Tuesday, February 22, 2005


The next day I left Alappuzha to go on another boat ride to Kotayam.
This time only two and a half hours. More fancy houseboats and some distant and close canoes. But this time the ferry was used by local people unlike the Kollam-Alappuzha cruise which was entirely tourists. After all why go on a ride that takes eight hours on a boat when the bus takes less than a couple of hours, if you're not a tourist?

Also passed a massive bundle of hay, underneath which a boat peeped out. This ferry made many stops where people alighted and joined. We cruised over a large lake which felt like you were almost at sea. Passed a man with a great white moustache, somebody skinning up a coconut tree, people taking it easy and lots of ducks being herded by a man in a canoe! Also saw a few other birds, perhaps comorants and the brilliant blue of the kingfisher (which eluded my camera). As we neared Kotayam we went through more narrow canals again, some were completely covered in green plants, looking like solid ground.

Another tourist on the boat, Barbara, had told me where they were staying and so I tagged along with them, it sounded like a good place and it was. Despite the offers from the rickshaw drivers about his great hotel! After agreeing twenty rupees he now wanted fifty as he realised he was getting any hotel commisions from us.
If you agree twenty that's what you get!

George was the friendly owner of the homestay, set in a village backing onto farmland. Unforturnately I had just missed a festival where the others had gone last night. However the next day Barbara, George and I went to a temple. I'm sure I would never of got there myself as the bus have only Malayalam script for the destinations. However before we got there, after crossing a dodgy bridge, we had a look at George's boat, inscripted in Malayalam, which is used for the Keralan snake boat race. It must be an amazing spectacle to see. The boat is giant! I expected a modest sized rowing boat, but this is a 30-35m boat housed in a large open barn!

Upto thirty boats each with upto a hundred rowers cram onto the canals and race. Unfortunately it takes place in August not Feburary.

Later on we saw another similar boat, but with a garland of flowers handing from the bow. Housed in a concrete building, besides some jackfruit trees, with a copper carving and painted murals adorning the walls. The boats are coated in fish oil to keep them from rotting, or maybe to keep them smelly?

Back at the temple. the walls are covered with innumerable candle holders. It must look great at night, with all the candles lit around the four sides of the temple. There was also a tall golden pillar with small figurines at the base, and intricately carved wooden statues atop tall veritcal poles.

The ground was also very hot as even through my socks I could feel it. Barbara had no socks and was running from shade to shade. There was also some mirrors not made from glass but metal alloys. If you put a pen against it then there would be no gap as in a mirror. This reminded me of something else but I forget.

Tried to take a photo of the moon, but it looks very small!


I found a hotel at the third time of asking as the other two were full. I went for a look about and decided to see if I could find a cheaper hotel as I fancied staying here for a few days. I bumped into Paula whom I met from Goa who was leaving tomorrow, but she mentioned her hotel was cheap so I moved in there the next day. I've even got a balcony here. Although I could certainly do without the mozzies buzzing in my ear when I'm trying to sleep.

It is very warm being back down at sea-level again. It doesn't get cold at night which I find makes sleeping hard. Still I can always go for a siesta!

I went down to the harbour and had a look at the chinese fishing nets. These huge nets pivot into the sea, counterweighted by large rocks, each requires at least four men to operate it. It is also next to the ferry port where people are ready to jump off the ferry at first land!

One night I went along to a Kathakali performance. 'Katha' means story and 'Kali' means play. The make-up begans 90 minutes before the start. This performance was for the tourists and so they showed you how the make-up is made from natural rocks mixed with coconut oil and ground into a paste which makes vibrant colours.

The performance is almost like sign language which movements performed and faces pulled. At the start they demonstrated a few movements as the announcer called out. 'King!', "Honey from a lotus!', 'Fear' etc...

Here are the photos:

Then onto the main story, although this was in fact just an excerpt full performaces can last a bum-numbing nine hours!

