First compared to the famous city of canals over a century ago, Kerala’s Venice of the East is still worth a visit today.
In the early 20th Century, the governor-general and viceroy of India George Nathaniel Curzon dubbed Alappuzha, at that point known as Alleppey, the “Venice of the East”, remarking that “Here nature has spent up on the land her richest bounties.” Generous praise, but does it still ring true? Let’s consider the similarities and differences of the two canal-strewn cities. And perhaps if Alppuzha isn’t really Kerala’s Venice of the East might it be… better?
It won’t come as a surprise that Curzon’s comparison with Venice was prompted by Alappuzha having many canals, which connect the city to the wonderful Kerala backwaters. There’s no denying both cities are well served by narrow waterways, but they aren’t exactly similar in form. The canals of Venice weave through tightly-packed lanes of grand houses, are crossed by impressive stone bridges, and populated by bombastic gondaliers standing on their unique narrow canoe-like rowing boats. The canals of Kerala are considerably more relaxed, lined with trees and traversed by their famous houseboats. Though it doesn’t have Alappuzha’s natural charm, Suzhou in Eastern China is a far closer aesthetic match to Venice…
Okay, canals aren’t the only the similarity which might prompt one to describe Alappuzha as Kerala’s Venice of the East. Both cities are very busy, especially in the center. Venice has long had a reputation for an its crush of tourists in popular sights like St Marks Square, so much so that the city may soon charge for access to prime locations. Alappuzha is not quite at that level, but its city centre does bustle with chaotic activity, like few places in the state of Kerala.
One final similarity between the real Venice and Kerala’s Venice of the East is an abundance of religious sites. Venice is, of course, famous for its stunning churches, from the grand Saint Mark’s Basilica to many smaller chapels dotted around the lagoon. Similarly, the temples of Alappuzha are highly recommended. Unlike much of Kerala, where non-Hindus are not permitted to enter the premises of temples, anyone is welcome of many of the most interesting of Alappuzha’s places of worship and even festivals.
Enough of the similarities. Despite the canals, Venice and Alappuzha are incredible different. While, like Venice, Kerala has been at the heart of global trading routes for centuries, the delicious spicy cuisine of the state may come as a pleasant surprise… unlike pizza and pasta. Another benefit of Kerala’s Venice of the East is the weather: while Northern Italy is quite chilly for much of the year, Alappuzha remains consistently warm all year; just avoid the seasonal monsoons! But that’s not the biggest difference…
While the jewel of the Adriatic is one of the most visit sites in the world, Alapuzzha is far more of an undiscovered gem. The crush of tourists can make Venice almost impossible to enjoy, although the commotion on the canals can be fun for a while. However, just a short trip out of Alappuzha’s centre and you can reach a mesmerising paradise and floating towards Kerala’s backwaters is like descending into a dream of peaceful beauty. This is India at its best, and while it’s not Venice, it’s wonderful in its own right.
Don’t take our word for it though, you should see Kerala’s “Venice of the East” for yourself! The best way to visit Alappuzha is to join the Malabar Rampage 2017 rickshaw adventure. The minimal assistance rally travels from Trivandrum to Panaji, in a week of discovery, laughs, and over 1000km! You’ll explore the incredible food, scenery, and culture, that make South India so special.
The latest updates from our man on the front-line, Princely, are in. After a week of driving, our teams of the Food For Live Tuk Tuk Challenge 2016 enjoyed a well deserved rest day, before heading back on the road again for the last couple of days.
Restday – Finally! Neleshwara, is a small fishing hamlet at the cost of Kerala. The resort we stayed in had a village concept and the rooms were in cottage style. The queue for the spa was long, since most teams were dying for a back therapy after what their back bones had gone through the last 7 days. David, an international renowned hair dresser, did hairdressing for the hotel staff for free. A great habit he also has on the streets of London streets, just for the good of it.
The beach was beautiful and clean and thanks to the rest day the teams had enough time to enjoy it thoroughly. Ajay and Deepak, other members of the group joined the teams. Now they are in full strength and ready for the final phase of the rally to finish in Kanyakumari. The new members were taught to drive Rickshaw and they just picked up the driving fast. The sleepy village road gave them ample space to hone their skills.
The drive to Calicut started around 9.30 am from the base hotel. The teams, with plenty of new energy, were energetic and enthusiastic to face the road again. During the briefing they were warned about the Kerala driving style – narrow roads and impatient drivers in Kerala were about to surprise the teams.
