Our return to India April 2015, Kerala ‘God’s own Country’

Kerala, Uncategorized

Have been meaning to update our travel blog with these photos for some time now but have only just got around to it now – only 7 months later! We’ve been to many places since our tour around Asia in 2013 but this was a very memorable trip for lots of reasons. Since visiting Northern India at the beginning of our sabbatical we’d always hope to return to this amazing country but had put our plans aside in hope to extend our little family… but nature had other ideas and this journey was a roller coaster that took much longer than we had imagined. In Jan 2015 we took the plunge and decided to book and return to India during Easter break hoping this would give us a new focus.

3 days before, bags packed we was feeling excited and ready for our adventure holiday and then out of nowhere a miracle happened…


We couldn’t believe our luck and in fact wouldn’t believe it until 20 weeks later! So what next… do we cancel the holiday that brought us this luck in the first place? Surely? We had no idea what to do but was convinced by our Indian GP to go with our plans and reassured that India would be no danger to our growing baby.

This was probably the scariest trip of our lives and there was a few times throughout when we did consider flying home but so glad we persevered and got to see one of the most beautiful places ever. The people in Kerala were amazing, some of the kindest, friendliest and most accommodating people we have met, a special thanks to our guide Prem and friend Kerry who really helped us to relax and enjoy our travels. The place was lush green and very colourful, the food I am told by George was delicious but unfortunately not to a pregnant woman’s taste buds and although we’re not very spiritual ourselves we had to admire the people who live here for their commitment to their faith Hinduism and the holistic way of life, to anyone who visits an Ayurvedic Indian massage is a must.

Here are some of the highlights.


Kumbalanghi fishing village Cochin

Children playing cricket in Cochin, India’s favourite pass time. Notice the sign ‘god’s own country’ in front of the field.

DSC_0153DSC_0220DSC_0223The G-Adventures gang heading to the backwaters & Indian street life.


The beautiful backwaters in Alleppey. We had the pleasure of staying with a friendly Keralan family who guided us around the village and taught us how to cook Keralan food.
DSC_0139.JPGThe cooking class was amazing, just a shame I couldn’t fully embrace it with my heightened sense of smell! The food at the homestay was probably the best food we ate throughout our trip.

We travelled from Kochi to Varkala by bus with our friends from G – Adventures stopping at the beautiful backwaters in Alleppey and the bustling fish market in Kollam on our way.
DSC_0267DSC_0286UsThe sunsets in Varkala were probably the best we’ve ever seen. We stayed in the beautiful Villa Jarcaranda, a rustic house with antique Indian features and the most amazing views of lush jungle and the ocean. Every morning we ate a fresh fruit breakfast over sunrise.
The philosophy of yoga is one of the most important parts of Keralan daily life. Above are some photo’s from the ‘Bohemian Massala Arts Cafe’ a hidden gem on the North Cliff. The homegrown Keralan food and yoga with ‘Sunil’ a traditional Indian yogi was probably one of the highlights of our trip.

The Last Two Days Of Our Big Trip


Since arriving in Asia 10 weeks ago we’ve tried as much as possible to eat local food and integrate with the local people therefore it important for us to spend the short time left somewhere truly Balinese. We had been warned that the renowned Kuta was something of a Benidorm for the Aussies so despite it’s proximity to the airport we decided to avoid and instead spend our last two days in authentic Oki Wati, Ubud – and was fortunate to be upgraded to the nicest room in the hotel ‘The Buddha Room’. The last days were a bit cloudy so besides regular moisturising in an attempt to save the tan we spent our time doing as most do on their last days – bargaining for cheap presents at the market, eating as much Asian food as possible, overdosing on the delicious fruit shakes and Ice Lemon Tea and getting a massage which was insanely just £3 for a full hour! It was also nice to reunite with fellow Northerners Paul and Jackie whom we had met a few days earlier in Gili Trawangan.

On the final evening we managed to see a Legong dance show at Ubud Palace. Legong is a classical dance in Indonesia that is centered around 3 girls – the palace attendants. The story is based around King Lasem, Prince of Langkesari Daha Kingdom. Although their was many tourist at this particular show we had discovered throughout or travels in Indonesia this type of dancing is a significant part of culture and events such as these can take place every night in most villages and towns. In fact in every country we have visited men and women seem drawn to music and art. This is creativity may have spurred from not having a materialistic lifestyle…?

