A Travellerspoint blog

Kochi to Chennai

Day 30 to Day 44

sunny 30 °C

Day 30 - Monday - 16/01/17 - Kochi

Started the day with a banana and honey pancake at the Tibetan cafe.

Then just a lazy day sitting on our hotel room patio and anywhere we could get out of of the sun.

We have a school playing field directly behind us and this is entertainingly used throughout the day, six days a week. There are little girls flapping a multi coloured sheet in the morning and big guys running around doing soccer practice in the afternoon.

All in 30+ degrees heat.

Did I talk about our room at the Adam's Old Inn? We are quite happy with it. It has a large balcony/patio facing east and with shade from the southern sun. It can get a bit hot early in the morning but it's a great place to be after that. The front door is in the adjacent wall facing south. It leads from an open access balcony. The door and adjacent window combined with the balcony door provide excellent cross flow ventilation, in the event that there is a breeze to catch. As with most older buildings here, the windows are provide with generous horizontal hoods which limit the heat of the sun and presumably allow the windows to be left open during the monsoon rains.

All good design. We have an air conditioner and a ceiling fan and we only use the latter. But it is winter.

We have a bathroom attached. Unfortunately it has a few issues. First and foremost, somebody, perhaps an overweight traveller from somewhere, has put their foot through the moulded fibreglass floor. As a result the first place for the shower water to go is into the void under the shower base. Only the bathroom gods know where it goes after that. Probably into the room below! Anyway it goes somewhere and doesn't flood our room so it's not a problem for us.

Then there is the toilet seat which has broken off during our stay. Management accepted my offer to install the new one. I hope I don't get into strife with the Kerala Plumbers Union.

Probably the worse feature is the water pressure to the sink and toilet cistern. It takes 10 minutes to brush your teeth and half an hour before you can give the loo a second flush!.

Notwithstanding, it's a nice room in a nice little hotel with friendly, helpful staff, in a great position in a great town. And the manager assures us that the shower floor will be fixed before the room is let again.

Day 31 - Tuesday - 17/01/17 Kochi - Kerala Backwaters

An early start this morning saw us being bussed southwards for a country boat cruise on the Backwaters. A most enjoyable and relaxing day although one did feel a little guilty sitting in a cane chair under a plaited reed roof watching one elderly boatmen propel our boat full of maybe 20 well fed tourists for 7 hours with nothing but a 6 metre bamboo pole.

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I felt like an ancient Egyptian pharaoh being rowed along (not across*) the Nile by a good an faithful slave. Sorry about moving the metaphor to Egypt, but I couldn't think of an appropriate Indian equivalent.

  • If I remember my Egyptian customs correctly, pharaohs being rowed across the Nile were often heading for the mummification plant and the big stone sarcophagus. I'm not quite ready for that trip just yet!

In the evening we attended a performance of traditional Keralan dance (Kthakali) which included a lengthy session watching the artists making up. The whole thing was most enjoyable.

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We had dinner at the Lucky Star Restaurant.

Day 32 - Wednesday - 18/01/17 - Kochi

My turn to be crook.

We were intending to head off to Munnar today. We had a nice omelette and toast at the Kashi Art Cafe, and headed back to the hotel to organise our transport onwards, when, I started to feel a bit of stomach discomfort. No more details, except things didn't start settle down until Carol made me take an Indian panodol and I immediately brought up a sliver of bamboo about the length of a toothpick. I think it was part of what the boat guide called vegetarian chook.. well this one became vegetarian chuck! Sorry, I wasn't going to go into more detail, was I?

So the day was lost for me, but Carol met a nice Scottish couple, Mary and Colin, both doctors, who were wearing Lycra. They were, of course, riding premium quality mountain bikes and had just arrived from Goa. It was late afternoon so they had retired to the covered rooftop terrace to partake of a couple of Kingfishers (nice Indian beer).

Colin was popping out for a couple more stubbies (actually Darwin stubby size) and brought one back for Carol. My darling brought her partly consumed beverage down to our room and asked if I would like a swig. I just groaned.

Day 33 - Thursday - 19//01/17 - Kochi - Munnar

We have now organised our transport for the rest of the trip. This morning, after a light breakfast of fruit, we trudged up to the bus stand and took a bus for Aluva (same pronunciation as our Alawah). This took about 1.5 hours. There was a wait of about 1.25 hours before our next bus left for Munnar.

Munnar is a hill station and is located in the Western Ghats almost due east of Kochi. Almost from the start, we were climbing the whole way. The road is narrow and constantly winds around he steep hillsides. Once we were out of Aluva, he scenery became soft and green and as we started to gain altitude, the temperature began to fall.

The second bus ride took a 4.5 hrs, so it was getting Lae when we arrived at Munnar. We accepted the recommendation of an Auto driver and took a room at Hotel David's Regency. It is on the 4th floor, has a little balcony and overlooks and is within easy walking distance of the town. It is costing R2000 a night including breakfast.

Long pants and coats were in order, given the pleasantly reduced temperature. Not quite as cool as Ooty, though, where we occasionally resorted to beanies and even thought about gloves.

The local Carmelite church was celebrating the feast of St Antony of Padua so we paid a cameo visit to the mass that was in progress. We thought this was very appropriate, bearing in mind in mind the family adoption of the name Antony in one form or another. Go Dom! Go Mum! Go me! And, sadly, my late cousin.

Dinner, was vegetarian of course. I have forgotten the name but I recall it started with an 's'. (It was the Saravana Inn Restaurant).

We had the usual spicy veg and spicy veg and sweet corn soups followed by veg fried rice, mushroom Marsala and rotti and 7Up. Excellent.

A walk around town and through the bazaar was enough to tire us out so we headed back to the hotel for a well earned rest.

Day 34 - Friday - 20/01/17 - Munnar

Today we took a tour in an auto rickshaw tour up to Top Station.

This included side trips to view tea plantations and the Rose Gardens.

The elephant ride was fun but not long enough. Carol enjoyed feeding our lady elephant pineapples which she (the elephant) grabbed with her trunk and scoffed down whole.

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Top Station is the location of the border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

When we got back to Munnar, we had a late lunch, bought a couple of surreptitious bottles of Kingfisher and fell asleep after just one!

Day 35 - Saturday - 21/01//17 - Munnar - Mysore

Our first rain during the whole of this trip to India.

Apparently it rained through the night, and was still falling lightly when we got outside at 9:00. Unfortunately it didn't dampen the amplified soprano chanters connected to the aforesaid Catholic Church. They start at 5:30 and grind on until 7:00. Further sleep is impossible even with half of a pair of earplugs in one ear and the other ear buried in the mini pillow. For good measure the nearby muezzin (?) chimes in at about 6:00 with an amplified call to prayer from the minaret of the nearby mosque. He, however, keeps his message short and sweet and cannot be said to be at all annoying.

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Talk about duelling religions - ably assisted by some incredibly powerful audio equipment. For those of you whom we have bored with stories about our former neighbour at Parbury Place, all we can say is "Thank goodness Mr Reynolds didn't get hold of one of these Indian amp and speaker systems." We would have been blasted from one end of Caves Beach to the other.