Finally when we gathered at the hotel, the teams were exhausted and their words proved that it is tougher traffic to on the roads of Maharastra. Team 4 broke their clutch cable about 3 km from the base hotel and the support team had to rescue them. As that happened right next to beach the team had major crowd from the local to enquire on what is their mission all about. That night, Chandrantah Shaw, had a cake cut for his 72nd birthday.
The drive from Calicut to Cochin started off well and early. The teams left the hotel well before 9 am. Within 1 hour I had two calls concerning a break down. Team 4 had gear problem and Team 5 clutch problem. No matter how many times I tell about the route during the briefing, the teams follow their GPS blindly and they are lead into narrow and unpleasant roads. Both teams made the same mistake and finding them took extra time, but after hat both teams were back on the road within half an hour and continued their journey. Team 1, the film crew, reached the hotel at 10.30 pm. Apart from the team all the other teams made it to the hotel well on time. Ravin’s friends in Cochin took them all to dinner and the day ended by planning the media coverage for the next morning.
The plan was to convoy to the Malayala Manorama TV channel office at the outskirts of Cochin city. The start was early and everything went well till the time the teams hit the crazy traffic. They were surprised to see that it is worse than in Mumbai. The convoy was broken by a break down and it took 15 minutes to set it right. At around 4 pm the teams had 200 km to cover and I knew then that their Media time had taken them to dark drive. All the teams drove themselves without help except Ravin and Nick. When we arrived at Hycith Trivandrum it was around 9.30 pm.
The Plan was to drive to Kanyakumari which is 90 km from Trivandrum and get back to Trivandrum by taxi. The plan went without any problem, till Team 1 broke down 8 km before the finish. The teams offered prayer at the trinity of Indian Ocean, Arabic Ocean and Bay of Bengal. We finally we went back to Trivandrum at 8.30 pm and had the finish ceremony and award distribution.
Teams were often shuffled during the rally, so it was a bit tricky to pick a winner. In the end, the Champions Award went to Pietro Paolinelli, who runs the schools in Virundavan and to Chandrakant Shah, who celebrated his 72nd birthday during the rally. Congratulations!
The Bonkers award went to David H Jamili and Aarti Khetarpal for keeping the mood and the spirit of the teams up all the time with their great sense of humor! A big thanks to you!
I bid the teams farewell at 10.30 pm and drove to Chennai. All of them had developed strong feelings and some of them even burst into tears, such was the power of bonding during the rally and they will all cherish it for long time.
It was one year ago, when a tall man from the UK showed up in Chennai Garage to inspect the the working condition of the tuk tuks. That time he was contemplating on a plan to arrange a private rally for an organization in the UK. Slowly and steadily, after many mails and the exchange of ideas, a rally was conceived. We had no name for it then and for our organizational convenience we just called it November rally. The hotels, the route and various other details were confirmed and the rally was baptised as FFLV Tuk Tuk Challenge 2016. Till the very last moments there was always a change in teams, in number of participants and so on. Finally when I started from Chennai to conduct this rally, I had to breathe deeply a couple of times to get the anxiety out of me.
It was November 3rd when I landed in Mumbai to conduct the rally. The same day, all the Auto rickshaws reached the parking of Sun n Sand hotel. Overall 5 rickshaws and 15 members was the given calculation. But when I met Ravin on the next day, the tall man from a year ago and the team leader for the whole rally, he still was not sure about the count. He gave me few details and had plenty of questions for me on the process of the rally. Mr. Rupa Ragunathan (he is baptised this name for his association with the charity work) was with him and he is the man who runs the organisation’s schools in Virundavan. Well, we chatted for about an hour and sort of mind prepared ourselves for the event.
Officially the first day happened to be 5th of November.
The pickup time was set for 10 am and I was there in the lobby by 9.30 am. to check out the proceedings. Ravin walked in and said that there is a delay in flight. So by the time the group arrived, it was 1.30 pm already. Jet lag, hunger , fatigue etc., are the challenges which had already bogged them down and I had stepped aside to go with the flow. We had organized practice at 2.30 pm. So it was pretty much landing, straight for food (lunch) and then registration. Briefing was done during the registration and all were pushed to the practice. Again we had committed to a press meet at 5.30 pm and there was hardly 2 hours of practice. The press meet was arranged in a hall in Sun n Sand and there was more than 50 people form press to cover the meet.
At around 6.30 Vivek Oberoi (a famous Bollywood star) walked inside the press conference hall with flash and video and so many noises. It took 15 minutes it everything settled down again. Ravin, had a good command on the event and dealt with it beautifully. First Ravin explained what the programme is about, then he passed the mike to Davide (an award winning hair dresser), then to Rupa and then it was Ravinol (award winning filmmaker) who explained a bit more about them and why they are here.
