Saturday, 27 November 2010

Home sweet home!

Oh how I do love central heating!

Ours has been belting away all day - we need to build up residual heat in the house and then I may consider knocking it back down a few degrees...

I've got a lasagne in the oven and am about to soak some stuff for bran loaf to cook tomorrow.  And apart from that it's going to be a bit of vino and chat.

Simple life, and a bit of p & q before work on Monday.

Friday, 26 November 2010


The flight is pretty uneventful, decent lunch and I think we actually arrive a little early. Not that it matters much to us, just means more time at Dubai airport.

A man in the row in front spends around half an hour in animated and extensive debate about the meal. It seems as though he booked veggie but didn't get it. Or something. Not much the cabin crew can do really and the chief stewardess is extremely polite even though he goes on and on, possibly on behalf of his neighbours rather than himself, it's hard to tell. Then he starts on about how the crew should help the lady next to him - she isn't travelling with him and hasn't asked him to intervene.

I watch Predators instead. A bit rubbish but it has Adrien Brody as a consolation!

On the plane our steward gives us wine we can't drink so we decide to save it for Dubai but it is unfortunately confiscated at transit control! Bummer!

Dubai is big and shiny and glitzy. The clocks are Rolex and the announcements sound incredibly exotic. I particularly like the Arabic numbers which sound very breathy and enticing!

I have a vague fancy to purchase an iPad but they are more here than UK highstreet so I won't bother!

I desperately need a book however and get the most recent Margaret Attwood. I do love stories set in dystopian post-apocalyptic futures, cheery soul that I am!

And then we sit at our gate and await our flight...


Holiday's end, journey's beginning

6.30 alarm, 7.00 breakfast & 7.30 taxi. It's an early start for our homeward journey.

The Col. prepares one last breakfast and we talk about sad we are to be parting. He says we have a home here whenever we like.

We sit on the cool airy verandah and as we wait he presents me with a handful of nutmegs (still wrapped in their mace coats). He has already gives us a painted terracotta plaque of a Keralan girl. I am fairly sure he doesn't do this for all departing guests...he is truly a gem of a man.

Our taxi comes and we embrace warmly. I'm very sorry to leave, I hope we meet again.

The drive to the airport is quick - it's only 5k. And we go through the security checks.

The departure lounge is relatively small but it's got comfy chairs and some refreshments and that's all we need for the moment...

Location:Trivandrum airport

Therapies of two kinds

It's our last day and so cause for some sadness, though I think I am ready to go home. I'll be sad to leave this lovely house but I'm looking forward to not being mosquito target No. 1!

At breakfast the Col. tells me my massage is booked for 10am. This is something of a small surprise as I only expressed mild interest in the possibility of having one! I'm sure it'll be lovely and worth having before our long journey home which in real terms door-to-door is likely to be around 24 hours.

The Col. takes us to the ayurvedic treatment place and in I go. A very sweet and petite lady tells me to remove clothes and jewellery and gives me a modesty cloth.

The whole thing takes around an hour during which I am very efficiently pummelled with an enormous amount of oil. Being English, I find it a tiny bit weird being naked with a stranger. The only other time I had a massage was in Jordan and I wore a swimming costume. I like the foot and hand bits best - nice and impersonal! And the face bit is really good too.

After the massage I have a shower and scrub myself with some ayurvedic powders.

The experience is very pleasant and I'd probably do it again.

Afterwards we go to a shop which is very smart. I buy a few fabrics. It is a bit like indian habitat without the furniture and with added clothes.

Then we have lunch which is a wonderful biryani.

After a short rest we carry on shopping and go by tuk tuk to Chalai Bazaar. The bazaar is lined with shops and stalls selling jewellery, spices, fruit and vegetables, plastic containers, flowers, and everything else you can think of. There is a stall that sells coir and rope. One for tiffin tins. Paint sits right beside floral decorations. It's huge and amazing.

I buy some spices and cashews. Cardamom and cashews are the region's main crops, there is even a Kerala state cashew development corporation!

The vegetables are beautifully displayed - rows of aubergine, drumstick and many types of cucumber and gourd.

I buy spices at a wholesalers and then we go for a wander.

Afterwards we come back for some tea and a vadai - a savoury doughnut.

Then S and I go to the other market for some things to bring home and to go via the cashpoint to pay our bill. This market too has fabulously colourful displays of neatly arranged fruit and vegetables. There are gooseberries which I've not spotted before. They are bigger than UK ones but are similarly sour.

We return home and start packing all our purchases and clothes.

Before long our room is tidied of stray clothes and holiday accumulations and travel clothes are laid out for tomorrow. I have a small Uniqlo thermal vest for when we get to the cold and, I understand, snowy climes of England.

I decide to wear my dress for dinner as it's our last night. It's also easy to pack and can go in the top of my rucksack.

Dinner is an absolute feast - mushroom soup, tandoori chicken and for S tandoori cauliflower, chickpeas that we had the other night because I liked them so much, aloo muttar, fried okra, paneer palak and chapattis. I am really stuffed!

Then we retire to our bed. Alarm is set for 6.30 so I don't think it'll be late. I put some cream on the worst bites and pack my dress away.

It's been a great holiday and this final week has made it really special. The Col. has made us so welcome, it's been like staying with a kindly uncle or family friend. In a way it's lucky we're going home, it would be extremely hard to top this lovely lovely place.


Thursday, 25 November 2010

Top thali!

The day's start is a little more leisurely, we have breakfast and then relax, catching up on news and diary-writing.

Shortly before 12 the Col. takes us for lunch to a thali meals place where the food is served on banana leaves, there is no cutlery and they keep serving till one is completely immobile!

The leaf is unfolded and first comes a server with 3 pots containing a red kidney bean curry, avial and a carrot thoran which he dollops onto your leaf in order.

Next come a series of small bowls of payasam, a spiced curd (yoghurt), rasam and sambar and a small conical bowl of set plain curd. And a pappadum, all of which are ranged along the top edge of the leaf.

Then a big amount of rice and a ladle of dhal.

First you mix the dhal into the rice and attempt to not cover yourself in it as you eat with the fingers of the right hand only.

Then you mix the sambar with some rice and repeat.

Then the curd is mixed with rice.

All the while you also mix in a bit of the curries or eat them alone and all the while the servers keep topping up till you wave your hand and say "no more".

It's amazing how much rice people eat - literally twice what I would manage on a hungry day!

Next you have the rasam which is pretty poky and is supposed to be digestive, and last of all payasam which is a sweet milk pudding of rice vermicelli.

Then you wash your hands and waddle to the door like a snake that's eaten a goat and needs a little lie-down actually.

The restaurant is reputedly some of the best food in Kerala and it costs 55rs per person. Or approx 80p.

In term of value it's fantastic, but more than that, the food is great - each dish is individually spiced, but they are completely complementary to one another.

I think it might be the best meal yet.

Then we go on a city tour which takes in the zoo, Napier museum, Puttan Malika palace, a temple, Veli tourist village and Shankhumukhan beach. Today's guide is the boy from yesterday and he seems equally unenthusiastic about herding tourists.

The zoo is ok I s'pose but zoos aren't my thing exactly and I prefer animals to be in the wild, especially big cats and elephants etc. Unless a zoo has amazing enclosures and a proper conservation programme then entertainment is not a good enough reason for having animals in captivity in concrete cages. This one looks more like concrete than conservation.