Our driver from yesterday, Prabhu, picked us up at 9:00 and took out to Harrison's Tea Factory. This was very interesting, unfortunately no photos were allowed within the factory. Obviously there would be unsafe work practices abounding, hence the secrecy. It's not surprising. All of the equipment and machinery, with the exception of one colour sorting machine, has been in use for over 90 years and was made in good old England. Then again almost all heavy machinery of this kind was made in England 90 years ago, wasn't it?

It speaks heaps for the quality of pre-war British stuff. Unfortunately I, and my sickly Range Rover are post-war and not built quite as well!
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After lunch we headed for the bus station and our 13.5 hour bus ride to Mysore.

To say that the trip was uneventful would be an understatement. The trip down from the hills contains a large number of blind hairpin bends, a number of which are presaged with with a sign depicting a skull and crossbones! The road is narrow and quite heavily used and this is Saturday evening. Within the space of no more than a couple of kilometres, we were held up by two accidents, one of which, between a car and a scooter, could have been fatal judging by the breakage of the car windscreen. Few motor cycle or scooter drivers wear any kind of safety equipment, least of all a helmet. Those that do where a helmet never extend that privilege to their pillion rider(s) many of whom ride side saddle because it is a bit hard to straddle the back seat of a Bike in a sari.

The rest of the trip really was uneventful, if you don't count the huge speed humps inserted at 100 metre intervals within the main road through Bandipur National Park. Unfortunately no wild life showed up. I guess that noise of the bus thumping along together with that of the human cargo bumping around inside was enough to make any animal wary.

Day 36 - Sunday - 22/01/17 - Mysore

Arriving at about 4:00 am at Mysore bus station, we were virtually poured into the ADHI Manor Hotel by a friendly Auto driver. We were charged R20 for the ride to the hotel. We walked the same distance a couple of days later with full baggage in tow and it took no more that 2 minutes!

We went straight to bed and when we awoke, we discovered that the hotel wasn't quite as clean as we would have desired, but at R3040 for 2 nights who is going to argue? After all, it was close to the bus station and within easy walking distance of the Maharajah's Palace. What else do you need in Mysore?

When we went out in the morning, what surprise Mysore was. There are elegant Champs Elysees style avenues lined with mature shade trees, grand colonial era buildings and surrounded by parklands. There are a number of grand roundabouts, each with its own politician's statue, one of which I couldn't help but christening as Piccadilly Circus, even though it was much bigger than its name sake and the traffic, surprisingly, better behaved.

The Maharajah's Palace was in the middle of all this and contributed its own supply of parkland and wonderful period buildings.

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A walk through the palace, which was designed by a British architect and completed in the 1920s, gave a clear impression of the high esteem in which certain Indian royalty was regarded by the populace. The Maharajah, who was on the throne at the time of independence in 1947, stood down as ruler but was subsequently elected Governor of the State (Karnataka).

Looking at the displayed paintings, we couldn't help but notice that the Royal ladies would have fitted seamlessly into the modern population. There saris were not significantly different to what many Indian women are wearing today.

Lunch was at Nahar Refreshments KR Circle and was delicious.they also do a great masala tea or milk coffee.

We returned to the palace grounds in the early evening and were gob smacked by the illumination of the palace building and its surrounding walls and gates. The lines of these structures are picked out by hundreds of thousands of incandescent light bulbs. A truly memorable sight.

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It is not normally a sound and light show, but the Karnataka State Police band set itself up in front of the Palace and struck up Colonel Bogey March and several other patriotic Indian tunes. I was trying to recall the words we used to sing to the Colonel Bogey tune but I couldn't get past Adolf's affliction. Any body else care to join in?

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Day 37 - Monday - 23/01/17 - Mysore - Goa

We found a rather expensive looking roof top restaurant at hotel Palace Plaza for breakfast. It was full of westerners. The ambience was delightful. Sitting shaded by beautiful trees and eating al fresco. Like the rest of the city, a bit of Paris in India.

Needing to make the best of the day, we booked the second autorickshaw (R250 instead of 300) and of course paid for our savings!

We particularly wanted to go to the top of Chalmudy Hill. This is the highest point around Mysore and is, of course sacred. The worthy way to do it is to climb the 900 steps, stopping at each step to place a red and orange mark on each riser and making a special offering at the huge Nandi Bull at the 600th step. Then, of course there is a temple at the top of the hill to finalise the devotion.

We, the profane, chose to walk down.

It was not until we had walked halfway down that I happened to turn round and see the chromatic effect of all those devotional red and orange dabs. The face of the stair was a riot of colour as far as the eye could see. Beautiful and very Indian.

Our auto driver met us a few minutes after we arrived at the bottom step and had brought his spivvie boss with him. In order to get back into town, it was trial by shopping. First the Sandalwood Factory (sadly closed for lunch!), then there was the sandalwood soap shop (sadly not closed for lunch but smelling rather nicely) and finally the essential oil shop. The proprietor of the latter gave us a head massage with he sandalwood oil and, (I am writing this a few days later) it seems to have cleared up the head cold that seemed to have been developing. We were assured that this business continued to supply oils to the Body Shop etc etc. In order to get away, we bought some Jacaranda Oil. The auto driver wanted to take us somewhere else but we said "Just take to the Nahar Refreshment Cafe".

To paraphrase Mr Dylan:
"Everybody must get conned........."

After a late lunch we collected our bags from the hotel and headed for the bus stand to join the Paulo king size sleeper bus to Goa. The bed consisted of an upper double bunk at the front of the bus. Unlike our previous sleeper experience 6 years ago, the bed was long enough for my 180cm height and was much more comfortable than those rotten reclining airline type seats.

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Being an upper berth, access presented some difficulty for Carol but she made it.

Thank you Mr Paulo. (Mind you, at $ 2200 for the two of us, it wasn't a cheap ride.)

Day 38 - Tuesday - 24/01/17 - Goa

The Paulo bus station is a little out of town so we needed a taxi to get us to the accommodation quarter at Panjim. It cost us R80 and the friendly driver led us to the best accommodation that we have experienced on the sub continent. Named "A Pousada Guest House" and hosted by the lovely Sabrina, the rooms including the bathroom, were spotlessly clean and very comfortable. Sabrina directed us to a nearby cafe for breakfast, provided us with a map of Panjim and pointed out a number of places and things we should see and do.

We chose to take the local bus out to Velha Goa. We were advised to ask for the bus which goes to Old Goa Churches.

A very descriptive name. There was a large number of old churches, so many that it would be hard to imagine them all in use at the same time!

There were relics of earlier times and an archway dedicated to good old Vasco da Gama, the Governor in his time.

Upon our return to Panjim, it was definitely beer o' clock. So we went on a bit of a search to find somewhere that served alcohol. Finally, a nice little hotel with a beer garden and an upstairs verandah restaurant. There we were served a large bottle of Kingfisher in glasses which had been chilled in the Aussie tradition. Ah! Nectar of the gods! Just one beer was just enough.

We had booked a table at a nearby nice looking restaurant and had an ok meal. We have had much better in far less prepossessing premises. It just goes to show, don't it? What do they say about books and their covers?

