We recently interviewed Canon Tony Fens, a retired Anglican Priest, who has led a number of pilgrimages and tours across India, the Holy land, Turkey, Egypt, East Africa, and also Sri Lanka. Tony recently led our group tour called ‘In the Footsteps of St. Thomas’. We asked him a few questions about his experience and this is what he had to say.
What was your overall experience of travelling in South India?
Whenever you mention India, people who have not visited automatically think of over-crowding, poverty, unpleasant smells and tummy trouble. South India is so different from this perception people have in the west. The people in South India are gentle and helpful. The cities, though busy are no different from any major city in the world. The sites are truly amazing and the food delicious and ‘gentle’. The eastern coast is host to the Mahabalipurum UNESCO World Heritage Site of carved granite reliefs and temples that are beautiful and the stunning Western Ghats with vivid green tea plantations and tropical climate. The backwaters of the western coast are calm and relaxing. The vibrant and hectic activity surrounding the impressive temples with their highly decorated Goporam, bring vitality to the cities which is contagious.
Is there any experience that stands out?
The glorious brightly coloured flowers of the spice farms on the slopes of the Western Ghats and their appearance at the Flower Market in Madurai.
Which were your favourite destinations?
Munnar and the backwaters of Alleppey are both, in their different ways, the ‘must visit’ places on the tour. Munnar is a working town set in the hills surrounded by spectacular scenery and cool climbs. Drifting through the Backwaters on a comfortable and traditional thatched boat, watching the birdlife and waterside villagers going about their daily lives, with the background of the rice fields is unforgettable.
Why should someone book this tour?
This tour has been described as a gentle introduction to ‘incredible India’ and offers a unique opportunity to savour the delights of the sub continent comfortably.
What cultural difference did you experience?
Although there is a different ‘protocol’ for driving than in the UK, it feels safe and the road network is improving all the time. On a visit to a village where nearly everyone was involved in the production of painted figures for both temples and churches, the people were welcoming and obviously proud of their intricate craft work.