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O, pretty pretty palm tree, life is beautiful with thee

  • Submitted by: Hans & Mirjam Damen, Netherlands
  • Submission Date: 18th Aug 2006


South India with young children

It was absolutely fabulous to be back in India. After having travelled all over Asia since the mid eighties, we paused for a couple of years after our kids were born. The travel bug was no longer content with France though, so Mum and Dad decided to go to South India over Christmas 2005 and Frank (5,5 years old) and Marit (almost 4) agreed wholeheartedly.
For the parents it felt like coming home and the kids loved it. Climbing up Chamundi Hill in Mysore, riding elephants and speedboats in Munnar, Relaxing on the lake in Ooty, performing arts in the park in Pondicherry, staying with a wonderful family in Cochin, running through temples screaming “ayappah…” in Tamil Nadu; everything was great. The friendly attention of the Indians for the kids was a bit much at times, but then there was always the private space of our own Ambassador car and the care of our wonderful driver Gandhi. This report combines our impressions with some practicalities and travel advice.
Forget Disneyland, India is the place to go!

Hans, Mirjam, Frank and Marit Damen

Practicalities

Preparation

Any trip to Asia will be much more fun with some preparation done, but this certainly is the case when taking kids. This was to be our fifth (Hans) and third (Mirjam) trip to India, so we knew a bit what to expect. We started preparing with the Lonely Planet (LP) ’Travel with Children’. As a guidebook we used the 2005 edition of the LP ‘South India’. We got a lot of information from www.lonelyplanet.com , www.roughguides.com , the rec.travel.asia newsgroup and www.indiamike.com. For up to date information we especially recommend the latter site. In general there is not a lot of specific information on travel with small children in India available, but we got some useful contacts and tips via Indiamike.com. We posted scans of our passports and visa to our hotmail address.

Transport

At first we thought we would go backpacking again, but after consultation on the web we decided to do it a bit more luxurious this time. We did a bit of a websearch, sent out some emails and got in contact with Mrs. Faith Pandian from Window to the World. (www.tourism-southindia.com No 4, Annai Avenue, Vasanth Nagar Extn, Kollidakarai, Srirangam Trichy - 620 006, Tamil Nadu (INDIA) Tel No. :+(91)-(431)-2433372/2437183/2435219 email : info@tourism-southindia.com). Faith reacted very promptly to our emails and did not need any payment up-front. She arranged a brand new ambassador car with AC and driver for us. We paid 875 euros for 25 days unlimited mileage (and unlimited service) which is a bit more than you would probably pay if you arrange it in India.

Our driver Gandhi was absolutely brilliant. Being a father himself he took extremely good care of us and especially of the children. Gandhi is very friendly and speaks good English. He was always on time, the car was clean inside and outside whenever he called in for duty in the morning or when we showed during the day. This is quiet a feat if you imagine our children putting their dirty shoes automatically against the back of the front seats. Gandhi was also a very useful source of information on sights, hotels and restaurants, without being pushy about anything. In the end he even managed to sing along to some of the Dutch songs we sang during the longer car rides. We highly recommend him (and Faiths travel agency).

Money and costs

India is a cheap country by any standard, but travelling with the kids certainly made it a bit more costly. For comparison; in 1997 we spent about 35 Euros a day during our seven week honeymoon in India and in 1998 we spent 25 euros a day during a trip to Nepal and Sikkim. Now our daily budget averaged 120 euros. From this amount we spent about half on accommodation, a bit over 25 % on the car plus driver and the remainder on food, drinks, entrance fees, souvenirs, tips etc. . Especially the accommodation cost a lot compared to what we used to spent, but we were with four now, we spent more time in the hotelroom and wanted cleaner and more spacious accommodation. We used our creditcard for paying the car and some hotels. We used our normal banking cards to get cash from ATM’s, that are now abundant. Prices we mention are always including tax. Like almost anywhere in Asia (and the world), tourists are overcharged in India. Two simple rules apply: ask prices before you order anything and bargain for everything. It will make your stay a lot cheaper.

Weather

The monsoon had been very heavy this year, washed away lots of houses and roads in Tamil Nadu and tens of thousands of people were rendered homeless. We arrived during the tail end of the monsoon, so we decided to do our trip anti-clockwise and travel west as soon as possible. After the first three days we had excellent weather with temperatures between 25 and 35 degrees Celsius.

Friendliness, dangers and annoyances

In general we think people in the South are a lot more friendly and relaxed than in the North. This was one of the reasons to choose (again) for the south. The more relaxed you are yourself, the more friendly responses you'll get, in the north as well as in the south. If someone wants to take you to his shop (hotel, sister, wedding, festival, home) and you don't want to join him, be firm in keeping the direction you were going in. Try to talk to them about other things; even touts can be fun to chat to.

Travel with two young blond children attracts a lot of attention. This is in general not meant in an unfriendly way, but at times it would get a bit annoying for the kids. What was really a nuisance is everybody trying to pinch the kids in the cheek. “NO PINCHING” were English words Frank and Marit learned really quickly. Mum and dad would support this by warning of the attacks and by pinching back if necessary. The kids also didn’t like posing for photographs.

This may be annoying; the real danger lies in the traffic. There is no way you can let go of your kids once you are in the streets. Temples are great for some physical exercise and the locals did not seem to mind our kids running around temples shouting Ayappa (we’ll come back to that later). Another annoyance is the air-pollution; a car with air-conditioning is absolutely necessary to keep most of the dirty air out.

Health

This was our main concern this time. We thought that the hazards were manageable (otherwise we would not have gone). Everybody was inoculated for Diphtheria, Tetanus, Polio, Typhus, Hepatitis A and B. As malaria prophylaxis we used Proguanil hydrochloride (Paludrine) during our stay. As a general precaution we took multivitamins every day. We trained our kids to wash their hands a lot more than we normally do (yeah we know you should always etc…, but sometimes these things just don’t happen). We even started brushing teeth out of a bottle before the last few weeks for the holiday.

In India we tried to keep a leisurely pace, building in a couple of hours of relaxing in the hotel room at teatime. Although we travelled quite a distance (about 2500 kilometres) we have the feeling that we took it easy. With the exception of Frank who was ill for a day, we were lucky as for the rest we didn't get ill. Some simple tips that worked for us:
• Drink bottled water (available everywhere).
• Use suntan Lotion (factors 30 and 15 (and sometimes 60))
• Keep your hands clean and don’t pick your nose (brings the bacteria straight into your system). Do not pick up stuff from the streets.
• Wash your hands before eating (or use disinfecting wet tissues; also good for cleaning feet after temple-visits).
• Keep nails short.
• Always put on hasty and sunglasses.
• Wear long or three quarter trousers (keeps knees whole)
• Wear long sleeves
• Wear sturdy shoes, no sandals. Check feet on cuts after temple visits and disinfect if necessary.
• Disinfect any cut or scratch as soon as possible
• Never eat anything from a stall / cooked in the streets. Stay away from buffet-style meals. Eat in busy restaurants.
• Donate small amounts of money to a Temple once in while and pray to the gods on a regular basis. Have Imodium ready anytime.
• Use mosquito repellent. For hotel rooms we bought and used the Bayer electrical mosquito coils.