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At this stage we were ready for bed. I tried to get this stuff into the blog before I wa overtaken by drowsiness. To no avail, i probably won't catch up until we are on the train to Bangalore and Chennai on Saturday. Such is the time available!

Day 39 - Wednesday - 25/01/17 - Goa - Hampi

Today we thought we would take a bus to visit the forts on the northern side of the river.

While we were having breakfast at the usual venue, Carol happened to mention to the proprietor that we might be interested in hiring a scooter. Within seconds he had called Neville over and for $600 we had a really nice Scooter with a full tank, no more to pay. It was a really nice machine with real brakes, a speedo that worked and it didn't stall. Each time you let go of the throttle. Luxury.

What a lovely day we had. Firstly we headed west to Miramar Beach. By Indian standards this was a pretty nice beach, with only a thin veneer of rubbish and that confined mostly to the casuarina groves between the beach and the road. Carol dipped a toe in the Arabian Sea and I put my left hand in. (You always use your left hand for anything that may be a bit suss. The right hand is for food).

We needed to cross the river to get to the forts and we had the choice of the highway bridge or the Ferry. We chose the latter. On the few ferries we have seen here, you have to access and leave the craft via the same ramp. This means that 4 wheeled vehicles either reverse on or off which is a bit of fun. Us two wheelers just have to get on, do a bit of juggling and then drive off without dropping into the drink. Being the last one on, I was first off. The really daunting part of it was the phalanx of motorcycles on the wharf revving to get on the ferry before any of us had managed to get off.

But we managed some how.

The ride out to Agouda Fort was very pleasant, with reasonably well behaved low volume traffic and a cool headwind. The Fort was built by the Portuguese in the 1500's as part of a series of defences for the river mouth.

The visit to the Fort was apostrophised by a couple of very nice lime sodas. (Have I mentioned that it was hot and sunny, as it has been for most of our time here in India?)

We then went off in search of Reis Magos Fort which was a little difficult to find in view of the poor signposting. Apparently we sailed right past the entry, enjoying the river views and the waterfront housing. I think we had found the housing owned by the well heeled Goans.

Eventually we ended up at Coco Beach and stopped for a Pepsi sugar hit and a stroll amongst the beach front stalls, then back on the Vespa until we finally found the Reis Magos Fort car park.

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You could tell at glance which Bike was ours. It was the only one parked the right way round with the rear wheel to the kerb. Everybody else was parked nose in, requiring the driver to reverse into the traffic stream. They usually overcome this inconvenience by closing their eyes and wheeling the bike straight backwards, regardless of other vehicles and particularly pedestrians.

The Fort had been extensively restored and was said to be in its 1570 configuration. There was a most interesting display regarding the history of the Fort and its various uses for defence purposes, a hospital and a prison.

A special section of the display dealt with the struggle for independence from Portugal. I certainly didn't realise it, but Goa was still part of the Portuguese empire until 1961, at which time it became part of the Indian Union. During the struggle, the Fort was used as a prison for dissenters.

Getting back to Panjim was a bit of a struggle for me. I decided to use the bridge rather than the ferry and, again due to poor signposting, we found ourselves riding out of town rather than back in. It took several u-turns before we finally got back over the river and into familiar territory.

There was a cappuccino and garlic toast at Cafe Coffee Day, a wander through the City Markets and then we finally made it back to our starting point at the breakfast cafe and we were able to hand the bike back to Neville in one piece.

Whilst we were saying our goodbyes to the cafe proprietor and his family, a young catholic priest clad in a long white cassock dropped in for a coffee. A guitar appeared and he sang us some hams an local songs. He asked what faith we were and when we said 'lapsed Catholics' he said he would sing a song to bring us back. It brought a sympathetic tear or two to our eyes. Perhaps we'll attend just one more mass fore his sake.

We hadn't left ourselves any time for dinner before we were due to catch the next sleeper bus to Hampi. The conductor said words, to the effect, don't worry we will stop for dinner on the way. So we settled into our very comfortable lower, king size bed and watched the city lights drift by as we dreamed of a nice feed an hour or so along the road.

The bus departed at 8:00 pm and the dinner stop, limited to 20 minutes, didn't appear until midnight! To be fair, the caterers were well fit to feed whole bus loads at a moments notice. We got our midnight feast and a couple of masala chais in plenty of time without holding up the bus.

Somewhere along the way, we came to a bit of a hold up. A bus going the opposite way had gone too far off the blacktop on the inside of a bend and had dropped its inside wheels into the very deep monsoon drain which ran close to the edge of the road formation. It had come to rest at a 45 degree angle. We can only hope there were no serious injuries or worse.

The uncertainties of travel. Fortunately, our driver was able to keep us pointed in the right direction and at the right angle to the perpendicular.

Day 40 - Thursday - 26/01/17 - Hampi

We had a quick comfort stop at Hospet, just after dawn, and believe or not we felt a few spots of rain. Only the second time since we have been in India. It was over before we got back on the bus

The bus dropped us at Hampi at 7:00am after what turned out to be a fairly restful night! A friendly auto driver took us into Hampi village and helped us score a home stay at R1000 per night. That was cash, no questions and no documentation and no running hot water. Just the sort of thing the demonetisation law is trying to stop (apart from the running hot water).

Hampi is the site of old Hindu settlement which was abandoned in the mid 1500s after the locals were defeated by a combined Moorish and Portuguese invading army. The city was very large and judging by the number and extent of the ruined stone buildings, temples, palaces, stables, baths and bazaars, very grand and wealthy.

We breakfasted at the Chill Out Cafe. Corny name for old codgers like us but it has a great view across the Tungabadra River, although the river was pretty low from where we were looking.

A shower was necessary before we started the day. The lack of hot water wasn't a real burden for me although Carol was provided with a large bucket of hot water to ease away the shock.

We decided to cross the river today and have a look at the stuff on the north side today and then to do the main attractions on foot tomorrow

To cross the river, We had two choices. There was a large tinny that accommodated about 20 people and a couple of motor bikes at R10 per person. Or alternatively, we could have cruised across Jim Hawkins style in a coracle but that was R50 each (motorcycles need not apply).

Naturally the tinny was the go. The way up from the wharf was lined with various vendors of food and nicknacks. There were also a number of scooter and motorcycle hirers, all fairly disreputable looking. The price seemed to increase as you got further from the 'wharf'. We could have got a scooter for R350 if we had been quick but the young kid at the end of the row wanted R400. Of course when we went back to the first guy, the R350 scooter had gone and he only had R400 machines left.

We decided to walk and off we went into the rice paddies without any idea where we were headed! A few hundred metres up the track, the kid came roaring up on the scooter and we ended up getting it for R350 plus R180 for two litres of petrol out of a soft drink bottle. The bike was OK apart from the front brake which was woefully out of adjustment or hydraulic fluid. The wet patch on the front tyre indicated the latter.

Anyway, it handled properly, could be stopped reasonably safely and didn't stall when you let go of the throttle. Sheer luxury.

We visited various ruins along the northern side of the river. It was a long hot but fun day. I somewhat regretted not thinking to wear a long sleeved shirt with a collar. At the end of the day I was more than a little sun burnt.

