Fort Kochi, Kerala, India

I did plan to keep this blog updated, but it has yet again fallen by the wayside. We spent a week in Kerala, India back in April, so in the next few posts I’ll share some photos, experiences and tips from our time spent exploring this green state of India.

My husband has a ridiculous amount of annual leave and public holidays here in Oman, which he has to use up each year, so we thought we might take advantage of them and use our time wisely in Oman, so decided to go to Kerala, which is direct three and a half hour flight from Muscat to Kochi. And it’s cheap.

We arrived at Kochi airport and took a bus to Fort Kochi. Although the distance isn’t great, the traffic in Kochi is horrendous, so make sure you leave plenty of time to get to where you have to go. We arrived at our guesthouse, dropped off our bags and spent the afternoon exploring the area. Fort Kochi was occupied by a number of different people, including the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, so much of the architecture reflects these colonial influences. Compared to Kochi city proper, Fort Kochi is very quiet and laid back. So it’s a wonderful spot to spend a few hours exploring the streets on foot. One must see are the iconic Chinese fishing nets, which are actually quite spectacular. If you’re game, there are a number of street vendors near the fishing nets, offering ‘fresh’ seafood, which they will cook for you on the spot.

Whilst in Kochi, we took a tuk-tuk to Jew Town/Mattanchery to visit some of the antique stores and art galleries. You can walk from Fort Kochi to Jew Town (it’ll take about half an hour or so), but since it was so hot, we decided to spend a few rupees on a tuk-tuk. And it was well worth it. Many of the tuk-tuk drivers will offer to take you on a ‘tour’ of the antique stores and art galleries at no extra cost. But all the stores are located within walking distance from one another, so it’s easy to get around on foot and spent a few hours perusing the stores.

Since Fort Kochi is so small, you don’t need to much time to see everything – a day or two is plenty. If you have a little spare time, visit an Ayurvedic spa (most of the larger hotels have one) and have a treatment or two.

123456745464748

Essentials:

Getting there and around:
A number of airlines fly into Kochi airport, which is the gateway to Kerala. From the airport you can take either a taxi or a bus. Make sure you book the taxi at the tourist office inside the airport so you don’t get ripped off. A taxi from the airport to Fort Kochi should cost around 1200 rupees. The bus is significantly cheaper at 80 rupees per person.

Stay:
We stayed at two different places whilst in Kochi (our first night in Kerala and our final night) and thoroughly enjoyed both. The first place was Niyati Boutique Guesthouse, which was simple, but nice and incredibly clean. And we spent our final night at Fort House Hotel, which had lovely rooms and a wonderful outdoor terrace restaurant.

Shop:
Head to Jew Town/Mattanchery to do some shopping. Our favourite antique store was Crafters – they have a number of outlets within walking distance from each other and is the go to place for antiques in Kochi.

Wadi Bani Khalid, Oman

A few weeks ago we decided to spend the weekend camping at the stunning Wadi Bani Khalid. I had seen numerous photos of this wadi on Instagram and various Omani travel blogs, even before I left Sydney for Oman. It was at the top of my list of must see places in Oman since I arrived. The wadi is a lot further from Muscat compared to the other wadis we have visited to date, so we had been a bit hesitant to drive all that way. However, with the weather slowly heating up, we thought we’d better make the most of our weekends and visit Wadi Bani Khalid before it gets too hot.

You can reach Wadi Bani Khalid two ways – via the coastal road through Sur, or via the inland road via Ibra. We took the coastal road, as we have driven along this road a few times and really enjoy this route – the landscape is stunning and the road is well built and maintained. There are also some great spots to stop for a picnic lunch along the way, such as Wadi Tiwi or Finns Beach. But in hindsight after speaking to a few people since our trip, we should have taken the inland road as it would have cut almost an hour from our travel time. But it’s a good thing to know for the future, particularly if we plan a trip to Wahiba Sands, which is quite close to Wadi Bani Khalid.

The drive to the wadi from the turnoff is beautiful in itself. The road runs through a valley and then steeply up a mountain, before it continues down to the other side. And like many places in Oman, the landscape is stunning.