Finally Mr. Vivek spoke about his association with the organization. Then a question session was there and a photo session with rickshaw. When Mr. Vivek saw the number plate, he immediately asked how the Tamilnadu registration vehicles are there in Mumbai. Ravin, introduced me to him and he spoke in Tamil few words on the registration of the Vehicle and safety. He sounds very much like a Mumbaikar ( – the most law and order concerned people in India).
Finally the day came to a close after dinner. The Sun n Sand food just melted everybody’s taste buds and it was very much appreciated by all.
The Mini Challenge Day is the compensation day to have another briefing and practice. Finally I had time to prepare the teams for the tough things they’ll have to get through. Luckily there were only a couple of people who still had to improve their rickshaw driving skills after this day, otherwise the rest of them did fantastically well and surprised me.
The ride to the mall and coming back, part of the mini challenge, was accomplished by all the teams except the Ravinol team( a team which covers the event as a film crew) did not touch their vehicle and they went inside Mumbai for footage. Rest of the teams came back and were sharing their first experiences on the road.
By the evening, there was an unusual crowd at the beach and it was explained to me, that there is the celebration of a Bihari festival going on. The purpose is to stay in the moonlight and do Pooja (a Hindi prayer ritual). I never realized it will last till the next day.
When I vacated the place where we stayed and we made my way to the Sun n Sand Hotel, we could see the crowd, which was in Juhu beach, coming out. It was just waves of people and navigating through them became really tough. Some of the participants, who were aware of the crowd, shared their concern of getting out. I told them instead of waiting, let’s just navigate out. But to everybody’s surprise, once flagged off from the hotel, there was literally no one on the road.
As the participants were informed that getting out of Mumbai was itself a challenge, the mind game is on. They did rather well, since till about 2 hours after we left, I didn’t get any calls, till the first teams ran out of petrol. All of them immediately were helped by local people and with that were back on track in no time. Later I came to know that a local tuk tuk driver pushed the rally tuk tuk by his feet and it was recorded in funny manner by our challengers.
Then it was pretty much a quiet day till Alibaug. The hotel in Alibaug took care of them and I bid them goodnight and went to my resting place. All the participants are warned about the long drive expecting them the next day and they were informed to be ready to leave on 7.30 am.
Finding the right time is not the rule for FFLV challenge. Literally everyone need to be pulled out and chased for the drive. Either they are tired or everyone is having their own plans. To my surprise the road looked horribly beaten by the monsoon. At around 6.30 I noticed two teams had 60 km to push to the hotel. It was a graceful day and we reached the hotel around 8.30 pm.
The road to Goa was thought to be a relatively easy drive. In mid-point I took time to see if all are doing fine and waited to let all teams pass to the front to have an assessment. There were a couple of breakdowns due to bad fuel and other issues. Otherwise it was a fine run, but still teams had long distance to cover at 6 pm. I had no one to drag along and everyone found their way to hotel except team 2. They were near the hotel but going round and round instead of finding the hotel. Eventually I had to locate them and lead them to the hotel. Many participants took on the streets of Goa that night to feel the place. Even the short stay in Goa made them all happy.
The hotel, which we had booked for the day was not at the place where we thought it to be.Supposedly close to Bhatkal it was 50 km out of town. Eventually the teams had to drive over 280 km and more for the second day apart from the Alibaug to Ratnagiri day.
Eventually the teams did not drive madly from point to point, but they pretty much started enjoying the day. Even though they killed a lot of time and had to drive in the dark. Finally I had the team of Ravin and Ravinol with me to guide them to the hotel. It was around 10.30 pm when we reached it, as we had stopped for dinner in between. There were a couple of breakdowns over the day, were Team 2 broke their yoke road, which they eventually fixed and another team broke the accelerator cable.
There was some left over sweets in a carry bag which had attracted aunts and bit Bhats (member of the film crew). The plan was to convoy to the nearest town Udupi for the Dharshan of the deity. Even on the short day there was a delay due to the currency problem in India. The teams went to Mangalore airport to change the currency but eventually failed and got delayed. It was 7.30 pm when all of the teams had arrived and they breathed easeily, anticipating the rest day. More to come from this life changing event for the participants!
A tuk tuk challenge, organised with the help of the Travel Scientists, is taking place this week in Southern India, raising funds for Food For Life Vrindavan.
