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After the austerity of the ashram it's time for some luxury. Like the next chapter in some strange videogame we leave in style on a houseboat made out of bamboo. It's gorgeous; little en suite bedrooms; sofas on deck; a round dining table where we're served the most amazing keralan food by our onboard chef. There are six of us now as my sister has joined us. I can't quite describe how excited I am by this - she's travelling around the world, and the next three weeks will be all I see of her this year.

We're sailing along the stunningly beautiful backwaters, often referred to as the Indian Venice, sometimes lined with lush palm trees, sometimes expansive like the open sea.

We stop the boat to swim in the deep warm water; to visit villages and the house-boat-making-factory. The rest of the time we glide along, watching India pass by, women washing clothes on the banks, children playing and waving. In the evenings we eat fruit, drink chai and tell stories in the dark, as candle-lit fishing boats float past.

It is magical in a way that games are yet to even understand and three days later, it's hard to leave.

We dock in Cochin and say an emotional goodbye to our crew, the captain, chef and caddy, who we adore, real gentlemen. I am touched in general by the Indian people I have met. There is a certain innocence and generosity of heart, along with a direct no bullshit feistiness.

Cochin is a pretty town, and attracts a lot of travellers. It's hard not to go crazy buying all the beautiful and incredibly cheap Indian clothes. We're also pretty excited by the local speciality, Thali. It's like an Indian tapas, with lots of different dishes that are endlessly filled up - its the ten curry version of all you can eat feast.

From here we head into the mountains to a place called Munnar, which is a tourist destination for Indians. The locals come here to get married or have family celebrations. In the daytime it's a place of great mystery and stillness, at night it becomes a vibrant, colourful, slightly crazy party.

The whole area is one massive tea plantation. The trees look like giant bonsai trees or miniature wizened trees, and they cover the mountains like a shaggy green carpet.

On the way up we run into a family of elephants. Well actually a tourist operator arranges for us to be in the right place at the right time to see them taking their daily bath. It's a powerful encounter with these everyday Colossi. They absolutely take my breath away, not only are they huge but they have a presence unlike any other creature I've ever encountered, a magnificence and a slow still gentleness.

They're working elephants, pulling logs and such like and we're greatly disturbed by the chains around their ankles. It's hard to understand how such powerful animals can be totally dominated by tiny little men (comparatively) with sticks that must barely register on a hide that thick (an elephant's skin feels and looks like an old man's toe).

Next we take a sleeper train to Goa. Trains are a full on experience in India, they're the safest way to travel, as well as the cheapest - a sixteen hour journey for less than a fiver including a bed! They're packed, and there's a non-stop stream of chai-wallahs selling chai, chai, chai at the top of their voice. The views are incredible and the three bed bunks cleverly stow away as seats in the day time.

I find it alarming waking up in the morning, lying on my sleeper, to the chatter of college kids, about ten of them in the seat opposite, commenting on my hair (yes particularly wild at that time of day) and the book I'm dribbling on, and my travel pillow, and my purple sleeping bag sheet. There's no hiding the tourist.

We arrive in Goa a little worse for wear (how to sleep with so many strangers snoring?) and a whole new era is born; my brother arrives and the search for the perfect beach hut begins.

To be continued, love Rebecca.

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Rebecca Mayes writes the Rebecca Mayes column.

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