Tamil Nadu, Madurai to Pondicherry

I had planned to escape the touristy beach resorts for the Christmas holidays when the prices of accommodation sky rockets. Taking a look at my map of India, I thought the city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu State would be a good starting point. The train left Varkala at 2.30am, so when I arrived in Madurai after a sleepless night to discover it was a smelly, polluted and horribly noisy city with nothing much of interest (with the exception of a large Hindu Temple and the Ghandi Museum) and nowhere nice to eat – it was a major disappointment! I decided to get out ASAP, but due to Christmas there were no trains available for another week. The next day I went down to the bus station and managed to buy someone else’s ticket for twice the price it cost him, but this was a small price to pay to escape Madurai on Christmas Eve.

I arrived in Pondicherry on Christmas morning at 6am. First impressions were very good, it was once a French Colony so the old city is well planned out with nice tree lined boulevards. More importantly it had real pavements that you can walk along without the countless obstacles you normally encounter in a typical Indian city. Ironically there was no room at the Inn – I wondered around for an hour but every hotel seemed to take great pleasure in telling me that they were full until January. Luckily the last place I tried had a last minute cancellation, so I was not going to be homeless on Christmas day.

Later that morning I met an American girl who was also travelling on her own. Things started to feel a lot more Christmassy at lunch when we found a French restaurant serving Turkey and cranberry sauce.

The next day I went on a day trip to a place called Senji Fort. It took about 2 hours to get there on the horrible and over packed local bus, but it was worth it. It’s completely off the tourist trail, so there was hardly anyone else there. It was similar to Bundi fort in that it has been left for nature to take its course and the monkeys have taken over, but the landscape and architecture were very different. It’s situated in a place with massive hills made entirely of giant boulders. The whole complex covers a huge area which must be more than 5sq miles, and there are loads of interesting buildings, temples, wells and fortifications.

It's hard to see, but there is a temple on top of this giant boulder.


Kerala, Southern India

From Goa I travelled to the state of Kerala. Having travelled a long way south, the temperature has jumped from a pleasant 23 degrees celcius in Northern India to around 33 degrees in the South where it immediately starts to feel much more tropical. The first stop was Kochi, which is situated on a large island just off the mainland from Ernakallin. It’s a pleasant place that escapes from the busy traffic of the mainland, but I am struggling to say much more because there wasn’t a lot to do there and I spent most of the time in coffee shops and restaurants.

Here is a photo from the spice shop, where I stocked up on Masala Chai mix.

Continuing further south, I took a bus to Alleppey where I stayed one night in a heritage home that was furnished in a colonial style with lots of nice dark wood furniture.

The next day I boarded a house boat that was heading further south via the Kerala backwaters. It’s a beautiful area with a huge network of natural lakes and waterways where the local people have a quiet and simple life.

Fishing is probably the most important industry here and there are still a large number of traditional style Chinese fishing nets along the waterways.

The boat stopped in the city of Kollam where I spent one night in Mosquito hell and then made a beeline for the cliff side town of Varkala. This place was discovered by hippies in the 1970s and has since become a big tourist hotspot. It’s a relaxed town with a small sandy beach and a large number of restaurants along the cliff top.


The Southern Beaches, Goa

From Mumbai I headed south on a 13 hour train to Goa. Making my way to the nearest beach, it felt a bit too ‘package holiday’ for me, so I hired a scooter for the week and headed to Goa’s Southern Beaches to stay at a beach called Palolem. The roads were very quiet and Goa immediately felt like a very different place to the rest of India. Palolem is a beautiful arched beach which is lined with coco huts and chilled out restaurants between the palm trees - an ideal place to unwind after the often chaotic cities of Northern India.

Palolem Beach

This cow is still working on his tan.

One morning I went kayaking at dawn and was surrounded by bottle nose dolphins. Sadly it was a bit tricky to take photos on a Kayak and this was the best I managed.



Considering that the city of Mumbai has the 2nd largest population in the world, I was surprised by how relatively organised, clean and pedestrian friendly it was compared with the rest of India.

This is the famous Taj Mahal Hotel, which was involved in the terrorist attacks of September 2008. At the time I was there, the British Government were saying that there was a very high risk of terrorism and advising tourists to stay indoors. For that reason I spent most of my time in Mumbai at the cinema and McDonalds, so I have very few photos to show for it.

There are also a number of grand buildings left behind after the British occupation. One particularly impressive building is the Victoria railway station which is the busiest station in the whole of Asia moving more than 1 million people a day!

Bundi, Rajasthan

The final place I visited in Rajasthan was a small town called Bundi. The main attractions here are the enormous palace and fort which are over 600 years old and have been left in a state of disrepair for many years. There were almost no other visitors and the buildings are now home to monkeys and bats. With crumbling walls and plants taking root everywhere, it has the feeling of a lost kingdom. As I explored the fort and palace, I felt like Indiana Jones. Taking a bamboo cane with me was essential as some of the monkeys get really aggressive (usually when you intrude on them mating).

Going back to the main town, it had the most amazing wells I have ever seen. They almost look like an inverted pyramid, with steps leading down to the water at the bottom. The wells are no longer used, but hundreds of years ago this was the main source of water for washing.


Udaipur, Rajasthan, India

Udaipur proudly advertises itself as the Venice of the East, that’s probably because the City Palace (Rajasthans largest palace) and many of the buildings which border the huge artificial lake are built right up to the waters edge. The main focal point of the city are the beautiful Lake Palaces which appears to float in the middle of the lake. If you’ve ever watched the James Bond film ‘Octopussy’ – a large part of this movie was filmed around the Palaces in Udaipur.


Pushkar, India

Pushkar is a small hindu pilgrimage town which surrounds a holy lake that is bordered by bathing ghats. It’s a great place to chill out on the rooftops, eat all day and watch the most incredible sun sets. The entire town including the tourist restaurants are totally; meat, egg and alcohol free, but interestingly hashish is legal in India and all the cafes make special hashish lassis (similar to milk shakes), which I have not tried but here they are very potent.

There are langar monkeys all over the rooftops, often getting up to mischief.

The sunsets in this part of India are always so beautiful


Jaipur, India

Jaipur is the capital city of Rhajastan, which is supposedly the most colourful state in India. The city boasts a number of grand palaces, forts, monuments, and all of the buildings in the old city are painted pink.

The Lake Palace.

One of the most interesting places I visited was a 300 year old observatory, which had a number of instruments including the largest sundial in the world – capable of telling time to within 20 seconds. If you look carefully you can see the time shadow near the wall.