Bali Flowers

Legong Dance Show – Ubud

Breakfast on the balcony at Oki Wati (fresh fruit shakes, homemade yogurt and fruit), Nasi Campur – going crazy on the Asian cuisine on our final Days, Waving Goodbye.

Sat on the balcony with a rum and coke on our final night in Ubud we reminisced about our big adventure and vowed that we will continue to travel. We’ve had the most amazing time and below are just a few of memories of Asia:

The craziness of India -The roaming holy cows, urban monkeys, over crowded streets
and the constant noise of peeping of horns
The ghats and ceremony on the Ganges in Varanasi
Seeing a leopard at Chitwan National Park
Views of the beautiful Himalayan peaks
Fresh fruit shakes and ice lemon tea
The food! Especially in Malaysia & India
“Looking is free” a cliche throughout Asia
The markets that sell everything from authentic arts and crafts to fake designer handbags
The friendly people we have met – especially our Nepalese friend Min Thapa
The lush jungles, white sand beaches and turquoise waters
The Amazing Temples – Prambanan, The Taj, Bhodubura and many more.
The rick-shaws and tuc tucs
Public transport that always takes three times as long as what they tell you!
Delicious seafood in Ko Chang
Waking to the smell of josh sticks in Bali
Seeing giant turtles in the water at Gili Meno
Being constantly asked for photo’s like we were celebs
The children in the village school in Nepal calling ‘Gora Gora’
The dance we were made to join in at Dubung village
Roksie Wine & Dharl Bhat
The overnight train in India
Rafting in Ubud
Learning Batik Art
Exploring on the Moped
Mountain biking in the Kathmandu Valley
The creative cities
The quirky bikes in Yogyakarta

So goodbye Asia! In approx 26 hours we will be back in rainy Manchester hopefully plotting our next adventure. We would like to say a huge thanks to all those people who have made our trip the best one ever – To Min Thapa & Jamie at Mongolian Trekking for making us part of your family and accompanying us on an amazing trek through the Himalayas, to Raj at GAdventures for making our trip Delhi to Kathmandu the most interesting and exciting trip we have experienced and hassle free! to all the new friends we have met throughout our travels and to everyone who has took the time to read, follow and comment on our blog!

The Gili Islands


Gili Meno
We knew we were going to enjoy our time at Gili Meno as the boat we took from Lombok landed at what could only be described as “Paradise”.

Gili Meno is one of three islands that make up the Gili’s (Gili Air, Meno and Trawangan) located around half an hour east by boat from Bangsal Harbour, Lombok. Meno the smallest and most quiet of the three islands, is a place most people come for quiet time or to snorkel/ dive the islands many beautiful coral reefs. You can walk a full lap of its coast in around an hour (if you can handle the heat!), and it was also a pleasant surprise to notice on arrival that the only means of transport on the Island and in fact on all of the Gili’s is either by a small horse and cart or by push bike.

The accommodation we stayed in was pretty unique, it was based around one of the traditional Lumbung buildings once used to house rice off the ground and away from moisture, but the area for the rice had only side walls (no front and back panels) allowing sunlight and a sea breeze to flow through from the beach immediately in-front. It was also a nice treat to fall asleep under the protection of a mosquito net only listening to the sound of the ocean and the calls of the local crickets and birds.

Our boat leaving for Gili Meno, Lombok in the background.

The traditional Lumbung with a modern twist

Our own beach

Rachel in her element.

Snorkelling & Diving
On our first day we decided to get some Snorkels and fins and go out and see what was living in the crustal clear turquoise waters. We were amazed to see many different types of Marine fish then blown away when we noticed a big hawks head turtle very casually and elegantly swim by. We were both pretty excited to have seen such a beautiful creature out in the wild in its natural habitat.

Inspired by what we had already seen we thought it would be crazy not to see what lies a little deeper in the water and so booked ourselves onto a beginners diving course. This involved being taught some of the basic skills and hand signals required to communicate underwater, and showed us how to use the equipment needed to dive. I immediately felt comfortable under the water but Rachel was a little more nervous, although by the end of the session we were both happily swimming along enjoying the beautiful corals and marine life. After the initial dive I was really keen to get in the water again so asked if I could join them on the boat for an afternoon diving at Halik Reef just north of Gili.T. The dive took me down to 12m with a visibility of around 20m, I was spoilt rotten by the number of different fish and marine life on offer including a shole of Big Bumphead Parrot Fish, Lion Fish, Scorpian Fish, Manta Rays & Hawks-head Turtles to name a few!

