Too hot to handle

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Having rushed around so much, a nice hotel with a pool was a bit of a novelty and slightly surreal. It was Paul’s birthday(HAPPY BIRTHDAY) and out of the fridge magically came a little chocolate cake – well more like a wagon wheel – with a candle  – well done Emma!

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Cows on the beach

Cows on the beach

Cherai beach is north of Cochin and we thought we might go and see it, but we were stifled by a taxi strike somewhere in the area, so instead we went to nearby Puthuvype Beach.

A 10 minute rickshaw ride and we were there – we seemed to be next to an oil terminal! The cows were everpresent and looking happy though..

We walked along and quickly found ourselves alone on a mile of beach – a few fishing boats here and there. The water was warm and we wandered up the beach paddling in the surf.

Even early in the morning its pretty hot and there was no shade at all, so we were relived when we arrived at the other end of the beach and some handy palm trees – Emma set off for a sit in the shade while Paul went for a dip in the sea.

Fisherman preparing set out, Kerala

Fisherman preparing set out, Kerala

Whilst Paul was swimming, Emma made some new friends in the shade of a coconut tree – a bunch of local boys out playing.  She was called over whilst one of them was climbing a tree, when Paul returned from his swim there were about 10 young boys.  Not much English from them and virtually no Indian language from us, we managed some conversation 🙂

Chatting with children, Kerala

Chatting with children, Kerala

We had a short wait at the nearest shop/shack, waiting for a rickshaw which appeared after 10 minutes.  We appeared to own the ride of a local going into town to his bank – I say owned as he didn’t pay for his ride as we did.  Whoever he is, ‘you’re very welcome’.

A short sit down, swim and pack we finally checked out and headed back on the short ferry back to Fort Kochi to find something to do for the rest of the day before boarding our last overnight train to Chennai.  It seemed the hottest day ever (for Emma), so needed lots of shade.  After lunch in a nice looking hotel restaurant we found an internet cafe.  Emma was taken ill again, but only briefly then settled down for more blogging.  We were stopped short due to a powercut, which lasted longer in the internet room as was down for about 20 minutes or so….

We got bored of waiting and moved on to the hot streets to do some shopping, then headed over to the train station to wait and then find our First class sleeper.  Not as luxourious as you may think, although we were originally shown to our two bed bunk cabin, with a door!  We were quite pleased with this, until the conductor told us were actually in the next cabin, and would be sharing with two other people – but they hadn’t yet turned up.  We waited for a while but of course were soon turfed out to the next cabin with just one more passenger.  He was a business man and Paul had a little chat.  It wasn’t the best sleep we had but we’d soon be in Chennai to see some familiar faces!

 

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Sweaty backwaters

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Time for a tour of the backwaters. Although we were up in time, our hotel hadn’t actually booked the rickshaw we asked for at 7:30, so we were a bit late for our pickup , this meant that after quite a long wait in the warming day, we were treated to a breakneck ride through the backstreets of Cochin to meet up with the rest of the tour in a bus on the side of the road. There were two seats left for us in the minibus – full of sweaty europeans of varying origin.

Another hour of driving and the first stop was our boat for the next 3 hours. It was a houseboat/rice boat with about 20 seats out on deck for us all. A nice cup of Chai and off we set…  Our tour guide was quite entertaining, he was a local and told us a few stories along the way… 

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Collecting fermented coconut sap

Collecting fermented coconut sap

We had a slow cruise along the river whilst our tour guide explained the ways of some Keralan fishermen, how they fish etc; Including the three men we spotted, in the river with a massive bamboo pole digging up mussels (more like clams) from the bottom, with a net and no boat.  Pretty impressive.

We also stopped on one of the islands to see some village people go about their business, including collecting fermented sap from the top of a coconut tree.

We paid a few Rupees each along with some other passengers and got some  to try. A frothy white concoction in an old water bottle. “Shake it well” said the guide – so we did and tentatively tried some, needless to say it was quite nice.

We moved on to see a local garden and Emma had some cooked mussels, quite nice!

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We returned to the pickup spot for some lunch, said goodbye to our guide.  Jumped back on the bus for a short ride to another part of the backwaters and boarded canoes.

We travelled down the little canals which run all amongst the houses, like streets. For a great many people, the canal is the not only the drinking water source, but also the place to wash, brush your teeth, and do your washing.  As well as spotting one dead snake in the reeds and one alive swim under our canoe, watch your step!

Washing clothes in Kerala backwaters

Washing clothes in Kerala backwaters

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As we drifted along we saw many people going about there daily business and stopped to watch a woman weaving twine and then rope from coconut husk – a bit like spinning wool.

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Naga temple activities

Naga temple activities

There are many religions and variants in India and we passed a strange ceremony involving a lot of crazy dancing a people getting water poured over them – we were later told they were a sect which worships a snake god – Naga I think. 

 

Welcome to Kerala

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We caught the “super-fast express” train from Coimbatore to Cochin, Kerala. It travels about 200km in only 5 hoursish at a speed which I calculated as 29.5 mph! We can only guess how long an express takes, nevermind a stopping train 🙂

IMG_4957As soon as we left the station we knew Kerala would be nice, all the houses are painted in different colours and it seems unbelievably calm and relaxed compared to where we started our journey in Delhi. Its like another country – in fact everywhere we go we see another side of the country.

