Traveling around South India
My trip began when I left for the airport, as I got into my car I decided to leave everything that I knew behind and opened myself to accepting and experiencing everything as new and an opportunity to learn. “When in Rome” is the perfect way to have an amazing trip, India is not Plymouth, Michigan. Who wants to travel 9000 miles to have everything predictable anyhow?
When I arrived in Trivandrum, India 28 hours later, I was whisked off to my resort by the taxi that was sent for me (they had my name on a paddle). The ride was chaotic to my senses as Indian roads are shared with rickshaws, pedestrians, dogs, mopeds and motorcycles (usually with 3 passengers) cows, buses, taxis and cars all clamoring for space on the unlined but thankfully paved roads. Instead of using a turn signal, they beep their horns and wave their arms out the window to pass each other.
The “highway” in Trivandrum is a 2.5 lane road that is lined with small shops that resemble large storage facilities with garage doors. Each “shop” is independently owned, but strangely seem to sell the same wares. Trinkets, foil packs of candies hanging in strips and bananas, everyone sells bananas in India. Mile after mile, everywhere you go it all looks the same.
Sadly, most roads are lined with trash including the medians. Cows will gather there to eat the coconut that remains in the casted off shells. One can’t happen to notice the lack of trash cans (that is why the trash is on the ground), when they are available they call them “dust bins.”
I guess you could count an elephant ride as a mode of transport too! Our resort had the local pachaderm visit us and allow us to ride on his enormous shoulder blades, this is an experience I am so glad I did. Later tht night, the same elephant was the key player in the Naga Temple procession that we attended.
If you stay at Manaltheeram, it is a 20 minute ride to Kovalam Beach and a 40 minute ride to the city of Trivandrum. You can hire a taxi to take you to town and stay while you shop. For a more exciting and noisy ride, you can also hire a rickshaw or “toot toot.” I do recommend doing either of these as you can hire either from the area near your resort and trust that you will be returned there safely. Taxi stands are located near the resorts and the drivers can be hired through the hotel (they have to pay a commission to the resort when they are summoned) so they will give you a business card to call them directly after the first trip. It felt like I was 12 years old and had my dad driving me to the mall, it honestly felt nice and safe. India is like the Wild West at times, women travelling alone can benefit from having a knowledgeable driver to look after you.
A group of us took a day trip to Kannya Kumari in Tamilnadu, at the very tip of India where the Indian Ocean meets the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Our “deluxe” motor coach was very comfortable. It cost roughly $20 USD for each of us to be driven on the day long excursion.
There is an atrocious line (about a mile long) to buy ferry tickets to visit the islands on Sunday at Kannya Kumari, so plan to visit on another day of the week. The ferry is a short trip, with requisite life preservers (doubt that they would float due to the dry rot).
When I went to Chennai, I flew on an Air India flight, it was a little over an hour and very convenient. The airport was clean and despite the reviews on many travel blog sites, the bathrooms were fine. There were no masses of beggars waiting outside the airport, as others have said as well.
I hired a taxi for the day ($64 US dollars) to take me to the ancient ruins at Mahabalipuram. I chose to use the government regulated taxi service that had a kiosk at the airport. When we arrived at the first set of ruins two and a half hours later, a man jumped into our taxi and flashed a badge at me claiming that he was a guide and that it would cost me 100 rps ($2.10 USD) for a guided tour of all the ruins. I was tired and taken off guard so I said “Okay,” the taxi driver started to yell at the guide and they began to argue. I told the guide to get out and to stop yelling. He was screaming that I should not trust the driver, then the driver yelled at the guide again. Whoa what just happened? After he left the driver said that the guy was a scammer and that he would charge me for each stop and tried to get the driver to convince me to agree (for a cut of the take). I felt kind of gullible, but was interested in a guided tour. I’m glad the driver was looking after me, as I was on my own half way around the world and no one back home knew where I was. Kind of puts it in perspective.
There were several Police blockades on the way from the Chennai airport to the ruins and also en route from our Resort in Trivandrum to Kannya Kumari. Drivers are required to report the names of their passengers, so don’t be alarmed.
The best advice I can give is to be flexible and prepared with small bills to pay tolls. Negotiate the cost of the ride before you get in the vehicle and carry bottled water, a snack and toilet paper with you, as you may not encounter any even in restrooms with European Water Closets. Hand sanitizer and wipes are also a MUST as no bathroom beside the one at my resort had hand soap.
Overall, the trip was amazing and such an experience that I can’t wait to go back!
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