India. Backpacking with your Bestie

What started with a lazy Sunday brunch, ended in booking flights to Mumbai. Why not eh?

In our eagerness to get India, we missed the kinda MAJOR detail that June is monsoon season. Nonetheless, we booked, packed and plunged umbrella first into 12 days traveling South-West India. (Flights in June cost us £450 return, direct from London > Mumbai)

We loosely planned a route travelling Mumbai, Goa, Kerala and Munnar, simply because of the short time we were going there for and what we wanted to see in that time. We booked a cheap hostel in Mumbai, a Beach front B&B in Goa, a family run home from home in Kerala and a tree house in Munnar.

And so, our journey began.

First stop – MUMBAI

Stepping off the plane in Mumbai we quickly realised what monsoon meant! Luckily for us that was the only rainfall we encountered. It is labelled monsoon season for a reason however I wouldn’t rule out visiting destinations because of it. Rain doesn’t last forever and there is something beautiful about seeing a place for all its glory, come rain or shine – plus it can be much cheaper.

We hopped in a taxi, easy to get from the airport, to our hostel, The Travellers Inn. It came with a breakfast of coffee and toast delivered to your room, we were sold. We checked in for two nights and went off to explore.

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Mumbai has lots to offer. It is a fantastic city break destination if only it wasn’t quite so far from the UK. The city is constant with beeping cars (a form of saying hello…apparently!), whizzing mopeds, food stalls, locals, tourists, oh and cows! Everywhere! It’s a fast paced, exciting and an eye opening glimpse into India’s big city.

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The city itself has many must sees. The Gateway to India for instance. Located on the beach front outside the Taj Mahal hotel which has been beautifully restored after the tragic 2008 bombings. Walk along the promenade past the overtly rich houses that line the central stretch of the street, to the end where you will reach the Hanging Gardens. A peaceful serenity hidden from the heat of the city and a place to take in the views from a height. There are plenty of museums, libraries and art galleries to meander from also.

Food is, well, Curry. Don’t like curry? Don’t go. Unsurprisingly Indian cuisine is everywhere and as 2 vegetarians, the city spoilt us. Just always ensure food is piping hot to avoid the ‘Delhi Belly’. Lunch and Dinner usually consisted of either a Thali (meaning many small dishes) for as little as £1.30 or Dosas – a indian spiced pancake wrap. Perfect for on the go. If you fancy a drink head to Leopolds Bar. A backpackers must. Found in the centre of Mumbai known by backpackers for backpackers and locals alike. Go, enjoy and have a beer for pennies.

One last thing we did whilst in Mumbai was to go and see the slums. It may seem odd but a ‘slum tour’ is a necessity to them. It is a way of making money and showing the rest of the world how the slum world operates. It’s not how you imagine, or definitely not how we imagined. Your guide, a local from the slums, will pick you up, take the train with you ( a great experience) and give you a safe, personalised and in-depth tour of how they work and live. Not for everyone but a very humbling insight into how the majority of Mumbai live.

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Mumbai > Goa

We went by plane. Again due to time restrictions but by train would have been much cheaper if not a little less comfortable.

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We arrived at Goa to find our little beach b&b. There are lots at Palolem beach and as we were there out of season finding a place to stay was easy. We stayed for 2 nights here. The owner was more that willing to show us around and gave us places to see. We had a taxi guide show us the Goan fort. A beautiful ruin that gives you peaceful, green landscape views of India you perhaps weren’t expecting…O and the odd monkey hanging around.

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Agonda and Palolem beaches are musts, they were eerily quiet for us as we went out of season but still plenty of sun, sea and …yep, more cows. Be mindful that India is a predominately Hindu country so be conscious of what and how much of yourself you expose. i.e at the beach, temples, churches and museums always have shoulder to below the knee covered.

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Goa > Kerala

Kerala has got to be the most beautiful part of India. Its laid back attitude, old town appearance and lazy backwaters, there’s so much for the eye to desire.

We flew from Goa via Bangalore to Kerala. A relatively quick, if not a little hair-raising trip via the smallest planes we didn’t even know were in existence. Nonetheless, we landed, just and caught a local bus from outside the terminal to Fort Kochi.

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We stayed with a family in the centre of Fort Kochi, a vibrant fishing village which casts its nets daily, quite a sight to see. We indulged in morning yoga booked by our hosts and explored the town before heading further out to the backwaters. Allepey is just like a postcard, it is incredibly serene and mesmerising. Surrounded by a community that has built their lives along the banks of the river. We jumped in a taxi which took us from Fort Kochi to the boat and back; overnight stays are extremely popular however if like us you are pushed for time a day trip is more that sufficient. We clambered aboard with a lovely Indian gentleman as our guide. He took us for what felt like hours drifting along the lazy river before stopping for lunch at a riverside shack. Literally. We were warmly welcomed by a lovely gentleman and his wife and fed a tasty vegetarian curry and rice, served on a banana leaf and no cutlery (get used to eating with you hands). Lunch was sublime, what with the view of the river, an eagle nestled in the roof and a fresh coconut to drink from the tree outside. Does life get much better? What a magnificent moment to remember.

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Kerala > Munnar.

From Kerala we hitched 3 buses up the mountains (quite the experience, picture the tube, rush hour, no seats, rattling carriages, no water, intense heat, add to the mix someone elses’ baby in your arms, a backpack on your back and constant chat.) Just to give you a glimpse. An experience to say the least. We finally arrived in Munnar. A small hillside town surrounded by tea plantations.

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We had a room in what was essentially a tree house. It was lovely, nestled between two waterfalls which we walked to see. Our 2 days here were spent with tuk tuks taking us around the tea plantations and around the town to see the locals day to day life. Did you know… depending on where you pick the leaf from on the plant determines the colour of tea. For example, the top leaf is used for green tea, then the two just below white tea then there after the leaves are used to make black tea.

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On day two we were exploring with John our Indian tuk tuk driver… (definitely not called John). Whilst chatting and being told facts of the surrounding villages we came across wild Elephants. It was a moment both of us will cherish forever, we saw this family of Elephants twice on our winding journey between the fields. Definitely made the bus journeys up here worth it…slightly!

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Our time was up, sadly and the travelling had come to an end. We saved pennies to get us from Munnar back to Kerala by taxi as neither of us could face the 3 buses back down the mountain. From Kerala airport we got a plane to Mumbai and then Mumbai direct back to London.

We were home, home from a truly amazing, eye opening and wonderfully retoxing trip to South-West India with my best friend. Such special memories I will treasure forever.

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