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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hong Kong Day One

Day 01 - 21st December 2014

This long day started at 12:00 AM. We left home at around 10:30PM and reached the airport by 11:30PM. Check-in, security checks and immigration formalities happened in no time. Sitting and waiting for our flight, I thought of how this idea of visiting Hong Kong occurred to me. Perhaps, it all started when Stefan and Yulia told me about how cool Hong Kong was and since our October trip to Kerala was ruined because of my operation, I decided on this quick alternative for December. I booked the flights two months in advance so things weren’t very expensive. I think thats about the right time to make your reservations. I then took sometime to figure out where I had to stay. There are several budget options and some of the guest houses can give you a good deal. But they are cramped and there is hardly any space. The hotels are very expensive. I finally settled in for YHA Mei Ho house, youth hostel; A community building built for the resettlement of the Hong Kong fire victims of 1953 is now converted into a beautiful youth hostel. Even though its a little far from the harbour and HK island, i thought it was my best option. They have dormitory that are cheaper but also private rooms that are decently priced. They have a common kitchen if you want to cook.Here is the Website for more details.

Our flight was around 40 minutes delayed. It took off at around 2:10AM and we reached Hong Kong at 10:15AM. Our immigration went by smoothly and we were granted a 14 day stay. For Indians and many other nationalities, one has the privilege of visa free visit for 14 days. We were asked for our passports, return tickets and hotel reservations. As soon as we collected our bags, we walked to the ATM and I withdrew some cash. For some reason my SBI Visa card would not work so I had to rely on my Citibank card. My friend Sushanth had told me that ATM transaction was the best way to get the exchange. I am yet to find out how much they charged.  I next went to the Metro station that is just outside of the airport where I verified if the octopus card given to me by Sushanth was still working. It was and it had 11 HK$. I added HK$ 950 as the limit on the card could not exceed 1000. 

Now, an octopus card is something really cool. Its basically a replacement to your cash. You don’t have to carry coins and cash anymore. Buses, shops and many places accept the card and deducts the exact change from it. These cards can be recharged in any 7/11 shops of which there are millions. Stefan had briefed me about it. We then walked to the bus station. We had to take E21 and the next bus timing was 12:20 PM which was still 30 mins away. But as we walked to the Bus stop, we saw the bus already there. We boarded the bus and I showed my Octopus card. HK$ 14 was deducted. But I could not swipe the card twice for Preethi. I had to pay it in cash. The system only allows you to use one card for one ride. So if you are traveling in groups each one has to have a card. But thats no pain at all. 

We had a good 40 minutes drive from airport to Kowloon. The vegetation is very similar to that of India. However, the difference comes in the infrastructure. Wide roads, fast trains and tall buildings. The city is very clean. We got down at Yen Chow Street and then walked up to Tai Po Road. If you stand at the dead end of the Yen Chow street you shall see the orange coloured hostel. But we had to ask several people for direction until we noticed that. But what was amazing is that everyone is helpful and kind. 

We checked in to the hotel. I must say that this youth hostel has one of the best accommodations. The rooms are big and with several cabinets and is equipped with all the facilities that you might need. It seemed value for money for HK$ 730. However, if you book in advance you might find a better deal.




We freshened up and went down to checkout the restaurant within he hostel premises.  They have very less vegetarian option. We tried some spaghetti with mushroom and french toast. Both were not that great. I somehow dislike the smell of the cooking oil that they use.

I got access to free wifi that the hostel provides and activated the SIM card I had bought. Stefan had suggested this card and they are available in any 7/11 store - PCCW HKT (3G Rechargeable Sim Card- $48). Now this too has free wifi that you might need on the go. I am yet to explore the tariffs. 

After a short nap we walked to the Ap Liu street flea market. It is walkable distance from the hostel and the streets are filled electronic gadgets and accessories. 



After a good walk around and buying some stuff we headed back to the hostel. On our way back we stopped at the MTR station to buy an octopus card. Having eaten bread all day it was required to eat some plain rice and curd. So we cooked rice in the hostel kitchen and I bought some yogurt from a nearby store. 

A long day seems to have come to an end but more is expected from the days to come. 

Continued Here  - Lantau Island, Hong Kong

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Cherai Beach To Ernakulam

I Continue from here...Thrissur And Cherai Beach

Next morning, I got up early and took a walk to the beach. The waves were very ferocious. Having born and brought up very close to the beach, I had never seen such ferocity of the waves. I walked back to the hotel where a brilliant, big cup of morning tea awaited me. I had an extra half cup. It was a wonderful view. We enquired about a boat ride in the backwaters, which to us seemed expensive - Rs 1000 for an hour. The backwaters was filled with activity that morning.






We had some delicious appam and vegetable stew along with some vanilla tea for breakfast. After which, we headed to the beach. Due to the violent nature of the waves, we did not go much further into the water but it was fun as always to be hit by the waves. 

