Friday, March 18, 2005

Madurai & Trichy

Had a special thali for dinner, which means a big bundle of rice, something like a chappati (roti) and about eight small dishes of who know's what. You just throw it on your rice and taste. A couple were normal-ish veg stuff, most of the others sauce. When you finish one you get a refill. As much as you can eat for 50p, can't say fairer than that. Also included was a strange pink drink/sauce I wasn't sure, I took a sip but decided to stick to my grape juice, which was brown, mustn't be the right season for grapes.
All this comes complete with a waiter standing a metre away watching you intensely, ready to whip away any empty dishes. Or just stare at the white guy dribbling food down his tshirt?

I walked down to the temples of Madurai, hard to miss as you walk down the street, and made my first major (well knowingly!) faux pas. I have got used to ignoring all the street vendors who wan't to sell you stuff, or clean your shoes etc. However, I guess I shouldn't ignore everybody!

Reading my Lonely Planet it had informed me that the touts were tenacious so when I heard a guy saying "Shoes" I just ignored him, thinking he was wanting to polish my shoes (Why I would polish trainers with white stripes on them is an unexplained mystery). I wandered on and somebody tugged at my bag, I shrugged him off thinking, yep the guide books are right. Again he pulled harder at my bag which contained my camera. I swung around sharply to confront the man, nearly knocking him off balance. He again pointed at my shoes, a second later I realised my mistake, I had walked into the Hindu temple with my shoes on. I muttered my apologies and exited sharply. Woops!

I walked quickly outside and away feeling embrassed. I pondered whether to try and explain. But with no Tamil and probably little English from the guard, I decided against. I had visions of me saying "Yes. I thought you wanted to clean my shoes!" which probably wouldn't of helped matter greatly. I walked round the perimter of the temple and decided to enter at the other side, this time without shoes!

Around the four side of the temple lie, ludicriously ornatetly decorated towers stacked upto 50metres tall.
Depicted on the entrances are a good deal of the 330million or so Hindu gods(Every three people in India have a god each)!

Within the temple features a room the 1000 pillared hall. Indeed I did count around 30 across and the room was squarish so probaby not an exaggeration. In the corner stood the musical pillars, which the attendant happily knocked out a tune with his bit of wood. "Same stone!", he marvelled as the different tones resonated through the pillars. I decided not to mention the fact that they had different girths.

After a couple of days I moved onto Trichy. Trichy also has some large Hindu temples. At first glance, it looks similar to Madurai, but once inside, the scale of the complex is apparent from the rooftops. It's huge! 60 hectares, if that means anything to anybody. I didn't have much time to go round as I said to the autorickshaw driver I would be back soon, and as I had left my shoes with him, I decided I better make it back on time. It seemed complicated to get around as most of the passages were Hindu only. Strangely they don't seem to mind that shops have been setup in the temple, selling the usual junk, which to me seems totally out of place.

I got the driver to drop me off at the shore temple on the way back. After the usual argument about the fare, where I no doubt got ripped off, I ascended the five hundred odd steps to the top of the shore temple. Another hindu temle, so no shoes to climb the stairs, not so bad on the way up, but not used to going down stairs with no shoes. At the top you get a good view across Trichy and in the distance you can spot the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple (is it any wonder the drivers look confused when I ask for the Sri Ranganathingy temple?) Nice sunset from up here.

I tried to wander back to the hotel and got hopelessly lost as usual. Ended up squashed in a throng of people walking up and down a bazaar. They had a few carnival type rides, like a 10m circle of track on which a car goes round! On closer inspection it doesn't even go on the track, but just a rotate round the track via a large metal beam fixed horizontally to spin the car round. Seemed to be mostly guys who you would of thought to be to old on them.

Gave up trying to get back and jumped in an auto who then tried to go back down through the crowds. Lots and lots of horn beeping and shouting as a traffic jam ensued. A few people jumped out their stationary vehicles and pushed parked richshaws out the way to get past. Eventually made it back to the hotel.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


Looking at past entries, (Kochi, Kollam, Kotayam, Kumily) you make think I went to Munnar just to prove that not everywhere in Kerala begins with a 'K'.
I got to the bus station at 13.30 for the bus to Munnar, turns out it didn't leave till 14.45 and took longer than I thought arrived around 19.15, another day gone!

