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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)

Chapter sixteen - Ernakulam

sunny 28 °C

Day 76: Ernakulam (Kochi), Kerala 14/12/11

Barring illness, this was the worst day of travelling yet. We headed to the station, caught our train to Thrissur with a chicken biriyani in a box for lunch. There was a very strange Englishman on the carriage who kept videotaping everybody sleeping, including me. Oddball.

Arrive in Thrissur after an uncomfortable journey and embark upon finding a room. Easier said than done in this town. Many places refuse to take foreigners and after trekking around for over an hour with all our stuff, sweating and toiling and refusing to pay the extortionate prices in the places that will take foreigners. We then have a run in with a tuk-tuk driver, who after agreeing a 20 rupee fare tries to pocket the 50 I give him. He then reluctantly hands over 10 rupees change and after demanding the correct change he simply throws the 50 rupee note at us and drives off. Daresay there was an attitude problem somewhere.

Eventually decide to jump back on the train after a fruitless search for a room, head to Kochi on a train carriage with a few hundred clapping, singing monks and holy men. Eventually arrive at a nice hotel and after dinner are more than happy.

Day 77: Ernakulam, Kerala 15/12/11

Refreshed and open minded after yesterday, we head into the city centre, a town of modern malls and traditional markets, with many street side stalls selling everything from sarees to sports bras. There is a lot of Christmas gear on sale too, from trees to lights to creepy Santa outfits.

Gemma a bit under the weather so we head back to the room, I have a workout and with the humidity and heat up am soon sweating like Dave in Gonny’s living room. I head out for some lunch – 50 rupees buys a huge fish curry meal. After a quiet afternoon we head out for dinner and find a steak – every bit as good as it sounds – and even apple crumble and ice cream for dessert.

Back into the market place for a wander and it is even busier and more overloading on the senses than during the day. We buy a Christmas tree and decorations and get lost on the way home.

Day 78: Ernakulam, Kerala 16/12/11

A continental breakfast first thing, which arrives as a cup of very sweet tea and a plate of scrambled egg. Ask where the rest of it is and the guy returns ten minutes later with warm bread (apparently toast), cornflakes with hot milk and no juice. There is none apparently.

Head back to the market area, where we discover lots of parts to it we did not find before. A huge food market, with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, an incredible fish section and of course lots of smiling, friendly faces makes this a great place to spend some time. I buy a compass from one of the tat shops around the corner to help with the navigation of these confusing Indian cities and to help us stop getting lost (I hope).

Day 79: Ernakulam, Kerala 17/12/11

We pack our stuff and move to a cheaper hotel just down the road, next door to the steakhouse. Had a great breakfast at the coffee shop below this new place, Gemma had a chicken burger, I had a traditional Keralan dish called an appam, which is like a rice cake in the middle with a crispy pancake like outer ring and a curried egg, Delicious.

Headed to the tourist office to book an organised tour to Munnar, a nearby hill town, which incorporates elephant bathing, tea farms, etc.

Afterwards we get together some stuff we want to send home and pack it in a box we source from a tea stall. We get to the post office to be told it is closed and are redirected to the main post office. Arrive here and are told they can wrap the parcel for us, as before. Unfortunately, it turns out this is not the case and luckily a very friendly local takes us in his company paid tuk-tuk to a tailor to get the parcel wrapped in cloth. To cut a long story short we end up with a sack tied with shoelace around the box, which is simply laughed at by the post office clerk. We end up parcel taping the whole box, being abused by the post office staff and losing an hour and a half of our day. Oh well, the goodies are eventually sent and we are back to the hotel for a beer.

Day 80: Ernakulam, Kerala 18/12/11

Just a week until Christmas and we make our way to the ferry jetty and head for Fort Kochi. With it being Sunday the ticket office for the ferry is in true Indian maniacal fashion, with queues (in the loosest sense) and people everywhere. A bargain fare of 2.5 rupees each for the 15 minute ferry ride across the water, with the busy port full of cargo ships. I keep an eye out for pirates and/or Ross Kemp but see neither.

We visit the Chinese fishing nets, incredible structures that have remained pretty much unchanged for centuries. It is slightly strange to see these ancient mechanisms against the background of an oil refinery and the sadly familiar sight of rubbish.