Medical kit

During the day we always had suntan lotion (Vichy SPF 15 and 30; good stuff!!) and a medical kit in our day pack. The First Aid Kit was in a soft pack (‘Care plus’ brand from ‘tropenzorg’) with some additions of our own and contained:

• Hydrophilic bandages 300*8 cm and 400*8 cm
• Burn dressing
• Sterile compresses
• Antiseptic wipes
• Adhesive tape
• Protection gloves
• Emergency bandages
• Tweezers
• Safety pins
• Wound plaster
• Emergency shears
• Shatterproof thermometer
• Emergency blanket
• Support bandage
• Triangular sling
• Tick out tick remover
• Chloorhexidine 0,2 % antibacterial spray

In our luggage we had the following medicines available:

• Paracetamol with caffeine 500 mg (adults); the modern aspirin; helps against all kinds of pains (and hangovers)
• Paracetamol 160 mg (perdolan); chewing tablets for children
• Tripelennamine HCL (Azaron) relieves itches from mosquito bites etc.
• Multivitamins for adults and children
• Proguanil hydrochloride (Paludrine) Malaria prophylaxis
• Amoxicillin ; broad-spectrum antibiotic (Flemoxin : tablets solvable in water)
• Ciprofloxacin 500 mg (another antibiotic especially against heavy diarrhoea)
• Oral Rehydration Solution (adult and children; basically the same stuff, but the child variety has an added taste (still lousy)
• (Miconazoli nitras 2,5 mg zinc oxydium 150 mg pro gram) Anti fungal cream
• Loperamide HCL (Imodium)
• Xylometazolin (nasal spray; 0.1% for adults, 0,05 % for kids; opens up all cavities in your head; good against pressure differences in planes)
• Fluconazol 50 mg (against slime in the airways)

Luggage

We checked 2 soft backpacks weighing 21 kilograms in total. They contained more or less:

Parents (each)

• 2 Zip off pants
• 1 pair of shorts
• 2 shirts (1 safari style; ideal for stuffing tickets, passports etc. on the plane)
• 2 polo shirts
• 2 T-shirts (also for sleeping)
• Sturdy walking boots
• Flip-flops
• 5 Underpants (2 bra’s for mum)
• 4 pairs of socks
• 5 pocketbooks for dad
• Saturday papers and magazines
• Toiletries
• Copies of our passports and some emergency cash

Kids (each)

• 4 pairs of pants (covering the knees)
• 6 shirts / t-shirts
• 6 pair of socks
• 3 singlets
• 6 underpants
• Night nappies (that we did not really need: both our kids decided that India was a good place to be “night toilet trained”)
• 1 pyjama
• Jungle boots (Frank; not available in Marits size, so she had sports hoes with a zipper)
• Teva sandals

In our hand luggage on the flight (two daypacks, one Samsonite carry-on and 1 shoulder bag) we had:

• Raincoats (the foldaway type)
• Sunhats
• Sunglasses
• Travel survival kit South India
• Camera (Canon digital IXUS 750)
• Mobile phone (triple band; it worked almost everywhere in the cities in India)
• Copies of our passports and some emergency cash
• All the medical stuff including contact lens necessities
• Mosquito repellent(with DEET for the parents, without for the kids)
• Suntan lotion and after sun lotion
• A sweater each
• Cuddly toy for the kids
• Colouring books, pencils, soft tip pens, some small cars, Lego, small Playmobil puppets.
• Water, softdrinks, nibbles, cookies (if you’ve ever spent 6 hours on an Egypt Air plane on the tarmac in Hurghada without drinks, you bring your own).

In our moneybelts: Passports, credit cards, ATM cards, some cash (Euros).

The Trip

Brussels – Frankfurt - Chennai

(101205) We’re Dutch but currently living near Brussels in Belgium. Jeannot, a friend of ours is picking us up to take us to Zaventem airport. After all those weeks of preparation and anticipation it is about time. Dressed up in our fleeces, with broad smiles on our faces we head into the airport looking for the Lufthansa counter. The smiles vanish a bit after we have been told (inter alia) that the our kids have been waitlisted, that we cannot be issued boarding passes as the weight limit on the flight to India is already reached, that we have double bookings and that we don’t have tickets. Only the last part is true, as all of us have been issued E-tickets. Well, let’s spare you the next forty minutes, but do let me tell you that it helps a lot to have the email confirmation and the booking codes available when checking in. So much for the famous German and Lufthansa’s efficiency. We got their profound apologies a couple of weeks later.

We get our boarding passes to Frankfurt and to Chennai and we start the long walk to the Shengen-pier. As this is Frank and Marit’s first flying trip everything is new, but very recognisable, as we bought a ‘what happens at the airport’-picture book a couple of weeks before. Mum and dad have trouble keeping up with them as they run over the long moving walkways. There is no need to hurry though, as the flight is delayed anyhow and also has to wait for de-icing. We leave with a 45 minute delay. In Frankfurt we run through the airport and with 14 minutes to spare we arrive at the departure gate. Well the flight is delayed anyhow, but as it is also heavenly overbooked we are happy to arrive in time. The waiting-area is overfull, but as they have just started the pre-boarding for families with kids we head straight into the plane. Great to have kids with you on a plane ride, because it ensures you room in the overhead luggage compartment.

We leave with an hour delay, so our luggage is also on board and both adults cannot stop smiling. Yes, after more than seven years we are on our way back to India! The flight is uneventful; the legroom in the lowest category, the food lousy, the Personal Entertainment System none existing, the kids meals not available, but the service provided by the flight attendants friendly and attentive and the flow of alcohol leaves nothing to desired.

Chennai

(111205) It is half past one on Sunday Morning once we arrive at Chennai Airport. Our kids who have been active with the toys we took from home during the whole eight hour flight both fall asleep as we hit the tarmac. We two sleeping children over our shoulders and four pieces of hand luggage we stumble through the airport to Immigration where luckily we are allowed to use the diplomatic channel, thus avoiding the 500 + person long line. The kids wake up while we wait for our luggage and with each of them sitting on top of a luggage cart we head into a melee of at least 1000 people waving placards with names at us. The travel agency reps do not have a lot of problems recognising us (not a lot of westerners with two small blonde kids leaving the airport). We are taken to our Ambassador, meet our driver Gandhi and are welcomed with flower garlands. It is far after midnight, it is hot, it is humid, it smells like India and it feels great!

Mahabalipuram

(111205) It is after three o ‘clock when we arrive at the Sea Breeze Hotel(11 othovadai cross street, seabreezehotel@hotmail.com ). Without any formalities we are brought to our suite. Well suite, basically one large and one small room with two bathrooms that have been built so impractically that they cannot be rented out separately. The big room is OK with a nice view of the sea and the Shore temple. As we booked from abroad we pay the top price of 75 euros per night which is too much. We put the sleeping kids in the biggest bed, the adults are wide awake and a bit hyper with all the excitement , but around 5 o’clock everybody sleeps.