I had phoned for some accommodation that George from Kottayam had given me, but they were full they seemed to think I should of turned up yesterday. George must of reserved me a room when I said I would of being going to Munnar, although he didn't tell me it was next to this. Still somebody jumped on the bus and approached me asking if I was Holly, nope, somebody else. I shooed him away thinking he was another tout, then he showed me his card for the homestay, aah, he means Colin. So I got off the bus with him and told him I had phoned and they had no rooms. He said "Come, come" I asked again about rooms and he said "No". Hmm strange. Turned out they were full but I could sleep in the living room. Met a guy from Toronto, Norm and a girl for Netherlands, Dieuwke ( also staying there and went for dinner.

The next day we went for a walk throught the tea plantations. We arrived at a small village where the kids were jumping up and down and shouting. Dieuwke was wearing a sari, which seem to amaze everybody we met. People would stop and speak and the only word we would recognise was sari. We were invited in for some tea, by the school teacher, We asked for a photo of Elizabeth (or Maybol, said Elizabeth was her company name?) and her husband. Her husband got changed, combed his hair, selected his best jacket, decided against it and then went outside for the photo.

Strangely when we left the children decided they no longer liked us and threw stones at us, Watch your back! Maybe because we didn't give them a pen? Or just up to mischeive, who knows?

We wandered on for some more and eventually spotted the road where we walked for a bit more past a temple where five guys were "gi'eing it laldy" on the drums. Some sort of small festival presumably. Passing a typical market stall.

Went back for dinner and had some beef which was like galvanised rubber, the chicken the night before was much tastier!

Next day we were going to go to a waterfall but there is no water (I guess it's relegated to being a cliff), so we went to Echo Point. This basically consisted of a forested lake where with lots of Indians shouting across it.

There was a film crew from Kairla TV station who gave us a lift to the end of the lake, after filming us and the rest of the tourists (Fame at last!) Then a large group of guys on holiday offered us a lift upto Top Station, so twelve of us somehow crammed into a jeep. The driver could talk English fine as his wife worked in Ireland. Some of the rest however appeared to have been drinking a bit and were in high spirits. Instant best friends! They didn't speak much English though.

One gave me a try of his sunglasses. I just said "Thanks very much!" which shut them up for a bit. I think only the rich Indians would have sunglasses. At the very edge of the cliff stood a gate where a man tried to charge people for looking at the view, seemed completely pointless as you could see the view fine from the path. Still anything for a quick buck, eh?

I saw the route that Aaron from the rafting must of hiked, he must be very fit! There goes that idea.
Know I now why the bus takes seven hours to go only about 60km. It's down one mountain and up another taller one!

We declined a lift back down in the jeep opting for the bus. As we crossed a dam the guard, as usual asked name, country and then excitedly showed us the dam gutter. When you shout along the wall you get a small echo. Echos seem to be a big thing in India? He then ushered us down to the bottom of the dam. He most of told another group of Indians my name as on the way back up, people were shouting "Colin! Colin!", "How are you, Colin?". Erm "Fine"

Waiting for the bus at 17.30 it turned up at 16.30 but going the wrong way. The conductor asked us where we were going, replied Munnar. He ushered us on the bus, "Yes, yes Munnar. Please sit." as expected it went off for half an hour in the wrong direction before looping back past where we were. Still had a quick look at a small village, Kovilloor. Seemed to be full of ruind jeep being cannabilised fir spare parts, I didn't want to even think about how they got in such a state. Eventually made it back and went for dinner with another Torontoian, if that's the word. Another veg banana leaf place but quite tasty.

I opted against going to Kodiakanal and decided to go straight to Madurai, so back down to the plains, which means get the suntan lotion on again!


Close to Kumily lies the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. I had arranged with a driver to give me a lift into the park at 6.30 so as to get the first boat which sails around the lake, however my alarm didn't go off and I woke up at 6.40 and jumped out of bed for an extremely quick shower and ran out the door. Unfortunately the driver had left, but as I trudged back resigned to getting the next boat another driver passed. I told him I needed to get to the boat landing in ten minutes. Thankfully he understood and hurtled along the road towards the jetty. I quickly grabbed a ticket and ran down to the boat leaping down the many stairs, breathlessly arriving at the boat at exactly seven o'clock. Success! Of course it was another ten minutes before it actually left.

The early morning boat ride along the lake was beautifuly serene. Rippling along through scenery the sun rose higher, we encountered a few playful otters at the edge of the lake and later a wild elephant with a young baby. A group of German birdwatchers kept excitedly pointing at the trees and peering through their giant binoculars. The lake was artifically created over a hundred years ago for a maharaja who wanted some hunting grounds, alright for some. Some hundred year old tree trunks still stand in the lake making ideal perching points for birds. Some of the landscapes didn't look too disimiliar to Scotland, but warmer! I continued snapping away with my camera, with some wild boar in the far distance.

