India. The country that has been calling me for years. When I finally stepped off the plane and had answered her siren song, it felt like I was crossing an important threshold. India exceeded my expectations in good ways and in not so good ways. But, let us start with the beginning first...
We left Hanoi on January 26th and flew into Malaysia for an overnight layover. We figured there would be a budget hotel for such occasions at the airport. While there did end up being a hotel in the airport for such occasions, it was by no means budget. Guy ended up springing it for it because he reasoned starting out our India trip with a decent night sleep would be worth it. Friends, it was worth every over priced penny. The room had air conditioning, a REAL shower (the showers in Asia are just a shower head right near the toliet usually), the most delicious bed with clean and crisp white sheets, plentiful pillowly pillows and DUVET. I know that might sound basic and not like anything special but, traveling has taught me what true luxury is and it is all of the above. We only had the room for six hours (early flight) but, it was pure heaven. After not a lot of sleep but, good sleep nonetheless, we were ready to head to our first stop in India, Kochi.
When we arrived in the airport and made it through customs, we hightailed it over to the currency counter. We had a nice chunk of change in Vietnamese Dong from my teaching and Guy's selling of his motorbike. We thought it would float us for awhile in India. When we eagerly pulled out on Dong, we got laughed out of the currency office. They don't except Dong, they laughed! It was like it wasn't even real money. We asked if we could exchange it anywhere in India and again, all we got was laughter. Okay....it was a good lesson in researching about money exchange before you head off for a new destination! Luckily, I could use my credit card to pay for the taxi (they were no ATM's) and we were off to Kochi.
My first impression of Kochi, and this would be true for all of India, was all the color. My eyes delighted in every pop of pink, orange and blue. It seems no color is off-limits. And for that I am thankful. It's very inspiring to be immersed in a colorful world especially as New Yorker who is used to a lot of grey and soot.
We arrived at our hostel early in the day and eagerly set off to have our first taste of Indian food. I was very excited to be getting the real deal Indian food from here on out and our first meal did not disappoint. My best friend had told me to start with a masala dosa and we found a cute (and colorful) cafe run by young hipster locals that cooked us one. A masala dosa is a large rice crepe (made from fermented rice and lentils, gluten free!) and stuffed with masala (it's a spice) potatoes. It's served with a curry to dip it in and is absolutely incredible. It's served for breakfast and I became a quick convert. In fact, the food in Kochi was delicious. We found two local spots (we were the only Westeners) that we were regulars at as there curry was delicious and cheap! We did our best to steer clear of the Western spots because one the prices are so high and two, we wanted authentic. The tip for eating local food is too find the spot where allll the locals go. If it's busy every night, it's good. This logic never let us down.
I felt very drawn to the South of India and always knew I wanted to travel along the southern coast first. Fellow traveleres told us the South is thought of as "India light" and it's a good place to start on ones first trip to India. It allows one to get their feet wet in the country without a lot of the overwhelm of the North. The India light terminolgy was spot on because Kochi felt like a very relaxed beach town and not like the scary stories I have heard about India. It was only crowded on the boardwalk by the beach and though it was dirty, everywhere in Asia was so, that wasn't a shock.
Guy and I travel similarly in neither of us are that invested in seeking out traditional tourtisty sights (with a few exceptions) and instead just like to wander and see whatever the place has to offer. I loved finding the little quirks of each city. For example, every morning in Kochi there are fisherman who sell small silver fish out of a huge basket on the back of their bike. They ride around the neighborhoods, ringng their bell and calling out to anyone who might like to purchase one. Every morning when the fisherman would ride past our hostel, I made sure to peer down so I could watch as all the alley cats of the area trail after him in hopes of him dropping a fish or two. It was such a comical sight and something I haven't seen anywhere else. It felt like a special gift I was given by Kochi itself.
While we were in Kochi, we started to plan the rest of our travel in India. Up until that point our plans were loose and we'll see when we get there type of deal. I knew I wanted to head down to Varkala (a friend in Vietnam told us we couldn't miss it) and travel up the coast from there to Mumbai. Guy and I both agreed to make this trip solely about the South and leave the North for another time. Neither of us wanted to rush and India is HUGE. It felt nice to take off pressure to see everything in one go. Once we figured out our route the only question was how would we be getting around. We really wanted to buy a motorbike and travel that way. Both of us loved motorbikeing around Vietnam and Guy had ridden his bike through Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam (so he REALLY loved it). We looked around at motorbikes but, ultimately decided (with some heartbreak) a motorbike was way over budget. What to do? We didn't want to just take trains as, it doesn't allow you to see all the in-between places that you would on a motorbike. But, a bicycle would! Guy mentioned the idea, unsure of how I would take it and I lit up immediately and instantly said let's do it!
We scoured Kochi for the best bikes and found two, very cute, single speed bikes that would take us on our Tour De India. We got baskets put on, bells on the handlebars and added a luggage rack on the back. The day after we bought the bikes, we strapped our backpacks on the back and set off to our next destination, Varkala!