The kids do not suffer of any jetlag whatsoever, so at 8 o’clock they are wide awake and ready to concur the world. Mum and Dad are knackered and ready for nothing. 5 hours of sleep seem to be enough for the kids. We have pancakes for breakfast in the hotel (yes, another one of these travellers’ favourites: banana pancakes).

and we go for a swim in the hotel swimming pool. As it is about 27°C it is an excellent way to start the day. After our swim we take a walk over the beach. There is not much damage left from the Tsunami, but the fishing boats tell the tale. They are all brand-new and have the name of the sponsor prominently displayed on their sterns. We walk into town, where some streets are flooded. Some guys tell us that walking through the water is “Indians only” and show us a detour. “Ajuna’s penance” is a big display cut out of the rocks. The kids like climbing the rock behind a lot more. They don’t like the locals pinching their cheeks and they also don’t want to figure as an exotic extra in Indian family pictures. For daddy the make the exception, so we make all the obligatory photo’s of the kids seemingly holding up an enormous rock in their hands. We have an early dinner in the restaurant of the Mammala Heritage hotel. The kitchen does not open until 1900 hours, but does provide snacks, so the kids eat French fries and the parents have a Massala Dosa. Everybody is asleep by half past seven.

Tirukkalikundran

(121205) When we wake up Mamma sleeps in Franks bed and Marit sleeps with daddy. This is not the way we started out yesterday night, so the jetlag has hit us. Marit (and Hans) are awake early and do a pre-breakfast stroll. Mirjam and Frank have to be shaken back to consciousness. By and by everybody managed to get 10 hours of sleep, so we didn’t do to badly. After breakfast and a change of clothes (mum manages to get more coffee in her lap than in her stomach) we head of to Tirukkalikundran to visit the Vedagirishwara Temple. Tirukkalikundran is a small village about a 45 minutes drive from Mahabalipuram. The trip is hampered a bit, because the roads are partly flooded. Frank and Marit are wildly enthusiastic about driving through the water and don’t want to miss a single drop of it.

The Vedagirishwara Temple is situated on top of a hill and can be reached by a 560 very steep and wet steps. We hire a basket on a pole and three guys to carry our kids up the hill. All right, it is a bit colonial, but it is money well spent given the steepness and condition of the steps. Gandhi takes good care of the kids making sure that they don’t fall out the basket. Mum and dad sweat an puff their way up in near 100 % humidity. Once again we attract a lot of attention, but it has more of an easy feel than yesterday. The road up is better than the temple itself, because it is dark and gloomy. The views from the top of the hill are great.

We go back to Mahabalipuram and for lunch we have our first thali-meal of this trip in the Mamalla Heritage (rs 60). The kids don’t really want to try the Indian food and have macaroni. Although we eat a lot of Indian food at home with all the spices, we leave out the pepper. We have to admit that the food in the south of India is a lot hotter than we remember and certainly to hot for our kids. After lunch we buy cushions for the kids, so they will be able to better look out of the car window. We spent the afternoon in the swimming pool of the Seabreeze hotel, which was probably not a good idea (we’ll come back to that) and have dinner in the hotel. Reasonable North Indian food for the parents and omelette for the children. Indian food is definitely different in the Netherlands, but hey, what’s wrong with four weeks of pizza, pasta and French fries? They won’t starve and long live the vitamin pills!

Mahabalipuram – Bangalore

(131205) As the weather had been very bad and more monsoonal rain was predicted we opt to change our itinerary and visit the south counter clockwise. This means a very long day in the car, but afterwards anything will be shorter. We leave at eight o’clock and decide to have breakfast en route. The first few hours we don’t cover a lot of distance, as the rains are very heavy, some of the roads are flooded and we have to make a couple of detours. Driving through flooded roads does make the trip a lot more interesting for the kids.

It’s half past eleven when we reach Kanchipuram, where we stop for brunch. The Saravana Bhavan restaurant does excellent dosa’s . There’s also a bakery attached, so the kids have cakes and Marit munches the rest of the day away eating breadsticks. After the stop we hit the NH4/NH7 highway. The roads get a lot better, but this does not mean that the travel goes a lot faster. Even four-lane highways are used by everyone and everything and the median strip is an excellent place to shepherd your cows and sheep. Once the highway reaches a town or village it does not go around it, but right through, thus making up for all the time gained on the highway. Well, we are not complaining, but happy with the progress we make. Around 1700 hours we reach Electronic City at the outskirts of Bangalore. We personally experience that Bangalore’s roads have not made the speedy transformation that its computer industry has. The next twenty kilometres into town take 3 hours. So it is after eight once we reach our accommodation with the original name ‘Bangalore Accommodation’ (116, 1st Cross, Ramakrishna Gardens, New BEL Road, Behind Gowri Apts, (91) 9845 670576 or (91) (80) 23606176, yourhost@yahoo.com, www.bangaloreaccomodation.com) .

We found the guesthouse on Internet (guess what search term we used ;-) ) and it is good value for 750 rs per room. Free internet access and breakfast are included in the price. Excellent evening meals cost Rs 50 per head. The owner Shimij very much makes us feel at home.

The last couple of hours Frank has a swollen cheek and has been very quiet. Too quiet according to Mirjam, so she checks his temperature. He’s got 38.4 Celsius and complains of a mosquito that has bitten his tooth. On closer inspection Frank has a very thick cheek, so we decide that a visit to a doctor is needed. Luckily the Bangalore University Hospital is one kilometre down the road. As we’ve sent Gandhi off after 12 hours of driving Shimij goes out to find us an autorickshaw. Frank livens up with the prospect of his first trip in a tuktuk, so Hans an Shimij set off with a sick, but exited little boy. The hospital is clean, quiet (at 2130 hours) and efficient. Within 45 minutes we’ve prepaid Rs 150 (no pay, no cure), seen 8 nurses, 4 doctors and one paediatrician and vomited on three of them (at least Frank has), are diagnosed (Frank again) with a bacterial infection and are back on the street with a five day course of antibiotics (another hefty Rs 150). The rickshaw ride back is another treat. Frank gets his first dose of antibiotics, and he and his sister are put to bed. The parents have a late supper that had already been prepared by Shimij. We have time to brood on the thought that it is only the third day of our holiday and now already is happening what everybody expected and predicted; our kids will get very ill in India. We suspect it is caused by the swimming pool of the Seabreezehotel in Mahabalipuram that on second thought did not smell of chlorine. Seeing other westerners with kids using the pool set us off guard. We don’t sleep well during the night, not only because we are worrying, but also because the beds are Indian standard issue, thin mattresses and very hard.

The antibiotics are already working so next morning Frank is much better. After an excellent breakfast (just tell them what you want) we decide to stay at least another day to see how he’s progressing. Mirjam and Marit go into town with Gandhi to do some shopping and find a new pair of trousers for Marit. In order to have some flexibility they take an autorickshaw. Hans stays home with Frank, who is more than happy to watch the POGO children channel on television. Over the holiday POGO proofs to be the favourite out of 50 odd channels. Besides Oswald and Pingu, Takeshi’s castle proofs to be the hit series (mad Japanese falling in, out and over any obstacles you can imagine). Frank and Hans do some shopping in a nearby supermarket (computerized checkout, 8 kinds of dog food, is Bangalore really India?), after which Frank sleeps for a couple of hours. In the afternoon Shimij housekeeper prepares an excellent fruit salad with ice-cream. Dinner is in Pizzahut, as McD is to far away (yeah, how low can you go). By the way, if children normally don’t drink Coca Cola it is not a good moment to introduce them to it around 7 o’clock at night! At night we discuss the intricacies of running a guesthouse with Shimij. One of the conclusions is that in Bangalore paying taxes is cheaper than paying bribes.