We had booked a last minute deal at the “PJ Princess Regency” hotel which amazingly turned out to look just like the picture – which is a first. The hotel was great, a little way out of town on Vypeen Island but not only a short rickshaw ride and a 2rps (yes 2 rps!) ferry to Fort Cochin.

Once we had recovered from the impact of the heat after the coolness of Ooty – we went out for a little explore and also booked a backwaters tour for the following day – more later on that – A large part of the town was a Dutch trading port in the 1500s and it has lots of European influence.

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A bit of shopping and some dinner and back to the hotel.

She’ll be coming round the mountain

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One of the things Ooty is famous for is the mountain railway – 100 years old and still going strong – the little train of 4 carriages goes up and down the mountain every day from Mettapalayam (at the bottom) to Ooty and then back again.

We had managed to book some tickets online for Wed afternoon, so we spent our last morning in Ooty uploading pics and getting our tickets printed at the internet place. A bit of last minute shopping and then off to the station.

After a couple of thalis at the station cafe, we waited on the platform for the train.

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The Thali preparation table, Ooty station canteen

The Thali preparation table, Ooty station canteen

In it trundled and off rattled the passengers. On we got, we had a little compartment in first class – fit for about 8 people and we were joined by a family of three German travellers.

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The train pulled out of Ooty at 2pm and began its journey down the mountain. The first part of the trip, about an hour, to Coonoor is not too steep and its pulled by a diesel engine. But when you get to Coonoor the main attraction happens – the diesel engine lets go and is replaced by a steam engine!

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Who knows how old the engines are but they are fully operational and choo choos away with no problem bellowing steam.  The views were spectacular, endless tea plantations, mountain after misty mountain as we slowly made our way down.  250 photos later we pulled into the last stop, covered in soot with more of our journey to go. We know there are at least 2 hard core train spotters reading this – you know who you are – so these are for you 🙂

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We still had to find our way to Ciombotore, by bus would have taken about two hours, but we managed to strike a deal with a taxi man who could fit five people plus bags for 1000 rps.  So we set off with the three german ladies for the never ending hour journey through peak time traffic. Another perilous ride, which we are strangely getting accustomed to, scary…

We were delivered to Ciombtore train station, where we would start our journey early the next day.  Said auf wiedersehen to the Germans and found our hotel across the road.  We checked in and headed to the nearest bar, conveniently situated next to our hotel.  It was the darkest bar in the world, we turned down the first table offered to us as we would have only been able to hear each other, so chose our own table of four with very little light.  It’s beer o’clock!  Emma was the only female in the joint so got some looks, especially when she downed her pint of Kingfisher.  We also discovered there was only a gents, no ladies.  So Paul and a kind barman staked the loo until it was empty and clear for Emma to use, result!  We grabbed some food, one more beer for the road and headed to sleep.

A grand day out

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On Monday, whilst wandering around Ooty we found a tourist information hut – Do you have any maps? No just the one in the window – you can take a picture of it 🙂

The helpful man also offered day tours around the area – including the wildlife sanctuary we had passed by on the bus. Funnily enough it looked just like the tour offered by our hotel, at a fraction of the cost – so we booked up. We will collect you from the hotel at 9:30 he said.

9.30 came and went and just before 10 a little minibus full of people turned up and off we set. First we went about 500 yards down the road where we stopped for a bit in a car park – I don’t know why. After that we set off and this time we stopped at a petrol station where we all got off and got on another small bus – apparently someone had a dodgy seat on our bus… Off we set again this time in earnest. We had a nice seat by the door, sorry that’s the open door 🙂 Good for the breeze but slightly alarming during sudden braking going downhill.

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The bus was mostly full of Indians on holiday – apart from us two euros. Several families and small children, all crammed in. One consequence of this was that the driver needed to explain everything three times – Hindi, some sort of Tamil dialect I think, and English for us – sometimes we were forgotten – or maybe he just didn’t know the words. The first place we didn’t get an explanation about was the golf course – we stopped next to it for a bit and looked at it though.

After that we passed by a film factory “External views only” it said on the little itinerary and sure enough that’s what we got.

The following stop was much nicer – Tree Park – In order to preserve the forest in the Nilgiri Hills area, most of it is now closed to people, so this was a fenced off bit you could go into – about 500m square I guess – just enough to get into without the danger of missing the bus. Lots of monkeys running about too with babies dangling.

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Nine Miles, was next – essentially a small hill – but so called because you could see a long way from the top in all directions – I’m just guessing but I would say possibly as much as 9 miles.

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The waterfall “we call it the Nilgiri Niagra” is pretty, its dry season so not torrential but another nice stop.
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After that we stopped for a late lunch – it was about 2pm by now and the bus stopped by a row of eateries. We ventured into one – grimy would be a good word to describe it – and ordered a thali and some Paneer masala. What a delicious meal! We vowed to find a good Paneer Masala recipe when we get home.