The Napier museum is a much happier place. It is absolutely beautiful, particularly inside where the ceilings are gorgeously painted. The collection isn't bad either with a lot of dance and music artifacts from across Asia inc. Bali, Java and Japan.

Next it's the palace which was successor to yesterday's palace and has similar but not as intricate carvings and some real treasures such as an ivory throne and a crystal throne.

The complex isn't fully open but what we see is lovely and the Keralan style is enormously attractive.

The temple is closed to non-Hindus and is swathed in tarpaulin so there is little for us to see though the books say the gate is very special.

Veli tourist village is a slightly pointless stop. It's got a boating lake which is closed and a floating restaurant but it's in between meal times, and beach but we're going to the beach next! I'm not really sure why we stop here for 30 mins, it seems slightly pointless! But it's only 5rs - about 7p.

Last of all is the beach, the intention is to see the sunset and as with yesterday there is cloud and little chance of sunset. Today however, westay our allotted time, oh yes we do!

The hawkers, for once, couldn't give a toss about us, they really want the local families who will be far better pickings for glowing plastic tat. Plastic horns anyone?

The beach is relatively clean and there are lots of families and it's a pleasant place to sit. I paddle in the Arabian Sea!

Later, after getting a tuk tuk back home, we have fellow guests for dinner and conversation is lively and interesting.

Dinner is tandoori chicken, a brown lentil curry with cucumbers, dhal, and mushrooms sweet and sour but Indian style. The chicken is particularly good.

And then after much chat and a couple of beers it is bed.

One more day, it's gone rather quickly...

Hurtling towards journey's end


Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Land's end

It's an early start for a day of sightseeing on an official government tour. Breakfast at 7 then the Col. gives us a lift to the bus departure point.

The bus is a 12-seater minibus and there are 11 of us so fortunately S can stretch his legs. We set off during rush-hour and negotiate the madness of morning traffic in the state capital.

The other passengers are all Indian and from all parts of the country and as this would mean a number of different languages the guide speaks in English which is great for us. He collects the admission fees and cost of lunch for the day, it's 330rs each (approx £5)

Our first stop is Padmanabhapuram Palace which is stunning. It's a complex of 14 different palaces, all wood-built with intricate carvings and detail. The ceiling of the first part is carved flowers, every one is different and there are almost 100 of them.

The original sections date from 1550 and it is the largest wooden palace complex in all of Asia, not just India.

Room follows room of carving, and it's just spectacular. There are ivory inlaid beds, pictures, secluded areas for the women, a gallery with little spy holes for servants to watch the dancing, an amazingly decorated dancing hall - it's very beautiful. And it is in the care of the archaeological dept so is well looked after.

After this we cross the state border to Tamil Nadu and next stop is the Suchindram temple. The area is again a large temple complex with many smaller shrines and a lot of stalls and shops.

There is a large pool that is used for bathing although the water is a particularly lurid toxic green and looks very unsafe! In the middle is a small shrine.

The main temple has a huge towering gate - gopuram - which is bright white in the blazing sunshine. Men have to remove shirts to go in and S seems reluctant to do so, so we don't enter.

There are pilgrims, sellers and beggars and goats, the odd cow and some particularly mangy dogs, it's quite busy already, and the air smells of a mixture of spices and food from the stalls, goats, rubbish, pee - it's quite a nasal assault!

After about 40 minutes we board the coach and carry on.

The guide gets a little tetchy with some of the other tourists who don't seem to understand the itinerary and it looks like they keep asking him when is lunch or what are we doing next. To be honest, he's not a contender for friendliest guide of the year, his tour of the palace is very cursory - he's probably been tens of times, but it's an amazing place, I'd have liked longer there. It's a real whistle stop run through whereas the temple, at which there is less to see, is too long a stop, IMHO.

3rd stop is the wax museum in Kanyakumari which is at an amusement park. It is the first - and so far I think the only - wax museum in India. We could take the option not to go but it seems like it could be mildly amusing!

There are about 20 waxworks in all - mainly Indian politicians and celebs. However, the select westerners include Michael Jackson who looks like both a vampire and a zombie at the same time, the Pope, Charlie Chaplin and Einstein. They are recognisable mainly through dress rather than most faithful reproduction of the face. It takes about 10 minutes to see them all.

Then we have lunch at the government hotel, Kerala House. This is a big building with good views of the sea. Lunch is rice, sambar, avial, cabbage thoran, thinned-down yoghurt (which some treat as lassi and drink) a pickle and what I think is rasam. The sambar is particularly spicy and there is plenty. It's not the best we've had but it's perfectly decent. The service is more than a little soviet though!

After lunch we go to the Vivekananda memorial which we reach by boat. It's on a rock 400metres offshore. The boat is quite an experience, there's little number control, passengers each pick up a life jacket and when the pile has gone the boat departs. Children don't get a vest and people tend not to actually put them on. And at the other end you toss the jacket onto a heap for the next crossing.

Vivekananda was a Swami who meditated on the rock and the memorial takes the form of a hall, a small shrine with a foot-shaped projection where Parvati is supposed to have stepped (I think, that might be wrong) and a meditation hall.

The shoes-leaving place is free and the stone is hot underfoot but it is extraordinary to think that due south is Antarctica - no other land between here and the ice shelf.

Next to the memorial is another island with an enormous statue of a Tamil poet.

We return to shore and walk through the bazaar and past stalls then sit by the Ghandi memorial. Soon we are approached by a man who decides to give me beads. Now obv. nothing is free, and I have no idea whether what he gives me is of any value whatsoever so we give him some rupees. It might be too much or too little, impossible to know! Then he asks for English coins, pens, anything English - none of which we have. I don't think he believes us.

THEN we get corralled by a guide who shows us the memorial. We give him a tip of 100rs (nearly £1.50), and he hassles us for more, even though the book says 10rs is enough.

It's tiring being hassled for money all the time. Yes, we are apparently rich westerners, yes, the people here often have very little but the hassle can be exhausting.

We walk along by the sea - this is the place where 3 seas meet - the bay of Bengal, Indian ocean and Arabian sea.

There are stalls all along the seafront and stretch for a good mile or two. We look at clouds gathering and decide to back to the hotel where the bus is parked. Then we go to find some tea. As we do the heavens open and the rains come down.

We retreat to the hotel foyer. We are supposed to leave at 5.15, however a small group have decided that they don't want to leave yet and seem to be refusing to go. They want to watch the sunset over the sea. Even though it obvious that it is too cloudy to see anything. There is a faint glow behind the clouds but the possibility of watching the sun go down as if sinking into the sea will be negligible.

I get to thinking "if you can't beat them..." and we go up to the roof to see the view. There is the sun behind a cloud to the west and some very dark clouds to the east and the nothingness ahead to the south.

Eventually the others realise that there really is no chance of seeing a sunset so we go back and get into the bus. Much to the relief of the guide who I think is at his wit's end with these naughty passengers!

As we leave the end of the continent it starts to rain, and we embark on the 3 hour drive back. The seats are uncomfortable for this length of time and poor S is cramped with his long legs. But we arrive back at the appointed time and the Col. meets us.

We come home, change and have dinner. Chickpea curry, vegetables, paneer and potatoes and fish and chips! Once again it is delicious, the chickpeas especially so.

Then bed as it has been a long day.


Monday, 22 November 2010

Dam dam dam!

Up at 8am for breakfast and preparing for an outing to Neyyar Dam which is also a wildlife park.