Mysore

(151205) We have not yet figured out where all the stuff has to be, so packing takes a long time. By 1000 hours we are on the road though. After a pleasant three hour drive we arrive in Mysore. Positively one of our favourite cities in India. It’s green, reasonably cool as it is situated at 1400 metres, has some pretty sights, good food, so it is a good city to spend a couple of days. After arrival Hans goes hotel hunting around Sri Harsha road opposite the palace. Lesson learned: what was perfectly acceptable before the kids came, is now not adequate anymore. The kids need room to play and a clean floor, so we are definitely upgrading our hotel standards. Well, at least in India luxury is affordable. We choose The President hotel (Near Harding Circle, BN Road, hotel_president@sancharnet.in , www.theviceroygroup.com ) were we get a spacious aircon executive suite with two extra beds for 3500 rs (a 700 rs discount after some haggling). Breakfast is complementary and good, but with a somewhat limited choice.

We have a late lunch (or early dinner? jetlag!) in the restaurant of the hotel, that is according to Gandhi the best in town. The kids have excellent French fries and we a very spicy and very tasty Andra Pradesh style chicken. We relax and play a couple of hours in our room and at the end of the day we head to the Brindavan gardens. The gardens are situated some 45 minutes from Mysore at the bottom of a barrage. It consists of a series of fountains and waterways and is artificially lit at the beginning of the evening. Entrance fee is Rs 15/10 adult/child. It is a huge attraction for the Indians and completely daft. It’s good for running around and shining your torches around, so the kids like it. Supper consists of cookies. Marit falls asleep on the way back to Mysore.

(161205) Frank is wide awake at six o’clock in the morning and starts the day by telling Hans stories about cars in general and cars in India more specific for over an hour. After Marit and Mirjam wake up we go for breakfast where both kids decide they don’t even like white bread anymore. Mum and Dad happily munch on away on idly. We head for Mysore Zoo, that is supposed to be one of the best in Asia (rs 20/10, camera 10). It is certainly one of the better ones in Asia we’ve visited and it is quiet and peaceful at 10 in the morning. The weather is ideal and the air has a nice crispness to it so early in the morning. Once again a great place for safely running around and losing some of the energy. We’re just in time for the feeding of the Elephants and everybody is amazed by the size of the riceballs they are eating.

For sentimental reasons we have lunch at the Parklane Hotel on Sri Harsharoad. Mum and dad have Southern Indian vegetarian and the kids Italian vegetarian (yeah, spaghetti). After lunch we have a bit of a rest in the hotel room. Mum could use a longer rest so daddy and the kids head for Mysore Palace at the end of the afternoon (rs 20/free for under 10, camera 5). The sultan that lived there obviously had some money to spare, so he spent it on a building that, although large, is beautiful and not too pompous on the outside. The inside is different though, here the royal family went for a Technicolor extravaganza. In and around the palace there are about 3000 girls wanting to pinch Marit in the cheek, so the kids have another chance to practice their polite refusals. We score money at an ATM and an ice-cream at a bakery. Gandhi is a good guide in telling us which brands to take and which ones to avoid. We have pizza for dinner (sigh) in an Indian rip-off of Pizzahut. Not bad though.

Chamundi hill

(171205) It is possible to drive up Chamundi-hill to visit the Chamundeeswara temple on top. It’s what most Indians do, but it is very uncool. The way to visit Chamundi-hill is to walk up the flight of 1060 odd steps. We know that Frank will have no problems doing so, but we are not totally confident in Marit’s willingness, given her normal initial lack of enthusiasm for physical activities.

It is another clear, bright and crisp morning as Ghandi drives us to the bottom of the hill and the start of the steps. Gandhi has to search a bit for the right road ‘because normally people always drive up’. He waves enthusiastically as we set off. The first steps are fine. We pass some small temples, the first monkeys and today’s representatives of the cheek pinching brigade. After 80 steps Marit decides that this is going to be a hell of a flight of stairs and that she wants to be carried. We decide to do a pits-stop and as the steps are numbered, we plan to do one stop every hundred steps. Madame agrees to this proposal and during the seven stops to come after the first one she eats 16 cookies. That happens if you skip breakfast. It must be said though that she turns out to be a tough cookie herself as she walks the whole way to the top. This is quite a feat, as some of the steps reach above her knees. Walking between Mum and Dad she manages to cope even with these ones. Our sixth stop is three quarters up the hill where an enormous statue of a Nandi (bull) is being attended to by devotees. Marit is really interested by such a big cow. The rest of the way is less steep so everybody gets a chance to regain their breath. Frank has no problems at all and probably covers an extra 50 percent of the distance running up and down in front of the rest of the family. Like often, it is not the destination that counts but the journey. The temple at the top is not very noteworthy. We share a couple of coconuts and a Coke and the kids get a small statue for free from one of the vendors around the temple. The presence of lots of beggars around the temple triggers an educational talk in our family. Why do you give to some beggars and not to others? We try to explain that we don’t give directly to young kids, as they should be in school and that we try to help them a bit through Plan International (www.plan-international.org). Older or handicapped people get a handout once in a while and where possible we sponsor temples that have a food program for the poor. It’s never an easy subject while travelling in a third world country, but on the other hand: staying away doesn’t help the poor either.

Gandhi picks us up from the parking lot near the top of the hill. We have lunch at Dasaprakash, another favourite from the earlier visits. Mum and the kids go back to the hotel for some relaxation while dad checks the email in one of the many internet cafés. Jenny, whom we know via a contact on Indiamike.com has sent a mail telling she is in Mysore at the time. Jenny has just started a small travel business and a guesthouse in Cochin and is happy to book us as her first official guests. She agrees to meet us after dinner in our hotel. In the afternoon we try to visit the sandalwood and the silk factory, but both are closed at the time. Alternatively we go shopping at the Cauvery Emporium where we buy a small copper Nandi and a necklace for Marit. Dinner is in the forecourt of the Parklane Hotel again; pasta for the kids and fingerfood and kingfisher beer for the parents. The children have fallen in a pre dinner routine where they draw and colour as if they are being paid for it. Finished products are presented to the members of the staff of the restaurant, who are not allowed to pinch their cheeks to say thanks. After dinner Jenny comes up to the hotel and we talk some time about our stay in Cochin. She seems to be a lovely woman and we look forward to staying with her. The kids sleep within two minutes and after jenny leaves the parents take the same amount of time.

Thekkady

(181205) We definitely survived the first week and are in the mood for the second. The trip from Mysore to Ooty takes four hours in principle, but we intend to spend some time in the Mudumalai Wildlife Park. Most big temples in South India have their own Elephant that Ganesha Once every year every Temple Elephant in Tamil Nadu is entitled to a 45 day holiday. All these elephants and their mahouts spent their holiday at the government sponsored holiday camp in Thekkady in the Mudumalai Wildlife park. We drive through the park and spot deer, lots of apes and one wild elephant. Their tame family members can be visited for rs 15 and photographed for rs 25. We pay our dues at the central cashier on the main road, drive to the Tourist Department guesthouse for a couple of chais and walk to the camp. The camp is well organised with kitchens, a mess hall , medical care, sleeping barracks for both the mahouts and the elephants. Well, the elephants sleep outside. The place is great to visit. Some elephants are being washed, some are fed, some are paraded in front of the visitors. Not a lot happens, but we happily spent an hour and a half watching the camp. . Frank and Marit are impressed that elephants can drink water straight from the tap and are even more impressed if they see how much an average elephant can pee in one go.