The diving boat – preparing to go under.

Gili Trawangan
After a couple more days of snorkelling and quiet time we decided to head across to Gili Trawangan the livelier of the islands. A harsh contrast to Meno to say the least, Gili.T was much busier, louder and had a lot more amenities that Meno didn’t have – but had a cash machine we were in need of! The snorkelling was still good here if you went out early morning when their wasn’t many fishing / shuttle boats going by, and being so close to Meno meant we still had the same beautiful turquoise waters surrounding us. After a couple of nights we were ready to move on to finish our trip in Bali, where we are to fly home from. Rather then face the dreaded Kuta beach we had heard so much about (nothing good what so ever) we decided to go back to the calm of Ubud for our final two nights.

Lombok – West Nusa Tenggara


Lombok is an island in the province of West Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia. It takes only 1 hour to get to Lombok from Bali on a speedboat but is thought to be a considerably different place. The landscape in Lombok appeared to us to have all the best features of the ones we had witnessed throughout our travels in Indonesia – lush jungle, volcanic mountains and blue water beaches surrounded by palm trees. The native people of Lombok are predominately Sasak, migrants of Java, they are culturally similar to the Balinese but follow Islam in opposed to Hinduism. The Island has many mosque and it is very common to be awoken by the loud speaker call to prayer at 5am.

One of the highlights of Lombok was watching the local children play and surf in the ocean after their day at school… The people here lead a simple way of life compared to the UK but seem very happy and contented. At sundown on our first day we were lucky to witness a traditional Sasak wedding. The sound of the drums from a local band/dance group was the first thing to grab our attention, this was quickly followed by the chants of excited children and locals who ran to join in the celebration. The people continued to dance the night away until the brightly dressed bridesmaids and new bride and Groom had arrived to the beach by fishing boat and finally seated for their wedding breakfast.



Children playing on the beach after school – Senggigi

Sunset surf

The local band playing at a Sasak wedding. Locals surround them to join in the celebration, the children copy the dance moves of the group.

The bridesmaids waiting for the bride and groom to arrive.

On day 2 of our trip we decided to rent a moped and explore some of the Island. Every corner we turned on the windy coastal road we saw views of the stunning west coast line and surrounding mountainous jungles. We stopped to view and ‘attempted’ to photograph our next destination the Gili Islands, not so far away but difficult to see due to their flatness these islands have been referred to as the pancake Islands.

The Gili’s – if you look carefully you can see the 3 islands on top of the ocean.

Beautiful coastline and lush jungle.

Bali – Ubud


Bali is one of Indonesia’s many islands, it lies between Java and Lombok in one of the most southern parts of South East Asia. Bali is unique to parts of Indonesia as it follows the Hindu religion unlike the rest of the population who follow Islam.

Ubud is the cultural centre of Bali, most famed for its arts and religious heritage. The area which is consists of bohemian style shops, cafes and art galleries is beautifully located amongst lush green jungle, rivers and rice paddies. It great place to take a yoga or art class and explore the surrounding Balinese villages but above all else it is the perfect place to relax, unwind and do very little – In my opinion it is the ultimate retreat.

On arrival in Ubud we were exhausted from our mammoth trip through Java and looking forward to some chill out time before the remaining two weeks of our big adventure. We were very relieved when we discovered the ideal accommodation – Oki Wati – this 1970’s balinese hotel is run by a lovely lady who grew up in Ubud and feels much more like a luxurious home than a hotel. It is located just off the Main Street ‘Monkey Forest Road’ but is hidden amongst the surrounding trees and rice paddies. The hotel is one of the oldest in Ubud and has vintage features such as Hindu engravings in the walls and baroque stone carvings. Every morning we were awoken by the sound of the wildlife and a homemade breakfast served to our balcony, it really was paradise.