They gave you an outline of the story in English so you could try and follow along, albeit perhaps with limited success.
Here is the outline:
Arjuna - Priding over his skill inarchery by Goddess Parvathy, Lord Shiva goes to the destory the egotism of Arjuna- simultaneously Arjuna's rival king Duryodhana plans to kil him. He sends a demon Mockasure in the form of a pig for killing Arjuna. The pig approaches Arjuna attacks. The savage (Shiva) shoots an arrow, pig killed, Arjuna also sends arrow - Savage gets angry, dispute follows. Terrible clash Arjuna beaten and defeated-now free from egotism, humble. Lord Shiva reveals himself - blesses and offers Arjuna powerful arrow Pasupatham.

I went for a wonder round town and came across a field with a large crowd, a fire engine and a big bundle of hay. So as I looked on curiously, a man told me that a magican was performing. After various speeches by the governor (who drove a Skoda) and a lot of hanging about eventually the show began. Suresh was tied up and a large JCB-type vehicle with a long arm picked him up and lowered him inside the tunnel of hay. After about five minutes the arm retracted. Another few minutes of shoo-ing people away from the hales and bay and then the lit the fire. The bales went up quickly and Suresh re-appeared in the crowd. The crowd threw him up in the air for a bit and cheered. Then quickly began to disperse. Meanwhile Suresh clambered against the crowd to get to the initial platform and do a lot of jumping about and bowing, but by this time the crowd had thinned.

Another day, I walked down through the streets where the spice traders are assembled. The mixtures of strange smells was interesting although sometime you get a whiff of not so pleasant smells from the gutters running alongside the road! I looped back up and past on of the oldest churches in India, the bright blue Santa Cruz Basilica

Sunday, February 20, 2005


I arrived in Kollam, passing Allapuzha, and opted for the ambitously named Hotel Shine. Still it was fairly clean in my 'semi-deluxe' room. The 'ordinary' rooms had a few too many ants for my liking!

I bought a ticket for the eight hour cruise down the backwaters from the hotel, my main objective in Kerala. As I boarded the ferry the next day, a guy took my ticket and looked at it suspicously. I was a bit wary of buying the ticket from the hotel rather than direct from the jetty. I went to take the ticket back and he rather tetchily waved me away on to the boat. As I was sitting on the boat I was wondering why he had taken the tickets for the people in front of me. I was wondering if I was getting ripped off and would have to buy another ticket.
I saw the ticket collector give somebody back their ticket and then when he came round to me he looked at me, recognised my face and then went back and took the ticket off the original guy and asked if I was Mr. Colin. Yep, so all was fine. But sometimes you get a bit paranoid when you don't know what is going on!

Unforutnately I had buried my camera at the bottom of my bag, so no pictures from this boatride. In retrospect I should of probably dug it out as the scenery was excellent. We rode pass fancy houseboats, some costs the same as five-star hotels. Although they are brilliantly constructed. The cruise I was on is just a public ferry. The houseboats in contrast, have their own private chefs, dining tables etc. I even rode past one with somebody reclining on on a huge bed in the sun, on the fore of the boat.

We stopped for lunch at a riverside hotel where we got a thali. Then back to cruising down the water, I think the top speed is around 12km/hour, so not exactly flying along. Later on we stopped again for a snack, as long as you like your food fried. I opted for a fried banana in batter, which was tasty, along with the obligatory chai.

As you sail along all the children shout out "One pen! Gimme one pen!", well except for one excitable young girl who danced about and flashed her knickers, much to the amusement of the people on the boat.

We proceeded along past more chines fishing nets and the occasional canoe. Then as we approached Aluppuzha through more narrow canals and eventually to the jetty. Overall a very enjoyable ride and a good way to spend a relaxing day.

I had arranged with a guy at the chai stop to stay at his hotel
, so I got a free pickup and drop off. The touts aren't all bad!

At the hotel they had two large fish tanks, one with a large sturgeon fish in with what seemed to be a diminishing number of minnows. The other tanks had two giant shrimps who lazily snapped at large cichlids.