We look around the garden which is full of orchids, a pepper plant, mango tree, vanilla, curry plant and many other wonderful looking and smelling trees and plants.

We have a quick walking tour of a few nearby places including Connemara Market.

The Market is very interesting with spice stalls, vegetables - some stalls selling many different kinds, some selling just one particular thing, such as the stall that sells 21 types of banana.

The fish area is quite amazing, all fresh and of many different sizes and shapes. I recognise about 3!

We decide to come back for a longer visit before we leave for home.

The drive out of Trivandrum goes through a military regimental barracks - it's quite odd as it is a fully functioning barracks with a mainroad through it. It is extremely neat and well-tended with signs, a parade ground and a tank.

We go through a couple of larger towns and soon arrive at the entrance to the dam park area.

We drive through the park, past an ashram and a couple of small settlements. The road is particularly badly potholed, but the car manages to find a route through.

We see some spotted deer but most of the park is closed as it's a holiday. So we don't get to see the Asiatic lions or the crocodiles. But the view of the mountains is really good.

We do get to cross the dam though and stop for a drink in the hotel which looks as though it is being renovated. And it is just as well we weren't able to get a boat to the lions as it begins to rain and we get another soaking!

After it eases off the driver dashes to get the car and we come back to the hotel.

As we drive back it looks as though the rain was confined to out of the city as streets are dry as we come back.

The rest of the afternoon is passed at the house. Reading and escaping the rain that comes later.

Dinner is another lovely group of dishes - potato with peppers, dhal, carrot and green beans and a great coconutty fish curry. Pudding is ice cream, custard apple and a story with a riddle that we are trying to solve!

Col. Roy has booked us a trip for tomorrow and it leaves early so it's an early night.

More about Varikatt

Whilst sheltering from an unexpected monsoon burst of rather extreme proportions I can tell you some more about the house.

It has a rather romantic story attached to it.

In the late 1840s whilst on holiday in Yorkshire a Miss Blunket met a Mr Brown. He was a tea planter in Munnar and she was very taken by his stories and by him.

He was very much the ladies man, recounting tales and flirting. And she made no indication that he had made such an impression on her - well, a gently reared Victorian lady wouldn't!

After the holiday she decided to go to India and try to find him. She came to Trivandrum and had the bungalow built as her home.

And then she set about tracking down Mr Brown. Eventually they did meet again when a Capt. Williams found him in Munnar and introduced them.

And reader, she married him.

She loved her house but he had to be on the tea plantation in Munnar and he was still an incorrigible flirt and popular with the ladies. And she decided that she could no longer stay in her dear house, she really had to be with Mr Brown - because she loved him of course, and perhaps to keep an eye on him.

So she consulted her dear friend, an Indian lawyer, about selling her house. He asked her what she wanted for it and when said the amount he said "Madam, the house is sold". And the family have owned it ever since.

Eventually Miss Blunket - or Mrs Brown as we should now call her - returned to England with her husband. But the house she built stands as testament to someone who must have been a very determined woman with a madly romantic dream.

Location:Neyyar Dam

Sunday, 21 November 2010

From paradise to nirvana

If the houseboat was paradise then the Varikatt Heritage homestay is complete heaven.

I don't know where to begin with how fabulous this place is, it's pretty damn perfect.

To begin at the beginning: we arrived back in Allepey at about 9.30, after breakfast and a short cruise.

Off the houseboat we had been told to ask for Joseph who would get a car for us and after a short delay this he was able to do.

Whilst waiting I tried to call the homestay but got through to someone with limited English and didn't get very far. It seemed as though we had the wrong number.

The taxi arrived and due to the puddles we were transferred to it by tuk tuk. So off we set with no booking but a plan B if necessary.

The journey passed as usual - offers of shopping which we declined, a stop for tea and the route along rutted roads past villages and hoardings and bright lorries and paddy fields. So far, so India.

At Trivandrum after about 4 hours the driver stopped to ask a few people and with a bit of map consultation we found our way to the gates that the book says to look for. It did not look promising. There was nothing to identify it as a homestay, the gates were closed, no bell to ring, and the nameplate was not the same as the one in the book. As I was about to put plan B into action the driver opened the gate and wandered off and S followed.

Then S came back to say there was no-one about and perhaps we should go to plan B, and then he wandered off again. And then he reappeared to say that it seemed that it was the right place. So I got out of the car and walked through the gates. Straight into an oasis.

The house is a beautiful bungalow built in 1850 with a huge front verandah and lush garden at the front. We were greeted by Col. Roy Kuncheria, 3rd Gurkha Rifles (Rtd) who confirmed we could stay and immediately offered tea.

He showed us the proposed room - in fact a suite of large bedroom, spotless bathroom with huge shower (in fact the best bathroom we've had in India) and a dressing room! A DRESSING ROOM!

The furniture is pretty much all original as the Col's family have owned the house since 1855 having bought it from the original owner/builder.

In 2002 he restored it but didn't change the layout or structure and it's just perfect. Cane chairs for the verandah, dark wood doors, hunting trophies, a case of antique wine glasses, head-dresses of the Naga people (who are headhunters by the way) from Nagaland in the top North-east of India where the Col. served - it's everything one would expect of an old and distinguished family home.

The Col. has taken us in hand and is planning stuff for us including a trip to Kanyakumari at the tip of India but we can do it in a day and come back here.

I am exceptionally happy to spend the next few days here it's completely luxurious in a very particular way that has nothing to do with chocolate on the pillow or fluffy bathrobes - it's in the welcome and the sheer style of the place.

And it's 3500rs a night. Or £50 ish.

Dinner was delicious - chicken curry, potato and cauliflower, okra, dhal and chapattis. All home cooked. He said he will give me a lesson - very exciting.

If you look it up on the Internet - and I urge you to do so you should get an idea of it.

I feel like a cosseted honoured guest and it's perfect. Just perfect.


Messing about in boats

It's an earlyish start to have breakfast and get the taxi to Aleppey for our houseboat. The day is clear and it is already hot when we leave at 9.30am.

The drive is relatively short - only a couple of hours. On the way we see an elephant on the road carrying palms in its trunk!

In Aleppey it is a boaty mayhem with lads touting for business in front of many tourist day boats and ferries.

The houseboats are called Kettu Vallam and are converted rice barges - The backwaters are an area of many paddy fields - they are a wood hull and plaited palm canopy & sides with bamboo struts and coir rope knotting it all together. Each one is renovated annually, the palm, bamboo and coir last a maximum of 12 months.

Some girls we met at Leelu's have also booked a boat so we are in convoy with them and we arrive at a place where the taxi drivers phone the boat-fixer to meet us. He leads us down a narrow path and we emerge at a waterfront with many boats tied up, stacked alongside in columns.

We are second in so it's a short hop across one other to board, the girls are a couple further on and end up being first to leave.

We have a covered lower deck with table and comfy chairs, an upper deck and a bedroom & bathroom. The kitchen is big with many cupboards and a 2 burner stove.

We order some beers and eventually slip the painters and chug out into the waterway.

Most boats leave at 12ish so it is quite busy and even boats have horns!

But soon we are out in the main waterway and cruising the lake. There are many villages and settlements along the water's edge and palms fringe the shore lines. It's a beautiful spot and just idyllic floating along with nothing to do but sit and look or read, or chat or just be.
It's exactly as Ratty says, there is nothing so much fun as messing about in boats.