As you approach the wadi, you pass through a number of small towns and villages, many of which are encircled by lush green date palm plantations. Wadi Bani Khalid is one of the easier wadis to access, with no need for a 4WD to reach it. The wadi has a purpose built carpark for visitors, the majority of which visit on weekends. We arrived at about 4pm and the wadi was teeming with people enjoying the last rays of sunshine. Luckily for us we had decided to camp near the wadi, so we had the advantage of exploring early in the morning before the day trippers arrived.

We hadn’t really organised where exactly we were going to camp before we arrived. It didn’t look like rain was forecast, so we could have camped in the wadi. (Please note, it’s usually not a good idea to camp in wadis, due to the threat of flash floods). However, we decided against it and drive through one of the villages beside the wadi and found a great spot on the ridge looking Wadi Bani Khalid. There aren’t really any organised camp grounds in Oman and you can basically camp wherever you want, provided it isn’t in someone’s backyard. But we found a spot that looked like it had been set-up for camping by someone – there was fine gravel in the shape of a circle on the ground and remnants of a campfire. The site had a fantastic view over the wadi and was protected from the wind by a rock ledge, so we decide that this was the perfect place to set-up camp. After our dinner, which we prepared before we left home, we snuggled in for the night, without a sound or person in sight.
The next morning we got up early to explore the wadi before the day trippers arrived. We packed our tent and our belongings and headed back down to the wadi. The atmosphere was so different from the previous afternoon – it was so quiet and peaceful. And cool. One thing about arriving at a wadi early in the morning is that you can explore it without worrying about the heat. The walk along Wadi Bani Khalid is quite easy compared to other wadi  walks. But I would recommend you wear sneakers and not sandals, as the rocks can be quite slippery.

Wadi Bani Khalid is perhaps one of the most beautiful wadis I have seen on our travels through Oman so far. As you can see by the photos below, it is an absolutely stunning place. It’s almost difficult to describe how lovely it is – of course the photos don’t do it justice, and like many of these places, you have to visit to really appreciate its beauty. It has a number of deep pools of water, which are perfect for swimming. Just keep in mind that if you decide to swim in the main pool, make sure to cover yourself so you don’t offend the locals. But if you arrive early, like we did, and swim in the upper pools, you can swim quite freely. There is also a cave further along the wadi which you can visit, but the entry is rather dark and narrow, so we decided against it. Enjoying the wadi itself was enough for us.

After having a swim in one of the many pools, which we had to ourselves, and relaxing in the shade of the gorge, we headed back home to Muscat.

We’re heading to Kerala tomorrow, so stay tuned over the next few weeks for some posts from Fort Cochin, Munnar, Thekkady and Alleppey.

114115116117118119120121122123124125126127128129
113

Wadi al Abyad

We have been lazy over the past month or two, spending our weekends in Muscat rather than taking advantage of the cool winter weather to explore the country a bit more. It has been slowly starting to heat up, so we’ve decided to get off our backsides and squeeze in a few weekend trips before it gets too hot to do so.

So a few weeks ago we spent a Saturday afternoon exploring Wadi al Abyad. The wadi is about an hour’s drive south-west of Muscat, along the Nakhal-Rustaq road. The wadi can be reached from both ends – one at the village of Al Abyad (which is about 25km before Nakhal if coming from Muscat), or from the village of As Sibaykha (20km after Nahkal). We followed the Explorer Oman Off-Road guide and entered the wadi from As Sibajkha. Next time we visit, we’ll enter from the other end, as we got into a bit of a fix this time.

The road from As Sibajkha isn’t quite a road, but is rather a mass of loose pebbles and should only be attempted with a 4WD. Although we had a 4WD, we still got stuck along the track due to our low profile tyres which we really should replace. Luckily a local Omani man stopped to tow us out – the Omanis are always more than happy to help whenever you’re in trouble. After finally being able to move the car again, we drove to the end of the track, jumped out of the car and took a walk along the wadi.