Ooty

The road from Thekkady to Ooty is not a good one, but we have a stop on a fantastic viewpoint halfway and we stop for lunch. It is after four when we arrive in Ooty. We drive up Strawberry hill to visit a couple of places in the survival kit, but they are all full. Signs direct us further up the hill to the Howard Johnson the Monarch hotel (Off Havelock Road, Ooty - 643001, (Up Church hill) Tel: +(91) (423) 2444306/2443655, Fax: +(91) (423) 2442455
themonarch@vsnl.com), so we decide to check it out . It’s a luxury place certainly worth its three stars. We check out a couple of rooms and suites and we go for the two room grand suite of 80 square metres, two televisions, big fridge, heating etc.etc. We pay 4000 rs with breakfast and two extra beds (haggled down from rs 7600). We start the heater as it is quite chilly while the room boys make up the extra beds and provide us with complimentary coffee, soft drinks and chocolates. The backpackers have thrown the towel completely, but hey; India is a swell place to do so. Mum and the kids watch Pogo while dad goes out to do some shopping in the village.

Gandhi sees Hans walking out of the hotel and drives straight after him to take him down with the car. The fact that Hans wants to walk down is something he cannot figure out. On top of that Gandhi thinks it is far to cold anyhow. In the centre of Ooty Hans is the only one dressed in a polo shirt. Everybody else (tourists and locals alike) wear thick coats, hats and even gloves. Winter evening temperature in Ooty equals autumn in the Netherlands but it is obvious all Indians (including Gandhi) thinks Hans is nutters walking in the streets virtually naked. In order to avoid littering Ooty has banned plastic shopping bags, which is certainly a good thing. In addition to some provisions, Hans buys Amar Chitra Katha (‘Amar picture books’), comics with stories and legends about Indian gods. As the restaurant at the Monarch also is chilly we order room service. The kids have fish and chips and the parents an excellent tandoori platter. It is excellent. Long live luxury or to sum it up: in the eighties Hans only visited this kind of hotel to use a sit down toilet and to nick the toilet paper.

(191205) It is a bright, fresh day (well 20 degrees Celsius compared to 32 in the lowlands). After a good breakfast where the kids in general and Marit specific did not like anything on offer (sigh; we always thought our kids were easy eaters) we head out into the village. We visit the lovely 175 year old Franciscus church and head for the botanical garden (rs 10, camera rs 10). As Marit has not eaten she has a real sugar dip and her behaviour is super annoying. After a biscuit or two she gets much better. The botanical garden is nothing to write home about. The best part of this visit are Frank and Marit who are getting better and better in avoiding pinchers and picture-takers. After that we head for Jollyland (rs 10), which is not really jolly being a playground in bad repair. The good thing though is that they have two person Go-carts. Both kids get a couple of rounds with daddy, making this one of the highpoints of the day. After the carts we head for Ooty lake, where a trip in a motorboat (rs 200) is considered ‘fat cool’ by at least 50% of the family. We have lunch in the trendy Sidewalk café in the centre of Ooty. They try their best to make pancakes, but they are made from riceflour , so they don’t qualify as ‘real’ pancakes.

We take the car for the one hour drive to Conoor. In Conoor we will board the toy train for the one and a half hour ride back to Ooty. We were afraid that the normal 6 hours would certainly be too long and a bit concerned about the small stretch too. Well we needn’t have bothered. The kids adore the ride, especially as we are in the first compartment in the first carriage and as the locomotive is pushing us, we are in front of everything. The kids take turns in being the conductor, ticket collector and meal provider and are having a marvellous time. The 1.45 hour trip is almost to short and costs us 79 rs (adults) and 59 rs (5 years and up). At night we have roomservice again in our lovely suite; fish and chips for the kids and tandoori chicken and pineapple-raita for mum and dad.

Cochin, Kerala

(201205) Travel in India will always take more time than you expect. Although this is a fine day and the roads in Kerala are good, it still takes a lot of time. After breakfast (good!) we drive two hours on very winding roads to get out of the mountains and to Mettupalayam, where we stop for chai. After that it’s straight ahead to Coimbatore, where we have a thali for lunch at a banana-leave restaurant that Gandhi selects. The thali is only 20 rs and tastes great. The kids eat cookies (sigh). The stretch to Cochin should not have taken more then two hours, but we end up in a massive traffic jam in Ernakulam, so it becomes four hours. After a detour and some searching we around six o’clock arrive at le Royale. The whole family (Jenny, Jose, and their son and triplets) is waiting for us on the porch. We are warmly welcomed with jasmine flower garlands and chilled coconuts. It’s as if we arrive home after been on a three year worldtrip.

Le Royale (www.cochinkerala.com, Kalathiveetil, Vaduthala P.O, Cochin – 682, fourens@eth.net, +91 484 2394989, +91 484 2436280) is a splendid private home that receives visitors. It is nothing like a hotel, it is much better. You not only have your room for use, but there is also a very grand communal room for the guests to use. It is very well suited for families with small kids, as there is ample space to play. There is even an in-house cinema. Le Royale is run by the adorable Jenny and Jose, who do their utmost to fulfil all wishes of their guests. Jenny cooks excellent Keralan meals or western food if you like. They also run a travel agency, so they can help you with your onward travels. We cannot recommend them enough. A double aircon room with breakfast will cost you around Rs 3500.

The kids feel at home right away and start exploring the premises. Jose sends out a servant to buy ice-cold beer and Jenny starts preparing the food for the kids. Real pancakes, YES, real pancakes made with real flour. After only half an hour Jenny is Frank and Marits favourite Indian by far. We start with a beer and after we’ve put the kids to bed in their sumptuous room, we have cosy dinner with jenny and Jose. The Keralan fish and chicken dishes are wonderful (and so is the very cold beer).

(211205) Breakfast is Riceflourthingies cooked in banana-leave with channa (Keralan speciality which name we did not write down) for the adults and pancakes for the kids. Gandhi drives us to the Jewish quarter in Cochin. It is very busy. There are hundreds of people, a dozen or more busses and a lot more shops then last time we visited. This is not the friendly place we remember from our last visit in 1997. The kids don’t like it at all, and neither do we. We retreat to Malabar House, a colonial heritage hotel that we especially liked during our earlier visit (and which we remember for its special bathroom). It is still an oasis of peace and quiet and we decide to have lunch there. Frank eats spaghetti, Marit the baguette and the parents have Keralan Fish and a Thali. Bit expensive, but Frank loves the spaghetti and both kids get a goodiebag after the meal, so Frank decides that this restaurant is even better than McDonalds. We could not agree more. After lunch we take a stroll through Cochin Fort and are happy that it still has the relaxed feel we like so much. We visit a couple of sights and walk along the waterfront and the Chinese fishingnets. The short autorikshaw ride to the ferry is a treat for the kids and so is the ferryride to Ernakulam where Gandhi picks us up. We skip the kathakali performance, because it is scheduled around kids’ dinnertime. The kids don’t mind, because they get to watch Shrek in the in house cinema in jenny’s home. The kids eat vegetarian (without spices) at night and the parents have a wonderful beef stew (and beer).