We spent a bit longer in Ubud as do most who visit here, alongside the reading and relaxing did some white water rafting with our new friends Christine and Ant from Berlin and Pete from down South – we really enjoyed being on the river and the views of the surrounding jungle were amazing. We also explored the monkey forest temples, watched a cultural dance show where unfortunately our camera battery died and attended a Batik Art Class run by I Nyoman Suradnya a highly regarded Javanese artist.

Our pool at Oki Wati

Every morning we were awoken to the sound of Gordon. Is he a Gecko?

Rafting on the Ayung River

Me and George, Ant, Christine, Pete and our guide. The waterfall. Hindu carvings along the riverside.

Batik Art Class at Nirvana
Batik is a piece of art work on cloth that is traditionally made using a wax resist and dyeing techniques. Batik clothing is and longstanding Javanese tradition and is often worn in ceremonies to determine the royal ancestors of a person. Traditional colours were indigo, dark brown and white as these were the colours of the natural dyes and also represent the colours of the gods.

Me in the Batik class at Nirvana

My Batik step by step.

The Process Of Batik
Usually the process of Batik would take many days of waxing and dyeing, adding lots of layers to the piece. In my Batik class we had just 4 hours to create our cloth but was able to gain a good knowledge of the process involved. The first step was to sketch a simple illustration in pencil that we would later mark in wax using a ladle. Once the wax is dry we would paint in a thinner wax in the area we would like to crackle. Leave the wax to dry then add colour using the dyes. Paint a wax layer over the colour so it doesn’t bleed then crease the cloth to create crackled effect. Finally dip the the piece in the dye, leave to dry before dipping in the hot water to remove the wax.

The Monkey Forest



Monkey business

Ijen Crater (Kawah Ijen)


Woken at 3:30 am to the sound of chants from the local mosque, we started our day with a short drive &2 hour walk that brought us to the Ijen Volcano complex, a group of stratovolcanoes in East Java. The Ijen Volcano has a turquoise-coloured acid lake in its crater and is famous not only for its beauty but for its very labour intensive sulphur mining operation.

The miners Generally do two trips/ 6 days a week, carrying 100kg baskets of the yellow sulphur up 300mtr from the crater base to the crater rim then down nearly 2 miles to the Pultuding valley floor. I (George) tried lifting these baskets and they are not only very heavy but very painful and awkward to carry. In addition to the carrying of the heavy sulphur they have mine the it themselves, using crowbars to crack chunks of the cooled molten Sulphur,and using no breathing apparatus or face protection in the eye and chest burningly thick white sulphur gas. You may notice the ceramic pipes in the pictures which escaping volcanic gasses are channeled through, these result in condensation of molten sulphur (dark orangey red) which then cools in a pool turning bright yellow when it solidifies. Unbelievable! The workers only earn around £7 a day, and tend to not live to an old age as they generally suffer from major respiratory problems.

Ijen Volcano and its turquoise acid lake

The sulphur mining operation

Extreme working conditions in the thick white sulphur gas

Breaking off chunks of the freshly solidified sulphur, the only protection provided by an old scarf

Then the tough work starts… Carrying around 100kg up 800mtr on these winding, rocky paths then down 2 miles to the bottom of the valley. I take my hat off!

We left Ijen feeling with a sense of awe, it was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. Next stop Ubud in Bali…

Gunung Bromo


After a pleasant 5 hour train journey and 3 hours by car we arrived at Cemoro Lawang and our place for the night – Lava View Lodge hotel which overlooks the Tengger Semeru National Park & Mount Bromo. Mount Bromo (Indonesian: Gunung Bromo), is an active volcano in East Java that stands at 2,329 metres, it is not the highest peak in the region but is the most known since erupting towards the end of 2010 until mid 2011.

We woke at 3.30am and took one of the local Jeeps through a vast plain called “the Sea of Sands” to a popular viewpoint for sunrise that overlooks the Bromo national park and the surrounding Volcanos. Once the sun started to rise the views were incredible, the area looked like what you would imagine the moon to look like with vast areas of volcanic ash, big craters and Bromo billowing out a white smoke in the background – it was unlike anything we have seen before. After a few hours we returned to the base of Bromo to start our short walk up to the summit for close up views inside the Volcano!


