical decision making, I bought another return air ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore from AirAsia with an 1 hour 40 mins buffer.

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    Friends told me that the moment I got out of the airport in India, I would notice that even the air smell different. I only noticed the air of apprehension and excitement in me. After a taxi trip which the driver asked for tips (I gave 50Rp), I settled down at Biju's Tourist Home and had a late dinner of Aloo Gobi and Butter Naan.
     
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  3. belgarathc

    belgarathc Ol'Timer

    Day 02 - Kochi to Kumarakom

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    Kochi is made up of a few islands and peninsulas. I stayed at Ernakulam and took a stroll to the boat jetty in the morning. Above photo shows a bus stand near the jetty.

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    Checking my GPS. I originally thought that my newly acquired Nokia C7 can replace my Garmin Legend Cx. But a dedicated GPS receiver with its waterproof capability, better durability, long battery life and non-touch screen interface is still a wiser choice for my trip.

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    Various boats docked by the jetty as I waited for my ferry to the historical town of Fort Cochin.

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    Reached Fort Cochin and took a stroll to the various sights. There are ample signage around. One would notice Kerala's tagline -God's Own Country everywhere we go.

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    Chinese fishing nets

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    Catholic church Santa Cruz Basilica was original built in 1506

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    Car and motorbike ferry

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    Took another long stroll from Fort Cochin to Mattancherry

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    Roaming goats

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    I like the colours of this photo.

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    Pardesi Synagogue and Jew Town

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    Mattancherry palace was built by the Portuguese for the Raja of Kochi. It now stores Hindu murals with scenes from Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranic legends.

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    Back in Ernakulam and visited the garage of my motorbike rental company which is located just 2 doors down from my hotel.

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    Rusty at parts, difficult to kick start, no electric start, gears on the right, foot brake on the left, kick up to to gear 1, kick down to gears 2-3-4, no signal lights, no fuel lock, heavy and older than me (manufactured in 1979!), needless to say, my first impression of the bike was not good. I took a test ride and my confidence was so low that I asked if there are any alternate bikes like the Bajaj Pulsar. Well, since I am in India, I should at least ride an Indian bike right? Mr Niaz was patient with me and tried to explain to me the virtues of the Enfield Bullet. Realising that it's around 2pm and I need to start moving or I might not reach Kumarakom before dark, I decided to bite the bullet (pun intended). So I quickly followed Mr Niaz and his mechanic to top up the petrol and bought a full-faced helmet (about SGD 12) for myself.

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    Indian traffic is not too scary. I would say that the traffic situation is similar to that of countries like Sri Lanka, Thailand or Vietnam. I find the amount of honking acceptable too. But then, maybe I have a higher threshold. My main problem was with the bike. Often, I needed to brake urgently and I stepped on the gears instead. And I was frequently worried that the engine would go off and I had to kick start the bike in heavy traffic. So I kept my right hand tight on the throttle even when neutral. Did I mentioned that it's hard to engage neutral? Above was the only photo I took during the ride from Kochi to Kumarakom. As you can see, there were useful road directions.

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    I survived my first 70km on Indian roads and reached Tharavadu Heritage Home in one piece. Most tourists chose to stay in a boat house to explore the Kerala back waters. But it's quite expensive and would probably make me feel more lonely. Oh, Arundhati Roy, booker-winning author of The God of Small Things, used to live in the nearby Aymanam village.

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    Glad to leave the Enfield Bullet behind and visited the Vembanda Lake and surroundings.

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    A house boat at Vembada Lake. Some house boats have modern facilities like air-conditioned rooms, kitchen and dinning room. I first saw a house boat and Ayurveda in action in the movie Backwaters (don't watch, it's quit bad).
     
  4. belgarathc

    belgarathc Ol'Timer

    Day 03 - Kumarakom to Kumily (Thekkady)

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    I visited Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary in the morning. Early morning is supposed to be the best time for bird watching.

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    “I see my path, but I don't know where it leads. Not knowing where I'm going is what inspires me to travel it." - Rosalia de Castro

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    Finally reached a watch tower towards the end of the trek. End of trek was marked by a huge pool of water.

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    I did see some birds.

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    Spotted another house boat in action.

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    Back to hotel, packed up and ready for another ride to Kumily.

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    Reached Rose Garden Homestay in Kumily. I was introduced to a slew of activities that I can participate in Kumily. There are boating, hiking, martial arts and dance performances. Most people come to Kumily for a boat ride in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Me too. But I was told that it's too late (4pm) and I should do it early tomorrow.

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    Took a walk around Kumily town.

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    Popular Indian sweets

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    Had a banana fritter and chai at a snack house. It cost me 12 Rp.