The end point of this torrent of activities was to the wildlife park. As we got closer we saw more wild animals – deer and a family of Elephants crossing the road, we arrived at the visitor centre at about 4.30 and then took a park bus through the sanctuary, off road.  Emma is convinced this trip was for the benefit of the animals to watch us behave as most of the passengers screamed and shouted every time they got a sniff of something moving.   Aaahhhhhh a peacock, aaaaagggggghhhhhhh spotted deer, it got a bit boring but what animals we did see was fun.  Especially the monkeys, they are always entertaining to watch.
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The journey home was via a small tea shop:
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Then we set off up the quick road back – 36 hairpin bends!
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9 hours in a confined space with lots of noisy people isn’t the best, so a quiet dinner in the hotel was the best end to a very busy day.

Ooty

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A nice lie in, in a comfortable bed is almost enough to undo all the aches and pains of sleeper buses and trains and no sleep at all, almost but not quite 🙂

Breakfast at 10am and then a walk through Ooty, looking at markets and shops, buying local tea and trinkets and booking a day trip for tomorrow. Ooty is one of the cleanest places we’ve seen and full of interesting little shops. Its big too, a multitude of little brightly coloured scattered across the hillsides around the high mountain valley it sits in.

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A visit to the train station, home of the famous mountain railway, and where the school kids from across the way were all playing on the tracks by the platform during their lunch break. The ticket office was shut but luckily in an attempt to find lunch, we somehow instead found ourselves in a hotel bar perched high above the town with great views and the added bonus of a 3G signal good enough to book train tickets on using my trusty old Nokia.

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Mission accomplished we skipped lunch and headed back to our own hotel for a rest. We had met a nice couple from England on the bus ride, Davinder and Baljinder, and agreed to meet them for dinner. We went to one of the large hotels in Ooty which looks about 100 years old but turns out to only have been built about 12 years ago. Dinner was delicious and they had beer for Paul and gin and tonic for Emma which was a welcome bonus 🙂

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Davinder and Baljinder have been everywhere and were full of fascinating stories – giving us lots of ideas of places to go – they really are the travelling nomads!

Mysore Bottom – the longest day

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By the end of our morning on the beach in Gorkana we had both started feeling a bit ropey and the unavoidable Delhi-belly had arrived 😦  We rested up until the evening, when we took a little walk.

Next morning we were up to another trip to the beach for breakfast and lots of sitting in the shade with cool drinks until it was time to head back and catch our night train to Hassan. It was an hour late arriving at the tiny Gorkana Town station and it was baking hot, so we were very happy to get into our air conditioned carriage.

At 2am the alarm went off and Emma prodded me awake. Ready to get off the train at twenty-past. Only the train was still an hour late so we sat on our rucksacks, waiting for our station. We finally got off at Hassan at about 3:30am and found a tuk-tuk to take us to the taxi stand where he awoke a driver, sleeping in his cab, and he drove us for about an hour down  to Sravanabelagola. The battered old car reaked of petrol as he drove us down a partly constructed dual carriage way, with so many near misses we had to close our eyes.

At about 4:30am we were in Sravanbelagola – this is the home of Jainism’s most important temple at the top of a large stone hill with 600+ steps carved into the rock.

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Not much going on at 4:30am though, but we managed to find one shack open and selling coffee, so we sat there for a while, watching the town wake up and finally walked over to a hotel we had identified near the base of the hill. It was about 6 and by now things were beginning to happen, so we got a room for 500 rupees, dumped the bags and set off to walk up the hill before breakfast – and more importantly, before it got hot!

Soon we were at the top and once again amazed by the endless temples and statues in India. The giant figure was about 1000 years old and carved from a single piece of stone.

Having been blessed with two more red dots, we set off down the hill again and tucked into breakfast (getting quite used to 3 curries per day now) at the Hotel Raghu – its the only hotel in town 🙂  Finally a wash and then realisation that we had done everything we had come here for and it was only 8:30 am!

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So, being as we are on a quest for good experiences we set off to try and get to Ooty. Well, Ooty is not somewhere many people in Sravanabelagola have heard of, so we asked about Mysore and were told to get the local bus to ther next small, untypeable nevermind unpronouncebale, town. We duly boarded the bus, paid our 20 Rupees each (about 25p) and had a half hour ride through rural India. At the unpronouncable place we were just in time to get the last two seats on a slightly larger, but just as rickety bus to Mysore, this time it would cost us 45Rps each for an hour and a half of uninterrupted sweating.

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Well, Mysore bus station is pretty busy, but by now we felt confident enough to ask about Ooty and there was an aircon bus going in 45 mins. Of course it was late but we managed to get a couple of seats for the princely sum of 300Rps each. The journey vwas about 160km and took around 5 hours – wonderful scenery and wildlife parks on our way up into the Nilgiri hill where Ooty was established as a summer hill fort by the British to escape the heat of the Indian summer.  On our route we spotted some elephants, deer and more cheeky monkeys as well as lots of scattered tea plantations and our entire journey had cost about 2 pounds each!

After some messing about finding a hotel, we gulped down some food at 10pm and went to bed in a nice hotel – ready for a few days of rest with hot running water !