Tengger Semeru National Park & Mount Bromo from view point

Active but not erupting – Bromo’s Crater
Team Jarvis at Bromo Summit

Bromo’s neighbour Mount Batok

Rachel & ‘The Sea Of Sands’

We left Cemoro Lewang early morning for our next destination Kawah Ijen, on what turned out to be a gruelling 9 hour mini bus journey in 30degrees + heat with no air con…

Yogyakarta, Java


It took us 2 hours by flight to get from Malaysia to the heart of Java Yogyakarta, known to the locals as Jogja. Our hotel ‘Phoenix’ was beautiful, we had discovered that we had a bit more money left than expected and decided to splash out on a more luxurious hotel with a much needed swimming pool. Yogyakarta is most famous as it is the gateway to two of the oldest and most important hindu/buddhist temples on earth Prambanan and Borobudur. Although the temples were the main purpose of our visit we were intrigued to learn more about this city that appeared different and not as well known as the other places we have visited so we set out to explore.

Jogja is a unique city that’s hard to describe, but here goes. The people here are extremely friendly and as their are not very many tourist we were made to feel like celebrities! Walking down through the main town it wasn’t uncommon to be asked for an interview and witness photo from local students practising their English, even the adults were keen to get to know us. The city is bustling with creativity and is renowned for their ‘Batik’ artwork, a Process of creating artworks and fabrics using dyes and wax. By night, especially on the weekend the city comes alive with artist, musicians, people dancing in the street, art exhibitions, people just sat around eating and talking and society’s of all kinds; photography, cycling, there was even a Group for people dressed as zombies! The streets are decorated with cool street art and jammed with shops selling Batik arts and crafts, model mopeds and bikes. We only spent 3 days in this vibrant and very social city but were lucky enough to be there to witness a carnival bringing together all the people who live here, filmed by a local tv channel, the carnival included performances by local bands, a fairground and stalls selling various foods.





The Sacred Bike

The streets in Jogja were once ruled by bikes but have recently been overtaken by mopeds. The pedal bike is something of an icon in the city and you will still see many people riding on vintage bikes and fixes. Whilst in Yogyakarta we manage to meet a few local riding groups including a group of teenagers who had constructed their own ‘tall bikes’ consisting of a two frames welded on top of each other!

Street Art



Borobudur is a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist temple. Although the temple is buddhist its design depicts the Indian architectural style Gupta, it also takes influence from both the Hindu and Buddhist religion. The monument is a shrine to the Lord Buddha who’s ancestors were Hindu, the temple is a place for Buddhist pilgrimage. We were lucky enough to arrive at this pristine temple in time for sunrise so were able to witness the spectacular views before the crowds. As leaving the temple bus loads of schools were arriving for their annual school trip, many of them wanted photos and interviews to prove they were Practising their English language skills with a tourist.




Just outside the cities walls is the ancient 9th-century Hindu temple compound Prambanan. The temple is dedicated to the Trimurti, the expression of God as the Creator (Brahma), the Preserver (Vishnu) and the Destroyer (Shiva). We arrived at the temple just after sunrise and were early enough to avoid the large groups of school children we seen when leaving Borobudur. The temple was one of the most exotic we have seen and comparable in style to the Angkor Wat in Cambodia.




Kuala Lumpur


A 5 hour took us to into Malaysia’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur, otherwise known as KL. KL is a bustling Asian City packed with markets, restaurants, skyscrapers and hawker food stalls. The population is made up of mainly Chinese and Indian people and the areas in the city focus around the different cultures within it. Most of our time was spent within the popular areas of ChinaTown, Little India and The Golden Triangle.

China Town
China Town was the closest area to our hostel The Reggae Mansion, probably the most up market hostel we have ever stayed in and a stark contrast to our 1st nights accommodation at The Tropical Guesthouse. The Reggae Mansion has a rooftop bar, restaurant, cinema room, free wifi, air con everything you would want in a good hotel- backpacking has definitely advanced since our 1st time in 2004. China towns main focus is the market selling knock-off goods and a wide choice of street food.

Nighttime view of the Manara & Patronas Towers from the roof top of The Reggae Mansion.

China Town/Bukit Bintang hawker food stalls.

You haven’t been to Asia if you haven’t shopped at an Asian market – everything from knock off Ray Ban sunglasses to Chinese medicine.