I arrived in Coonoor in the afternoon and has a quick look around. The next day heavy rain curtailed my explorations. During my time in Coonoor it seemed to be under near perpetual atmospheric fog. In a fit of optimism I set off through the mist the next day and headed out to Dolphin's Nose a viewpoint overlooking the valley. I hoped as I walked the 12km, past a moutain, there that the fog would lift and permit me spectacular views, not so, although people gave me a wave through the mist. When I eventually arrived I was greeted by a view of dense greyness, although it did briefly lift a bit for a few minutes, this is as good as it gets. Oh well, I dug my banana out of my bag for a snack and the monkey quickly noticed. I managed to grab my bag just before it was snatched away, although I don't think the small monkey near would of been able to drag it far!

I considered getting the bus back as I had seen a busstop about a kilometre back but as I was walking I decided I would just walk the whole way back as at least the misty weather made for amiable temperatures. I approached a chai shop where I had stopped previously on the way there. I was invited to a game of Caranibs. I watched other playing a game, then had a go myself. The object is to shoot your checkers into the corner pockets a bit like table snooker. I wasn't very good at it. I then asked if I could have a photo and all hell broke loose! Guys seem to appear from nowhere at the mention of a camera. Everybody crowded round me for the group photo. Then I was dragged in front of the shop for the promotional photo.

Finally I returned to the YWCA, where I was staying despite not being a young woman!
It is one of the few budget options in upper Coonoor, set in an old colonial house. I got caught up in a game of cards after dinner, with an English couple and the excitable young girl who lived there with her parents. I think she knew at least three languages (Malayalam, Tamil and English, probably some Hindi too) and she was only seven. Also living there was a ickle kitten

The day before I left to go to Kochi via Combiatore, I went to Simms Park. This was quite similar to the Botanical Gardens at Ooty. It had been started over 120 years ago and made for a pleasant stroll, through the plants and stuff!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Snooty Ooty

As I stepped off the bus it most of taken all of five seconds before I was befriended by a man who had rooms. As I hadn't looked at my guide book I went along and got a room. I was charged an extra twenty rupees tax. This is basically the touts 'finding fee' as it only applied the first night. I had a quick look around Ooty. I have seen it described as having fading Raj grandeur. To be honest it's more like faded grandeur. Still I wandered off to an old restaurant to sample a step back in time to the good old days, tallyho!

The restaurant had old furniture in the corners, a grandfather clock, china plates pinned to the walls and a gramaphone. At first I thought they were playing tunes from the forties but later on as I listened more closely I realised it was an accordion playing a selection of the standards, such as Happy Birthday and The Birdie Song. Very strange.

Things didn't get any better when the waiter arrived acting like a cross from a Stephen King film and Fawlty Towers, whilst wearing a Val Doonacan sweater. He definitely seemed a little odd. Still the meal was okay although the plastic plates seemed conspicously out of place.

I was only here for a day and one of the few places I didn't get lost it in. This is due to the fact that it is built round a large racecourse which helps for orientation.

I popped into a nice shop called Hot Breads which had tasty fresh pastries and a very yummy chocolate bun. Now if I could just find somewhere that does a good bacon roll and sells Irn-Bru I'd be a happy bunny!

I like this 24hour checkout that some hotels have, as I didn't get into Ooty till about four o'clock and the next day I was getting the train at three. This meant that I could leave my luggage in my room for the morning and come back later. I walked up to the Botanic Gardens, where I got stuck behind about fifty OAPS in the queue. Maybe this is where the Indians retired to? I nosied about for a bit, there are a lot of plants, and had my lunch, I think I picked up a bit more sunburn. At this altitude (2200m) you probably get burnt a bit easier than you realise. Then I headed back to share my room with a big spider

Later on I caught the train along to Coonoor, on an ageing steam train for the princely sum of seven rupees. I was expecting to be crammed in like sardines after seeing the amount of people that got of the carriage. It reminded me of one of these comedy sketches where twenty people come out the back of the taxi. Forntuately it was a lot quieter going back down and I had plenty of space and a good view out of the window. With my head sticking out the window to see where I was going, I probably looked like a dog in a car, except I managed to keep my tongue in.