After an hour and a half we stop and I have the chance to buy some fish for supper. There are enormous freshwater prawns - more like small lobster really - and I buy 2 for 800rs. It's a gluttonous holiday luxury!

Shortly after we moor up and have lunch - 3 thorans of cabbage with ginger, carrot, which is quite spicy, and okra with what tastes like fennel. Also some lovely little flat fish spiced and fried, sambar, rice and pappadoms. Then we have fresh pineapple, warm and very sweet.

We set off again and slip along past more palms and watch the sun slowly sinking and the clouds gather for evening rain.

At 4ish we have tea and some potato fritters.

The sun sets behind the palms in picture-perfect style shortly after we have moored for the night and as it does the monsoon rains come down in earnest, pounding the lake, running all over the deck and splashing very loudly. One of our crew puts the side covers down as it gets heavier and heavier.

Thunder and lightning follow and it's a full-on storm for the next couple of hours. We retreat to our cabin and stay dry.

Meanwhile supper carries on being prepared. With only 2 burners and many dishes the cook seems to be on the go almost constantly. No sooner is one meal served than the next one begins.

After the rain clears a bit we are called to dinner and we have a feast. Prawns, dhal, chicken curry, a green bean thoran, potato curry, rice, chappatis - it's masses and we can't finish it even though it is delicious.

It is extremely peaceful where we are moored, the guidebooks recommend that you discuss in detail things like mooring and route, either Leelu did that for us or we are very lucky and they just did the right thing! It's a lovely spot. Occasionally little canoes paddle by, the occupants sheltered by umbrella or hats made from rice sack. The only sounds are birds and cicadas, no cars, no voices, no horns.

We drink some beer, squash a few Mosquitos and provide supper for the midges who bite even though I am following advice and wearing trousers and long sleeves, have sprayed cuffs and ankles in permethrin and am smothered in DEET.

I text my best friend and am reassured that S probably doesn't have malaria, just a sore throat!

We put the mozzie net up, tuck it in and settle down to sleep.


Saturday, 20 November 2010


Another lie-in though Leelu's pet bird did start squawking at 8am!

We decide to catch the boat to Ernakulam but I want to buy something silver so when I ask Leelu where's best she offers to drive us as she is going anyway. Also, a fellow guest, Katherine, is going to the station so Leelu takes her most of the way too. She's a really lovely hostess, very helpful and kind.

Leelu drops us at a recommended shop but it's gold only so we go to another where things are nice but not quite what I want. Then we find the silver branch of the first shop and I find a pretty ring with a moving section, engraved with flowers. Silver is sold by weight and it is 8.7 grams and 590rs. It is soon in my possession!

Then it's time for lunch and we choose a place called Subhishkar which is part of a hotel. It's got aircon which is bliss in today's humidity, and is on the wonderfully named Durbar Hall Road.

Lunch is buffet style but it is piping hot and the place is vegetarian and popular so I think it risk free. And it's rather good - a wide choice and the vegetable pilao rice is lovely, with what tastes like caraway.

At the end we have some Mysore Pak - a fudgey sweet. This version is hard and crumbly and tastes like good shortbread. The sugar will keep me going some hours! It's 320rs for both of us.

Afterwards we take a walk towards the ferry past some lovely gardens and lots of coconut sellers. We pass one man with a lot of chicks for sale.

The ferry has a divided queue for men and ladies. Just as S is close to the front the ticket office closes for about 15 mins. It's baking hot and humid and we have to wait till someone arrives to reopen the ticket office. I smile at children and make them giggle shyly.

Our tickets are 2rs 50 each and the trip is about 15 minutes. We get a grand view of docks, cranes, waterside apartment blocks and the coast of other islands.

Back in Fort Kochi we stop for some lime water and then go to the basilica. On our way it's the end of school run and children are being loaded into tuk tuks - 5 or 6 or more, and onto motorbikes.

The basilica of Santa Cruz is the second largest cathedral in India and is really lovely - it's of French design and has beautiful arches with a slightly Moorish influence and some impressive paintings. The guide is helpful and pictures are allowed.

The current building is from 1880 or so and is on the site of a much older church of 1505.

After this we go to the Indo-Portugese museum which is a fantastic collection of church articles, furniture, clothing, relics and mass items. Favourites include a splendid amethyst cross and a lovely chalice with enamel cartouches of symbols of the crucifixion - nails, wheat, a cockerel, dice and others - it is just beautiful in it's construction and symbolism.

Last is a huge map from the East India Company in 1829 with thousands of villages marked. It's such a feat of cartography and very impressive. I'd love a poster or a postcard but there are none. And a card wouldn't really do it justice...

Again the guide, Joseph, is really helpful and informative and presses our hands warmly when we leave.

As we head back the skies darken a bit and by 6ish it is raining really hard with thunder and lightning. After a while it hasn't eased off so we get the waterproofs out and go in search of dinner. We have decided on a place called The Old Courtyard, but of course the outside tables are unusable and they are full inside. Instead of waiting we make a second visit to Shala as it is nearby and was so good 2 nights ago. It has tables free and once again it doesn't disappoint, S has the veg special which is a black bean curry, like a dhal, and I have fish curry which is rich and tasty, not too spiced. The sides are something that I think is green banana and a grated beetroot dish which is good. We drink refreshing lime water.

Then it's a quick dash back as it is still raining. But it's still warm!

Our car is booked for 9am tomorrow morning so it's an earlyish night to be ready to go houseboating. If it's rainy it could be 'interesting' and rain is forecast...

Next blog may be delayed, I don't expect a signal out in the backwaters.

Onwards to the backwaters


Friday, 19 November 2010

Contrasting food

Today involved a long walk to Mattancherry - it's only about 1.5 miles so should be easy, but for some reason we go the long way round. In the midday heat. And we end up walking for around 2 hours.

I end up scarlet-faced, hot, sticky, hungry, tired and a bit grumpy. Eventually we reach the Dutch palace and S wanders off to find food. I wait for him. Outside a cafe! When he returns with the news that there is nothing up ahead I point out the cafe and we go in. We are both quite surprised at the lack of places to go to so close to a tourist attraction.

Inside is quite grubby with the menu written on the wall in Malayalam, no English translation. The man comes over, I enquire about thali. "no thali, dosa" he replies. So we order 2 masala dosa and some water.

The food is good - hot and fresh - the masala is lightly spiced, the chutney and sambar equally so. This is because it is Brahmin, and they don't use spices much. The dosa is crisp and floppy at the same time and very good.

The chap comes back and I have tea. We do everything right vis the right hand thing and he changes from being cursory to becoming very friendly and chatty. He presses our hands warmly when we leave.

In all it costs 70rs for everything. Or £1. Amazing!

The palace is lovely - carved ceilings, a room of wall paintings of Vishnu and Shiva and some parts of the Maharabhata.

Then some objects and costumes, palanquins and paintings. The wall displays are really informative, well translated and include many early photographs. It's a really good exhibition.

Afterwards we go out through a different gate and are plunged into stalls and shops and tuk-tuks. We obviously went in the back way!

This area is called Jew Town. What with that, and the ancient Hindu four legged cross also known as a swastika, a fluffy liberal can feel a bit challenged...

The shops purport to sell antiques, some is genuine, much isn't. But one warehouse has some huge stuff for sale - garden pavilions & fountains - and then taschen photo books and the ubiquitous papier mâché.

We wander the streets past spice merchants with rooms full of hessian sacks and wafting spicy smells, and some gorgeous architecture.