We had dinner at at Ravi'sRose rooftop restaurant. Very nice, especially the Kingfisher with which we started the evening.

And so to sleep in our mosquito net cocoon and to dream of another cold shower in the morning!

Day 41 - Friday - 27/01/17 - Hampi

After breakfast at the Chill Out Cafe we just started walking.

This time we stayed on the southern side of the river. It was a long hot walk, interspersed with temples, ruins, Pepsi and chai. The highlight was undoubtedly the Stone Chariot and surroundings temple, followed closely by the Lotus Temple and the King's Elephant House.

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The latter was, I suppose, the equivalent of a modern day garage for a collection of classic cars, with the Jensen Healys, Porsches, Rileys etc being replaced by elephants of equally high pedigree. -- No names.

Other highlights included the Queens Bathhouse and anywhere you could score a drink to rehydrate. It was another hot day.

Dinner was at a Tibetan rooftop restaurant. Service was so slow that we had to request our bill before we ordered our coffee otherwise we might still be there. There was no delay in bringing the bill.

Day 42 - Saturday - 28/01/17 - Hampi - Hospet - Bangalore

The journey home really begins here. We are on the first leg of the journey back to Caves Beach.

We got up really early to see the young yoga exponents sitting on the boulders by the river at dawn, doing there art. At least that's what some Indian lads told us they were going to do. Maybe the Kingfisher or the whacky baccy got to them because they just didn't show!

Still there were plenty of people doing their ablutions and poojah at the river's edge providing a colourful spectacle for us. In the background a young lad was beating a tin can with a stick in order to frighten the local monkey troupe away from the stall he was trying to set up. They just jumped into a nearby tree and carried on at him.

Coming back into the village, we were more than little surprise to see a cow urinating in the street and a local lady holding a jug up to catch the endless stream. We never found out what on earth she was going to do with a jar full of cow piss, but we made sure we didn't eat breakfast in any of the cafes in close proximity to her abode.

After a pleasant breakfast at the Mango Tree Restaurant, we spent a few hours enjoying the ruins around Hampi Village.

We noticed a bevy of rather nice Royal Enfields. I particularly liked the Himalayan. A real adventure tourer?

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We finally took an auto into the station at Hospet. To drop our bags at the cloakroom, as we had a couple of hours to kill, we were required to lock them otherwise the staff wouldn't accept responsibility.

I was directed to a paan stall just outside the station precinct and picked up 3 mini locks for a total of R60. 'Pick' was the operative word as you could open these with a matchstick! Notwithstanding, they satisfied the cloakroom attendants so we were then off in search of a lunch venue. I suspect there was some kind of a deal going on between the cloak room attendants and the Paan man.

You'd think that there would be food all over the place near a railway station - as there normally is. Not this time. We must have walked for twenty minutes, passing the ladies washing clothes in the main water supply channel and eventually ending up at a dubious looking establishment with a cow at the door seeking entrance or a feed or something. Be warned. Don't have lunch at a restaurant with a cow trying to gain entry.

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We had some noodles and veg rice. Wow, was it spiced up?. It was superspiced. I like my curries hot but this defeated me and I had to leave some for cow, if she came back! More the fool her if she did.

Carol had steam pouring out of here ears and I developed Extra hot lunch syndrome. This had my gum and cheek swelling on one side of my mouth and I was unable to bite on that side.

Our next fun experience was the Slow Train to Bangalore. It stopped everywhere. Being a single line, there were often long waits for the train coming the opposite way to arrive and clear the line ahead.

It would have been better if the family sharing our compartment had been willing to pull the bunks down so that we could lie down and try to sleep. But the father was adamant that that didn't happen until after dinner at 8:00 or maybe 8:30. So we all had to endure sitting on the vinyl covered planks for 6 hours before this little Hitler gave in. As Carol said, he was angling to get our bunks which are the lowest of three tiers. There is no way that senior citizens should have to climb into higher berths!

We insisted on going to bed at 8:00 pm and they had to give in. Anyone that knows me, knows that 8:00 is not my usual time fore retiring, however hard as the bunks are, they are still more comfortable in a horizontal rather than a vertical stance.

Halfway through the night I awoke thinking that an elephant was sitting on my feet. It was actually a somewhat overweight Indian lady who had decided it was OK to place her none too small posterior so as to occupy the bottom quarter of of my bunk. From that hallowed position she thought it was just fine to carry on a loud conversation with a person on the opposite side of the gangway.

At first I asked her nicely to vacate my bunk. When she ignored my request I used some good old Aussie vernacular on her, again to no avail. So there was nothing for it but to draw back my feet to a position of advantage and give her a swift double kick on her bottom quarter. She finally got the message!

Despite all the apparent delays, the train arrived on time at Bangalore Central at 5:15 am. Notwithstanding, it was 15+ hours of purgatorial suffering.

Day 43 - Sunday - 29/01/17 - Bangalore - Chenna

We didn't find the escalators until we had dragged our bags down and up the stairs a few times. We tried to use them to get down to our Chennai train, but they only go up! Murphy's Law (India 2017). Sometimes you just can't win.

We are in upright seats for the last leg of the train journey to Chennai. The seats are less uncomfortable than the sleeper benches, but they expect 3 people to fit on a seat that is barely wide enough for 2. The train is full to capacity so there is no chance of scoring a bit more room.

I can honestly say that I'm over Indian trains and I'm glad this is our last.

It was 24.5 hours since we left Hospet with little sleep and less comfort. Despite the discomforts previous Indian train rides had been enjoyable and the steam driven trips were almost heavenly, however we would probably fly next time, if there is a next time.

The real bonus for this day was getting back to Footprint B&B in Chennai. Our room is even better than the last time we were here (in December) and the shower with real hot water, a shower rose and good water pressure was unadulterated luxury.

We went round the corner to Pantry d'Or for dinner and probably had our most expensive meal in India - R1600. That's about $32 in Oz money but it was very nice.

After that, sleep in a proper bed!

Day 44 - Monday - 30/01/17 - Chennai

Our last full day in India. After breakfast, the first port of call was to arrange the tailoring of the materials which Carol had purchased when we were first here. This being done, we needed to find an ATM, quick smart as we were rapidly running out of ready Rupees. This was easier said than done. We must have inserted the card into a dozen teller machines before we found one that was actually prepared to dispense money. We could only surmise that the machines don't get refilled on weekends so Monday is not a good day to be seeking cash.

With the coffers somewhat replenished, we went on a little spending spree and so spent our final day.

Finally, I didn't want to knock the beggars again, because I believe many of them are destitute and do need assistance. But that should come from some kind of social security system, not from begging on the street.

Anyway, a woman who appeared to be carrying a small disabled child stared on us while we were taking a breather, sitting on somebody's front steps eating some delicious grapes. The usual signal is putting the right hand to the mouth in an symbolic request for food. Carol offered her a large bunch of grapes but this was waved away, with it being clear that they weren't hungry and just wanted money.

She hung around for maybe 10 minutes and then, lo and behold the child must have become to heavy and she put him down on the road. We were fully expecting to see some poor deformed and emaciated individual but to our surprise, the child turned out to be a healthy, normal well fed specimen, probably 12 or 13 years old and who should have been at school. How she had managed to make him appear to be small and frail, we have no idea, but her game was up and we told them to POQ.