After returning, we got ready to head back. The German tourist staying in the neighbouring house stopped by and we had a small chat. For some reason, I felt that he was hesitating to tell which country he was from. He spoke very good English with very less German ascent. 

I had read somewhere that we could take a ferry to Kochi but after enquiring with the hotel owner it turned out that we had to cross the backwater by boat, then take an auto to Cherai town and then a bus to Vypin island and then a ferry to Kochi. We found that to be exciting and I decided to film the entire stretch. 

We left the hotel at around 11 AM. It was a good stay and thanks to the generous owners who are not really money minded. For such a good accommodation, food and service someone else would have looted a tourist. 



Stretch 1 - Walk from the hotel to Boat stop. 

The boat stop is very close to the Ambady’s villa. We took a left at the gate and another left near a church. That road ends at the banks of the backwater. The boat had just left our side and we had to wait until he gets a ride back.

Stretch 2 - Crossing Cherai Backwaters.

After waiting for about 5 minutes we signalled the guy to bring the boat back. For our delight after some thinking he did make this solo ride back. We boarded the boat and crossed the backwaters. We requested him to take us close to one of the chinese fishing nets to have a closer look at it. At the other end, by then he had passengers waiting. We paid him Rs20 (Rs5 per person) and walked to the main road.


Stretch 3 - Auto Rickshaw ride from the banks to Cherai town.

As soon as we reached the main road, we got an auto. He charged us about Rs 80 to get to the town. We had meant to stop at the Cherai fort which we thought was in town but it turned out that we had just passed the place on our way (Pallipuram) and it was about 4 kms behind. So anyways, we got down at the town centre. At a small bakery, we had some snacks.


Stretch 4 - Bus ride from Cherai to Vypin.

While waiting for the bus, we met a retired Navy employee. He proudly introduced himself thus and even showed us his employee card. Well, when one thinks of army, navy or airforce, one only thinks of soldiers. But here was a man who is so proud of having served the navy and being part of it as a ground staff. He was amongst the people who carry grocery and stationaries to the ship as it docks at the harbour. I realised how less we think of their contribution when we think of army. He was very kind in directing us to the right bus. He spoke Hindi which is a rare sight in Kerala; thanks to his navy connection. The bus would have directly taken us to Ernakulam but we decided to stick to the plan. Vypin is around 15 kms from Cherai. The bus drive reminded me of the same in Mangalore - Private buses speeding on narrow roads.

Stretch 5 - Ferry from Vypin to Fort Kochi

Very next to the bus stand is the Ferry stop. A long queue of vehicles and people were waiting to board the ferry. We took tickets of Rs4 per head and ran to catch the ferry that was about to leave. It was a quicker and much exciting travel to get to fort Kochi. I met a Mangalorean Konkani but he did not speak Kannada. He suggested we go to the Venkataramana temple. The views were spectacular.


Stretch 6 - Fort Kochi to Ernakulam - another Ferry.

I had not realised that fort Kochi was actually on the same island as that of the muttenchery. So that meant we had to take a bus to Ernakulam where we were to board our bus to Bangalore. But we decided to walk around the place before deciding on that stretch. We took a walk to Princess street which has an European feel to it. 


We walked to St Francis church where lies the tomb of Vasco de Gama. 


Then stopped to watch the Chinese fishing nets. These were for commercial purpose to attract the tourists. Much different from those we had seen in Cherai whose purpose was to sustain a livelihood through hard work. on the other hand, here it was the tourists who were falling into the net. 

We found out that we had two options to get to Ernakulam  One, take a 1 hour to bus drive or take a Ferry for 15 minutes to cross the harbour. We decided on the later. So we walked to the ferry stand which looked slightly crowded. However, we got tickets and boarded the next available ferry. The ride was beautiful as we watched the navy ships and some tall buildings of Ernakulam.  As we approached the Ernakulam station the drizzle had turned into heavy rain. So our captain decided to park the ferry adjacent to the two other ferries near the dock While doing that he hit the other ferries that made a loud noise scaring the passengers. Then we had to hop through 3 ferries and run towards the shelter. That was an experience to remember.




So that was how we got to Ernakulam from Cherai beach. It was one heck of a ride to remember. Time was already 2:30 PM and we had to wait until the rain subsided. We took an auto for Rs 170 till Lulu mall. The auto driver took us through some really narrow interior roads. At the mall, we had our lunch. We met our colleagues Bhargav and Chetan. After window shopping for a while, we decided to take a bus back to KSRTC bus stand. It was again a good drive through the city. Ernakulam is fast developing and with proper infrastructure it could be one of the most beautiful cities in the country. 

Our Airavata arrived on time and we left the city at around 6:30 PM. It was a great trip and Amabdy's villa and the travel from Cherai beach to Elankulam was the star event of the entire trip. 

