A Travellerspoint blog

January 2012

Chapter twenty one - Madurai

sunny 30 °C

Day 96: Madurai, Tamil Nadu 03/01/12

A decent lie in after yesterday’s excitement and after a quick breakfast we are off out of Rainbow Cottage for our journey across the state border to Madurai. After visiting the border a couple of days previously it became apparent that, due to tensions between Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the border was shut, effectively becoming a DMZ and we would have quite a walk on our hands to even get near a bus to Madurai. However, the border was obviously reopened and there was an abundance of buses waiting to whisk us to wherever we wanted. As a result we walk straight onto a bus direct for Madurai, having run into the Kiwi couple we shared the safari with.

A fairly easy ride over to Madurai (about 4 hours), which is of course extremely busy (we are in India). Some more stunning landscapes to be seen on the journey – more jungle lined mountains and incredible views into the valleys below.

Find a hotel fairly easily, grab a bite to eat (roast chicken – mmmmm) on the rooftop and before long it is my turn to feel a little unwell. We heads to the room and spend the evening watching some tv in between the frequent power cuts.

Day 97: Madurai, Tamil Nadu 04/01/12

A few bits of housekeeping first thing – check emails and get the laundry done – before we make our way to the huge historic temples in the city centre. These are some hugely impressive structures, with a massive amount of detail, incorporating countless individual stone statues and symbols on the sides of the temple monuments, in an array of bright colours. Incredible to think these are hundreds of years old.

There is of course lots to experience around the temple sites, with a bustling, hectic market region and lots of people leaning towards the tourists – beggars, touts and market traders – for the first experience of this type of activity for a long time in India, and something we remember from the other big Indian cities. Some great market stalls to be seen, most of them well worth a look.

A spot of lunch, where Gemma’s biriyani is so hot she thinks she has been temporarily blinded. As the temple is not open to visitors until 4pm, we go back to the room and head back around 7pm to see inside (and check the status of the laptop, which is in for repair). I am told that I cannot enter the temple in my shorts and I am given a tea towel skirt thing the local men all seem to wear. Very fetching. The laptop is shown to us in pieces, which is how we will be receiving it back – luckily not, just an explanation.

The temple meanwhile is extremely interesting, if a little creepy, with a huge number of holy men, statues and rituals to be seen.

Posted by tevs 06:00 Archived in India Tagged temples history madurai tamil_nadu Comments (0)

Chapter twenty - Kumily

rain 19 °C

Day 92: Kumily, Kerala 30/12/11

We check out of our hotel, after another tip to Little Bites (the nearby bakery) for a few takeaway bits for our onward journey. After packing up and finding our way to the bus station, we are heading for the borders of Periyar National Park. Mist and rain greet our arrival as the fallout from Tamil Nadu’s (neighbouring state) cyclone hits our area.

As we alight from the bus, we run straight into Maz and Siggy, the couple we had dinner with last night. We agree to meet up on New Year’s Day for dinner at their place, which seems to be a little bit plusher than Rainbow Cottage.

Manage to somehow get our room at half the expected rate as the tout that met us at the bus station took no notice of us when we told him we already had a reservation there. Needless to say the owner was none to impressed. Also surprising, Rainbow Cottage is the most colourful place we have stayed yet.

Day 93: Kumily, Kerala 31/12/11

With New Year’s Eve at the forefront of our minds (not really) we have a quick breakfast on the balcony, then make our way into the town centre, togged up in fleeces and waterproofs, to buy some drinks and grab some lunch. Have an awesome lunch – fish curry meals, with the best fish yet – for an extortionate 110 rupees.

On the way back to the room we spy some kids playing cricket on a scrap of land, using a plank of wood and a rubber ball. Old habits dying hard, I find myself soon stood at first slip, sooner still at the crease and make some friends as I hit six after six (half of this is true).

After buying some quality Indian champagne I go for dinner alone as Gemma is not hungry and as I await my food, I spy a rat run under my table. Unperturbed, I clear my plate. To celebrate New Year, we have some drinks on the balcony with a British couple, a South African and his Japanese girlfriend and the owner of the hotel invites himself along. I have too much and end up sporting my new vest on the balcony.