We visited the Spencer Plaza shopping mall for the experience of experiencing the oldest mall in India (according to our host).

It's pretty crappy with low ceilings and narrow arcades and really was a glorified bazaar (not to mention a firetrap). Almost without exception, the shopkeepers sat outside their shops trying to entice customers inside. None of our typical David Jones type situation where you have trouble finding a shop assistant. They are all over you. But as Carol says "Oh but the wonderful merchandise!" And consequently she acquired some samples and so did I.

The last shop we patronised (and boy did we patronise it) they showed us photographic proof that a recent customer for whom they tailored a leather jacket, was none other than our Michael Hussy, who was playing for one of the local cricket teams in Chennai. We suggested that perhaps they might take a photo of us to show to future Aussie visitors, but we couldn't quite convince them of our star status. (Just wait until our home movie of India is accepted by SBS.)

There is not much more to say so I will finish off here.

I do hope we haven't been to boring.

Can I say in conclusion, that while there have been some trials and tribulations, and some things we would have done a little differently, our six weeks in Southern India has been another great life experience and we wouldn't want to have missed any of it ( except perhaps the 24 hour train ride!).

Almost without exception, everybody that we have met here has been very friendly, helpful and happy to share the experience of their amazing country with us.

It was tough at times and more than once we said that we wouldn't be back again. However, if old age doesn't get the better of us I would not be surprised if there is another episode to our wonderful Indian adventures.

Posted by Vicschu 07:16 Archived in India Tagged goa munnar hampi mysore kochi chennai spencer_plaza michael_hussy maharajah's_palace Comments (0)

Day 24 - 28 - Ooty - Kuchi

From the mountains to the sea

sunny 30 °C

Day 24 - Tuesday - 10/01/17 - Ooty - Coimbatore

Our last day in beautiful Ooty.

It seemed a bit cooler today and a bit overcast. We had to rise early in order to take a trip to the railway station in order to buy tickets for the toy train down to Mettapalyum and, if possible for the onward trip toward Kochi. We arrived at the ticket office at 7:15am and were third in the line.

The ticket office doesn't open until 8:00, but we understand that we must get our tickets now or we may miss out on the only ride down to Mettalpalyum (ie the 14:00 train)

There was a sign restricting each passenger to 4 tickets. To assist the fellow who was second in line and wanted 7 tickets, we bought 4. However, when we looked round to find him, he was gone. So we had an entitlement to 4 seats at R15 each, a total outlay of R60 or about $1.50 in aussie dosh! Not bad at all for a 3.5 hour ride o a heritage train, more than half of which is a steam hauled rack system.

Of course being a ticket doesn't guarantee a seat. You are to line up o the platform an hour before the train goes in order to be eligible for the bun rush for seats when the train arrives.

After acquiring our tickets we tried to adopt another scruffy ginger kitten outside the station restaurant before heading back to Hotel Tamil Nadu for breakfast,shower and packing. It is with much regret that we move on from here. The room, the restaurant and all the staff have been absolutely delightful and it was always a pleasure to walk up the approach road, salute the security guard a head up to our room with a Aldo hand a view over the city. But all things must pass and so we must move on.

Leaving our bags at reception, we headed back into town for coffee. Firstly we had to find the post office so we could post the belated Christmas cards to Europe. Our apologies, Helen, Mike and Manfred. But, better late than never as they say.

The post office was a bit further away than we thought but on the way back, Carol spied another ladies' clothing shop (ie every second shop. She can't resist a nightie in the window which she wants to cut down for a Chemise and then she buys material as well.

We need a tailor to alter the nightie and the lady from the shop takes us through the side streets until we find one. It's a scene straight out of "A Fine Balance". Two tailors with there treadle sewing machines sitting in a tiny clapboard box accessed by a strangely angled stair. But boy, could they cut and sew.

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R60 and a few minutes later, we were back on the street heading to Hotel Nadal for our final coffee and hot snack in Ooty.

After collecting our bags it was back to the station to grab a seat on the train.

Carol managed to convince the station master that since we were third in the ticket queue this morning, we should get some good seats on the south side of the train (in order to enjoy the best view). He put us up to the front of the queue, bless him and Carol too!

We got the best seats in the carriage. Facing each other at the door on the south side of the carriage. On the basis that we had paid for 4 tickets, we occupied 4 seats, what with bags and the need to have a window each!

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We got to Mettapalyum at about 5:30 and acquired tickets there to Coimbatore. It was 9:00pm by the time we got there and there was no going on to Kochi tonight. We were pretty tired and definitely not interested in another train ride.

We stayed at Legend's Inn for R2065 a night and dined at Rani's Grand Hotel restaurant (and used his wifi as we don't have at the Legend and we still have the Rani's password in the phone!

Day 25 - Wednesday -11/01/17 - Coimbatore - Kochi

I got up early to buy our tickets for Kochi. Talk about sending a boy out to do a lady's expert job. I thought I asked for tickets to Kochi but what I got was tickets to somewhere called Thalassery or something similar. As it was the same price as we quoted the evening before for Kochi I assumed it was just the name of the station for Kochi.

Suspecting something amiss, we asked again when we came back to catch the same and it turned out that Thalassery is somewhat in the opposite direction from where we want to go. We were advised to just board the train and the TT man (short for ticket inspector man) would sort it out with a squiggle of his. pen.

We explained the situation to the first TT man and he did just that. However the second TT man insisted that we pay another R258 being the extra fare from the nearest junction on the Thalassery route to Kochi. It didn't ring true but it was too difficult to argue the case and hardly worth it for a matter of. $5.00 or so.

Based on our recent experiences, Indian Railways are certainly not running at a loss!

The train was pretty crowded but some nice pilgrims shuffled up and made room for us. They were all wearing black lungis (men's sarongs similar to what I wore in the temple at Madurai) and a black top of some sort or other and they all carried their possessions on there heads in a small bundle wrapped in brightly coloured cloth. Believe or not, they called themselves 'the boys in black'. They were delightful company sharing food, laughs and snippets of information.

If we understood them correctly, (of which there is no guarantee!), their pilgrimage lasts for 41 days during which time they must do everything for themselves, ie cook, wash, clean etc. I thought they were exclusively men but Carol said she saw a few women similarly dressed in black and carrying cooking utensils on their heads.

They all got off at Ernakulam Junction which is near Kochi and then had to make a bus trip for another 70 or 80km to the temple which was the focus of the pilgrimage. They were all having a fun time as is probably the case with most pilgrimages, the camaraderie of the road etc. Probably something akin to Kristine's amazing experiences on the road to San Diego de Compostela last year.

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The boys in black made light of what could otherwise have been a long and tedious journey.

Ernakulam Junction was also our stop, being closest to Fort Kochi.

The auto ride from the station to our hotel in Fort Kochi, was some 8km and at R180 was a bargain by the standards of previous rides. Needless to say we added a few more Rupees to the final fare.

Our hotel is called Adam's Old Inn and is in the heart of things here in Fort Kochi.

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Having settled in, we went for a walk in search of an ATM and dinner. These we found.