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    I noticed many pilgrims in Kumily and Kochi. I even met some on the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kochi. I later learnt that the famous hill shrine at Sabarimala attracts thousands of Ayyappan Devotees every year. Read more about Sabarimala here and the sad news I received when I was in Mumbai.

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    Ever wonder why people look up when they think?

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    Attended a Kalaripayattu (a form of Indian martial arts) demonstration. It's more interesting than I originally imagined.

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    After that, I went for a Kathakali (a form of Indian dance-drama) show. There were English explanations.
     
  5. belgarathc

    belgarathc Ol'Timer

    Day 04 - Kumily (Thekkady) to Kodaikanal

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    This is a shot of Periyar Lake taken from a KTDC boat. To get to this boat was an experience to be told. At 530am, I reached the entrance of Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary only to find hordes of vehicles behind the closed gate. I squeezed my Enfield to the front, parked it and joined the human queue for park entry tickets. In front of me was Hiren, an Indian from Australia. He told me that he was here yesterday as well but couldn't get any boat tickets for him and his wife. Looking at the long queues, I could see how that can happen and I was not too confident about catching the 7am KTDC boat today either. Hiren then asked I could pillion him on my motorcycle from the park entrance to the KTDC boat office by the lake as his car was way behind the other vehicles. I readily agreed but not before informing him of my incompetency with the bike. We soon bought our park entrance tickets, started our engines and readied ourselves on the motorcycle while giving fierce looks to our competitors. At 610am, the gates of hell opened and the world's most dangerous rally race flagged off. As vehicles sped and jostled for space, I gradually fell out the top 10 positions. It's definitely not helped by the dark. There were also humps along the way. Every time we spotted a hump, it's too late and we went "Wooooooaaaaaaahhh" as we flew through the air, half-expecting ourselves to fall off our bike. Realising that our bike remained on solid ground and our continual survival in the 3km race, we laughed hysterically. It's really crazy. Near the KTDC boat office, we quickly abandoned the bike and sprinted to the ticket queue. We made it!

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    Hiren and his wife

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    The sanctuary is 777 sq km and consists of a 26 sq km lake. In the morning, the boat ride is very peaceful with great scenery. The guide on the boat highlighted the various wildlife.

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    Wild boars. We also spotted deers and bisons.

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    The wildlife office is now very particularly about safety especially since the 2009 Thekkady Boat Disaster. Not sure if the boat in the photo is the capsized boat.

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    Next, I visited Highrange Spice Gardens for an educational tour on Indian spices.

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    Stopped by a view point, en route to Kodaikanal. The roads out of Kumily were flat and straight but as I neared Kodaikanal, the roads turned winding. It's always scarier to ride on the side the mountain roads where a mistake will see you at the bottom of mountains.

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    We can read the distance to the next destination from these Kilometer stones. Just kidding, most of the kilometer stones I spotted had English spelling of the destinations. If kilometer stones are not available, there should be obvious signs near every junctions.

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    Kodaikanal is a compact and misty town situated 2100m above sea level.

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    Dinner was Paneer Pulav with Masala Tea.
     
  6. belgarathc

    belgarathc Ol'Timer

    Day 05 - Kodaikanal to Munnar

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    In Kodaikanal, I stayed at Greenlands Youth Hostel. It's my most expensive accomodations in India at 1200Rp. It has sweeping views of the mountains.

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    It's very cold in the morning and some hot chai and Idli were definitely welcomed.

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    Took a leisurely walk around Kodaikanal lake. Being alone gives plenty of time for contemplation.

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    Scenery from Coaker's Walk.

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    Left Kodaikanal for Munnar. On the map, Munnar is just around 81km from Kodaikanal. That was what I thought when I decided to visit Kodaikanal. But after some internet search, I realised that the road has not been operative since 1990. I could get to Munnar either via Theni or Palani. I opted for Padani as going by Theni would mean repeating some of the roads I had taken.

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    You probably realised that I started taking photos along the ride. Yes, I am getting more confident with the Enfield Bullet and grew to like the engine sound, stability and power. I see almost zero traffic along the way and that worries me.

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    I was 1 hour out of Kodaikanal towards Palani when I came across road constructions. The poor car had to u-turn and climb back up the winding roads. Ah, that explains the low traffic.

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    I almost wanted to follow the car and take the Theni route until I saw a local coming out of the hut. I asked him about a bypass and he directed me to a small unblocked path only passable by motorbikes. By asking, I do not mean talking to him in English, Hindi or Tamil. It's just hand signals and a face that looked lost.

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    Road constructions. Talking about roads, most of the roads I rode on are in good conditions.

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    One of the 17 hairpin bends of Palani hills.

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    I stopped by another view point.

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    After a rather long ride (5.5hr) and passing through Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, I settled down at Westend Cottages of Munnar town.