I buy some mussels at the market and have them cooked into a curry at a nearby café, which is delicious. We then take a trip into Jew Town, where there are some incredible shops before we found ourselves at a traditional Keralan theatre production. Cue crazy, scary masks, costumes and facial expressions. That’s quite enough of that, back to the steakhouse it is.

Day 81: Ernakulam, Kerala 19/12/11

A fairly quiet day, with some top quality bbc tv before we headed for lunch and our separate ways to do a spot of Christmas shopping. An Indian takeaway in India (again) and a couple more films before we head out for a short while, the streets are very busy tonight – lots of revellers, policeman and even more market stalls. Seems the Christmas rush is universal.

Day 82: Ernakulam, Kerala 20/12/11

Another day spent experiencing the sights and sounds of Ernakulam and the Fort Kochi area. A lovely place but we feel have seen and done enough and we start to get itchy feet – whilst we have enjoyed it here we are glad to be moving on tomorrow. We stumble across the cinema and see it is playing the new Mission Impossible film, so we go for a cup of tea and a cake at the bakery nearby and then go to watch the film.

The cinema is quite an experience, with the air conditioning on arctic setting, the other cinemagoers are in a vociferous mood, and when Tom Cruise announces they are off to India a chorus of whooping, whistling and cheering goes up. The appearance of a Bollywood star receives the same reaction. Dirt cheap popcorn helps make the experience a more than enjoyable one. The film is worth a watch too.

Posted by tevs 05:43 Archived in India Tagged kerala cochin kochi ernakulam Comments (0)

Chapter fifteen - Kozhikode

sunny 29 °C

Day 73: Kozhikode, Kerala 11/12/11

Wake up, watch a bit of Jumanji and head out for another mountain of food on a banana leaf. Now starting to eat like a local, using my fingers rather than cutlery to eat the curry and rice. Quite an art to it and I make quite a mess.

Another Sunday service and another packed train carriage with our big, heavy backpacks. Gemma manages to get a seat squeezed in with about 5 generations of the same family, whilst I stand in the aisle and chat with the men of the family. Said family then alights and I am able to squash in next to Gemma.

We get off at Kozhikode (Calicut) and the Sunday rush makes it difficult to find a rickshaw (note to self: avoid travelling Sundays). Eventually we find a place on foot that features in the Rough Guide, which is more than adequate. Then embark on a mammoth internet and skype session, which costs about £2.

Day 74: Kozhikode, Kerala 12/12/11

A lazy morning followed by a banana leaf lunch (minus the banana leaf) and some more of the moreish Keralan parotta breads at a restaurant called Disneyland. Next door is the equally well named Jurassic Park, but disappointingly there is not a Mickey nor a dinosaur to be found in either.

Another busy, lively, thriving Indian city, each of them are so similar yet so markedly different. As we mooch about we stumble across a second hand book shop with thousands upon thousands of used books, many of which may have come straight from the family bookshelves. Maeve Binchy, Billy Connolly, Ali G, Blue Peter, Jeremy Beadle, Sky Sports Annual 1996 and even Frank Skinner make appearances here. After selling our finished books yesterday we come away with an additional 5 books at an extortionate 150 rupees.

After checking out the modern shopping malls interspersed amongst the traditional market stalls, we stumble upon a stadium, enter and watch some college football league. Dinner in the family restaurant at the hotel. Not a family to be seen.

Day 75: Kozhikode, Kerala 13/12/11

Quiet morning watching the tv where bizarrely one of the English channels seems to have a crossed wire and Hollywood films end up with the soundtrack of a quality South Indian soap opera.

Head for the station to book tickets onto Thrissur our next destination, which was a surprisingly easy and pleasant experience. Afterwards, we amble in the opposite direction to the route we took yesterday and after turning off the beaten track we found a completely different world, with a big pool of water and temples, a million miles from the chaos the other side of the small rows of buildings between this and the main road.

On the way through the market we are accosted by a crazy bearded old man, who insists on singing the Beatles to us as we walk down the street. Luckily we are saved by one of the market traders, who says something excitedly to us before thrusting a newspaper under our noses. Turn to the back page and there is a quarter page colour photograph of…US! It was taken in the stadium with Gemma looking decidedly bored. We buy as many copies as we can to indulge our local celebrity status. Translation of the caption reveals it says something along the lines of ‘Where did these people come from?’ Where indeed?

Posted by tevs 05:40 Archived in India Tagged sport kerala kozhikode newspaper Comments (0)

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