Wat Traimit holds the Golden Buddha, largest gold statue in the world (3m, 5.5t). The story behind this statue is interesting: it was made in the 13th or 14th century, at some point in time (but before the end of the 18th century) for fear of being stolen it was plastered in painted stucco. It wasn’t until 1954 that the real nature of the statue was discovered.
Wat Pho is one of the largest and oldest temple in Bangkok, and what’s impressive when you get inside is that you find the reclining Buddha statue inside is almost as big as the building itself.
The Giant Swing is a Bangkok attraction, and is graphically memorable. It was used in a Bhramin ceremony, where people would swing to fetch a pot of gold, but it was discontinued following several fatalities. The Giant Swing is located in front of Wat Suthat.
The Grand Palace in Bangkok. Impressive and colorful.
The monuments we visited in Mahabalipuram are classified as UNESCO World Heritage Site. The impressive part about those is that they are monolithic and have been sculpted in situ.
One part of the town seems to be dedicated for tourists: there you only find shops, guest houses and restaurants. The upside is that it’s very clean.
After many several one-day stop (with 4 to 6 hours of bus or train in between), Pondicherry was a relaxing change, as we stayed there 4 days. It’s also a more european city, with many reminders of its french past. Just north of the city lies the utopian city/society of Auroville with its impressive Matrimandir building.
Originally we planned to go to Tiruchirappalli after Madurai. But after discussing with some indians and fellow tourists we decided to change plans and go to Thanjavur. In Thanjavur, is located Brihadeeswara Temple, built by the Cholas and a UNESCO World Heritage site. More than a thousand years old, its foundations were laid by the Emperor Rajaraja Chola I.
At the entrance of the temple we were blessed by an elephant (in exchange of a small fee).
The trip from Madurai was the first long bus section: 6 hours.
The main attraction in Madurai is the Meenakshi Amman Temple.
We took an Express train from Kanyakumari to Madurai, so it took only 5 hours to cover the 250km between the cities. This gave us plenty of time to meet some interesting people.
At the confluence of the Arabic sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean (although technically not true, see wikipedia for the explanation), Kanyakumari is a place of many legends.
Trivandrum (also called Thiruvananthapuram) is the capital of Kerala. The main attraction we saw there was its Zoo. It was the most obvious way of seeing a tiger in India. The Trivandrum Zoo is said to be a source of inspiration for the Life of Pi novel (now also a movie).
Arriving late in Trivandrum, we chose to use room service in the hotel. Sambharam seemed to be on the menu, some kind of salty lassi, so we ordered one.
Verdict: we didn’t finish and we won’t order it in the future. The recipe is: buttermilk, green chili, ginger, salt.
We took a local train from Varkala to Trivandrum. Our first experience with train in India, and it wasn’t too crowded.
Varkala and its beach and cliffs are a popular touristic destination of Kerala. The cliffs are surrounded by tourist shops, bars, restaurant and hotels/guest houses. We stayed there about two hours, mostly for lunch.
One of the highlights of Kerala are its backwaters and the house boats cruising in them. The backwaters are networks of lakes, rivers and canals (manmade or natural) that occupy a good portion of the Kerala west coast. Allepey is the main port for houseboats and the starting point for cruises. The most popular format for cruises is leaving at noon, cruise around until five, stop for the night, cruise back to starting point. And that’s what we did.
Periyar National Park is a tiger reserve, an elephant reserve and a wildlife sanctuary in general. The name “Thekkady” is also sometimes used which caused some confusion as the name Thekkady, Periyar and Kumily are used interchangeably.
The walk in the forest was nice, the bamboo rafting was mostly irrelevant because the schedule for the whole excursion was much too late to have any chance of seeing any major animal. We were warned the probability for tigers was essentially zero, but in the end all we saw was limited to birds, monkeys, squirrels and dragonflies.
The taxi to Munnar came empty back to Kochi. The 2 other passengers (two swiss girls with a taste for rapid pace) had the same idea we had, so we shared a Jeep taxi to Kumily. Kumily is the gateway to the Periyar National Park.
The main reason for going to Munnar is to enjoy the landscape: numerous hillsides covered with tea trees, lakes, mountains…
Munnar is a city in the Western Ghats (altitude of our hotel: 1500m). The only thing to do there (except eat, sleep and shop) according to our guide was to visit the Tata Tea Museum: a long video (mostly about the fact that the workers bought the company from Tata Tea to found KDHP and its social contributions), a small explanation about green tea (in barely understandable english), and a good sample of Chai Tea.
The elephants in Kodanad were just a stop on a longer journey that will take us to Munnar. Towards the end we could see some tea gardens.