Day 94: Kumily, Kerala 01/01/12

We wake up both unwell, but for different reasons, Gemma because of a stomach upset, me because of the Indian champers. Both feel sorry for ourselves and I head out for another fish curry meal, which makes me feel marginally better.

Have a sleep, a shower and a skype and feel a lot better for our dinner date tonight at the nice hotel with Maz and Siggy. This is truly how the other half live, with a proper bed, oak floors, nice restaurant, swimming pool and all the comforts. You would expect of a decent hotel. We have a great evening with them, a lovely couple and we eventually head home, walking half the way due to the lack of tuk-tuks. It is absolutely freezing.

Day 95: Kumily, Kerala 02/01/12

Up at 5 am (ridiculous time) for a 5.30 pick up for our jungle safari and trekking expedition. In the open sided jeep – which we are sharing with a Kiwi/Mexican couple – and the fleeces and hoodies are not enough to keep out the biting cold and the wind whipping through the sides of the jeep.

The sun comes up and our driver helps us keep an eye out for the local wildlife. At one point he is driving the jeep stood up with his body out of the vehicle, using just his left foot on the accelerator and left hand on the steering wheel. He does help us spot some decent wildlife and we soon see bison, black monkeys and giant squirrel.

We eventually reach the park centre, where we have breakfast and head off into the jungle – every bit as you see on Planet Earth and the like – trekking with a guide. They make it clear that we shouldn’t make any noise, be as quiet and as deliberate as we can with our movements. Before long we are on the trail of some wild elephants, who have just carved up the deep, dense jungle and left droppings the size of footballs. Despite the tough going and rugged terrain (I feel a bit like Ray Mears), the guides make the trek extremely tense as we close in on the elephants and before long we spot an elephant nearby who then bolts at some speed away from us, destroying everything in its way, a sure fire way to get the heart rate up.

Now for the really scary bit. We are again tracking some elephants, closing in on them up a hill. All of a sudden we hear the distinctive trump of an elephant, a huge crashing of trees and the guides turn on their heels and run for their lives. Not wanting to find out how angry this elephant is, I turn and give it legs, apparently neglecting my duty of care for Gemma, who it seems didn’t take the cue from everyone else and stood on the spot. Anyway, to say we were relieved was an understatement, and as our 3 hour trek turns into a 5 hour trek we see some more wild elephants and also some amazing natural sights, including a picturesque waterfall we reach by being rowed across the lake by our guide.

We get back after 13 hours out and about in the cold, the warm and the wild and hit the sack. Dream of elephants and despite the apparent danger, would recommend the jungle to anybody.

Posted by tevs 05:57 Archived in India Tagged hills elephants new_year cold periyar_national_park kumily Comments (0)

Chapter nineteen - Kottayam

overcast 27 °C

Day 89: Kottayam, Kerala 27/12/11

Up at the crack of dawn to embark on our tour of the backwaters. Definitely worth the early start! The lakes and canals of the backwater are coming to life first thing in the morning and the murky waters and greenery are the setting for waterside homes and people bathing, washing and cooking first thing in the morning. Some of the homes are on islands in the water, with the front step literally conspiring to get you wet the moment you leave the house. The houseboats, fishermen, duck farms and wildlife make this a more than intriguing morning out, and although a backwater boat trip in Kerala is as clichéd as an Irn-Bru swigging, deep fried Mars bar eating Scotsman it is a must do if ever in the state.

Head back, pack our stuff and Gemma orders food. Two and a half hours later the meal still hasn’t arrived. Turns out that the order has been forgotten. Oh well, they get us some lunch eventually.

Take a crowded bus to Kottayam, where there doesn’t appear to be an awful lot. The hunt around for somewhere to stay is not in Thrissur’s league but we eventually find a decent place and settle down for the rest of the evening.

Day 90: Kottayam, Kerala 28/12/11

A day in which we do very little. Surprise, surprise, we watch some movies on the tv before heading for a quick lunch before we ran back to watch the end of Invictus (very good film).

Go to see the sights and attractions of Kottayam, which it turns out is very little. As a result we buy some beer and set up a game of beer pong, played whilst wearing the foam novelty animal glasses we kindly got for Christmas.