(221205) Backwaterday. As the kids don’t swim yet, we decide that 24 hours on a houseboat might not be a really relaxing time for the parents. Therefore we rent a rather large motorboat (1300 rs for 3 hours) in Aleppey. The weather is nice, the backwaters are wonderful and the trip is very relaxing. The kids are allowed to steer the boat and are able agree on changing places once in a while on their own. This is holiday as it should be. We drive back to Cochin where we visit the children’s park where Frank is unbelievably fast in his little red toycar. After some time he even learns to brake, thus saving the legs of lots of little Indians. After another visit to the cinema, Mirjam cooks chicken, potatoes and vegetables for the kids (real food as Marit remarked) and once the kids sleep the parents both get an enormous lobster followed by a chicken dish (and beer). It is fun but difficult to slaughter a lobster with your bare hands, so we send Jenny some utensils a couple of weeks later. It is once again a very enjoyable night.

(231205) In the morning Jenny teaches Mirjam to make massala dosa. After breakfast and the last visit to the cinema we have to say goodbye. As someone else put it: staying with Jenny and Jose is a bit like being adopted into the family. We feel sorry that we have to leave.

Munnar

The drive to Munnar back in the mountains takes 4 hours, which we break up for a 45 minute lunch. The kids are doing fine in the car, not only today, but during most of the trip. They read a bit, they look outside, they colour a bit, basically it’s amazing how well they cope with the hours in the car. After some searching around we end up in the luxurious 4 star Tea County hotel (www.ktdc.com/Teacounty.htm). It’s operated by the KTDC and real good value at 4500 rs half board in a suite with two extra beds for the kids (even though it’s the last room they discount it by 2000 rs). The kids play a bit and watch POGO, mum lazes a bit on the veranda of our room and dad gets out to score some survival rations (fruit juice packages, crisps, cookies). We head for dinner which starts at 1930 hours and consists of a large buffet. Normally we are wary of these, but everything is fresh and tasty. The staff are very friendly and bend over backwards to make our kids feel at home. The cooks prepare dishes from the buffet, without spices, but it’s a bit late and they don’t really eat. Just as in Ooty at night we have to start the heater as it gets definitely chilly at 200 metres altitude. We sleep very well.

(241205) ‘t Was the day before Christmas. But except for an abundance of light features in the garden of the hotel there is not much to remind us of this. The breakfast buffet is as good as the buffet the day before (and interesting because you can order you egg from a real cook). We head through an abundance of tea plantations for a barrage and the lake attached to it some 15 kilometres away. Speedboats are operated on the lake and when in Europe we wouldn’t even want to be found dead in one, we now happily set for a 20 minute trip (200 rs). The speedboat scores another ‘fat cool’.

One of the things that Hans really wanted to do and really looked forward to is a trip on an elephant with the kids . Well there is one (1) elephant available so daddy and the kids set out for another 20 minute ride (rs 300), now on the back of an elephant, while Mirjam runs around the pachyderm (vary your vocabulary) to make all the required pictures. After the speedboat the ride only qualifies as ‘yeah fine’, which disappoints dad a bit. Well he should just have had a little less high expectations. We drive on a bit to the place at the lake with a distinctive echo. We’re glad that the vast majority of the does not understand Dutch. Via a second elephant that’s loading logs onto a truck we head back to the hotel for lunch. French firs (sigh) American Chop Suey and Indian veggies. The hotel’s little playground is probably the high point of the day. After a small siesta we head for the tea museum (rs 50 adult). According to the Survival Kit it’s supposed to be a disused tea factory, but when we get there it is in full operation. For those who still use teabags: the lowest grade tea available is called ‘dust’. Dust remains after the real tealeaves have been filtered out using a five stage sieve. The dust used to be given away to the factory workers, until the teabags were invented. Dinner is once again a bit too late for the kids, although Father Christmas is bringing us a visit. Accompanied by 50 % of the hotel staff and a tape-recorder playing loud Christmas songs, Father Christmas delivers a Christmas Cake. Because of X-mas the buffet is even better than the night before. Great hotel!

Kumily

(Christmas 2005) The perfect nights sleep is only disturbed once in a while by firecrackers. Hey weren’t they supposed to be used at new year? Well who cares. After a great Indian breakfast (we) and almost nothing (them) the kids say goodbye to almost every single member of staff and we hit the road for Kumily. The route to from Munnar to Kumily is fantastic. During the first part we drive through sunny tea-plantations with thousands shades of green. We stumble upon a mini-festival at a small temple and once we leave tea county we drive through the jungle with huge cardamom plantations. After a couple of hours we stop for chai and X-mas cake after which the kids feel a bit better (the road is quite windy especially if you haven’t eaten breakfast). Both Frank and Marit are sleeping once we reach Kumily. We check out a couple of adequate guesthouses with rooms in the 600-800 rs bracket, but without interconnecting doors. One of the homestay-owners takes us to another family that rents out a whole apartment with two bedrooms for 1000 rs (Kumily Jungle Palace Homestay; it’s on the road from the village to the park). The apartment has got a big balcony with a view of the Thekkady Wildlife Park. The view of the wildlife is limited to a couple of buffaloes, but the balcony is great for messing around with buckets of water. Mum and dad enjoy a beer on the terrace, that tastes well even though it’s lukewarm. Around six o’clock we walk to the village for dinner. The ‘Cardamom’ County hotel does a great buffet for 325 rs adult (and free for the kids). Frank and Marit are fit this night, so they try a couple of dishes. The staff cook up some of the items of the buffet without spices and they get rewarded with lovely drawings. Back at the apartment the kids sleep within minutes and mum and dad watch some TV. The sheets on our bed depicts almost every character from the Disney-stable. Ever slept with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck at the same time?

(261205) We have a leisurely (very slow we mean) breakfast under trees in the garden of the Coffee Inn. Travellers’ breakfast (banana pancake) complemented with home-baked brown bread with peanut butter. We visit a spice garden, that once probably started with an occasional guest, but now makes good business from all the visitors (rs 50). They do tell a sound and interesting story about all the plants they’re exploiting. We have lunch at our own apartment (yes we said that we wanted cornflakes, but not really). We visit Thekkady after lunch with another 1000 or so tourists. Its seems that boxing day is the day to visit the park. We stand in line for tickets for 20 minutes (rs 300 for westerners and rs 5 for kids of any nationality) and 10 minutes later we are hustled aboard one of the smaller tourist boats by one of Gandhi’s relations. The official tickets sold out 12 hours before (to touts). No seats left, so Mirjam, Frank and Marit are seated on top of the motor-cover and Hans is pressed between an Indian family. If you are very quiet you might even be able to spot some real wildlife, but with the first suspicion of anything alive 90 Indians jump up and start yelling at the presumed animal. The animals have better things to do then being shouted at on a free afternoon, so the real exotic wildlife spotted this afternoon are only Dutch Homo Sapiens. For the rest we see five mountain-goats, one pig, one salamander, four otters and two stones that are sold to us as two unmoving elephants over one kilometre away. It is so exciting and interesting that Marit falls asleep on top of the boats motor. Playing with the shower on the terrace is more fun and so is dinner once more in Cardamom County with fried potatoes and peas for the kids and the sumptuous buffet for the parents. During dinner Marit has a poetic outburst as she pronounces unprompted “O pretty, pretty palm tree, life is beautiful with thee” (or for the Dutch natives ‘O schone, schone palmboom, het leven is een droom’). After dinner Marit scores a T-shirt with a tiger on it and we take an auto-rickshaw back to the apartment. It’s a good ending to a less brilliant day.