Then we get a tuk tuk back and as usual he insists on taking us to shops. We tell him we don't want to and he says no need to buy just look, but the pressure is quite high and the shops do have some pretty things. I resist - it's not too hard! Yes, even I am tired of shopping. The aircon is nice though!

We have a short rest and then go to see a Kathakali demonstration. It starts with watching the make-up - in some cases very detailed and with paper cut outs added on with rice paste.

Then one of the musicians starts to prepare the stage with flowers and rice powder patterns made with a shaker. He begins to explain and we get a demo of eye movements and mudras (hand movements).

The performance extract lasts about an hour and is very intricate. It takes 6 years to learn we are told. The costumes are amazing, highly stylised and detailed with great head-dresses.

Not S's thing at all but he indulges me. I think it's fascinating.

Then dinner at a place recommended by book and people. The Malabar Junction is frighteningly chic - stiff white linen, lots of waiters and expensive. By Indian standards anyway. We are almost the youngest people there! There is one veg option - and in true menu-speak it is a trio of curries! I choose lemongrass skewered tiger prawns. It's beautifully presented but nothing I couldn't do myself and what I expect from a place like this is food I couldn't do at home. And it is oddly a little bland. And there isn't much of it either.

So, it would appear that the old rich (the majority of clientele) are neither vegetarian nor in need of much food.

I don't even think I chose wrong, at a place like there shouldn't be a duff choice.

Nice, but not as tasty as the food we've had in other places, and by no means the taste experience we've been led to expect. And at 1183rs the most expensive thing we've eaten so far. Perhaps for some people it's all about the napery...

And so home to bed.

Onwards to the coast


Thursday, 18 November 2010

Elephant and kingfisher

It's an early start to Kodanad to watch elephants being bathed. We leave Kochi at 6.30am for about a 90 minute drive - the roads are pretty clear, not the mass of traffic from earlier in the week and to begin with it is quite cloudy.

We go through Kochi and Ernakulam, past a huge shopping mall being built and then into the countryside past villages and towns.

At the side of the roads are massive hoardings for saree shops, gold, clothing, apartments and silks. What's noticeable is that the models are all very pale-skinned and western, almost Anglo-Indian looking, whereas the majority of people we see are darker. The palest person I've seen was the carpet man and he was Kashmiri, with blue eyes, probably a Pathan.

It's curious that pale is desirable in a continent where it simply isn't the norm...

Anyway, back to the elephants. At Kodanad we go down to the water's edge and there is a little 5yr old female called Anjani. She is very friendly and there are lots of photo ops. She is a bit naughty, like a toddler, and occasionally doesn't want to do as she is told and stamps her foot and flicks her tail! She is a wild animal after all. Her hide is leathery but warm and her tail is a bit hairy and flat at the end.

After a while another, slightly larger one, arrives and eventually there are 4 - they come down in size order!

The mahouts change into short lunghi and lead their animal into the water to be scrubbed and cleaned.

While all 4 are in the water a 5th arrives, huge and with big curving tusks. He has a paddle and doesn't stay long.

The elephants have all been rescued, either from a group or where there has been an accident, type unspecified. Perhaps he's not good with other elephants, because back at the sanctuary he is kept quite far away from the others.

The sanctuary has the 5 we see and a small zoo of birds and monkeys. These cages are pretty horrendous - extremely dirty, not very big. The birds and monkeys are quite restricted. The crocodile is in a small swamp that looks and smells like the most stagnant of ponds. This bit is not a happy experience.

Back at Kochi we go for a walk to find a place in the book but can't find it so have lunch at a restaurant called Oceanos. The waiter asks us if they were recommended as they are new. We promise to tell others as the food is good (We have aubergine and yoghurt and paneer butter masala), it's clean, nicely decorated and attractive. The music sounds like Curtis Stigers however - very cheesy sax!

After lunch we visit the church - originally Portuguese, taken over by the Dutch, it has an impressive front much like a Dutch gable, and inside are lovely old punkahs and the grave stones relocated in the walls which has preserved them. They include the original headstone of Vasco De Gama from 1524, though his body was taken back to Portugal in 1536.

After this I need another nap! Maybe it's the heat...

In the evening we successfully get beer! We get to the bar earlyish and it is less crowded, though the main clientele are westerners. After 2 beers we go to find dinner just near our homestay.

I have a prawn coconut curry, S the vegetarian special. Both are very good and the restaurant is very chic and smart.

Then it's a bit of tv - BBC World news, some bollywood, the Indian version of who wants to be a millionaire, and bed.

I find I have acquired 2 bites which is most unfair as I was wearing sleeves.

It's humid but the fan sorts that out...

Onwards to the coast

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Heat and dust

I've spent quite a lot of today being hot. And feeling gritty.

The mosquito repellant is quite gloopy and my legs and feet most of the time are sticky. This means that the dust kicked up by shoes sticks to the person. It ends up feeling a bit like being sanded down!

But it's working, I've only had 3 bites so far...not bad for someone who usually gets eaten alive. And I've been very good and not scratched them!

S, on the other hand, eschews it most of the time and remains blissfully bite free. Of course.

The day began very hot and humid. After a long lie-in (no inclusive breakfast so no need to be up by a certain time) we go out for a walk around the town.

At the sea's edge are the Chinese fishing nets - huge cantilevered devices that scoop fish up. They are lined along the shore and look very beautiful. The road is lined with stalls, street sellers, food carts and hotels.

I buy some vada for breakfast, followed by a bag and some other things for presents and we stroll along by the sea with the heat blazing. It's really very hot!

The Dutch cemetery is closed but we look through the gate - it dates from 1724 according to the sign outside.

Then we go to David Hall, an old Dutch merchant's house. It has large airy rooms and is open to the roof and rafters which are fabulous. They also serve snacks in the garden cafe so we stop for some lunch. The menu is largely western - sandwiches, wraps, cakes - but it looks good and the atmosphere is very peaceful. And the food good and very filling.

Unfortunately, after a while I start to feel ill so we make our way back and I go to lie down. I don't know if it's something food related or not, but I feel quite peculiar.

In the end it's not a bad plan as shortly after we get back it thunders and rains!

And that's how it mostly stays for the rest of the day. Leelu says this is very unusual, it should be dry.

A few hours later I am recovered and able to attend our cook n' eat course.

Leelu shows us fish curry, dhal, pumpkin curry, beetroot thoran and chapattis. It's all very delicious and filling. Our fellow students are friendly and it's a good evening. I have lots of notes for cooking the dishes at home...

We have booked a trip to the elephant sanctuary tomorrow, a 6.30am start.

So, to bed early, the fan is moving warm air about and the rain is still pelting down.

I must shower off today's dust in prep for more tomorrow!


Monday, 15 November 2010

Long day, no beer

We arrived in Kochi after a rather mammoth drive - almost 7 hours. We were told 3-4 yesterday so it's a bit of a shock and a long haul for us and the driver.

The drive is totally horrendous at times. Single carriageway being treated as dual by oncoming traffic to the point where our half of the road have to stop completely to avoid crashing or being squashed.

We see a number of accidents too which are disturbing.

The road surface is initially ok but deteriorates to potholed mess, there are diversions, and in all it's not the best road experience I've had.

Still, we have got aircon and it is getting warmer.

The driver stops a few times, once at a temple. I wonder if he is praying to the Hindu version of St. Christopher - it doesn't fill me with confidence!

