The Indian train network finally caught us out after 14 weeks in India, after close calls of ambiguous station names to break downs on the way to the station we were left having missed our train in the most frustrating fashion.
Rising before dawn we caught our tuk tuk to the station and were there a good 30 minutes before our train’s departure time – train number 17063. Joe went to the station master to ask which platform we needed, platform one, but our train was running around 10 minutes late. We waited sat by the platform for the train, with train number 16583 passing through the station before ours. As train 16583 was pulling out the station a guy who had asked me earlier where we were headed decided to tell us that was our train just leaving. Joe went to the station master who confirmed that had been our train, that the final four carriages were 17063. It was a linked train (We had taken these before, no problem) but there was no mention of this anywhere in the station on any of the boards or from the station master, (who had zero concern/remorse that people hadn’t boarded the train as it wasn’t numbered or named anywhere). We hadn’t been the only travellers caught out by this, but unfortunately we were the only travellers who *had* to be in Goa that afternoon to make our connection.
With no busses travelling in the day we had no choice but to get a taxi. The guy who had told us after the train had left that it was the one we wanted turned out to be a taxi driver, who was told in no uncertain terms that he wouldn’t be getting a penny of the money we were about to have to spend. After our best bartering with our backs against the wall we got the taxi down from £70 to £55 for the 10-hour road journey. instead of the combined cost of £5 the train had cost us. (I later found out I’d lost my phone, probably in this taxi, which made me very sad after our successful 4 year working relationship).
It did take me a couple of hours brooding in the taxi to get over this sudden expense. It is extremely frustrating when you travel everyday living on a tight budget and bartering over every penny and pound to suddenly find your next few days spending money blown on a journey having been stood a few metres from your train. At the end of the day though, it’s the first big extra expense we’ve had to pay and £27.50 each is one decent meal out in England so it isn’t the end of the world. The journey itself was interesting seeing the country roads that take you through India, with settlements never really stopping. Our overnight train down to Kerala was an hour late and then we endured a very long noisy night journey, but at least we were on board!!
The place we have been staying is called Fort Cochin. A quaint little fishing town with heavy Portuguese influences and a lack of a fort! The British almost completely destroyed the fort in the 19th century but the name has stayed. Kerala is one of India’s richer states and it shows with the town being fairly developed. I imagine it is also a place that has been hit heavily with India’s tourism decline. A combination of bad press and tripled visa prices has meant all of India has been fairly quiet, but this has never been more evident than here. Wandering around the quiet streets yesterday with prosperous looking shop owners desperate for you to look inside and tuk tuk drivers offering ridiculously low prices (50 pence an hour) showed the extent of the downturn. Our rough guide from 2011 states that accommodation is expensive in Kerala with budget places starting around £5, yet we were taken to a place with a big en-suite room that had WiFi for £4.
The town has a plethora of tucked away artsy cafes and after seeing the sites using the government issued walking tour map (was a bit confusing as they’d incorrectly matched the numbers and places..) we sat down in an old double-vaulted tea room surrounded by teapots of all shapes and sizes! The evening was spent watching the Chinese fishing nets pull in their (rather mediocre) haul then tucking into our second fresh fish meal of the day!
Today we are wandering down to the Mantacherry Palace and the Jewish Synagogue. Then taking the ferry over to the sister town of Ernaukulm to continue our pilgrimage around the Indian Coffee Houses! Later today we have a short bus journey, (only 2 Indian hours), to Allapuzha where we will quickly sort our boat to head down through the backwaters to Kollam on Thursday. Our speedy tour of Kerala continues!