mercredi 12 mars 2008

Mysore bum

Sorry no photos, despite being in Mysore, sister town to Bangalore, the capital of the Eastern IT world upload is so slow that I will have to do them from home. Ooty has little going for it except a super botanical gardens, giant eucalyptus and fir trees hundrerds of years old and for the first time for a while perfectly maintained laws, paths, a real breath of mountain fresh air. The un-planned urban splawl has ruined the town for ever, however there is currently a scandle involving the destruction of 1500 illegally built homes, to little to late. I booked my trip to Mysore , 1 day will easily do Ooty.

My god, I`m sure my anatomy is changed for ever!, I got the bus from Ooty 2240m in the Nilgiri hills, this time a private mini-bus to avoid the `cattle truck effect` on public transport. I was however last on and luckily had the middle place of the back row for my legs which seem to be double the length of the locals. Seriosly rutted `roads` stretches of unmade roads, roads under construction and all of this descending through 36 switch-back turns with hundreds of metres of precipice below, even I offered a little prayer to any/all the deities so prevalent in India in all the busses. This is the short cut not taken by the pulic busses. Each time we flew over a pot hole we at the rear were shot into the air landing in a heap on the seats. We passed through the Bandipur National Park, home to wild elephants, bison, spotted deer,a few tigers and the list goes on. Usually nothing is seen of these illusive creatures but as luck would have it coming around a bend, a safari vehicle was stopped in the road and there at about 30m was a group of 3 Asian elephants walking slowly along. It tookm a moment to realise that these creatures are completely wild and free. Later the same scene was replayed with 200 or so spotted deer, black faced monkeys and another elephant with small baby....aah!. After a short stop and a total of 4 hours bumping, flying and bus rally driving we arrived in Mysore, a lovely, clean(ish) city largely built by the british. The Maharaja`s palace, a spectacular edifice built and designed in 1916 by a British architect in a park with huge parade grounds resembling Buckingham Paslace. Inside it a strange mix of high kitch, art nouveau and deco, with a heavy dose of Indian maharaja thrown in. On Sunday it is illuminated with hundreds of thousands of light bulbs anl locals and visitors alike come flocking to snap the lights, me included.

dimanche 9 mars 2008

Catastrophe, nearly

da da da da da da, the familiar dulcet tones of my alarm went at 4.30 am. I half fell out of bed and went to the bathroom intending a quick shower to wash away the cobwebs, bed bugs and anything else I might have unwittingly aquired in the night. A very quick appraisal of my immediate surroundings changed my mind and a spot wash was all I could do, I even had to leave there to take my malaria pill. Down to reception to retrieve my deposit although why, when I had paid my room? Another family waiting to check out and I start to look at my watch nervously. Finally I dash across the already teeming main road in the dark to find my train. The platforms are at least a kilometre long and my train was waiting at the far end of course. I installed myself in what was the post wagon where they were sorting the night`s mail, and told to move.....luckily. I have my...backpack, a plastic bag with my snake boat in day-pack, oh god my day pack is not there, my v.expensive camera, all my collected paperwork including flight e-ticket, my diary, is in there. Responding to that electric discharge that the adrenalin effectuates in times of imminant death, I leap from the carriage, my cheeks flushed, my body tuned for fight or flight, I try to run back to the hotel where I realise I left my Bag. My pack must weigh nearly 20kgs and it will not let me lift my legs fast for more than 10 paces so I slow down to a fast walk, back up the platform, through the milling crowds across the teeming street and there it is propped up against the counter where I left it. Now I have to calculate whether it is worth speed-walking back with my dear very precious prodigal bag or give up and take a bus. Never one to give up too quickly, I go for it. It seems to me now that it all unrolled in slow motion, I can still feel every step there and back, seeing the red tail light at the back of the train hundreds of meters away, will it just be pulling away just as I reach it? No, as I install myself, a verirable torrent of sweat is pouring from every pore(it`s already 24 C), I mutter a generic offering to all and any deity that might be listening and another one to me not to be so stupid again!
We arrive an hour later at Mettupalayam and go looking for the steam train. The 4 carriages are already waiting.......full to the brim(?) with people. 2 carriages are reserved, leaving 1 1/2 for 2nd class and 1/2 for baggage. I settle down (stand up) for 4 hours of discomfort. My legs are already suffering from pre-dawn army weight training, I don`t know if I can `stand` this. The rather delapidated engine puffs it`s way behind us, it pushes the train to avoid smoke in the tunnels?, and off we go rocking to the rhythm of the steam power-stroke. We wound through the foot-hills for a while and started climbing, at a speed that you could comfortably jog at (oxymoron?).
The cuttings are so close to the open windows, people were picking flowers. There was just room for my feet on the floor, holding on to seats as we chugged up the mountain. Soon our first tunnel and the 2 groups of Indians, obviosly on a works outing or something, wives, kids and all and a real party atmosphere, starting whooping and shouting which occurred at each tunnl or gorge we came to (300m down). The views were breath-taking as dawn arrived with the plaines appearing below through a light mist, stunning. A lady next to me wanted to join the party in the back of the coach so I finally had a seat...ooof. Passing through immaculate tea plantations seemingly stuck to near vertical hills, rows of tiny tea-pickers huts, we arrived at Coonoor, another hill station and we have arrived, finally, in the Nilgiri hills. 2250m altitude. Change of engine to a diesel loco and off for another hour arriving at 10am. Find a hotel, it`s cold up here, and fall on the bed, I seem to do lots of that! Another unforgettable day but not one to be repeated!