We stop for lunch but he rejects the place so we move on to somewhere else. The chosen spot is big, airy and quite busy. We go to the veggie section he goes to meat section - strict segregation often with separate kitchens.

Our thali is nice, not the best, but perfectly edible and the service is nice and friendly. It's 280rs for all 3 of us. Or £4.

Back on the road we eventually hit Ernakulam which is next to Kochi. The 2 kind of merge together as a huge city and it takes us almost 2 hours to get to our final stop.

Kochi is on a group of islands so crossings are bridge or ferry. The bridges are small and very busy.

At Leelu's homestay the driver tries to claim that he suggested we stay here and get a tip/cut of our bill, but since Leelu has already established that we found her in the rough guide and we booked ourselves this doesn't get very far!

He's got a tip and lunch from us anyway...

After a nap while it rains a bit, we stroll out.

And as our restaurant of choice is closed we end up choosing another which is totally wrong. The food is underwhelming, I have a piece of fried fish and rice. No sauce, no spices, no zing, it's not even very fishy! And the rice is cold and it takes 30 minutes to arrive. And the bottle of soda for my lime soda is filthy. If anything upsets me I'll bet it's that.

We try to find a beer to no avail! The only bar is full of westerners, very noisy and I just can't be arsed! We call it a night and hope for better tomorrow.

At the coast


Sunday, 14 November 2010

The toy train From Ooty

Is this one of the great railway journeys of the world?

Yes, a thousand times yes. It is crammed with the romance I wanted from Ooty - the narrow gauge track, the little carriages, the population carrying ENORMOUS bags and parcels, the jingle of bracelets - it's all here.

Ooty station buffet smells delicious and I buy some snacks - I think they are masala vadai, but I'm not sure.

The journey down has some very precipitous drops on one side and the view of the hills and down the valleys is spectacular - villages, tea plantations, tall forest and waterfalls. We pass through little stations called Loveday and Ketti, over high viaducts, slowly and very noisily making our way down. At Wellington there is a brief stop and chai-wallahs rush forward calling "chai, chai, chai" followed by others selling snacks.

At Coonoor there is a longer stop while the diesel is taken off and the steam engine is coupled up.

And then we set off again, the steam puffing, the whistle that long forgotten sound, and the rack & pinion cranking away.

It's a magnificent journey, the hills begin to tower over us and at points waterfalls cascade over the tops and hurtle downward, rushing beneath us as we cross some extremely high viaducts.

The flowers and plants change as we move lower, the flowers higher up are brightly coloured and plentiful, purple gentian (I think) and oranges and pinks. As we get towards the plains the flowers start to decrease and are replaced with greenery and palms. Small yellow butterflies flit about and dragonflies reappear.

And as the heat of the plains becomes more apparent, the tops of the hill are shrouded in cloud and disappear, like Brigadoon.

Even the Indian passengers are marvelling at the spectacle and taking pictures, EVEN people at level crossings take pictures and this is a daily working service, not a heritage preservation project.

At Mettupalayam our friendly taxi driver arrives having driven down to meet us - apparently he has to do an errand in Coimbatore so is going to drive us there - and he has brought our bags which given the smallness of the train was a real blessing.

The hotel is relatively modern and comfortable, and Coimbatore is hugely noisy after the relative peace of the hills. Back in the heat of the lowlands we will need the aircon tonight after the fires and extra blankets of the last few nights.

Dinner is a ghee roast dosa and a paneer masala for S - both really good, change from £3 inc. drinks!

Then S falls into a hole in the road so it's out with the savlon and plasters! I'm glad I brought a 1st aid kit...

Tomorrow we have a transfer booked to Cochin, our hotel is booked too and the landlady apparently does cooking courses. Oh yes!

Onwards to the coast



I think I should talk about S. Indian breakfast.

We have tried quite a few different things:

Idli, the rice sponge things I mentioned a few days ago and which are pretty good.

Poori - the familiar puffy bread, which came with a veg curry.

Uttapam which are thick rice flour pancakes with chilli, onion and other things. They are rice based and have a nice crispy outside. These came with sambar (thin veg curry) and chutney.

Pancakes - thick like a drop scone but bigger, I think there was cinnamon in them and we had them with honey.

Masala omelette - with finely chopped onion or tomato and often chilli too.

Today we had Upma which looks like cous cous but is, I understand, semolina, and is quite highly spiced. It came with a chutney which was nutty rather than coconutty for a change.

There is often fruit on offer, I've found I'm not a big fan of papaya - there's an aftertaste I don't like much.

And there's usually toast which is good for S who doesn't eat eggs so misses the omelette. It's quite hard buttering toast with just the right hand so we sneak a left to hold it and hope the waiters aren't too nauseated!

It's quite usual to see cornflakes and porridge but I could have those anytime so I don't bother with them.

This morning is a lounge about, waiting for the time to go and get our train.

The hotel have arranged to meet us at Mettupalayam and take us to Coimbatore, which will make things easy for us tonight.

Onwards to the coast

Location:Last few hours in Ooty

Saturday, 13 November 2010

A day of water features

Today's post is brought you by the words water, tree and hill.

The day started murky and overcast with drizzle but we set off for Pykara on a half day excursion.

First stop was a pine forest, which was fine as pine forests go!

Then on to a hill that has featured in Bollywood films - it is a very popular place with lots of street sellers and coach parties. The view probably meant more to fans of Bollywood than to us but it was pretty, with undulating hills and cloud covered hills in the distance.

After that we went past a large Dam. I wonder about the engineering of a dam - there must be a point at which work has to move extra fast to stop the force of the water washing the dam away. After all, it's that force that has to be contained. Engineering readers, feel free to comment!

By the time we reach the falls the sun has come out. Pykara Waterfalls are very nice, a wide river mouth which plunges down in a standard waterfall-y kind of way. The falls are at the bottom of steps, we are greeted by yet another school group with lots of waves and giggling. 2 thoughts occur:

1. Why are waterfalls always at the bottom of steps or steep narrow paths? It's the top of the plunge, surely it should be higher up?

2. We have seen a couple of the same groups on our jaunts. One group is of 5 or 6 friends, one of whom is in a wheelchair. India is far from compliance with any form of disability access and at the falls there is no flat path, just steps, but the group of friends have got him there nonetheless.

We are then mobbed by a school group who photograph us. I find this still quite odd, but S is taller than average and I am wide so I daresay we make an interesting spectacle!

After this we go on to Pykara Lake and boat house. The group of friends are there too and take a boat ride, including the wheelchair, despite yet more very steep steps. I hope the chair is securely attached to the boat which is more like a raft with a shelter and a few benches.

We stop for some chai and watch naughty monkeys scavenge in the bins.

On the way back down we stop at another bit of pine forest and watch more monkeys chase each other through the trees.

Today's snacks of choice are carrots - there are many women with bunches at almost every stop we make today - and candy floss being sold by young boys.

Later we try again to get a train ticket from Coimbatore to Cochin. There is a system called Tatkal which is where 10% of tickets are released at 8am 48 hours before the day of travel. However, these have gone by the time we get to the station for afternoon opening and only unreserved sleeper car is available and even S refuses that! It looks like another car drive, but at least we have hotel booked for tomorrow night.

The rest of the day passes relaxing on the sofas...


Friday, 12 November 2010

Ooty redeemed

Today was warm and sunny with blue sky and fluffy clouds, not the rain-filled gloom of yesterday, and the spirits have lifted.