After doing the boat ride, I returned to the hotel and met the driver who hadn't waited for me! He had other guests who wanted to get to the boat landing that morning, so fair enough. I wouldn't of waited either!

After some cornflakes (not a very Indian breakfast!) I went on to a spice garden via a viewpoint at which you could see into the next state, Tamil Nadu. Also there were some plants which curled up when touched. The driver proclaimed these were called 'Touch-me-nots' I'm pretty sure that's not the latin name.

At the spice garden we wandered around sniffing, smelling and tasting a large variety of spices. Including the bark of the cinnamon tree, green cloves (I had only seen dried black cloves before), curry leaves (smaller than I thought), white green black pepper (picked at different times), mango (not yet in season, so I didn't taste these), gooseberries (very sour!), ginger (well a patch of dirt where it had been harvested), aniseed, coffee (don't smell of much before roasting), banana flower (used in curries), papaya, coconuts, allspice (had assumed this was just a mix of spices, not a real plant), pineapple, cashew, betel nut, chilli, lemongrass,
vanilla (has to be manually pollinated), nutmeg and cocoa. A lot of plants! Also there was sap being drawn to make rubber which is then mixed with acid and put through a press to create sheets of rubber.
All in all, an informative visit!

After dark, I went night trekking through the forest, there was just me and two other tourists, along with a guide and an armed guard!

After quickly deciding that the best chance of spotting animals would be to be directly behind the guide, I maneouvered myself into first place. I spotted some barking deer, samba deer, wild boar(or pork as the guide referred to them) and a brief glimpse of a porcupine, with an even briefer glimpse of a leopard cat. To be honest, I just saw a black shape run away extremely quickly!
But by being behind the guide at least I caught a glimpse, the other two saw nothing. The guide thought he had seen it reappear and the guide and I chased after it stealithly as the sheet lightning briefly illuminated the plains in the ever present humidity. However as we got closer, it turned out to be just some more pork.
Also we passed through a field with hundreds of fireflies flashing their way through the night, producing an eerie green glow as the blipped on and off. The guide expertly grabbed one (just like Karate Kid without the chopsticks) and showed it to us up close.

Unfortunately for the next hour and half, we saw nothing else, as we trudged through the woods in the dark Still after hearing about the night trekking I wanted to do it, because it was unique and glad I did.
Apparently the group before had seen nothing at all, I remembered it had poured down with rain the previous night.

The next day I had a full day in the park doing bamboo rafting and trekking. Again this was excellent as six of us trekked to a different area of the park and then onto a bamboo raft lashed together with string. Another couple of guides had a small two man raft alongside which we would later be thankful of. A couple of extra paddles were handed to us and we took turns of rowing through the water. Not long after we left our raft was grounded un a tree stump submerged just below the water, not this one. After a while, I was wondering if it was time to learn how to swim. However, the second raft ferried people the short distance to shore to lighten the load. After a large Welshman named Garfield moved to the back the raft (You couldn't make this up!), the raft was freed and we returned back aboard. I had rolled up my trousers and taken my shoes off as the bottom of the raft was wet (the seats are raised)
Despite spending weeks in Goa in shorts and not getting so much as an inkling of a tan my legs got burnt. In fact they are kinda crispy now! Probably the water magnifying the heat on an already scorching day. Ouch! I must of used up a couple of gallons of aftersun by now. Of course it never even occured to me to put sunscream on my legs, besides the water would of washed it off anyway.

When we landed at the otherside of the lake, we trekked some more through the forest hunting for elephants which were not to be found. After a while we returned to the lake and had lunch upon which the elephants appeared at the other side of the lake to taunt us.

We returned back across the lake and hiked back passing a samba deer which had been killed by a tiger a few days before. According to the guide the tigers wont eat fresh meat, preferring instead to leave it for four or five days. As somebody says it would taste a bit more gamey. That is if much is left after the flies have been at it. Euurgh! Also got quite close to a buffalo, probably because we where directly behind it, hence the photo of it's bum. I sneaked after a bird to get this photo.

We returned back at the main park centre and decided to just walk the few more km's out the park rather than get a rickshaw. I was walking along with an Isralei, Aaron, who had also done the rafting when he spotted a giant squirrel. He pointed it out and soon caused a traffic jam as any passing car stopped and everybody jumps out with their camera.

Aaron told me he had hiked from Kodiakanal to Munnar. I had a vague idea that that might be good, but I was going in the other direction which meant over a 600m incline, hmmm. Maybe not!