Ooty-not so snooty

After being based for nearly 3 weeks in Cochin, Kerala, a town that I grew to love in my time there, it was time to move on. My last visit to the excellant Dr. Prasanth and his wife and team for my last crown and plate was over and he presented me with a model `snake boat` that are raced during a festival in Alleppy, very sweet of them. My next objective was the narrow-guage steam train to Ooty, a hill station used by the British Raj during the insufferably hot summer season. It is nestled high in the Nilgiri hills, famous for its tea, cofee and wild life. To get to the steam train railhead involves a 4 hour train ride from Cochin-Coimbatore, arriving at 9 pm, then catching the train to Mettupalayam at 5 am the following morning. The ride to Coimbatore was uneventful (for India that is). Several encounters including a young man running an orphanage in S. Kerala, going to meet an American in Delhi coming to work as a volonteer. The train I`m on goes from Trivandrum in the south to Delhi in the North, 50 hours stuck in a sweaty, dirty uncomfortable, (I`m in 2nd or `cattle` class) carriage eating food from vendors on the train or at stations and living in very intimate proximity with fellow inmates, not something I would consider doing except in the most dire of circumstances. I was glad when we arrived and headed for the ticket office to get my ticket for the next day. There were no less than 400 people queuing for tickets at the 24hr ticket office in very little order at the 6 windows, everbody trying to protect their place by moving as close as possible to the person in front, while desperate/audacious enemies tried to push in where they could. This , for the first time that I have seen in India, occasioned shouts of anger from the orderly line and at one point some one went to fetch the police. Order was established for a total of 5 minutes and chaos resumed its natural place in a country as overpopulated as this where 12 million passengers travel EVERY DAY! (think what it will be like around 2040 when the population should exceed that of China),
better visit soon if you want to. 45 Minutes later, ticket in hand and shoulders screaming from my back-pack, I barge out of the station somewhat looking forward to the inevitable
confrontation with the ubiquitous touts amassed outside. I find a hotel spitting distance from the station and, ignoring the unchanged pillow case/sheet and stinking squatter tiolet, lay out my silk sleeping sheet, put a t-shirt on the pillow, set my alarm for 4.30am and am soon in the land of nod...........(to be continued)

samedi 1 mars 2008

Up the Backwaters

So at last I go to see the famous backwaters of Kerala, a vast system of lakes, rivers, canals and ditches. Between these are huge areas of jungle, plantations of coconut palm, banana and pineapple. We started off in a mini-bus picking up a mixed bunch from various hotels, a young couple from Leeds on a long trip covering most of SE Asia, an older couple from Aus...... A bus ride of 40 minutes and we arrived at bridge over a canal and we disembarked. There was our traditional backwaters canoe at least 10 m long, 3m wide, covered with a superstructure of bamboo and palm thatch. Seats were arranger along the sides and our 2 `polesmen` each with his 5 meter bamboo pole made their way to each end. We were slowly propelled, very slowly and silently, down the shore, where the water is shallower and we get a better look. We continued for 1/2 hour and then sharp turn right into a channel all of 31/2m wide, the advantage of being punted is that you can navigate channels the same width as the boat. another 1/2 hour and we arrived at a village where the main activity seemed to be making coconut (coir) rope. Then on to a place where they made lime from shells, burning them with dried coconut husks, grinding, grading till pure lime is produced. I dont think, however that the health and safety inspecters had been to have a look! On to a well deserved lunch, a thali served on a banana leaf, rice, several veggie curries, a sauce for tthe rice, green mango chutney and yoghurt, followed by a sort of rice pudding made with pasta. We then transfered to a smaller canoe and were polled for a further hour down a stream no more than 2 meters wide. we passed by people`s huts and homes, washing clothes, themselves in the stream as we passed by, cameras at thhe ready. The stream was so narrow that the jungle closed over us and we silently slipped by, majic. We were all ready to head back to the bus, heat and sensory overload take their toll, another unforgettable day in God`s own Country.