Ooty in the rain is no fun, but in the sunshine is much better.

We hired a driver for the day and visited the lake - first engineered and laid 1860s (I think, it is very large and lined with mature trees. There are various boating opportunities, we saw a family inc. a lady in full veil taking a pedal boat out, also shops, horse rides, popcorn and some fair rides. It was quite busy, lots of school groups, in fact school groups wherever we've been today.

After this we went to the Thread Garden.

The signs outside the Thread Garden really talk it up as an 8th wonder of the world, the guide book down-plays it considerably, but as a spectacle of patience and slight weirdness it more than fulfills the brief. It's basically flowers made from canvas pieces tightly wound with fine thread. From a distance the effect is not bad, almost realistic, and it is hard to see how it is done.

During our visit there was an almighty shouting match, a girl was led away weeping, very much in the style of "leave it 'Shel, he ain't worth it", followed by a long phone call with much wiping of tears and sniffs. Fights are the same the world over...

Our driver then took us up to Dodabetta Peak, the highest point in S. India. The views are absolutely spectacular, stepped tea plantations, little villages, brightly coloured rooftops, mountains in the distance. It's a very beautiful place and it did go a very long way to soothing the way I feel about Ooty.

I think my expectations were for something that ceased decades ago, and that's not Ooty's fault, it's mine.

On the way back from the peak the stalls were being set up, including many selling orange or red snacks, on closer inspection these turned out to be bags of small carrots or radishes. Not the average food you'd expect at a major attraction.

On the road down we stopped at a tea factory and museum which was fascinating, the process is part mechanised - cutting, drying in huge tunnels, sorting into leaf or dust - but not the high shine of modern industry, just conveyor belts, warm air and steel cutters. The smell of leaf tea hangs in the air, the free sample is sweet and hot and the prices are ridiculously cheap by any standard - 100rs or £1.40 ish for half a kilo.

Next stop on this tour was the station to get tickets for the Nilgiri mountain Railway - the toy train that in 2005 was given UNESCO world heritage status. Our driver told us that today's train had been cancelled because of a landslide. We filled in the chitty and queued for tickets. Tomorrow's train is full, so we're going to have to stay our third night anyway and leave on Sunday. In a way I feel I owe it to Ooty and my heart doesn't sink, which it would have done yesterday.

However our planned route to Cochin has changed as the train is fully booked in 1st and 2nd and I am not ready for 3rd class yet - not for a 5 hour journey anyway. We will probably take a car.

Last stop of the day was the botanical gardens which are lovely. We were mobbed by a group of lads who wanted to be photographed with us. This has happened a few times and is most odd - I haven't been photographed so much since my wedding day!

Back at the hotel we have booked dinner and whatever is cooking smells delicious.

Ooty has redeemed herself - I don't love her as others have done but it's ok and I think we have reached an understanding.

Ooty, part the second

The rain began to hammer down when we arrived - low cloud, absolutely no view of lofty peaks or the coloured rooves of the town.

The hotel is a former colonial building - high ceilings, Edwardian fireplaces, a lot of dark wood panelling and floor. And I think there are some gardens but it was too wet to explore.

Our room is pretty but Ooty is quite cold and as it is the wet season everything is overlaid with a damp and musty air, including the bed covers. It's like Yorkshire in the 1970s.

The rain eased off a little and we went for a walk to the town. This took us A LONG TIME. The hotel is tranquil. And miles out of Ooty proper.

We walked along the road, being hooted at and jumping out of the way. I had decided on sandals rather than get wet shoes and socks. My feet got quite muddy.

Eventually we found the main part of town and the station. Still underwhelmed we headed off to a guide book recommended place for some food. It was good, but as so often the hyperbole was overdone. Nice, not life changing.

We wandered back to the station and caught a tuk tuk back to the hotel, had some tea, sat in the drawing room, had a fire lit, planned our next stage.

The sofas were comfy, and the fire was cheering, but it's not redeemed itself completely.

It's like a disappointing blind date - you got on really well by email but in person there's no spark.

This is a downbeat post, I am finding it hard to get past the sheer disappointment. I think Ooty and I have reached an agreement of sorts and even though today she is showing us her sunny side, I know our virtual love affair is over before it ever really began.

Enjoying a thali


They say you should never meet your heroes, I think the same should perhaps be said about places one longs to visit...

I was ready to be swept away on a raj romance - me and Ooty, with our own special moments and private jokes.

And the disappointment is crushing.

We booked 3 nights, I am not at all sure I want to stay even 1.


Thursday, 11 November 2010

To Ooty

Arrived at breakfast earlier than opus days, atmosphere was v diff and has suddenly become buffet rather than a la carte - more people staying now is probably why, but I liked the menu choices.

We'd booked a car to ooty, the first part out of mysore was along very bumpy roads, and Mysore extends a long way. It's classed as a small city but numbers 1m people!

As we left the city behind, the Landscape became very green and lush, palms lined the road and fields stretching away into the distance.

We passed some villages that looked very idyllic amongst the green.

Traffic decreased (there's still the hooting thing.)

A note on using the car horn: the horn, as I have previously mentioned, is a most essential piece of car kit. It is used to say "I'm here", "get out of my way", "I'm passing you", "I've just passed you", "I'm going to pass you", "you are coming towards me", "I'm behind you" and ""I'm going round this bend" to name but a few. Truly, it is a tool of infinite variety.

So, traffic decreased in the rural areas, and the road surface wasn't too bad.

Part of the route goes through Bandipur National Wildlife Reserve which has elephants and tigers, however cars mean that they tend to stay away from the road. We did see some monkeys tho and some great signs:

"drive slowly or you might kill a wildlife" and "be quiet or you enrage the wildlife"

After the national park came the climb up to Ooty. The road rises steeply and includes 36 hairpin bends as well as the other bends not classed as hairpin. We rose 1000m over this route, with spectacular views until the cloud thickened, and rain began to fall. We had been warned that it was wet, and it is!

Our hotel is called Glyngarth Villa and is old colonial style. It's very much in the shabby grandeur style. I am reminded of James Lees-Milne's diaries from his time as a National Trust assessor going about the grand old houses of England. There are fantastic wooden floors and lovely bits of plaster moulding.

It is also raining like a wet day in the west of Scotland, thunder is rumbling and there is an almighty leak from the guttering outside our room!

Our room is pretty and smells of damp! And there are is list of rules we must follow, including pre-ordering of meals some hours in advance. This is hard for me, I barely know what I would want as a snack 5 minutes from now, let alone dinner tonight or breakfast tomorrow!

Still, the rain might clear...and meantime we can plan our route through Kerala...

Enjoying a thali

Location:On the road

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

A temple, a bull, more delicious food

Today we visited the temple at the top of Chamundi Hill. It's a climb of 1000 steps or an easier ride by car or other vehicle.

At the top is a bazaar of sorts selling food, fruit, tat and things for offerings, and populated with pilgrims, dogs, cows and hawkers.

We leave our shoes and join the queue before being told we can pay 20rs to get in through a pay gate. Inside the temple people are making offerings and doing puja. We make a small offering and have a red smudge on our foreheads as a blessing.

Outside the hawkers mill around, I buy a sandalwood elephant for 100rs. This makes no difference, he carries on trying to sell us stuff. It's almost like autopilot!

We retrieve our shoes and set off down - 300 steps to the Nandi bull. Carved from solid granite in 1659, and 5m high, it is a sight. It is festooned in flowers from pilgrims.