We had dinner at the Hotel Sun Park Restaurant at Kunnumpuram Junction. Very tasty and very reasonable.

Day 26 - Thursday - 12/01/17 - Kochi

We had a bright but not particularly early start today. I had a cold shower, which was quite delicious given the heat here at sea level.

A short walk toward the harbour frontage brought us to the Kashi Art Cafe. This partly roofed and partly shady al fresco eating house was delightful in both the architectural and culinary sense. I had a cappuccino and a mouthwatering paneer omelette. Delicious.

So, that was breakfast. Afterwards, we decided to head towards Jew Town to take in the synagogue and the Dutch Palace. On the way we espied the Chinese fishing nets and stopped to watch these huge cantilevered counterweighted nets being raised and lowered into the harbour. They don't seem to catch much and one has to suspect that they are maintained and manned in order to entertain the tourists.

There are many European tourists here. By far the most we have seen. Many are young singles. We avoid them like the plague. There is truly nothing less friendly than a young European backpacker when they meet an 'elderly couple' like us. I'm afraid they do not compare favourably in any way to the Indian youth who seem to have a much greater respect for older people and go out of their way to talk to us. It is invariably "Where from?" and then "What is your name?" And the conversation goes on from there.

Our walk toward Jew Town was somewhat circuitous and took us past many small warehouses storing rice, flour and spices. It was very interesting but by the time we got to our destination the synagogue had closed for the day.

IMG_0809.jpg Some things are still not so salubrious here. You need me to tell why the water is that colour. Luckily you can't smell it.

But we did get through the Dutch Palace. This was built by the Portuguese and presented to the local Rajah in the 16C and renovated by the Dutch ( who had kicked the Portuguese out) 100 or so years later. It contains many meticulously painted scenes from the Ramayana and other traditional legends.

We dined at the Lucky Star again and came home to a well earned rest.

Day 27 - Friday - 13/01/17 - Kochi

We had another try at reaching the synagogue at Jew Town. Being in a hurry we took an autorickshaw but our driver was so intent on showing us the sights that we arrived about 20 minutes after the morning session had finished. The disappointing news was that, being Friday, there is no afternoon session. Not to worry, we will try again on Sunday.

I have to put in a plug for Google maps here. As soon as possible after arriving in a new town, we seek out a bit of wi fi and update the map detail on the phone. Then you have a built in GPS and you can navigate to and from anywhere. Thanks Mr Google.

We came home for a bit of a rest and then off again for an evening walk and dinner.

Whilst we were resting, we noticed that we have two other guests staying with us. There are two little lizards who seem to live behind the a/c unit and come out every now and again to dine on any available mozzies or other insects.

We took a turn around some of our local streets, looking for a nice restaurant. This involved a tour of Vasco da Gama Square with its sidewalk seafood restaurants and the bulk of the Chinese fishing nets which were still being worked in the evening.

We didn't really fancy fish so we we started back toward an Italian restaurant we had previously seen. Then we saw a sign, on the wall of the Italian restaurant advertising a Tibetan restaurant. Now we had had some wonderful Tibetan food during our stay in Darjeeling in 2010, so we thought we would give it a go. Service was a little slow but it was well worth the wait. Veg, almonds and cashews with fried rice, preceded by veg soup and sweet corn soup were very tasty.

We met an Aussie lady (Yoga Linda) who had stopped by for a coffee and pancake. She told us she lives here for 3 months at a time and does the same in South America between stints at Port Stephens.

We philosophised over our cheerful acceptance of the crowds and congestion and crap here and our opposite attitude towards such conditions when we find them at home. We came to the conclusion (probably erroneous!) that there is something in the Indian Psyche which allows them to cheerfully accept, nay enjoy, the crowded conditions, the crazy traffic, the frustration with the trains when booking tickets and arriving hours late. People of European extraction just seem to get angry when things are crowded and congested.

Having thought a little more on the subject, I reckon it's either the meat in our diet or perhaps it's just that the food is so flavoursome here that you just can't resist having a big smile on your face all day!

Day 28 - Saturday - 14/01/17 - Kochi

We started the day with banana and honey pancakes and coffee at last night's Tibetan restaurant. These pancakes are seriously 20mm thick and are scrumptious. (I'm starting to run out of complimentary adjectives for describing food although I don't think there is much chance of running out of super food to attach them to!)

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The coffee, not cappuccino, is excellent and is tempting me to renounce the frothy stuff in its favour.

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Having satisfied the inner traveller, we started the Fort Kochi walking circuit or at least the bits we have missed out on previously. There are no end of quaint little streets with a mixture of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial architecture and more modern Indian styles. There is also a great deal of vegetation with many magnificent fig trees providing abundant and very welcome shade. I would be misleading you if I said that we didn't chose our route to take advantage of any available shade with special emphasis on shady spots adjacent to the beach and glorious sea breeze off the Arabian Sea.

Our list of sites visited included the Bishop's House and museum, the Dutch Cemetery, the new, Indian VW Ameo car launch and St Francis' Church, wherein the body of Vasco da Gama was first interred before being shipped home to Portugal. Wasn't Vasco the first guy to circumnavigate the Globe or was that Magellan? (I'll check that on google before I publish). It turns out that Vasco was the first European to reach India by sea.

We also had a look at the outside of what is reputed to be Vasco's house. It is now a home stay and restaurant so I presume it is possible to sleep in a room with a sign in 3 languages saying "Vasco slept here". The house is just behind the aforesaid Church of St Francis so his funeral cort├Ęge wouldn't have had to travel far. Just as well in this hot climate.

IMG_0820.jpg Vasco's hacienda.

Talking about the heat, which we never do, St Francis Church has a number of the ubiquitous propeller type electric ceiling fans. However, it also has retained the old fashioned punkah fans which consisted of a swinging timber beam from which is hung a piece of heavy, weighted curtain material. These ran lengthways down the body of the church. You can just imagine the old time punkah wallahs sitting outside, hopefully in the shade, pulling a rope to operate the fans.

Having exhausted ourselves, we gave up at about 4.00pm and had a cheese omelette and toast and coffee at Cafe Oy's. Ok but not up to the standard of Kashi Art Cafe.

Too tired to do much else we picked up Carol's dressmaking, bought some more pro biotic capsules (which appear to be working quite well so far) and came home for an early night.

Posted by Vicschu 08:04 Archived in India Tagged kochi ooty coimbatore boys_in_black vasco_da_gama Comments (1)

Day 20 - 23 - Ooty

A refreshing break

sunny 15 °C

Day 20 - Friday - 06/01/17 - Ooty - Botanical Gardens

What a nice day. The temperature starts at about 15C at 8:00 and might get up to a glorious 20C. It's a pleasure to be outside after those hot days down on the coast and the plains. Even walking up hills is a pleasure again.

Today we took it easy with a walk down to the Botanical Gardens. The Gardens are very beautiful even now in the winter and must be absolutely stunning in spring. We spent the whole afternoon wandering through the gardens enjoying the plant life and the old buildings, including a pair of 1856 gate houses and a hot house which was built in the late 1800s and still has the original chunky, wrought iron hardware for manually operating the windows and roof to control the temperature.