Little India
Little India is smaller and not so touristy… This area is filled with shops selling jewellery, silks and saris and home to one of the best restaurants we’ve eaten at Saravanaa Bhavan, an Indian restaurant that specialises in vegetarian food. Our dish was the banana leaf curry made up of rice, 2 veg currys, kootu, pachavi, sambar, rasam, kuzhambu, butter milk, appalam, butter chilli and pickle.

Banana Leaf Curry Set, Saravanaa Bhaven, Kuala Lumpur.

The Menara Tower, Kuala Lumpur
To get views of the city we decided to go to the roof pod of of KL’s tallest tower Menara KL (421m), this gave us some great views of the city and Petronas towers (the twin towers).

View from the Menara KL Tower.

Penang – The Pearl Of The Orient


Our journey to Penang was a relatively easy one, just 3 hours by ferry. Penang also known as ‘The pearl of the orient’ is famed for it’s delicious and culturally diverse Asian cuisine – a key reason for us choosing to visit. Our 1st stop on the island was the beach side town Batu Ferringhi where we were fortunate to do a home stay a very friendly Malaysia-Indian family at Annie’s Home Stay. As soon as we arrived at Annie’s beautiful house we were made to feel welcome by her, her husband Raj and lovely children. It was a home away from home where we could truly relax and wind down. We only spent two days in this area of Penang but once pointed in the direction of the Long Beach Hawker Food Centre where we were happy enough to spend our time experimenting with the local food…

After two enjoyable days stuffing our faces with asian cuisine we said goodbye to Annie and made our way to George Town a much more happening area of the island. Following a recommendation made by a German couple who had cycled all the way to Malaysia from Germany! We made the decision to stay in the coolest hostel yet ‘Pedal Inn’. This brand new and stylish guesthouse located just a short walk from the main areas of town is mainly aimed at cyclist on tour but even without George’s main love his bike we were made to feel very welcome. The staff here couldn’t do enough for us – they gave George a bike magazine and me a street food guide as well as filling us in on the local street art – we were both in our element. We headed out straight away with the aim to try as many different dishes as possible… We were very adventurous in eating with the locals and often without menus just the word of the cook and not once did we have an off stomach. Below are just some of the many dishes we sampled.

Left to Right: Cendol, Chilli Prawns, Nasi Kandar, Porridge, Golden Dumpling, Koey Teow, Ice Kacang, Chilli Crab, Whan Than Mee.

Food We Sampled & Descriptions
Chilli crab, Chilli prawn, Laksa (noodles in fish broth), Chicken jalfrezi, Bendi masala (a green vegetable also known as ladyfingers in masala sauce), Spring roll, Red snapper red fish curry, Fried koey teow (flat noodle with egg and prawn), Chicken and beef satay, Cendol (green chewy noodles, palm sugar, syrup, shaved ice, red beans and coconut milk), Golden dumpling (sticky rice, soy sauce and pork steamed in a banana leaf), Wan than Mee (Sui kow) – dumplings noodles gravy, Poh peah (pancakes with veg chilli), Porridge with meat veg salty egg, Roti Canai (buttery, fluffy roti served with lentil curry), Nasi Kandar (Indian Muslim – rice served with a host of curries and various meats/veg), Ice kacang desert (Finely shaved ice topped with sweet red beans, creamed sweet corn, dried nutmeg, jelly’s and ice cream).

The Pedal Inn, George Town (photo of us and owner Steven), Annie’s Homestay Batu Ferringhi (Photo of us and Annie).

Between many meals we also found the time to visit many of the sites in the world heritage centre of George Town. We went up Penang hill 800m on the worlds steepest train, we visited the Kek Lok Si Temple and spent much of our time exploring little India and China Town two very fashionable areas of town consisting of Chinese tea shops, market stalls, food vendors selling Chinese and Indian food, cool shops, a museum, a couple of small art galleries and walls displaying street art by a Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic and Baba Chuah a local Caricature artist. To summarise Penang is a culturally diverse, creative and cosmopolitan city, the people are lovely and the food is the best, we are sad to be leaving but will hopefully be a few pounds lighter for doing so.

Going up Penang Hill (800m) on the train, View from the top of Penang Hill a misty but very hot day, Kek Lok Si Temple, Wish Tags.

Street Art in George Town by Ernest Zacharevic

A very cool artist studio – Junk in George Town

Some random photos of street life in Penang