Madurai

(271205). After another breakfast in the Coffee Inn (which gives the slowfoodmovement a whole new meaning) we leave Kumily at ten o’clock. For three quarters of an hour an Indian family of 25 odd persons have been waiting in front of the apartment and they turn out to be our successors. It’s a fast and steep descent out of the mountains and into Tamil Nadu with the road winding between the last parts of the jungle and with every bend in the road populated by tens of monkeys. Once we leave the mountains the road is in very good condition and within three hours we reach Madurai. Hans does a bit of a hotel search along West Perumal Maistry Street. About seven of the hotels we look at are full and we end up in the King Suite of the Supreme Hotel (how much higher can you go) for 2138 rs including taxes and two extra beds. The room is OK; it has a balcony, temple view (50 % interrupted), a bathroom with some mildew and a complementary minibar with frozen cola. After lunch and some Pogo it’s time for some education so we visit the Gandhi museum. It takes some effort but afterwards the kids know that ‘Gandhi was a good guy, that he wanted to be his own boss and that he made his own clothes and his own salt’. The Sri Meenakshi temple reopens at 4 o’clock and as we want to visit it before nightfall, we pass the playground near the Gandhi Museum. A bit stupid, because there are lots of great temples, but not a lot of great playgrounds in India. Sri Meenakshi is Hans’ favourite temple in India. Hans loves the big Temple towers, and the hustle and bustle of the temple. For the kids it’s a bit too overwhelming; too dark and too many people. The temple museum is OK though and also the outside (between the inner and outer wall) is fine, because it’s a good place for running around. We head for one of the Kashmiri shops west of the temple and see the sun setting over the temple from the rooftop. The view and the complementary softdrink is well worth 10 minutes of sales banter later on and as they do not have the perfect Ganesha, we leave …with nothing. As the kids have not been in a cycle rickshaw yet Mirjam takes them back to the hotel in one. To spare the cyclist Hans takes the Ambassador back. 8 years ago we ate at the roof terrace of the hotel we are now staying in, so why change if you found something good. The temperature is very nice with a cooling breeze. The personnel is extremely nice to the kids, who feast on French fires. Mum and dad feast on Indian snacks and beer.

(281205, holy innocents day). As it is Hans Birthday, Mirjam and kids get out early for a surprise, described by Marit as: “We cannot tell you, because it is a secret, but we are going to get you a birthday cake”. Some time later they return with an excellent personalised pink birthday cake, one candle and a jasmine garland. Breakfast is cake and juice and vitamin pills. The Thiruparakundram temple is situated some 5 kilometres from the centre of Madurai. They started the temple in caves in the cliffs and later build a hall in front of it. It is not so busy as we are there and as a non-Hindu you get to see everything for 20 rs. Even the inner sanctum is shown and a the temple has a water-feature were you can feed the fish with parboiled rice. It’s supposed to be good for your Karma. Back in Madurai we have lunch in the Royal Retreat Hotel after which we drive to Trichy.

Trichirapully

Three hours later we are in Trichy. We head straight for Jenneys residency, where jenny no longer resides. The hotel has been taken over by the Breeze hotel from Chennai and is now called (guess what) Breeze Residency. We get a lovely two room suite with breakfast and two extra beds for 3000 rs (talked down from 4300 rs). The kids watch the Crazy Japanese on Pogo and Hans does some shopping. We celebrate Hans Birthday with roomservice (Fish and Chips and Tandoori) and a couple of Kingfishers. Not a bad way to end a birthday.

(291205) The breakfast buffet in the Residency is not only good, the kids once more get a goody bag, that puts McD to shame . As Gandhi lives nearby, we let him sleep in at home and so around 11 o’clock we go to South Tourism to pay Faith for the car. The office is some distance outside Trichy and obvious business is going well as they are building a new office / home. Well, it’s well earned, as we are very content with the service. The Sri Ranganatashwari temple is nearby and we visit this temple that looks more as a city. People live nowadays within the outer three walls, but what remains in the four inner walls is still very impressive. For a small fee they let you climb up a roof for a fine view over the roofs of the temple, the inner sanctum cannot be visited by non Hindu’s. We have an excellent thali for lunch at the “Banana Leave” restaurant (rs 30). The restaurant also does interesting French fries, all about the same size and stacked on the plate in a neat tower. The Rock Fort temple is the distinguishing landmark of the town, as it stands some 90 metres above it. We drive halfway up the hill and walk the rest (no other possibility by the way). The kids have really gotten into temple visits, as it gives them the possibility to around run a bit without the risk of getting hit by a car. By this time they are also no longer intimidated by the vast amounts of Indians who at times they dare to inch them in order to reprove them with a raised index finger (“No pinching (gnignigni)”). The temple as such is not very interesting, but the views over the city and surrounding countryside are great. At the bottom of the temple is the city’s main shopping district. Mirjam buys three sarees. She needs saree-lessons, and we have a lot of fun as she wriggles herself into a changing room with two Indian ladies and about seven of them shouting encouragement from outside. Meanwhile Marit and Frank are entertained by other shop attendants with balloons. We buy Marit a small gold Ganesha ring a few shops further down the road and ice-cream and Coke for the whole family. We’ve still not finished shopping and drive to the Government controlled Poompubar Shopping Emporium. After having searched for two weeks for the perfect Ganesha statue, we now find four of them. We go for the compromise and buy two: one of the dancing and one of the flute-playing variety. We also stock up on small souvenirs and give-aways and Gandhi buys Hans a small wooden elephant statue for his birthday. Dinner is the same as yesterday, with excellent fish and chips and the usual hot stuff for mum and dad.

Thanjavur

(301205) The trip from Trichy to Thanjavur only takes 1,5 hours, and finding a hotel is also not difficult at all. We end up in the Oriental Towers, the first one we visit. We get two interconnected rooms for 2590 rs, a 20 % discount after some haggling with the staff and a phone call to the boss. We even get more discount and via some strange accounting procedure by the time we leave next day. We have an excellent lunch in the bit musty ‘western’ restaurant of the hotel; pasta for the kids and another thali for you know who. We visit an art village to the south of the centre. We found it on a free map in the hotel. Art village is definitely to broad a term for a couple of houses, but there are some artisans there. The really interesting ones are casting bronze and it ism fascinating to watch the whole process. We visit the Palace Museum, which is great, because you can climb the tower via small stairs that you have to find in another corner on every new floor. Students are helping to clean old bronze statues in the courtyard of the museum and Frank amuses himself and the students by trying to recreate all poses of the statues. At the end of the afternoon the Brihadiswara temple is a good place for running and crying “ayappah”. Ayappa’s is our term for the pilgrims that visit the sacred places of the South during this time of the year. They are clad in black, they drive around in white ambassadors packed very full at great speed and run through temples calling “ayappah”. Having seen this our kids really like the concept and started imitating them. We were a bit afraid that this might be viewed as sacrilegious, but even the real ayappa’s told us they found it amusing and didn’t mind it at all. Frank is offered a small oil (ghee) lamp by a vendor and promptly burns himself trying to light it. It is just a first degree burn, so some cool water solves it . At night we order fish and chips and something nice for mum and dad. This is a good place to note that although mum worries a lot about the kids not eating enough, they did not loose any weight in India and the vitamin pills took care of the rest of the potential hazards in the food department. Everybody has an excellent night of sleep.