Coming out of the Botanical Gardens, we walked around the local Tibetan Market and came to face with a specialty of the region - chocolate. I was sorely tempted but I resisted and didn't buy any. However it is only a matter of time and I know I will have some by this time tomorrow!

On the recommendation of one of the local shopkeepers we dined at Shinkows Chinese Restaurant. Well Chinese with a spiced up Indian flavour. The chicken and sweet corn soup was superb as were all the other dishes. We over ordered of course but our waiter realised this and didn't bring the boiled rice. This has happened a couple of times on this trip and whilst some may have been the result of forgetfulness or misunderstanding, I like to think it is the sign of a good waiter who probably has a better idea as to what will constitute a well proportioned meal at his restaurant than us poorly trained travellers.

I finally sat down and wrote my UK Christmas cards tonight, just a fraction late. I hope we will be forgiven, Helen and Mike and Manfred.

Day 21 - Saturday - 07/01/17 - Ooty

We just spent the day walking through town, checking out the shops and markets, checking the procedure for procuring train tickets and exploring to the Ooty Lake area. It was a fair walk so we took the bus back into the thick of it. (R5 EA)

With the trains, there is only one train going to Mettapalyum each day and that leaves at 2:00pm and arrives at about 5:30pm. The only train out of Mettapalyum is the Express to Chennai which leaves there at about 7:30pm and probably gets into Coimbatore at about 9:00pm. We shall have to investigate the trains from Coimbatore to Cochin. A sleeper from there would be good especially if we don't have to stay at Coimbatore.

Walking through the food market was enough to turn you vegan. The chooks are crammed into crates that don't allow them to stand. Within their sight, their brethren are slaughtered, butchered and hung to bleed. Maybe they are not smart enough to understand but they just look sad and beaten. When I think how well our chooks live with Cordon Bleu meals every day, their own free range and some idiot to pay their $130 vet bills and feed them with an eye dropper when they are crook, it just beggars belief. Talk about first world and third world hen houses!

I think I have noted previously that for Hindus, being kind to animals is good karma.
Whilst we waiting for our bus back into town from the Lake, we were sitting on the steps outside a snack bar when a scruffy but healthy looking ginger kitten appeared from under a building, sat down and stated talking to us. Then a young man came across the road, gave the kitten a passing stroke and disappeared into the shop. He was back a few seconds later with a piece of paper on which there was a crushed up biscuit or something similar. He gently poured it out on the step in front of the kitten, who very appreciatively tucked in. The man stood up with a big smile on his face, matching ours, and the kitten was purring. Great karma.

I held out until 5:30pm before I bought any chocolate and until 6:15 before I had a piece. Yum.

Dinner at A2B. Good veg tucker but not in the class of last night. The ice cream was a treat.

Day 22 - Sunday - 08/01/17 - Ooty

Being Sunday, we made it a bit of a day of rest.

IMG_0731.jpg The Sunday morning view from our balcony

We met some lovely fellow guests just after breakfast. They come from northern India and showed us a video they had just received from friends at home. It was actually snowing. Their son, who was travelling with Mum and Dad, lives at Bangalore. He told us that being further north and also being at an altitude of 500m, it means that the city is reputed to have the best all year round climate in India.

We still love Ooty. The clean air and cool temperatures have comybined to knock carol's flu on the head. She hardly coughed at all last night. As a result, we have gone from seriously considering going home early to wondering if we have enough time left to everything that we want to do!

Back to our Sunday. We got started so late, that by the time we got down town to have our daily coffee ration, it was well past lunch time, so we stopped and made a meal of it at Hotel Nahar. A veggie pizza and a couple of cappuccinos did us very nicely.

After lunch and a bit of shopping, we thought we would pop in to the Ooty Club and see if we could sponge a couple of g and t's.

The Ooty Club (officially known as the Ootacamund Club) was founded by the Brits (as was the town itself). It dates from 1842 and is of typical colonial architecture of the period. Of course it was for the exclusive use of members and their guests who naturally had to be white.

When we went to go inside, the doorman kindly explained that we could only enter as members or as guests of members. We would have to speak to the Club Secretary who was having a meeting on the verandah. He graciously invited us inside and told us some of the history. I asked what requirements there were to become a member and he said that you had to be introduced by a member and meet certain criteria. He was taken aback a bit when I asked that if we had now met perhaps he could introduce me! I was always good at diplomacy........

As with the exterior, the interior of the Club looked like it was caught in a time warp from the 1800s. The only reference to more modern times was a picture of the queen taken shortly after her coronation in 1953. Otherwise it was tiger skins and mounted heads of deer and other fauna. The hunt was a very big thing when the Brits were in charge.

Speaking of HRH, we do hope that she too has got over that nasty flu.

Unfortunately, there were no gin and tonics not even a humble beer. In fact one sign on the wall behind the bar read "Alcohol destroys country and family". Whilst this sentiment contains a grain or two of truth, I can't but think that the Club might have been a bit more fun during the Raj.

Walking back to the hotel we took a quiet side road and came across one of the few group of boys we have seen playing cricket. Now that's the way things were the last time we were in India.

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Another meal at A2B tonight. This time I had the sweet corn soup and an "American" chow mein, whilst Carol ordered the cream of mushroom soup and a byriani rice. It was all good.

IMG_0737.jpg A2B restaurant
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Time for another piece of chocolate then off to sleep.

Day 23 - Monday - 09/01/17 - Ooty

I resisted the chocolate binge last night! Sheer willpower.

We are both well again and enjoying India immensely again.

Today we took a full day "van" tour. A van is a small bus that will comfortably fit 20 leg less dwarfs. For everybody else it's a bit of a squeeze.

The tour took us first to the Government Rose Garden. Even though we are in the middle of winter, this was a beautiful location with many specimens still in bloom. My favourite was a rose with a very large flower. It was called Dolly Parton!

The rose garden was not originally on the tour. It was a bit of a consolation prize because the waterfall and dam wasn't worth going to due to there being little or no water. As it turned out however they turned out to be one of the highlights.

We drove on to a walk in the pine forest, which was very pleasant if not particularly novel.

180_IMG_0743.jpg Selfie in the pine forest

The next stop was at a lookout on top of a hill. It was quite a steep climb and as we were approaching the summit we were almost carried away by a mini whirlwind. The view was OK and include a fake Todas Hut.

The Todas are the original inhabitants of the area with a traditional history going back 2500 years.

There were swarms of school children, all wanting to say hi to us and to have a selfie taken with us. The children are charming and love to talk. They make you feel like a film star!

We had to be gently dragged away, back to our bus by our courier otherwise we would never have got away!

We moved on to the Pykara Dam boat house and a 20min boat ride on the dam lake. The lake is used for hydro power and fish farming but not drinking water.

We sat with our new French friend, Jean Francois, for lunch at a wayside eatery and then moved on to the highlight of the tour, the Mudamalai wildlife reserve which is called up as a tiger reserve. On the way in we saw a group of deer by the road.

We took the optional 'jungle ride' along with all our fellow passengers (all of whom were our friends by now) and another young couple, he being from Europe and she being Indian.