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    As there was still time, I took a rickshaw (tired of riding) to Tata Tea Musuem. But wait, why did the sign says Kanan Devan Hills Plantations? The plantations used to be owned by Tata Tea until they distributed the ownership to the planters and the plantations are now known as Kanan Devan Hills Plantations or KDHP for short. The excellent video and write-up found in the museum gives a history of the plantations and the lives of the planters.

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    A staff explaining the tea growing process. He also taught us how to prepare tea properly and introduced white tea to us.

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    As the population of tea estate workers grew, houses, schools and facilities were built. Today, Tata Tea continue to maintain and fund the High Range School and the Tata General Hospital at Munnar.

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    My Nokia C7 at Hotel C7

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    Indian snacks

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    Having hot mutton soup by the road side in cold Munnar (1500m above sea level) is an enjoyment

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    View of Munnar town

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    Masala dosa. I was not adept with my fingers and broke dining etiquettes by putting fingers in my mouth and licking my fingers. Don't blame me, I am just a stupid tourist.
     
  7. belgarathc

    belgarathc Ol'Timer

    Day 06 - Munnar to Kochi

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    Took off early in the morning (6am!) for Top Station (34km away). The photo above shows Mattupetty Dam.

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    It's freezing cold but I couldn't find any hot chai shops at Echo Point.

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    Entrance to Top Station view point, the smaller sign says Tata Tea Ltd - Private Property.

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    View from Top Station

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    On the way back to Munnar, I rode pass tea plantations and more tea plantations.

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    Took a sneak photo of 2 plantation workers

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    Rolling hills of tea plantations

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    Another shot of the water dam.

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    Fun winding roads.

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    It took me almost 4 hours to get back to Kochi from Munnar. Traffic at Kochi was heavy. I settled back at Biju's Tourist Home and took a stroll along the coast.
     
  8. belgarathc

    belgarathc Ol'Timer

    Day 07 & 08 - Kochi to Mumbai

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    Decided to visit Cherai beach on Vypreen Island about 25km from Kochi before my train ride to Mumbai in the afternoon.

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    A family was having fun in the sea.

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    And this guy was deep in meditation. Talking about meditation reminded me of Osho. Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) might be a controversial figure but I find that I can relate to his books on Freedom and Courage.

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    Was on my way back to Kochi when I saw something huge coming up from my side mirror.

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    It's an elephant!

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    Chicken Biryani again, my comfort food. It's white, something my mother will approve (she thinks Singapore's Briyani Rice has a unappetizing colour).

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    Took a rickshaw (motorised 3-wheeler) to Ernakulam Junction Station for my 26 hour train ride to Panvel, where I need to switch to a local train via the harbour line to CST (South Mumbai).

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    I booked a AC 2 berth back in Singapore through cleartrip.com. Indian trains have quite a complex reservation system. Even if the bookings are full, you can still be on RAC (reserve against cancellation) or WL (waiting list). You would automatically move up if someone drop their reservation. Do vist seat61 for more information on Indian trains.

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    I reached Panvel according to schedule. Friends advised me to take first class for the local train to CST. So I queued up for a ticket only to be informed by the staff that I could cut queue if I am buying first class tickets.

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    First class carriage. The train was not very crowded. I find it interesting that cancer patients are represented by a crab

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    My first impression of Mumbai was the stately architecture of the numerous colonial buildings. The photo above shows the Mumbai Postal Office. My hotel (Hotel Travellers' Inn) in Fort was just a short walk away.

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    I had mushroom biryani at Anubhav The Veg Delite. It's one of the best biryanis I ever had. But I still do not like the taste of buttermilk.
     
  9. belgarathc

    belgarathc Ol'Timer

    Day 09 - Mumbai

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    Took a walking tour of Mumbai from Fort to Colaba

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    Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) or formerly known as Victorial Terminal (VT) is the city's most imposing building.

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    St Thomas' Cathedral is the oldest English building standing in Mumbai.

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    Mumbai city is quite clean and the roads are in good condition. However, I do see people sleeping on the streets and some beggars (mostly mothers and children).

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    The Gateway of India at the tip of Apollo Bunder. It was built to commemorate the vist of King George V but ironically, it's used later by the leaving British as India gained indepence. I was here to take a one hour ferry to Elephanta Island to see the rock-cut temples.

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    Mini museum near the entrance of the cave temples described the various carvings I will see in the caves and also gave an introduction to the caves at Ajanta and Ellora.

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    Shiva. Once upon a time in school, I learnt that Shiva is the destroyer, Vishu is the preserver and Brahma is the creator.

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    Cleverly advertised as the Indian Burger. I took the bait.

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    Return ferry ride to Mumbai mainland. On the left is the majestic Taj Mahal Palace and Tower. It was built in 1903 by JN Tata after he was refused entry to a "whites only" hotel.

