Next up in my series of ‘catch-up’ blog posts – a family trip cruising Oman and India. This trip was December 2016.
We had a direct flight from London Heathrow to Muscat, Oman – approximately 7 hours flight time if I remember rightly. We flew with Oman Air and arrived in Muscat in the early evening. At the time of travel, British citizens were required to purchase a visa on arrival for $17USD to be paid in cash.
We were transferred over to the port area to board our vessel before having dinner and the required life jacket muster.
The next day we remained in Muscat, I went on a Muscat city tour which included a visit to the Sultan Qaboos Mosque. This is one of the very few mosques in Oman which welcome non-Muslim visitors, though visitors are obviously required to be respectful. Women are required to be fully covered apart from the face so be sure to wear trousers/long skirt, and have a cardigan/shawl to cover arms all the way to the wrist. Once inside, it is quite an awe-inspiring sight, with some wonderful, ornate features such as the chandelier below.
After we’d finished the mosque visit, we also visited the palace, a museum and a souk before returning to the ship for lunch. I then enjoyed a free afternoon relaxing on the ship whilst some of the other passengers were on a full day trip inland.
The ship sailed east overnight to Sur. Here the ship moored offshore and we got to land via zodiacs, which made for an interesting ride! Once ashore we had a trip visiting a local fish market before heading to a fort with some great views overlooking the city, and finally to a dhow boatyard to see dhows under construction (dhows are traditional fishing boats in this part of the world).
Back on the ship at lunchtime before continuing to head east to India. It was a day and a half’s sailing to India, so plenty of time for relaxing on board on the sun deck, and practicing my photography skills.
We arrived after lunch the following day at our first port of call in India – Porbander, in Gujarat. Porbander is famous for being the birthplace of Gandhi, and in the afternoon we went on a trip to the house where he was born. It was extremely hot but the inside of the house was surprisingly cool. We also had a tuk tuk ride to a temple in Porbander before returning to the ship.
As first impressions of India go, Porbander was a massive assault on the senses. Of all the places we visit, I felt that this was the ‘real’ India. Bumpy roads, cows on the roadside, hustle and bustle in Porbander itself, and signs of poor living conditions.
We were moored overnight in Porbander, and the next day I went on a trip inland to the fort at Junagadh. Getting there featured the singularly most uncomfortable bus ride of my entire life – 3 hours of being flung around on the back seat of a bus. When we arrived, we visited Uparkot Fort, which had some good views over the city. Later we also stopped at the Mahabat Maqbara Palace, which is one of the most intricate buildings I think I’ve ever seen.
The return bus journey was just as uncomfortable as the outbound journey and I was relieved to be able to stretch out my back when we arrived back at the ship. We sailed south overnight to Diu and arrived at anchor early the next morning. After using the zodiacs again to get to shore, we visited another fort before wandering around the pretty town and visiting a very colourful market.
We had lunch back onboard and set sail for Mumbai in the afternoon. We arrived the next morning. One of the features of a cruise to India is that we must clear immigration each time we enter the country. Before travelling to India, we had to obtain a ‘multiple entry visa’ which was quite a laborious process requiring a lengthy form and 2-inch square photos to be sent off to the Indian Embassy in London, along with your passport, payment and a stamped addressed envelope. Make sure to leave plenty of time to obtain the right visas before leaving, especially if making multiple entries to the same country.
Once we cleared immigration (again!), we had a tour of some of the main city sights in Mumbai including the Gateway Of India, and the Taj Mahal Hotel. We also visited some markets – I love visiting markets in Asia – so many sights, sounds, colours, and saw some of the Dhaba-wallas at work outside Church Gate Station. After a short ride on a train, during which I noticed that Mumbai uses the same signage for its stations as the London Underground, we also walked passed an open air laundry before having lunch – actual Indian food in India – delicious!
In the afternoon I took a trip to Elephanta Island, off the coast of Mumbai, which is where the Elephanta Caves are. The caves a dedicated to Shiva and contain many carvings for both Hindu and Buddhist iconography. It’s quite extensive and I really enjoyed this trip – a must-do if you find yourself in Mumbai.
The following morning was a free morning in Mumbai before we set sail in the afternoon to Goa. We arrived in Goa the next day, and headed off on a trip to a spice plantation, which was very interesting, before visiting old Goa. We visited a basilica and a church. It was extremely hot and I was extremely hungover so I wasn’t able to enjoy it quite as much as I’d hoped!
We sailed overnight to Mangalore, I didn’t partake in any trips in Mangalore and spent the day relaxing on board. We sailed overnight to Cochin.
We had 2 days in the Cochin region. On the first day we had a tuk tuk ride to a village where we learnt about traditional skills such as coconut shelling, crabbing, fishing and weaving – in fact this was very similar to traditional skills I’d learnt about in other regions, particularly the Pacific Islands, which goes to show that these are fundamental skills that humans have developed regardless of where people live.
After lunch we had a punt across a river which was very relaxing. In the afternoon we went to Fort Kochi and watched some traditional Kathakali dancing. I’ve never seen anything like this before – a lot of the performance was based around eye movement and facial expressions with brightly painted faces to convey the story.
The following day was one of the things I was most looking forward to in India – a cruise on the Kerala Backwaters. We drove for about 90 minutes before getting on our boat and cruising around for around the backwaters for around an hour and a half after which we stopped for lunch at a hotel. One of the noticeable things was the amount of building work going on – lots of new hotels and resorts being constructed. It’s easy to see why – the Kerala Backwaters are a beautiful, peaceful spot, but it seems like that is on the cusp of changing into a very commercialised area. Hopefully it won’t take away too much of the reason that people would like to visit in the first place.
After lunch we had a shorter boat ride back to our bus, and then travelled back to the ship.
Overnight we continued sailing south, and arrived the next morning at the port of Vizhinjam, for Trivandrum. Immensely hot and sweaty – we did a morning tour of Trivandrum where we visited some more amazing architectural sites including the museum of horses.
In the afternoon we set sail for the last time, and arrived into Colombo in Sri Lanka the following morning. Aside from a drive through Colombo to the airport, we didn’t get to see much of Sri Lanka (that’s for another time!), and after heading to the airport for the long flight home, we arrived in a cold UK in the early hours of Christmas Eve. It was quite the juxtaposition coming from the heat and hustle and bustle of South Asia to the cold festive season in the UK.
This was a family holiday, and without it, I’m not sure I’d ever have got to India. But I’m glad I went. An assault on all the senses, and such an interesting country, even if all I saw was a few ports on the west coast. It’s a culture shock, it’s hot, it’s busy and gives you lots of things to think about. I’d also never particularly considered Oman, and didn’t know what to expect. It seems a prosperous country with some interesting sights, and seems to be up-and-coming from a tourism point of view. Certainly somewhere to consider for near year round sunshine in the Middle East.