We were luck that the weather was overcast and a bit windy – it made the walk much more pleasurable than if it had been hot and sunny. Wadi al Abyad is translated to English as Wadi White, due to the calcite deposits, which create stunning blue pools, as seen in a couple of the photos below. Although there is a lot of water in the wadi, many of the pools aren’t deep enough for a proper swim. Unlike those of Wadi al Khalid, which I will discuss in my next post.

Beside getting the car stuck in the wadi, it was an enjoyable afternoon and I would recommend Wadi al Abyad as a great half-day trip from Muscat.

133134135136137138139140

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania – Part 2

So here are the remainder of my photos from Ngorongoro Crater. Again, I cannot stress enough how incredible the crater is – I will highly recommend visiting if you’re ever planning a safari in Africa.

We were incredibly lucky to see some of the animals were saw during our day exploring the area. Not only did we see a herd of elephants extremely close-up, but we also saw a number of lions within a few metres of us – one actually laid down in the shade right beside our car.

We saw the first lion on the side of the road. A few cars were parked in a row, so we drove over to see what the commotion was about. We asked another group what was going on and they said that there was a lion in the river bank beside the road. We waited hardly a few minutes, when the lion emerged. She walked up towards the vehicles, coming about 10 metres from them, had a look around for a minute or two, and then returned to her spot in the shade. We couldn’t believe it – it was as though she had come up simply so we could take a few photos of her.

Further down the road we saw three other lionesses together basking in the sun and standing in the shade of a car. We parked about 5 metres from this car and were able to take some fantastic shots. Then the lion leisurely walked over to our car and laid down in the shade. We leaned over the car, but our guide warned us that it was a cat and cats can jump. But we were so amazed that a lion was less than a metre from us. And of course, it was an incredible experience.

After admiring the gorgeous landscapes filled with numerous wild animals (zebras, wildebeests, ostriches, hippos and more) and having a relaxing lunch by the lake, we had to bid a teary farewell to Ngorongoro Crater. But we left with some fantastic photos and even better experiences.

1718192021222324252627282930

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania – Part 1

Although I only spent one day at Ngorongoro Crater, I am going to discuss it over two posts, as it is such an incredible place and I have quite a number of photos to share too. I really wish we had spent an extra day here as, although the area is quite small compared to the Serengeti, 8000 square kilometres, as opposed to over 14,000, the scenery is breath-taking and the number of animals to see there is amazing. I know it sounds stupid saying it’s all incredible, breath-taking and amazing, but Ngorongoro really is. The crater itself was created two to three million years ago, when a large volcano exploded and collapsed in on itself, and has created a wonderful natural enclosure for many animals. Unlike the Serengeti which was dry and yellow when we visited, Ngorongoro was lush, with deep green hills flowing onto a flat emerald green basin.

We left our campsite, which was located on the rim of the crater, before sunrise (we had to wake up before 5am to pack up the camp in complete darkness) and headed towards the park gate. Driving down the steep and narrow road to the crater floor, we saw the sun peaking over the mountains. As we continued along, herds of zebras and wildebeests stopped in their tracks and watched us pass. The zebras always looked particularly stunning whenever we saw them, as their crisp white and black coast creates a stark contrast to the surrounding landscape, which makes them really stand out.

After fifteen minutes of driving through the flat basin, we came to a small forest area. As we turned a corner, we came across a herd of elephants. The were about ten of them in various sizes. We also saw a baby elephant which our guide said would be no more than a year old. It kept extremely close to its mother, constantly hiding between her hind legs. The both of them, as well as a few other elephants, came extremely close to us as they walked behind our vehicle to the other side of the road. They would not have been more than 5 metres away. It was incredible to see such large animals, let alone wild animals, up so close. I have seen elephants in zoos, but this is entirely different. And it so refreshing seeing animals in their natural habitat, rather than in an artificial enclosure.

Stay tuned for part 2 of Ngorongoro Crater, with some close up photos of majestic female lions.