mercredi 27 février 2008


Hindu Temple, Guruvayoor
Elephant sun shade, Guruvayoor
The beach, guess where

I had 3 days to get to Calicut, or Kozhicode as it is known now, 200 Kms north of Cochin, or it is known now. Got an `express coach` driven by the usual rally driver who weaved in and out of traffic at lightning, frightning, excitning speed, often being overtaken whilst overtaking with at least 3 vehicles doing the same in the opposite direction. Luckily they all sound their their excessively loud horns so everything will work out fine. The drivers also have much insurance having a flashing shrine to Shiva, Ganesha etc, with a rosary and cross hung around it and various Muslim writings for good luck. Long live religious tolerance I say. Is there not a religious equivalent to Esparanto? (on second thoughts it is almost a religion to those who speak it.) After 3 hours of sharing personal space and sweat with a series of co-bussers, I made the mistake of taking the leg-room option of the back seat which means getting catapulted towards the roof at each pot hole, we scream into a town called Guruvayoor. My Friend Saj has bought some land there to develop as another home-stay, and highly recommended that I visit. My first impression is a party town, there is bunting everywhere and thousands, no hundreds of people dressed in off white lunghis trimmed with gold, hundreds of stalls selling ....everything, definately something going on here. Turns out this is one of the majorm pilgrimage towns with a huge temple devoted to Ganesh (I think), and not a tourist in site. Luckily I find a room and go gawking. Now I`ve been here in India a while and been to some less frequented spots but this is special, a town full of Brahmin devotees out for their annual bash, various coloured splotches on their foreheads, and I have just gate-crashed the party. Being the Brahmin cast they are preists, intelectuals, teachers etc and they had a noble aire to them, friendly but aloof. I had heard about the Elephant sanctuary from Saj so I took a tuc-tuc to have a look. They are all temple elephants and 5 of the 80 or so walk the 5Kms to town to paricipate in then daily rituals, at the end of the 10 day festival they have an elephant race, not to be underestimated, they have killed 3 trainers in the last 9 months!
We go from there to the local beach. A dozen fishing boats, fishermen`s palm shacks, and a hand ful of locals frolicking in saris, lunghis in the sea. Oh I forgot 1 vendor selling drinks. In either direction beach and palm trees to the horizon, I see what Saj sees in the place but there is NO infrastructure yet. However with tourism rising by over 20% a year, an econmy bursting at over 9% for the last 4 years, I feel it wont be long before Guruvayoor is on the map (it`s not even in the guidebooks yet!)
Back to town for a Brahmin meal at my Brahmin hotel and off to the concert area, Folk dancing
Carnatic music, Katakali dance, I am riveted to the spot till a lovely man gripped my arm like a vice and lead me to the front saying `you will see much better here` in perfect English. Wot a day.

vendredi 22 février 2008

Kerala State Agri show.

On my way back from the dentist I had to go to the High Court Jetty to check out busses to Calicut on Sunday, there aren`t any. Next door however was the Kerala state Agricultural show, a lively mix of best flower arrangement, as in a village fete, hi tech companies selling their wares and individual producers selling theirs. No democratic wandering around, there were alleys cordonned off to usher us all in a long queue and tough shit if you wanted to bypass a section. On reflection this is what we do to animals so hardly supprising. There were at least 50 varieties of coconut, the same of bananas, strange masses of twisted tubers weighing upwards of 50 Kg, fascinating. Then came spices, veg, fruit in awesome profusion, a whole area dedicated to orchids, Rosie`s favourite, Remember Barbados? To cut a long story short I made contact with 2 organic producers, 1 of whom I was going to meet later anyway, saves me a trip, and left with a bunch of interesting seeds. Anybody interested in raising tropical seeds let me know. (see rosies blog about chillis)

jeudi 21 février 2008

Now this is international trade

While writing this , hopefully 2 nice fotos of darling Rosie`s new glasses are uploading themselves so that she can choose. For her information, they are both green side bits, one brighter than the other. Incredible, they, that is 2 fotos took a total of 4 minutes to upload, unheard of, I might add some more. Either one will cost 7400rupees or134 euros with light sensitive lenses and an anti reflecting treatment (garanteed not to peel off!) and thin lenses not tom be mistaken for coke bottle bottoms.Rosie, let me know ASAP, they take a week to order,I prefer the top ones. This is the ultimate cyber cafe so far, brand new with sort of Japaneese decore, all black and white, brand new computers (with all the letters still ledgible, air conditioning so cold that I just asked to turn it down before `I catch me death` and it is just next door to the ferry jetty where I get my boat to the dentist. Talking of which, I am well on the way to a new chewing experience, 3 root canals, more on Fri+Sat. That means I can go to Calicut on Sunday( 200Kms north) and meet Kris, a lovely man G/Rosie met on Youtube. he is now an eco tourism consultant having been a high flying accountant in Oxford in another life, more to come on that soon. .