Flying to Bangalore tonight

On Kingfisher airlines – yes, the same company that owns the popular Indian beer Kingfisher (they are quite the conglomerate; they also have branded bottled drinking water). And I did see actual kingfishers on power lines in the backwaters…

The flight is 1hr20min flight, vs a wait-listed overnight train ride.

Does anybody work with outsourced IT in Bangalore, such that I might meet with a local IT guy for a coffee or drink?

I’ll probably go to Mysore in the later morning, then return to Bangalore for a few hours on Tue before boarding my (already reserved) night train to Hampi on Tue night.

PS Today I posted 2 videos from Varkala at

Highlights of Varkala

No real sights per se in Varkala, but it was an excellent rejuvenating stop.
The town, which I ignored except for the train station, is a few km from the beach; the Varkala I describe is the tourist ghetto on the cliffs.

Here are some of the things I enjoyed in Varkala:

  • sandy beach
  • refreshing breezes
  • body-surfing in the waves
  • walking along the cliff-top walk, looking at the stores and restos and cafes (all with breezes and a view)
  • Keralan coffee – filtered!
  • fresh seafood nightly (I counted 16 restos that had fresh fish on display for dinner along the 1.2km cliff-top walkway)

    Fresh fish selection for dinner

    note the pieces cut out of the blue marlin

  • meeting other travellers (hi Brennen, Micaela, et al) – this was the first stop since Mamallapuram where there were lots of westerners
  • taking my first yoga class, and meeting a very interesting western “swami” (Jay, though he hates titles – he’s “a spiritual being having a human experience”) on the beach later that day
  • taking a hands-on Kerala cooking class  (see my other post)
  • sunsets (at least the last 2 days when it wasn’t cloudy); see a sunset wave video at

    Sunset on the beach
    Tibetan shopkeeper
  • Tibetan singing bowls (there are a number of Tibetans here, with their shops and restaurants; in fact 2 of my best meals here were at 2 Tibetan restos – one fresh kingfish/dolphin-fish/mahi-mahi, and one veg sizzler).  (sorry, no Tibetan singing bowls in that picture – different shop!)
  • tourist wedding on the beach: bride and groom arrive on separate elephants, led by a little band (drums and cymbals); after a brief ceremony in a decorated bamboo hut built on the beach for the occasion, they depart together on one elephant. Lots of tourists on the beach watch! (see the photo in another post, and the video now at
  • natural spring water coming out pipes at the bottom of the cliff (refill your water bottle! I UV-sterilized it to be extra safe (because I had the technology :-), but lots of tourists were drinking it)

Misc photos: North beach viewed from a breezy 2nd floor resto, fishermen at dusk:

North beach
Fishermen at dusk

Be forewarned: every meal takes at least 1 hour!

Highlights of Trichy and Thanjavur

Trichy, as Tiruchirappalli is known, (pop 847,000) has 2 main temples to visit.

The first one, Rock Fort Temple, is built on top of an 83m rock outcropping – it takes 437 rock-carved steps to get to the top!
There are actually two temples at this site – one big one half way up, and one little one dedicated to Ganesh at the very summit (non-Hindus can’t go into the first one, nor into the sanctum of the second one). However, you do get a great 360° view of the city from up top!
My heart rate was 168 when I made it to the top, almost non-stop. Oh, and you have to do it barefoot, since the whole thing is a temple site.
The entrance is through another temple at street level on the main bazaar street in the area.

Rock Fort Temple

The second one, Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, is actually a ridiculously large temple complex consisting of 7 concentric circular walls, with a total of 21 gopurams (pyramid-like tower on an entrance archway) – the tallest one, which you hit first at the south end, is a whopping 72m high! Granted, the area within the outermost walls are city (dwellings, stalls, etc.), and only the innermost parts are temple per se, and a huge pillared temple at that.

Thanjavur is a smaller town (pop 215,000) 50km east of Trichy; I visited it as a day trip (1¼ – 1¾ hours by train, Rs10/$0.25 in unreserved second class).
It has one World Heritage listed temple and a palace to visit.
I rented a single-speed bicycle for Rs3/$0.08 per hour.