We realise that we are pretty much at the quarter point of the trip and looking back we also realise we have done and seen so much already! These sights include today a flat bed lorry, laden with logs, crashing into a brand new car (so new the pre-registration plates were still on) and having to be lifted off the car as one of the tree trunks had wedged itself into the back side panel of the brand new Hyundai. The two vehicles are released from one another, the truck drives off and the car is delivered with a three foot gash down the driver’s side (probably).

Day 91: Kottayam, Kerala 29/12/11

Another uneventful day in Kottayam. Late morning visit to the nearby bakery and a bite to eat and a slice of cake sees us meet a very nice Anglo-German couple who are more than happy with a decent pastry. We chat to these guys for a while before we mooch about the town in the hope of seeing something to catch our imagination.

For the duration of our time in India we have seen the latest Bollywood blockbuster ‘Don 2’, with the ‘King of Bollywood’ Shahrukh Khan in the leading role. We spy a cinema showing said film starting shortly. Squeeze in, get some popcorn and enjoy the squeals and hollers of delight from every other cinemagoer every time the ‘king’ delivers a cheesy line or suspect bit of action. Great film, helped improve our Hindi no end.

Go back to the room for a while for a bit of downtime (life is stressful), where I have the brainwave of going to buy myself a cricket bat from the local sports shop. This turns into a hugely stressful event, with what seemed a like a hundred and fifty bats brought out to me and a crowd gathering to watch. This spectator sport eventually draws to a close as I eventually choose and pay for one. On the way out we run into Maz and Siggy, the couple we ran into earlier, who invite us to join them for dinner. Have a very nice dinner in a lovely veg place – we find out we are all off to the same town tomorrow and agree to meet up over the new year.

Posted by tevs 05:54 Archived in India Tagged kerala kottayam boring Comments (0)

Chapter eighteen - Allappuzha

sunny 30 °C

Day 84: Allappuzha, Kerala 22/12/11

A good night’s sleep after our busy day and last night’s festivities and we head off to see some more of the local area. We are taken to a local hill station, where the views are spectacular and the fleece is needed on the exposed hill tops. The view into the mist filled valleys is eerie, giving the impression that you are stood on the edge of the earth. A cup of tea and a fresh passionfruit at this altitude are bliss. The typically Indian driving style of the minibus driver brings us back to reality – a favourite manoeuvre is the blind bend overtake on the mountain roads.

Head back to Kochi for the bus to Alleppey, a bus that very nearly goes with Gemma and our bags and without me! Arrive in Alleppey, grab some beers and check into our hotel. Does not look quite as it did on the website and we are unsure whether to stay or not for the Christmas period.

Day 85: Allappuzha, Kerala 23/12/11

We slept on it, moved rooms and have decided to stay – it is a lot more homely and festive with the tree and lights up. Breakfast of banana and coconut pancakes, iddliappams and curry, all of which is very, very good.

A trip into the city centre reveals a very busy main street awash with Christmas decorations. However, it is quite a strange town with very little in the way of a focal point – no market region for instance – but still plenty going on. We try to scope out a suitable venue for Christmas dinner, with a buffet dinner at one of the nicer hotels looking favourite at the end of the day. Gemma heads back for a shower/sleep while I head to the beach to look for more options for Christmas dinner. Befriended by a young man who introduces me to his friends on the beach but there are not a lot of options for dinner down here.

Jostle with the locals at the off licence before the table tennis set makes an appearance on the long dining table at the hotel. Naturally, the ping pong set falls apart seconds after opening.

Day 86: Allappuzha, Kerala 24/12/11

Christmas Eve and after breakfast the owners of the hotel kindly agree to let us use the kitchen to cook dinner tomorrow. With this in mind we are off to source some ingredients for the perfect Christmas lunch. We get our veg – potatoes, carrots, beans, onions, garlic (but no sprouts) – for about a pound. Then to the butcher, where we buy some beef in the same room a cow is being skinned and carved behind a small curtain. Next door is the chicken shop, where upon ordering a kilo of chicken we hear a squawk and the flapping of wings. Five minutes later some rather fresh meat arrives.