Then back into the tuk tuk for more touristing.

We get taken to yet another retail opp and whilst pretty there are only so many papier mâché boxes a person can look at and still sound interested!

Next was the railway museum. In a very out of the way place are some old rolling stock and engines, very interesting indeed, especially the maharani's saloon which is all mahogany and beautifully fitted out. I liked this a lot, despite the very odd negotiation of broken road and earthworks to get there.

Then lunch, another thali, better than yesterday and much cheaper, 180rs, or £3

Back at the hotel it was already getting dark and the waiters were talking about rain, but it's only now that the thunder has started and the rains have just begun.

We ate dinner watching the lightning and listening to the gate-keeper play his shiva's flute, and feeling the air cool.

Tomorrow - Ooty...

Enjoying a thali

Location:Our suite

Curry for breakfast

We had Idli for breakfast - fluffy rice sponge things - and sambar, a veg curry and chutney, a coconut sauce. I also had a masala omelette which was good.

We booked a tuk tuk to go into the city to the palace. Tuk tuks are everywhere tho not as widespread as motorbikes. I think the main things a vehicle needs are good steering, really good brakes and a working horn. The horn is in constant use, to move people out of the way, warn of your approach - vehicles have written on the back "use horn please" and everyone does, except for traffic police who use whistles.

The palace is huge, we only get to see a fraction. The gates to the temples are very ornate, the palace itself is laid out in wide gardens and painted and gilded with many domes.

Inside is a wealth of stained glass of peacock feather pattern, inlaid tiled floors, painted iron columns, paintings and some silver doors which are beautiful and intricately detailed.

After that our tuk tuk driver took us to a silk emporium, I was measured for a couple of tops which will be delivered to the hotel tomorrow!

Then on to a carpet shop. I got rather carried away, that's all I'm saying!

And then to the Market. Stalls piled high with vegetables freshly arrived from the country, piles of coloured coloured powder, it's a riot of colour and noise.

A word about the street hawkers. The hawkers sell all manner of things, and will follow you for ages - an hour in one case. The price will start at, say, 300 rs, and steadily drop to perhaps 100. And then the quantity offered will go up until instead of 1 thing at 300 you're being offered 3 or 4 at 100. And you thing "ach, it's only a quid" which it is, but as soon as you weaken you'll be swamped. I didn't buy anything and we still had 4 following us. 'you're not English, you're Israeli' one said when didn't buy, not sure about the significance of that! But I didn't want a snake charmer or bangle or shiva's whistle...

Back at the hotel we had another delicious dinner.

And then it rained. Drenching, hammering on the roof rain, with thunder and lightning - proper monsoon rain. We were safely under cover eating capsicum masala and paneer makhani.

And so to bed, the rain hammering, the ceiling fan gently whirring, the horns decreasing as night fell and traffic lessened...

On the move...

Monday, 8 November 2010

It's an actual palace

Well, the journey was a bit epic in duration but event free. Second plane less spacious but still fine, meal relatively edible.

We arrived a bit late - par for the course I think. I tried to sleep but as ever had the problem of what to do with my arms! Folding is ok but not 100% comfortable. Any other option results in neighbour encroachment which is A BAD THING. Consequence was a light doze and remaining alert to the arms situ.

By the time we landed at Bangalore we were pretty knackered. After a light and purely experimental bargain over car hire we booked a car to bring us to Mysore.

It was a bit grey and drizzly but warm. The car had nice cool a/c, and as we travelled the clouds cleared.

Bangalore is huge & sprawling, took ages to get out of city - so long I fell asleep! The buses & lorries are all brightly painted with firm directions telling followers to sound the horn, which they do, all the time. I mean ALL THE TIME! it's like a weird version of the 'honk if you're horny' bumper stickers.

Coupled to that is the sheer lunacy that is Indian traffic. That's like a local version of the royal tournament as vehicles of all sizes zig-zag across the road, narrowly missing one another.

Maybe it was tiredness, maybe the pristine shirt or the way he just left us to nap, either way, I didn't freak out as yet another lorry was a micron away.

We stopped for a coconut water (I KNOW!) by the roadside. A man with a sharp machete hacked the top off, made a hole and handed it to me. It wasn't warm but it was very good. Neither sweet nor salty, not cold, but very refreshing.

After lots of phone calls our driver found the hotel - the equivalent would be me driving someone to Stoke and finding a hotel there!

Our room is a suite. I may have slightly overdone it on this one, but y'know what? I am happy.

It's a former palace, run as a charity, the rooms are lovely, the gardens look pretty big too.

We had a looooong nap and then some food.

I feel refreshed at last!

On the move...

Location:Mysore. In a palace.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

I'm a bit tired actually

Yesterday morning seems absurdly long ago. Dubai is 4 hours ahead, so it's really 10.45 as opposed to the 2.45am on my watch, but even so, when I yawn I feel like one of those snakes that dislocates its jaw to eat a sheep.

Dubai looked very sparkly from the air, all lights and shine. The airport no less a spectacle, as airports go, and remarkable in the amount of marble and lights and jungle-themed water features.

I offered S a hookah, he declined. Maybe on the way back...

Emirates is a good flying experience, I was slightly perturbed by it being an airbus A380 but was quickly distracted by the masses of entertainment - from Inception to William Byrd motets, I think all bases are covered.

Next stop Bangalore in a few hours...

On the move...

Location:Dubai airport

Now we're really mobile

5am is an ungodly hour. Even when one is getting up for a good thing such as a holiday it's still pretty rough.

The morning began cold, dark & damp, but there was showering to do and breakfast and some VERY IMPORTANT last minute faffing.

Now we are on the bus to heathrow with an amiable driver. It's quite novel being so high up and seeing things one misses at lower level or when concentrating on the driving.

And there is a full rainbow which seems like a good omen!


On the move...

Location:On a coach to heathrow

Friday, 5 November 2010

Lists and packing

I have a number of scraps of paper with notes and lists and things to do.

And I have a pile of clothes and plasters and piriton and a hat and sandals and a map and a rucksack.

And a fizzy ball of excitement.

And I'm going on holiday!


On the move...

Location:The spare room

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


Yesterday was so nice I went out with no coat! Today - rather grey! I am glad it is not freezing in view of the continued lack of house heating chez Airhead.

Oh well, on Sunday I shall get on the coach to the airport and I shan't care any more about the broken boiler.

On the move...

Monday, 1 November 2010

Test picture upload

The jam store

The Tech!

I have been trying to set up the iPhone for mobile bloggery, it's been more of a challenge than I expected.  MMS wasn't working, emailing wasn't working - in fact, all suggestions were emphatically not working.

Which is a bit of a pain when one has been without other tech...

And why doesn't blogger advertise the iPhone mobile app?  Seems like a no-brainer to me.  We iPhone owners, we love apps!  Sell us apps!  Better still, make us free apps!  And give us the correct name!

Well, it seems to be working now, just in time for the BIG HOLIDAY!

India odyssey starts on Sunday, I can't wait.  Until then there is a mountain of work to complete and some light to medium seething, a lot of list-making and associated ticking, much packing, lots of excitement and HOURS of travelling.  I am excited.

This was typed on the lappy, not picked out on the mobile.  Welcome home laptop, I missed you lots.

Ok, nearly!

Ah, this could be it!

Location:The sofa

It's being troublesome...

Location:Can I make the tech work?