Jan on rented bicycle

The first one, Brihadishwara Temple, is a large sand-coloured complex in Chola architecture, built in 1010 by Raja Raja. It is different than most temples here in that the vimana (the pyramid tower over the inner sanctum) is taller than the gopuram (over the entry way). In fact this vimana is 66m tall! There is a huge Nandi (bull) statue carved from one 25 tonne rock (it’s 6m long and 3m high). Just inside the outer wall is a covered arched walkway containing hundreds of linga (phallic statues representing Shiva). And in the centre, a huge carved pillared temple; the air is cool inside. The inner sanctum contains a huge lingam.
See for a video.

The second one, Thanjavur Royal Palace & Museum, is an old palace seemingly surrounded by schools. There are a number of buildings to visit, including:

  • Durbar Hall, where the king once held audiences, with a large dais

    Durbar Hall
  • the Saraswati Mahal library containing interesting artefacts, inc. palm leaf manuscripts with tiny script, and a 1785 World Atlas (with the latest discoveries of Capt Cook!) in which Australia is called New Holland, and Hawaii is the Sandwich Islands
  • an art gallery with detailed Chola bronze statues from the 9th-18th Century.
  • a slog up the narrow circular stone staircase of the ~8 story bell tower for a great view (though on the way down I saw a sign that said tourists shouldn’t go past the 3rd floor for their safety)
  • the Royal Palace Museum, which was small and the only case that grabbed me contained royal embroidered shoes & hats
  • and the uninteresting Raja Serfoji Memorial Hall

A lesser highlight of Thanjavur was that school kids kept wanting to talk to me and, gasp, I talked to them!
At one point I was surrounded by school boys (age 10?) in uniform on their break, near the palace, and they wanted their picture taken (and see it on my LCD) and they didn’t even pickpocket me (if you’ve been to Rome, you know what I’m talking about :-)

Highlights of Mamallapuram

About 60km south of Chennai, the World Heritage village of Mamallapuram (pop 12,000) was more laid back and more touristy but definitely worth a stop.
I ended up taking an auto-rickshaw (tuk-tuk) to here from Chennai, Rs680/$17 to avoid the (scary, unknown) hassle of taking a long distance bus (plus avoiding a ride out to the Chennai bus station in the first place, as it is inconveniently located 7km east of “downtown”).
The weather was good, mostly sunny with some clouds. It looked and felt like it would rain one late afternoon, but it didn’t come.

Highlights include (the first 3 are from the 6th & 7th Century) :
– fantastic rock carvings and mandapas (little temples) carved out of the rock, esp. Arjuna’s Pennance which is a 30x12m carving in a rock cliff face!

Arjuna's Pennance (30x12m)

– the interesting Five Rathas chariot-like rock temples
– the annual famous month-long Dance Festival (I caught 2 performances on this last weekend of the festival) see http://jantrabandt.blip.tvfor a video

Dance festival

– the nice Shore Temple in a scenic location by the shore (duh!)
– going for a “swim” at the beach (just once, not really a beach/swim town as there are dangerous rips and the locals that do go into the water a little are either the fishermen or are wearing full clothes.
– watching a wild baby monkey play in a tree-top 3m away from me as I stood on a rock cliff in a park; see for a video

I stayed in a small mosquito-“infested” hotel (to be fair, there was a good mosquito net over the bed, and a ceiling fan) in my Rs350/$9 room, in the tourist ghetto near the beach. The food was similar to Indian dishes served in restos in North America, i.e. different from (and more expensive than) what I ate in Chennai. Though the restos were generally on a rooftop with some breeze, or right on the beach – one of the food highlights here is fresh fish and prawns…

And since Republic Day happened on Jan 26 (India’s equivalent to Canada Day or Independance Day), I got to see how Indian tourists from other (and presumably wealthier) parts of the country behave.