With the support of Bollywood star Vivek Oberoi, the brand ambassador of Food for Life Vrindavan, the rally was launched at an official press conference in Mumbai last Saturday. Though not participating in the rally himself, Oberoi spoke about the importance of charitable work. He was among several of the participants of the rally, including Rupa Raghunath Das, the founder of FFLV. His charity aims to empower girls living in the rural Uttar Pradesh region: money raised goes toward ending child marriage, preventing child prostitution, and helping girls get an education.
In addition to Rupa Raghunath Das, the charity rally has impressive field of varied backgrounds, all eager to help the charity and to explore the Malabar Coast! Participants include British actor Ravin Ganatra, Indian actress Aarti Khetarpal and renowned hairdresser David Jameli. Irish filmmaker Ravinol Chambers is taking part in the rally while at the same time filming a documentary about the event, and the plight of girls in India.
Though a challenging distance, the rally travels down the beautiful and varied Malabar Coast, which also features on the Malabar Rampage and Mumbai Xpress Rickshaw Challenges. The route passes the famous beaches of Goa and through Kerala, with its delicious cuisine, as the event heads towards its final destination of Kanyakumari in Southern Tamilnadu. It’s not just a race: along the way participants are required to carry out weird and wonderful challenges.
If the FFLV tuk tuk challenge has inspired you, why not participate in a Rickshaw Challenge yourself. On the Malabar Rampage and Mumbai Xpress you’ll see the same incredible Malabar Coast. However, if you can’t wait till next year, the Classic Run, a ten-day rickshaw adventure from Chennai to Trivandrum, is scheduled for December 28th. You’ll race 1000km through magical Tamilnadu, ending up in the deep South of India. Alternatively, if you want to organise a private event yourself, the Travel Scientists are always available to help!
Southern Indian food is all about spice.
It’s no secret that India has amazing food, and in every region you travel new culinary discoveries await. There are vast differences between the cooking styles of different areas of the subcontinent. North Indian cuisine has noticeably central Asian influences, with greater use of meat, thicker sauces (often featuring yoghurt) and is usually accompanied by bread. Southern India is the ideal location if you love vegetarian food, rice, lots of coconut and, of course, spice.
While the various regions of Southern India have different culinary styles — Udupi cuisine, the tastes of Kerala, the curries of Andhra Pradesh — there is one thing that unites them: mastery of spice. If you want to understand Southern Indian food, you need to know the spices used. Often exported, the spices grown in South India are best tasted in the country itself. Here is a selection of the most essential South Indian spices!
Both green and black cardamom seeds are essential South Indian spices and are popular all over the region. Green cardamom is the most popular, and most versatile, used in everything from spice mixes (like garam masala) to desserts. Black cardamom has a powerful, smoky taste, and the pod can be incredibly spicy. As well as its delicious flavour, cardamom is revered for its health benefits: it’s said to possess numerous favourable qualities, including being anti-carcinogenic, anti-depressant, a detoxicant, and a cure for gum disease! By weight, it is the world’s third most expensive spice.
Tamarind is actually a fruit, whose insides are sour though they can become sweeter, depending on ripeness. Often used as a paste, it’s an important feature of South Indian cuisine, particularly in Andhra Pradesh, where it’s mixed with chilli powder, and Tamilnadu, where it is the most commonly used souring agent. Used in everything from stews to sauces, desserts to drinks, it’s also prominent in the West as an ingredient in Worcestershire sauce.
Perhaps the most famous of all essential South Indian spices is red chilli. Brought to India by the Portuguese, their former colony of Goa is still known for its chilli-based curries like Vindaloo. However, chilli is now an important part of cooking all over South India, and three-quarters of chillis exported from India actually come from Andhra Pradesh, not coincidentally known as home to the spiciest food on the subcontinent. Chillis are usually dried and ground up into a powder, though can be used whole, for example in tadka. If you can handle the spice, they also regarded as good for your health.
The bright orange-yellow spice turmeric is often used to give curries an attractive golden colour but watch out: it stains. Can be used fresh, dried, or in a paste. Known as an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, it’s particularly useful for sufferers of arthritis.
Though popular worldwide, black pepper is native to South India, originating in the Western Ghats and the Malabar Coast. The heavy, regular, rainfall of the region provides the perfect conditions for growing the spice, which the area still exports to much of the world. Usually ground straight onto dishes, black pepper is also very good for your health: it speeding up the metabolism, strengthening bones, and protects the liver!
Though originally found on Indonesia’s Maluku islands, cloves are now one of the essential South Indian spices. The dried flower buds provide a characteristicly warm flavour, and the whole bud is often cooked in oil or ghee to spice a dish, though too much can overpower other flavours. Cloves have long be known to be healthy, and play a role in tradition Indian Ayurvedic medicine.