Friday, February 11, 2005


I arrived in Mysore and tried the Parklane hotel, but it was full, however, as is usually the case the rickshaw driver knew somewhere else. I however wanted to have a look at another hotel. The other hotel wasn't much cop so I ended up going with to the tuk-tuk drivers choice, which was about 50m from the original hotel. Round and round in circles.

I had a look at the Maharaja's Palace(1,2,3,4) during the day and also popped into the markets, where the vendors try to persuade you to buy incense and oils. At the end of the day my hands were covered in various smelly oils. However, I refused the paints which they want to decorate you with!

I happened to be there on the Sunday night which is when the lights at the Palace (1,2,3,4,5) are turned on for an hour, almost a 100,000 of them!

Some would say it was gaudy, others spectacular, perhaps spectacularly gaudy? Still it certainly lit up the sky!

I went to the post office to send home a CD, but as usual a simple task ends up taking ages!
Of course, the post office don't sell envelopes. So I wandered outside and found a vendor of all sorts of stuff. He had envelopes but only giant ones. I purchased the large envelope and then as I was going to post it. I realised I didn't have a pen on me and the envelope didn't have a sticky seal. So I nipped back to the hotel and packaged it up. At least this time they allowed me to post it, the other time they refused saying it wasn't good enough packaging and would be broken when stamped. I had images of an angry, muttering man in the stamping department crushing everybodys packages!

At dinner I noticed many of the small differences from the UK. They gave me a menu before coming back and lighting a candle so I could actually read it. The way the waiters 'borrowed' the flame from my candle to light another one. The waiter asked half way through whether I wanted any dessert or coffee. The bill was settled in the foyer of the hotel. No huge difference just a myriad of small ones, and that rounds up my cultural analysis of waiting staff in India!

Motorbike is King in India, although finding where you parked your bike could be a bit harder.
Next stop Ooty!

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Honey Valley

I had phoned Honey Valley from the bus stop, but got cut off as the owner was explaining how to get there. I would of phoned back but the bus was getting ready to leave. I knew that I should get off at a village called Kakkabe (turns out the next village, Kabinnakad is closer) and the only way to get ther are by jeep or by using your plates of meat.

So I arrived in Kakkabe and asked a local what way to Honey Valley and they pointed me down the road and so I started walking. A long wway later I arrived at Kabinnakad, the next village. Then I walked upto Honey Valley with my backpack, trust me, phone and get the jeep up!

As I arrived, sweaty and breathless, three large dogs ran down barking loudly to meet me. One dog, placed its front paws on me chest and stared into my face. I stood very still!

The owners, Suresh and Sushella, calmly explained that the dogs tended to get excited at new people. That may be the case, but it's not going to wash the pawprints from my t-shirt!

The dogs were called Rocky 1,2 & 3 \. They often come on walks with you, if it wasn't too near feeding time, in which case they totally ignored you.

Honey Valley is situated in the Kodagu region of Karnataka, about 1200m above sea level. This means that it is slightly cooler than down in most cities. It also used to be one of the largest honey producers in Asia until the bees were chased away by bigger bees (or something). Now it has changed to tourism and coffee bean production. Also has a few peppers, banana, papaya(top right) trees dotted around. Honey Valley consists of a variety of huts and some old houses. Recently they have been expanded with a new dining hall and kitchen and extra rooms. We were there for the inauguration of the new kitchen, they can now cook chapatis at warp speed!

It was a nice change from the cities, to be out and about in the countryside. Supplied was a book of walks with directions and maps, but I still got lost numerous times. Still that's half the fun.

On my first day I climbed up a hill adjacent to Honey Valley. Here there are huge plants.
I eventually got to the summit and was well chuffed.
I could take arty black and white photos up here.
Although there is plenty of colourful plants around, also lots of flowers and creepers along with the occasional spider.
This red leaf caught my eye, whilst above the foliage was thick.