Later, we treat ourselves to Christmas haircuts. One hour later there is one cut that passes the grade (Gemma’s) and one horror bowl cut concoction, shorter on the top than the sides. The only kind, humane option is to take the beard trimmer to it.

We have a few Christmas Eve drinks with an American couple at the guesthouse, who will be joining us for dinner tomorrow. A few too many rums for Gemma sees her sleeping at the table outside. I could not carry her down the wrought iron spiral staircase.

Day 87: Allappuzha, Kerala 25/12/11

Merry Christmas! We lie in and open the few presents we have got between us. I must have been a very good boy this year as I get a pair of y-fronts, a vest and some socks!

Gemma’s legs are COVERED in bites from her night outside with the mosquitoes, looks really quite sore. We have some breakfast and then head for a beach about 8 miles away with the Americans. The beach is absolute paradise – beautiful white sand lined with palm trees and a deep blue sea – the nicest beach we have been to! Despite the weird locals, we have a nice morning, seeing dolphins, one of which was apparently a few metres from me when I was swimming. In true panto style it was behind me but I was none the wiser. Graze my stomach after being crashed onto the beach by a huge wave.

Skype the folks back home when we arrive back at the guesthouse – good to speak to everyone! We then cook our first ever Christmas dinner, in somewhat alien circumstances. A stressful, very hot experience but the end result is good and goes down well with the Americans. Gemma’s mash is to die for. We have a few more Christmas drinks with the Americans and another quick skype session and a good Christmas day has been enjoyed by all.

Day 88: Allappuzha, Kerala 26/12/11

A fairly quiet Boxing Day and after running out to get Gemma some ointment for her bites we do little more than watch some National Geographic channel (some great programming to be fair – I now know how to catch a snake in the wild using only my bare hands).

We play the Corram (or Karam I think) board for a couple of hours. It is essentially a game of pool crossed with air hockey, played on a wooden board with pieces like draughts counters. Gemma leaves the table for a moment and a guy from Bangalore jumps straight into the hot seat, taking me on for about 15 straight games. A slightly addictive bar/parlour game I would say.

Pose for the family holiday photos with a huge extended family gathering in the upstairs living room/eating area. We watch some of the footy on ESPN and order some food, which eventually arrives about two hours after we order. The people here are very nice – they were on skype to our folks last night.

Posted by tevs 05:50 Archived in India Tagged beaches christmas kerala backwaters alleppey allappuzha Comments (0)

Chapter seventeen - Munnar

overcast 23 °C

Day 83: Munnar, Kerala 21/12/11

Up very early for our tourist excursion, with us being picked up at the hotel for 6.30am. In the car is a French mother/daughter combo and a German couple. The minibus takes us out of the Kochi area and through areas of lush green vegetation and tropical looking waters. Suddenly the bus stops and the driver orders us ‘follow’, points down an alleyway and we are with a group of elephants and their handlers. We follow them down to the river where the bad tempered, cane happy owners and their elephants are ready for bathtime. Unfortunately, we are not allowed to interact with the elephants ourselves, a rule we discovered when Gemma went to touch an elephant and subsequently received a bamboo cane around the wrist for her troubles!

We stop at a spice farm – pretty interesting and some great smells coming out of the gardens here and we are able to purchase some bargain spice mixes and chocolate before we continue on through the stunning surrounding countryside in the minibus, visiting some waterfalls and the obligatory piles of Indian rubbish. A short stop at a tea farm/museum results in being given some very sweet tea.

The absolute highlight of the day comes in the evening, when the owner of the guesthouse we are staying at tells us of a festival in the village. We make our way down there to be greeted by a procession of hundreds of brightly dressed dancers, loud music, a Keralan drumming band, people dressed as birds and monkeys in trippy, psychedelically coloured outfits and a huge gangster jumbo, straight from Pimp My Elephant. The parade snakes its way through the village to the local temple, where the drummers and dancers go into overdrive beneath a sky of fireworks. An incredible experience, where there are lots of friendly, excited people. Perhaps the best part was when a young man I speak to describes my hair as ‘awesome’.

Posted by tevs 05:46 Archived in India Tagged hills india tea kerala Comments (0)

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