Nutmeg is the seed of the Myristica fragrans tree, which also originated in the Maluku Islands of Indonesia; another spice, mace, is derived from the seed’s dark red shell. Ground then dried, nutmeg adds warth to a dish and is often used in biryanis, although, unlike in Western cuisine, South Indians rarely add it to desserts. While nutmeg contains many healthy nutrients, and in medium doses is an effective anti-depressant, avoid consuming large quantities: it’s actually a dangerously powerful hallucinogenic!
Cassia, derived from the bark of a Chinese evergreen tree, is one of the essential South Indian spices, and is often sold abroad by the name cinnamon. True (Ceylon) cinnamon, derived from Sri Lanka, is rarer. Cassia, sometimes known as Chinese cinnamon, has a slightly sweeter taste than its namesake and is another spice that Indians use to flavour savoury dishes, while being a popular dessert topping in the West.
If you want to experience true South Indian food, as well the region’s glorious scenery and thriving culture, why not join us for a Rickshaw Challenge adventure rally? The next race is the Classic Run, a week long trip from Chennai to Trivandrum, beginning on December 28th 2016. You’ll have the chance to experience the wonderful cuisines — and essential South Indian spices — of Tamilnadu and Kerala, while having the adventure of a lifetime!
Nothing lasts forever and neither does the Rickshaw Challenge Tamil Nadu Run 2016. After a week full of crazy and wild adventures, our eleven teams from all over the world have returned to the starting point in Chennai for – all safe and sound, with an abundance of stories to tell about their rickshaw adventure. Time for the last report from our man in the field, Princely:
Yercaurd morning is a beautiful morning with mist on the hill station and the pleasant sound of birds added music to the scene. In this idyll the teams prepared their tuk tuk for the makeover challenge. Except team 4, 6 and Team 11, all participated in it and they showed the eagerness to win the championship. By 8 am all the teams gathered for the briefing.
From the break of the morning, a Lady form Chennai just kept admiring the rickshaws and started asking plenty of questions regarding the challenge. She just could not stop admiring our adventurers doing the makeover. As a neutral person, I asked her to judge the makeover based on practicality and elegance.
All the teams left the hotel at around 8.15 am. I reached the hotel early at around 3 pm. After a quiet day without any breakdowns, at around 5 pm., Team Neruppu Da! gave me a call. They had been detained by the police. After an hour of ordeal, I had to eventually interfere and found that they were caught in wrong situation as they had some heap of stones to deal with the monkeys and additional petrol in a water bottle.
The day’s challenge was to take a picture of the police with the rickshaw. Seems like Team Neruppu Da was a bit too enthusiastic about it! Luckily I could bail them out and the nervous time for the team was over and they laughed and shared the jokes with rest of teams at the dinner time.
The final day excitement and the thought of the finish line gave all the participants a mixed feeling. As usual we planned for an early start and wanted to regroup at Tambaram (a suburb, 30 km before Chennai) for the finish ceremony. Team Neruppu Da called for assistance about half an hour after we left the hotel. Otherwise, it was a lightning day. Teams arrived at the regrouping place, well in time except Team Indiaree and Team Let’s go Jozi. The late quickly joined us but Team Indiaree missed the finish.
The Mexican ambassador for India, her Excellency Ms. Melba Pria, famous for her rickshaw drive to office, was invited as chief guest of the event by Round Table India. The participants were thoroughly happy about the reception, the school kids gave them and humbled by the presence of the ambassador. They enjoyed few entertainments from the kids of the school.
The awards were distributed and Team 3 – Nerupu da was awarded the champion trophy. Team 2BrokeGirls were honored with the Bonkers Award and the charity award went to Team Rainbow Warriors. The final drive to the base hotel was convoyed and except that some teams ran out of fuel for a last time, we arrived at the hotel safely.
The finish party and fellowship was a great hit, where a couple of surprising stories of a crash in the bush and burning fire crackers during the travel were revealed to me. Well, well, well, the teams had a great time during the event and their laughter and fun said it all.
Meet you for another adventure!
The Tamilnadu Run is now well underway, and the participants of the tuk tuk adventure rally have already had their fair share of adventures. The participants left Chennai early on Day 3 heading to the former French colony of Puducherry. Day 4 saw them race South to Thanjavur, before turning Northwards on Day 4 to the hill station of Yercaud in the Eastern Ghats. Here’s organiser Princely’s review of the Tamilnadu Run Rickshaw Challenge 2016’s past few days!