Photo Credits - Rohit Badhya, Charan Kumar, Subashchandra Rai & Ajeya Rao

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Thrissur & Cherai Beach

Wedding of a colleague took me to Trissur on 22nd of November. Subbu, Charan, Rohit and I left Bangalore on Friday night in an Airavata bus. I had a very funny experience on the way with an auto driver; a man in his mid fifties. He was in the mood of telling stories. He started with « The Man-eater » that he had read in seventh standard that told how a tiger first tasted human blood. He also narrated another story that was called -Under the cable of the sea. I think he had two words jumbled up there. Well, this one told how difficult it was to lay cables under the sea during the times of telegraph. In spite of that, he made sure to drop me at the bus stand before time.

Bus journey was uneventful. We reached Trissur at around 7 AM. Our colleagues friend drove us to the hotel. For my morning tea we stopped at a small tea stall in front of the hotel. I was very impressed by the way hygiene was maintained here. The shop keeper cleaned the glass with hot water. Then added milk, then pulled out a small container with decoction and added it to the milk, Added some sugar and stirred it well before handing it over to me. He cleaned the spoon in hot water every time he reused it. I was so happy to have a tea made exactly how i make it at home. Other wise in Bangalore the tea would be boiling for hours together until a weird taste of milk dominates it.


After freshening up and having the complimentary breakfast at the hotel we walked to Vadakanathan Temple. This is my third visit to this temple and the serene atmosphere around here makes this place a very beautiful place to pass time at. The temple architecture and the wall murals are just fantastic. 


Before returning to the hotel, we stopped at a store to buy Dhotis. On our way, we saw a restaurant by name Udupi Brahmin’s hotel. Suddenly Subbu smelled Mangalore buns and we thought lets check it out. However we found ourselves stuck with 4 inedible idlis, two extra sweet teas and a bunch of old waiters who had connection to Udupi.

We then went to the Church to attend the wedding. This is the third Malayali catholic wedding that I am attending and they are so different from how one might have perceived a christian wedding to be. Some of the traditional Hindu rituals are still practiced. We met other colleagues who had driven on a TT. They narrated their mishaps with a broken vehicle that had delayed their journey. 

We drove to another Church - Lourdes where the food was arranged. A beautiful Church.




After a good meal, we wished the couples, said bye to others and drove back to the hotel. Packed in fifteen minutes, we left Trissur and drove directly to Cherai Beach.

Cherai is a thin strip of land between the sea and backwaters. We checked in at the Amabdi’s service villa. Once you reach Cherai beach, take right and drive about 1.5 kms to reach the hotel Eden. Hotel Eden is run by the same group and it is sea facing. We had preferred the backwater facing home stay called Ambadi’s service villa which I strongly recommend. They have three rooms constructed in traditional Kerala style, whose front doors open to a beautiful lawn and garden which ends at the banks of the backwater. The backwater is filled with Chinese fishing nets. Since this place is attached to their house, drinking is not allowed. So if you wish to arrange alcohol, you must book Hotel Eden on the main road. But really, this place is much better. 

Link to their website - http://www.edensservicevilla.com/backwater-heritage/
Contact # - Mr Ambady - 09605262499




At the hotel, we met a Kannada care taker who is from Hubli and had lived in Malpe for 8 years. It was also surprising that in 8 months of his stay in Kerala he had learnt the local language. We were happy to have him as a mediator. We requested aunty for dinner and decided to take a walk by the beach. We took a long walk till the Cherai beach central area which was as crowded as a mall in Bangalore. We had some road side snacks and returned back. On our way, we stopped at a Bhuvaneshwari temple that was beautifully lit during that hour of dusk. Rohit also enquired about Kerala massage. Massages are priced from Rs1500 onwards. Amabdi’s are also gonna start massage centre at their place soon but as of now only one place seems popular. However, inspite of all that excitement about a massage long before the trip, Rohit decided not to have one. 


We returned back to the hotel and sat by the banks of backwater observing the fishermen modulate the Chinese fishing nets. It was a beautiful sight as in dark, we observed the bulb attached to the pivot point of the sticks that hold the fishing net, being lowered and pulled up. Mahesh told us about some of the happenings around. He told us how there were several foreign visitors in this area whom he referred as « Saips ». They would want to settle here so, they buy land by having a joint ventures with locals. One of the recent was by a London tourist with a joint venture between him and an auto rickshaw driver he had befriended during his visits. He also told that the house in the same compound was also owned by Mr.Amabadi and normally couples come and stay there for several months. Currently a German guy and his Indian wife with their kids were vacationing there. Aunty cooked some delicious meal for us - Chapati, Cabbage Subji, Rice, A curry made of coconut and buttermilk, papad and fish fry for the non-vegetarians. 

After that good meal, we chatted for a while and went to bed. The interiors of the house is all very traditional with Red oxide floors, Mangalore tiles for roof, coconut leaf chapara for the roofs near sit outs. Everything here seemed well thought of and and neat. I looked forward for the next day, as I new it was going to be adventurous. I had just unearthed a interesting plan to get to Cochin.

Continued Here  - Cherai Beach To Ernakulam

Photo Credits - Rohit Badhya, Charan Kumar, Subashchandra Rai & Ajeya Rao