Chidambaram

(311205) New Years Eve and Pondicherry is today’s destination. On the way over we visit the Airotasvara temple in Dharasuram and the Brihabeswara temple in Gangakudacholaduram. Are we not temple tired by now? No we are not and this is also the case for the kids. Both temples are nice, quiet and peacefull, the weather is fine, the lawns surrounding the temples soft and running around temples becomes more and more fun. You cannot scream Ayappa in a church in Europe, can you? Marit teases Indian teenagers to pinch her, just to be able to tell them ‘no pinching!’. We take it easy and reach Chidambaram around 1400 hours, where we take lunch in the restaurant of the Saradharam hotel (opposite the bus station). They serve an excellent thali. From the office Gandhi has heard that most hotels in Pondicherry are full for New Years Eve and a couple of phone calls confirms this. We decide to stay in Chidambaram and check into the last free room of the Saradharam hotel. The three bed room with aircon and one extra mattress on the ground costs 1125 Rs. We relax a bit and Hans burns a couple of backup CD-ROMS with pictures in a local photo store. The Nataraja temple is closed for the afternoon but opens again at 1645. There is fierce competition between the two shoe guardians in the front of the temple. They see the fun in the bidding contest we start, but we end up splitting the commerce over both of them. Taking pictures is forbidden in the temple, but it is a very friendly place with priests eager to explain what’s happening without asking for the usual fee. The kids are now running full Ayappa speed around the compound and it’s a bit difficult to keep up with them. Frank hurts his toe, but the first aid kit is enough to deal with it. Sun is setting and a 1800 hours a fire ceremony is performed before the statue of Shiva. All kinds of candles and oil lamps are taken and waved in front of Shiva, while meanwhile all bells in the temple are ringed . An interesting and certainly ear shattering experience. It’s a bit too late when we have dinner in the restaurant of the hotel, so Frank falls asleep at the table. The snack food is OK though. Some interesting insects crawl over the floor of the room , we put both kids in a single bed and don’t use the mattress on the ground. We are waken up at 2400 hours by some fireworks, but the bus station opposite the hotel makes a lot more noise. Happy New Year everyone!

Pondicherry

(010106, New Year) The breakfast in the cafeteria of the Saradharam was very good, with probably one of the best chais we ever had in India. Gandhi has washed his Ambassador extra well because of the new year and at half past ten we drive to Pondicherry. We arrive there two hours later and first try two of the Ashram guesthouses. Very unfriendly welcome. T’s no problem that you have no vacancies, but could you please tell in a friendly way (and let me use the toilet). Some other observations about the Aurovillains. They have not taken over Pondicherry (fortunately), but do put a distinctive stamp on it. We don’t really like it / them. Unfriendly or uninterested behaviour in their shops. They try to take on a ‘Fair Trade’ image, but when asked they are just working for themselves. Bit negative, yeah maybe, but that’s the impression they left.

Now we got that out of the way; Pondicherry is a friendly place and fun to spent a couple of days. We ended up in the Executive inn, a lovely small suite-hotel at 1-A Perumal Koi Street
Pondicherry – 605001 (www.executiveinn.biz). It’s situated about 400 metres from the sea to the north of the boulevard. The suites are not very big, but are well appointed and very clean. You get two rooms and four beds. An absolute bargain at rs 1200 + tax. Staff are friendly and helpful. It has a small restaurant in the cellar, good breakfast, but not a joyous location for a nice dinner. After checking in we have lunch at the newly opened Pizza Hut on Lal Bahabur street. Staff needs a bit more training on their tea-making but the pizzas are good. In the afternoon we visit the botanical gardens, just like so many Indian families. The park has a train ride, a playground and attempt at a Japanese garden and lots of shady trees. It also has a couple of stands that inspire Frank and Marit to sing songs for a growing Indian audience and their somewhat perplexed parents. Frank has a lot of success with the Dutch version of Prince’s “Seastar and coffee’. Later on some Indian kids also do a performance of their own, so it is an afternoon well spent and great for Indo/Dutch cultural relations.

At night the Boulevard is closed of for traffic and we walk the length of it with literally tens of thousands Indians celebrating the new year. We try to eat at Satsanga’s, but the atmosphere is spoilt by some rowdy drunk western and Indian guests that started celebrating new year early afternoon (or late last night). We have to move to the Rendez Vous restaurant, because all the other candidates around are closed for the new-year. It wasn’t so good nine years ago and it is still a bit of a tourist trap. Nothing wrong with the French Fries, but try to avoid it. We take a Rickshaw through the masses back to our lovely hotel where we decide to stay and not do another move until our last day in India.

(020106) Breakfast at the hotel and a breakthrough. Frank drinks Indian Chai and loves it. He also likes the Puri, as long as he does not have to eat the curries that come with it. We cover everybody in factor 30 and 60 and drive South to Paradise beach. After having paid an entry fee to something (carpark?, government boat departure tax? Whatever), we find out that you need a boat to reach the beach. As it is a Monday there are no other tourists, so we have to rent a whole boat for a price that is ridiculous by Indian and western standards, We drive back North to find another beach. After having been sent away from two places run by (how amazing) the Aurovillains, we finally find Quiet beach. We walk through a beach resort to get to the beach that has no facilities, but the kids are having a good time. After a couple of hours soaking up the sun we have lunch at the resort and leisurely head back to Pondi. In the afternoon we visit the paper-factory run by you know who, where the head of production gives us a short tour, and where the shopkeepers are not unfriendly (just uninterested).

At 1800 hours we walk down to the new Promenade hotel, near Gandhi’s statue, right on the boulevard. It is part of the ‘Hidesign’ group and under German management, so everything is whole, functioning and clean and they have excellent draft beer. Meal service only starts at half past seven, but the snackmenu is extensive, and easily makes up for a real meal. We read the kids from the comic books we bought in Ooty and they draw some pictures for the staff . We love the food, we love the cocktails, the friendly personnel and the atmosphere.
(030106)Another day at the beach somewhere north of Pondicherry. This time the beach has a coconut-vendor for facilities. We open the first Lost Sandal Beach Museum in India and are able to get quite a collection together in a short period. Lunch (well cake) is at a French bakery on Ambour Salai (near Higginbottams). After a siesta we do some souvenir shopping and we go back to the Botanical Gardens for a couple of hours playing and another train ride. Dinner at the Promenade is once again very good, but we have to wait a long time to get our last item, an order of spicy chicken. In the end we cancel it and ask for the bill. Within one minutes the manager and the chief cook turn up to offer their excuses, free drinks and four pieces of mouth-watering chocolate cake. What a good way to make up for a small mistake; we love the place even more.

Pondicherry to Chennai

(040106) After breakfast and packing up we drive in the direction of Chennai. As we fly back in the very early morning of the middle of the night we booked a room in the Hotel Mars, a couple of Kilometres from Chennai Airport. It’s average but the room is adequate for 1199 rs, the food is lousy. The kids get some sleep, the parents don’t. the flight back is uneventful, Lufthansa got my email and got everything right this time.

On the way to Chennai we stop at Mahabalipuram. We have one more thali at the Mammalla Heritage hotel. We walk around the sights and it’s great to see how free the kids move around compared to their explainable timid behaviour 3,5 weeks before. Walking around the place with our kids once more sort of finishes up not only the circle we made through South India, but also one we started almost ten years before during our honeymoon. It was absolutely fabulous to be back in India. It was great to have the kids with us. We all loved it. We cannot wait to go back .