On the morning of the 17th when I reached hotel around 7 am, Team 8, 9 and 10 were already waiting at the hotel lobby. As usual the luggage tags were distributed and they tagged their bags and went for breakfast. All the teams had arrived by 7.30 am. The roundtable members joined us at 7.45 am to do the flag off. The briefing was given at 8 am and all the teams were briefed about the road condition, day’s activity and about the base hotel. Then the Roundtablers introduced themselves and spoke about their projects. Finally the teams were flagged off at 8.30 am. Whaav! Most of the teams had nice costumes and some of the teams had done nice makeovers for the vehicle. A special mention to Team 4 (Neruppu Da) for their makeover in honour of recent hit Tamil movie Kabali. The Luggage truck left immediately and the support waited for an hour before they left. I managed to start around the same time when the support team started. When I closed in for the first activity challenge at Sadras Dutch fort I could see 4 to 5 teams either leaving plus some on their way to the fort.
When I was closing in for the second activity challenge, I received a call from Team 5 who had run out of petrol. I helped them organize and they got back on road. The rest of the day went by without any calls and all the teams arrived in the hotel well on time. Team 8 came and told us about the their experience of flat tires and how locals had helped them. Most of the teams planned their own evenings and I met few of them in the beach walking. The day was almost full moon and the moon was rising on the horizon at around 7.30 pm: it was a beautiful sight for an enjoyable walk in the beach side.
The early birds of team 10 – the Contemporary nomads – were there before I came to lobby at 7 am. Well within half an hour all the teams dropped their bags and went for breakfast. Being a long day with narrow roads, I had warned the teams to keep up their time on an activity packed day. The first call came from Team 10 at around 12.30 am and they were closing in on the Vaitheeswaran Koil activity. The service team took no time as they were close and the problem was sorted out. At Vaitheeswaran Koil I met Team 7 and Team 5. The rest of the day went without any problem. All teams came to Tanjavur right on time and most of them jumped in to the pool of the base hotel Parisutham. Team 6 Rayan went on a drinking spree and had to sleep out of their room as it got locked. This he told me when I met him the next morning…
Driving to a small hill station, Yercaud, was the agenda for the day. The teams were tasked with a photo challenge. Team 4 and Team 10 left early to avoid excess heat and traffic. But things did not go according to the plan. Team 4 had a break down just before Tiruchi. They lost lot of time but got back on road before the service team could reach them. Rest was all smooth until I got the call from the luggage truck. We realised we had given a wrong address for the hotel. They we took some correction measure through message and facebook. Team 2 had some break down before a place called Musuri and it was set right by our service team. The first team to arrive in the base hotel was Team 4 and one by one all of them came with the last team arriving at 6.30 pm. Few of them claimed the different road (Google mistake). Team 11 missed the hotel and went to the wrong address, but came back to the right address eventually. This meant everyone was accounted for and ready to continue the Tamilnadu Run the next morning!
The Tamilnadu Run, a seven-day tuk tuk adventure rally through Southern India, has begun. The first weekend was dedicated to preparing the teams for the fun ahead. Here’s organiser Princely’s blog about what happened on Day 1 and Day 2 of the Tamilnadu Run Rickshaw Challenge 2016!
It was around 8.30 am when I reached the base hotel in Chennai, which to my surprise had been renamed from Deccan Plaza to Hotel Regency Plaza. I wondered what this could mean for the participants from all round the world who were informed of the hotel name one month before the start of this event. A local taxi tuk tuk (a tuksi) driver recognized me and asked me “when are the auto’s coming?” There’s always such frenzy that these rallies have registered in local minds.
We opened the kit and spread it across for distribution. The first team to register was Team 10, from Switzerland, the “Contemporary Nomads”. Johan and Christel are couple from the chocolate country, who were excited and the same time had no clue what to expect. As we discussed the madness of the rallies, they were pretty amused about the event and revealed they had been looking forward to the it from the moment they had paid. The tool kit, the medical kit and the other accessories took them by surprise.
Slowly, one-by-one, the teams started registering and checking in to the hotel. Team 5 (Let’s Go Jozi) arrived at the hotel at 11 am, which was exactly when we had scheduled our briefing. And there was still no news from Team 11. All the remaining teams had their ear to the ground for the all-important briefing. After the briefing, the organizing team and I prepared to leave for the practice. That was the time Team 11 landed at the hotel reception for the check-in. I quickly went through the plans for them and asked them to join us at Practice. It was 100% roll call for the practice. All teams were pretty excited to look at their rickshaws for the first time and they were spell bound. It took a while for them to come to reality and start the practice. The practice started at 2pm and went on till 4pm.