123332345678910111213141516

Serengetin NP, Tanzania – Part 2

Our camp in the Serengeti was open. There were no fences create a boundary between us and the animals. If they wished to walk through our campsite, they were at liberty to. As we ate our dinner by the campfire, we heard a number of hyenas close to the camp. And the following morning, our tour guide told us that a water buffalo had walked through our camp during the night.

After an early breakfast, we headed out for a sunrise game drive, as the early morning provides good opportunities to see animals before the midday heat urges many of them to take refuge in the shade. It is also the time that the big cats (lions, cheetahs and leopards) are most active.

We did indeed see a few female lions that morning, although they were quite a distance from our truck.  Other animals we saw were zebras, gazelles, topi, warthogs, impalas, dik-diks (small little deer-like animals), to name a few. We were also lucky enough to witness the wildebeest migration. It is incredible how these animals migrate from one part of the Serengeti to another, almost in a perfectly straight line. There was also a leopard sleeping in a distant tree, but due to the insufficient lens on my camera, I couldn’t get a shot of it. Similarly, we saw  a young cheetah eating its breakfast that morning, but it was too far away for me to get a photo of it.

After lunch and a few hours of relaxing by our campsite, we headed out again for another game drive. This time were luckier and saw a number of animals quite close to us.  There was a female lion basking in the shade of a tree, a giraffe almost sticking his head into our truck and a heard of elephants walking across the road right in front of us.

Aside from the animals, the Serengeti landscape is beautiful. I visited in January, which follows the short wet season in November/December, but it did not rain this season. So instead of lush green landscapes, the grasses were dry. But these landscapes were filled with a beautiful spectrum of yellows and oranges, with small flecks of green. The landscape is dotted with small rock formations, Acacia trees, umbrella trees, among others, to create that stereotypical ‘African’ landscape. The opening of Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ was running through my head all day. AHHH ZIBENYA AMA ZEE BABA…

Next stop, Ngorongoro Crater (my favourite place in Tanzania).

8283

848586878889909192939495969798

Serengeti NP, Tanzania – Part 1

After a night in Musoma, we packed up our campsite and headed towards Serengeti National Park. To me, the name Serengeti always congers up images of the ultimate safari – vast plains filled with hoards of wild animals. And in most ways, it didn’t disappoint. Due to the size of the national park, over 14,000 square kilometres, the animals are rather dispersed, so there did not seem to be ‘hoards’ of them. Many animals were at quite a distance from our vehicle, and because it did not cross my mind to get a new lens for my camera, I had to put up with my 24-105mm and was rather jealous of my fellow travellers who were taking great shots, even with a simple point-and-shoot camera that had a good zoom. Their giraffe took up three-quarters of the frame, whereas mine was a speck in the distance. So naturally, I was rather excited when the animals were close to our truck. One piece of advice if you’re travelling to Tanzania and into photographer, don’t make my mistake and invest in a decent lens.

We had lunch at the entrance of the park and slowly headed towards our campsite, spending time to look out for animals on the way. To our surprise, the first animal we saw was a young male lion lying in the shade of a tree within ten metres of the road. Our guide told us that it was very unlikely to see a male lion, let alone one so close. So we were extremely lucky. Like most of the animals we saw during our stay in the Serengeti, he was not afraid of us and simply continued to enjoy his afternoon nap, as if we were not there.

Further down the road, we took a slight detour and drove by a small dam filled with hippos, perhaps about fifteen of them. Because their skin is so sensitive to the sun and the heat, the hippos spend their days in the water and only come ashore at night. So it’s quite unlikely that you will see a hippo walking around. We didn’t stay too long, as there is always a terrible smell coming from the water wherever there are hippos and we had to get keep moving towards our camp in order to reach it before the sun set.

As we were nearing our camp, we saw a herd of elephants walking through some broken trees. Again, they were quite close to our truck, about twenty metres away, so we were all very excited about this photo opportunity. Whenever we saw elephants, both in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, they were always in a herd, keeping very close to each other, like a tight-knit family.

We reached our camping spot just before sunset and everyone was very excited about our eventful afternoon. I think we were all impressed by all the animals we saw and it was perhaps our best game drive during our two night stay in the park.

5960616263646566676869707172737475767778798081