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    I continued my walk to World Trade Centre further south in Colaba for the Mumbai Standard Chartered Marathon 2011 Expo. The goodie bag collection was well-organised and I took back many tidbits and healthcare products. I also visited the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (Prince of Wales Museum) on the way back to my hotel.

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    I spent the rest of the night preparing for my marathon tomorrow morning. I hope my well-worn shoes can bring me far.
     
  10. belgarathc

    belgarathc Ol'Timer

    Day 10 - Mumbai

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    Running route of the full marathon. For this run, I brought along my handphone in case of emergencies, also to take photos and track my run.

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    Woke up at 4am and walked to Azai Maidan, the holding area for the marathon. There were 2 starting times for the full marathon - 6:15am and 7:40am. 7:40am was meant for the elites competing for prize money. Needless to say, I joined the earlier group.

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    There was a sense of camaraderie in the air as we all knew we were in for something difficult together. I had people coming up to me checking where I came from and wishing me luck. The runners with the balloons were the 5 hour pacers.

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    This was the only photo I took along the marathon. It gave me an excuse to stop and rest.

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    I completed the marathon in 4:48hr, a slight improvement from my previous marathon in 2009. As evident from the cramps I got from the 30km mark, I certainly did not train enough. I should have at least jogged up to 30km during the trainings. Hopefully, I would be inspired enough for another marathon and achieve a more respectable sub 4:30hr timing in future. Overall, the Mumbai Standard Chartered Marathon 2011 was a well-organised race with ample running space and drinking water. The atmosphere was great with locals cheering the runners on and offering homemade food to the lethargic runners.

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    I limped back to my hotel, took a nap before catching a taxi to Mani Bhavan, a museum dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi. This should be a must-visit on everyone's itinerary. My favourite Gandhi's quote is "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.".

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    Chowpatty beach is a short walk away. There were many people flying kites. I was told that it's the Makar Sankranti festival which is celebrated with kite flying.

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    Kid at play, simple good fun

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    Sunset by Chowpatty. Actually, even before I started planning for my trip, I have read about places such as Chowpatty, Chor Bazaar and Dhavari Slums. And the books where I read about these places are some of my favourite novels. I highly recommend the following:
    - Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry
    - Such a Long Journey by Robinton Mistry
    - A Fine Balance by Robinton Mistry
    - Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra
    - Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
    - Village by the sea by Anita Desai
     
  11. belgarathc

    belgarathc Ol'Timer

    Day 11 & 12 - Mumbai to Kuala Lumpur to Singapore

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    I took a half day educational tour with Reality Travels to the Red Light District, Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat and Dharavi Slums. Above photo shows the 140-year-old dhobi ghat which literally mean "washing place". There is also a recently released movie titled Dhobi Ghat starring Aamir Khan. It's currently showing in Singapore with English Subtitles. Despite the huge number of movies churned out from Bollywood every year, I could only count 3 Indian movies which I have watched - Water, Slumdogs Millionaire and 3 Idiots.

    Reality Travel has a strict no-camera policy for tourists visiting the slums but they would provide some photos upon request. So the photos you see below are provided by Reality Travel. Before visiting the slums, I had expected that I would see skinny children, makeshift huts and in general, very bad living conditions. It must be the movies and the books. After the tour, my impression is that Dharavi Slums is basically a very oversized village with various cottage industries. Here are some interesting statistics about Dharavi slums:
    - Annual turnover of business is estimated to be above USD650 million
    - Population density is around 315,000 per square kilometer
    - 60% of mumbai police lives there

    Read more about Dharavi here.

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    After the tour, I went back to the hotel and read/chitchat with the staffs until evening when I took a taxi to the airport. Luckily, the plane reached Kuala Lumpur on schedule and I was able to clear the customs quickly. I was at the departure gate for my flight back to Singapore 1 hour before departure time. Reached Changi Airport and rode my Vespa back home. Had a good sleep before going back to office.

    Thanks for reading. :)
     
  12. David Learmonth

    David Learmonth Ol'Timer

    A comprehensive & interesting report! At least the new Royal Enfields are now with gear change on the left & brake on the right.
     
  13. belgarathc

    belgarathc Ol'Timer

    That's good to hear! :D
     
  14. burnjr

    burnjr Ol'Timer

    really nice report /thanks for sharing
     
  15. helbob

    helbob Ol'Timer

    Good report, i never been in india but maybe in the next months :)
    Can you tell me the url of this site:
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  16. ronwebb

    ronwebb Ol'Timer

    An epic and no doubt well researched trip with a very informative report. Thanks for sharing.
    Rod Page, India next?
     
  17. belgarathc

    belgarathc Ol'Timer

    The website is http://www.sports-tracker.com/

    I use its app for Nokia phone to track my jogs.
     

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