Relaxing at Elements Hostel
We wrapped up the day session and teams started their first day drive to the Hotel. It was an pretty smooth day as almost all the teams made it in to the hotel before I got back. Team 2 experienced a small snare in their drive back and was eventually attended by some locals, but still made it to the hotel. Then it was time for the welcome party at the Elements hostel roof top, the perfect place to relax! Beers stories and getting to know each other followed. All of them had great time and Team 11 (Shannan) endured a whole night of pub hopping and fun.
The second day began with a small drive to Elliots beach for the activity challenge. After the first day, all I can say is that this was pretty much a cake walk. First thing in the morning I spent attending a fault for Team 2, as they had burnt the clutch on practice. After finishing the activity all the teams went for shopping and some of them made planned their night out together using the shared Facebook group page. All the teams are confident to take the road tomorrow and we bid them bye after wishing all of them “all the best” for the travel as they continue with the Tamilnadu Run.
A little bit more about some of the teams. Two sets of experienced travelers, couples from South Africa, named their teams after two popular cricket stars AB De Villiers (Team 8) and Jonty (Team 9). The rest are all pretty young teams and there is an all-girl team, 2 broke girls, with such an amazing story backstory.
The 2 broke Girls, Joanna (Irish) and Lindsay (USA), are fellow travelers who met in Bali (Indonesia) this April and decided to join this madness. They had pretty much known each other for 6 days… they must have gelled very well. They are great sports, down to earth and practical.
Visit Pondicherry for a fasincinating fusion of Indian and French culture.
There are many reasons to visit Pondicherry (now officially known as Puducherry, but normally referred to as Pondi), the former French colony surrounded by Tamil Nadu on India’s South-Western coast. It has European-influenced cuisine and bohemian vibe combined with a spiritual side that is very much Indian. Here are the top reasons you should visit Pondicherry!
If you’re escaping the rush of India’s cities, there’s not much better than relaxing on a Pondicherry beach. There are plenty to choose from: Promenade beach in the centre of town, though that’s not the best for sunbathing. There’s also Serenity Beach, Auroville Beach, and you can take a ferry up the coast to Paradise Beach. Many people surf around this area, but if you’re feeling less active, sit back and enjoy the beautiful sunsets over the Bay of Bengal. They are at their most spectacular from November to January.
For those who visit Pondicherry, the promenade is a must-see. Also known as Goubert Avenue or simply Beach Road, it stretches over 1km, parallel to the Bay of Bengal. Have a stroll, or even a jog, and admire the French colonial architecture. There’s a World War One memorial plus statues of Joan of Arc and the former governor of French India Marque the Dupleix but, as if you remind you that you really are in India, there’s also one of Mahatma Gandhi. There are stalls for you to grab a coffee or an ice cream as you gaze towards a still-standing 19th Century lighthouse. This is where the town’s reputation as the Indian Côte d’Azur and the Riviera of the East feels most appropriate.
The cuisine of Pondicherry is blessed by its combination of three factors: Tamil cooking style, French influence, and excellent seafood. As pictured above, even their pizzas (pictured above) have a French twist. Make sure you try some fruits de mer, freshly caught by local fisherman.The predominant cuisine is Tamil, so sambhar and rice are everywhere; however, it certainly isn’t too hard to find a baguette or a croissant. As ever, the local favorites are worth trying, but you should also head to a French restaurant for more gourmet style dining. At the very least, sip coffee at one of the French-style cafes. If you want something stronger, you’re in luck, as being Union territory rather than Tamil Nadu proper, beer (and wine) prices are considerably cheaper than elsewhere!
One of the greatest joys of Pondichery is to explore the French quarter, formerly known as “White Town”, with its French street names and colonial architecture. Like a proper European city it’s laid out in a grid system. It even has a Notre Dame (des Anges) which offers mass in French, Tamil, and English. Many locals still speak French, and the unusual laid-back attitude here attracts many bohemian types away from the high-paced cities. The Tamil Quarter, previously called “Black Town”, is an interesting comparison though it too retains French influence. However, the difference is clear to see: the streets are narrower and more disordered, the area dotted with temples and the occasional grand colonial mansion.
In addition to Notre Dame des Anges, Europeans left behind several other cathedrals, some rather impressive. Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (pictured above), completed in 1791, is completed in a Portuguese style similar to churches seen in Goa. Meanwhile, the Sacred Heart Basilica, dating from the beginning of the 20th Century, its impressive red and white facade representing Indian neo-Gothic. In total, there are over 30 churches in Pondicherry. You should also be sure to visit Manakula Vinayagar Temple, which has been around since before the French even arrived in Pondicherry. It’s a site of pilgrimage: if you’re lucky, you can get blessed by the resident elephant!