It was very green with good views. The dogs like to pose on rocks, even when you ignore them.
Still some good views to be had, and blue skies.
I came across the remains of a cow?
Up at the summits you could see a long way.

There was a walk down to a natural swimming pool, which was covered in skating beasties, but it didn't seem to deter the hardened swimmers for getting a dip. Another walk was along a mountain ridge where good panoramic views were visible. A lot of the walks were through shaded forested paths, crossing small streams, the trees providing some relief from the sun. One day a few of us tried to get to the top of a waterfall, but lost the path and we had to blaze a trail through the forest! Luckily we came out in a patch of plantations eventually. It was strange to be about 5m from a clearing and not realise it util you popped out the other side of the bushes, so thick was the vegetation in places. Still be regained our bearings and climbed back up to a familiar ridge for a packed lunch of tomatoes, bananas and bombay mix. I ate a humungous dinner that night, as I hadn't planned to miss lunhc and had to nick some food off the others.

There was a good mix of people there when I arrived and I ended up staying longer than I initially thought I would. After all that walking you certainly work up a good apetite. The only trouble was dinner wasn't server until about eight, by which time I was gnawing my own hand as the full moon rose. When I first arrived in India I was amazed at the amount of rice people were putting away, but now I seem to be the same!

Dinner is server in a communal dining room, with lots of passing of plates amongst the hunger people. You have to be quick to get in their first, but thankfully they refill the empty plates.

Sometime we had a bonfire and a few beers after dinner. Staring up at the stars, it was hard to believe that I was still in India with peace and quiet. Usually about that time the dogs would start snarling and barking at each other, although they also enjoyed peacefully sleeping round the warm fire, in their calmer moments.

One day the dogs came along for a walk and started their usual snarling at each other. But this time it was a full moon and they decided to really go for each other. As two dogs locked jaws and tumbled about, the third came in and nipped at their legs. It looked bad as one came past with a gashed lip and dripping blood while the other had a bloodied nose, however they were sitting side by side the next day.

On my last day I decided to go up a mountain, and so set off early after breakfast.
Passed an isolated little farm house in these beautiful surroundings. After a week of walking I made the summit in under two hours, somewhat suprising myself (although it was probably the smallest peak). I walked along a steep sided ridge to get to the top, passing a massive bee! (it was THIS size, stretches out arms) I got to the summit just in time to get good views in all directions. Just five minutes later the weather moved in and the clouds poured up over the mountain peak. I sat in an area where the clouds were streaming across, the hope of some cool cloud vapour, but it didn't seem to make any difference. I headed back down and past an area where I had previously caught a glimpse of some wild deer, but none today, so back to the ranch for a hearty lunch, as the light danced in the clouds. I stopped off briefly at a stream, with moss like a forest to the passing ants.

In Honey Valley you can see quite a variety of birds, but most of the time you can only hear them, especially those woodpeckers. Also butterflies meander through the forest and the flowers, but getting them to stay still for a photo is a bit harder, but sometimes they briefly obliged.

Honey Valley is surrounded by coffee plantations, which are harvested and then dried on the grounds. To go for walks you have to walk past the drying coffee beans and the occasional sunbathing lizard and past the vibrant flowers. These are laid out for around ten days to dry, but have to be gathered up each night to prevent the damp getting to them. I even ended up drinking a lot of coffee which sure tasted a lot better than the stuff for meetings in work!

After a while I decided it was time to leave though, and so back to the hustle and bustle of the cities, next stop Mysore. Just as I was about to get on a bus an Indian couple, Deepak and Laxmi, who were also staying at Honey Valley drop past me and very kindly offered me a lift to within 30kms of Mysore and they were heading back to Bangalore. so that served as a gentle re-introduction to the noise and clamour, and more pleasant than being stuck on a bone-jarring bus for hours.