For many, Auroville is reason enough to visit Pondicherry, though it’s 15km from the centre. This spiritual township complex was founded in 1968 by a French-born woman known as “the mother”. It’s an attempt at utopian living, where all nationalities could live together in harmony, living sustainably. Built to house 50,000, nowhere near that number live there today; however, it’s an intriguing place and the golden dome (above) is worth a look! It was founded upon the ideals of the philosopher Sri Aurobindo, whose ashram — which also attracts many spiritual pilgrims — is in the center of Pondicherry.
If you like the sound of Pondicherry (and rickshaws!) then come along for a rickshaw challenge adventure rally! The Tamilnadu run leaves in two days time, with participants racing for a week including a night’s stop in Pondicherry. If that’s too soon, consider the Classic Run, beginning December 28th from Chennai. Over ten days the auto tuk tuk race will make its way South to Trivandrum, and there’ll be a chance to explore Pondi on the way. It’s a wacky way to explore the South of India, and you’re guaranteed to have a laugh, as well as a great adventure.
Part Two of Top Dishes to Try in Kerala, featuring the best curries and snacks from God’s Own Country.
In Part One, we covered some of the mouth-watering breakfasts popular in Kerala, as well Sadhya, the traditional feast of many dishes laid on a large banana leaf. Don’t worry, there’s plenty sensational culinary delights still to list, with curries and snacks yet to come. And as you can imagine from a state nicknamed the Land of Spices, their curries are delicious!
Karimeen is the green chromide (pearl spot) fish found in the Kerala backwaters, and pollichathu refers to the unusual method of cooking wrapped in a green banana leaf. Traditionally a Syrian Christian dish, this is now a proud part of the local cuisine for everyone in the state. The mixtures of spices and coconut paste give the fish a unique but sensational flavour. You can also try the prawn variant, by the name Chemmeen Pollichathu.
Red-coloured fish curry one of the very top dishes to try in Kerala, showcasing a perfect combination of flavour and spice while, like many dishes popular in the state, being rather healthy too! Prepared in clay pots, this dish is also is usually reliable for a beautiful photo too, if you want to instagram while you eat. Often served at lunch, it is a classic accompaniment to kappa, which is steamed or cooked tapioca. The classic flavouring for the curry is tamarind, though in the land of spices there are of course many variations; it’s also worth trying Kerala prawn curries too.
Parotta is a layered flatbread popular all over South India, especially in Tamil Nadu, though said to originate from Malabar. Made with flour, water, oil or ghee, and sometimes egg, it’s most popularly eaten in Kerala with beef fry. The beef curry itself is one of the top dishes to try in Kerala: dark and delicious, it’s spiced with curry leaves plus a variety of other local flavours, and can really knock you off your feet!
Often known as Malabar biryani or Thalassery biryani, the main difference with other versions of the famous dish is the choice of rice: in Kerala they uses small-grained Khaima rice rather than Basmati. The sea port Thalassery was a melting pot of different spice-trading cultures, and it is here that the most famous biryani recipe in the state was created. From just meat, rice, spices, and often a boiled egg, a delicious meal is created!
Now, dessert: Unniyappam are the traditional snack of Kerala, often eaten at festivals and special occasions. Made from rice flour, jaggery, ghee, sugar, and banana, their crispy outside and soft spongy center makes them irresistible. In Malayalam, unni means small and appam is a rice cake, and they are exactly that. Try to go to Kottarakkara Ganapathy Temple, where you can find special unniyappam cooked by the priests according to a secret recipe! With a slightly unique taste, it’s worth the visit; however, if you can find unniyappam in any bakery in Kerala you won’t be disappointed either!
Known locally as Pazhampori, banana fritters are everywhere in Kerala and they make a great evening snack. Coated in oil and fried in “maida” batter, the riper the banana, the juicer the treat. They are addictive, but luckily you can buy them all over the state: in restaurants, roadside carts, trains, and more! You might need the recipe for when you come home, too.
Kerala is a must-see destination thanks to its beaches, backwaters and mountains packed with tea-plantations, not to mention its diversity and history. And, obviously, the food is truly special. If you’re persuaded to visit, join a Rickshaw Challenge, and navigate the region in a wacky tuk tuk race! The Malabar Rampage, passing through Kerala on the way from Trivandrum to Goa, takes place in April 2017. It’ll be a be a week of adventures, laughs, and — of course — you’ll have many chances to eat the top dishes to try in Kerala!