The jungle ride lurched along a very rough dirt road for what seemed like hours. In the reserve we were lucky enough to see another group of deer and a monkey.

IMG_0749.jpg Another group of deer.

Of course we only wanted to see the tiger or failing that an elephant. But no luck. After a while, the wags on the bus, ie all of the Indians and even a couple of Aussies, started making tiger roars and elephant trumpets and generally laughing and making a good time of it.

All of a sudden the ring-in Euro stood up and faced the rear of the bus and told us kiddies "That's not cool!". This brought the house down and everybody became even sillier. The poor guy sat down with his ears burning red. I'm sure he was very glad that he didn't have to travel back to Ooty in our van.

As soon as we got back in our van for the trip 'home', we saw a wild Peacock crossing the road and a short while later a group of wild boors lying by the road.

But the piece de resistance (excuse my French) came a few km later when we rounded a corner and there was a medium sized wild elephant lumbering across the road. He/she disappeared into the brush on the side of the road before I could get a camera pointed at him/her, however the image is imprinted on my mind's eye and always will be. Beautiful. Weren't we lucky? We could have saved the R150 EA for the jungle ride and still seen the same number of animals.a

The ride back to Ooty is some 36km of winding uphill road, blessed with 36, numbered, hairpin bends all of which we took on the wrong side of the road. For the motorcyclists among our readers (you know who you are), this was like doing the bendy section of the Oxley Highway to the power of ten. I would love to ride it on the Strom or even a Royal Enfield.

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We supped (or should I say souped?) at A2B again tonight, coming home to pack as we intend to leave for Kochi tomorrow.

Posted by Vicschu 11:09 Archived in India Tagged elephant deer tigers cricket hairpin_bends ooty_club rose_gardens train_booking Comments (0)

Day 14 - 19 Pondicherry - Ooty

From the oven to the cooler

sunny 15 °C

Day 14 - Saturday 31/12/16 - Pondicherry - New Years Eve

Today was a real test of our Indian 'two wheeler' skills.

The plan was to flit across to the bus station, get tickets to Madurai for a nice, daytime, a/c coach ride. Then we would take a walk through the botanic gardens (hoping for a sighting of Pi or Richard Parker), grab some lunch at the Chateau and pop out to Auroville to be back in time to drop the scooter off and retrieve my licence and the R250 deposit.

In reality it went more like this:

Firstly, the occasional lack of road name signs had us believing that the bus station was constantly relocating itself.

When we finally found it and had walked past every food and beverage vendor and every other ticket vending window, we found that the one for Madurai was vacant and had the following somewhat enigmatic sign in front of it - "No a/c Volvo back at 2:30".

It was already 2:00pm. Only having to wait half an hour is actually not bad for India so we found a seat and waited.

Bus stations are always interesting places - this one was no exception. One young guy kept on jumping out and and loudly greeting passers-by as if they were old friends and trying to drag them away. I thought it was some kind of scam at first but in fact, he was just a spruiker for a nearby fast food vendor - just doing his job.

Being westerners, we are constantly being harassed by beggars. The bus station is obviously a great place to waylay westerners and other relatively affluent marks. Outside coffee shops, restaurants and other tourist attractions are other obvious haunts.

They are usually women, sometimes old sometimes young with babes in arms. They are painfully thin, shabbily dressed and the older ones are often bent over either from some genuine spinal condition or for effect. You feel desperately sorry for them but, if you falter and engage with them, they will never let you go and you become a magnet for a swarm of their companions.

Being a coward, I basically ignore them and try to walk away.

So 2:30pm rolls by and there is still nobody to sell us a ticket although the "queue" was growing. I say "queue" but the term doesn't mean much. Everybody just stands in a tight mob and they just push in whenever there is any sign of action. Actually they basically drive that way as well.

Carol checks with the tourist office, which now has an attendant, and he tells her that 2:30pm really means 3:00pm! Non essential activities like going to Auroville have now dropped off the radar and so have the Botanic Gardens, although we did manage to see the entry gate.

3:00pm arrives and the ticket window opens to a ferocious mob. Carol is the most ferocious and gives the ticket man and our fellow queuers a good piece of her mind. The language was colourful to say the least. I'll leave it at that as I wouldn't want to scandalise any of our younger readers, if we have any. Carol apologised to me afterwards but I told her how much I enjoyed it and that it had served to clear the air and let off a bit of steam so to speak!

The ticket man, to give him credit, remained completely calm, but it became clear that he couldn't, or wouldn't sell us tickets until we had filled out one of those biographical forms similar to what we had to fill out for train tickets last time we were here. They are printed on very flimsy poor quality newsprint type paper and you now have to pay R1 to get one. Suddenly we understood why everybody was throwing R1 coins into the window and demanding one of the forms. We got ours and found another seat and carefully filled out the required information, dotting all 'i's and crossing all 't's as required and double checking for size and neatness of letters, correctness of spelling and clarity of signature.

Fortunately you didn't need to provide a photograph or send the application off by registered post. The spectre of our rejected first visa applications arose in our minds. A repetition of that rejection would be soul destroying.

Back to the window with the completed form and the ticket man accepted it first among all comers.

"What time did we want to leave?"
"We would like to travel in daylight please"
"No, the buses only run in the evening and overnight"
"What times?"
"5:30pm, 7:30pm and 9:31pm"
"Ok. An a/c sleeper at 5:30pm"
"No a/c and no sleeper buses (Just Volvos)"
"Take the later bus otherwise you will arrive in the middle of the night!" This from one of our fellow queuers, all of whom have become our friends!

We give in, take his advice and purchase our ticket. We leave Pondicherry on Monday night at 9:31pm. The fare is R530 for the two of us. That's about $6.50 Oz, each for a 300km, 8 hour trip. Unfortunately no seniors discount as far as we are aware although the form did ask for our ages. Still it's not bad.

The ticket is time stamped at 3:11pm. We've been over an hour at the bus station and we are not counting the trip over on the scooter. Travel tends to be a little tedious in India - but oh the colour!

So bus ticket safely stored away, back to the scooter to try for some food or sight seeing or something. But what has happened to our city map? Lost in the confusion at the bus station. Never mind, we have google maps on the phone and we only have to go back the way we came. Well one roundabout with a statue in the middle looks much the same as another and we evidently take the wrong one.

We keep riding and come up behind a procession which appears to celebrating New Years Eve early. There are flowers being strewn along the way trumpets and drums being played and some particularly noisy fireworks being let off. The road is almost blocked but using our newly acquired Indian driving skills we edge past and low and behold it's a funeral procession! No photos.

Off we rode again and we cross a river that we don't remember crossing before. In fact we don't recognise the road at all but that's not unusual. A quick check of google maps indicates that we are heading out of town in the opposite direction to that which we want to go. Looks like the Botanic Gardens are definitely off the roster even if we could find them again.

After a u turn, a ride the wrong way up a one way road, and the need to pass the funeral procession again but in the opposite direction, we force our way onto the right side of the road and we are back on track. I say 'force' but that's a little unfair. Indian drivers might seem aggressive with their constant horn tooting and general bravado, but if they see that you genuinely need to cross 6 lanes of moving traffic they will stop and let you through as long as you are assertive. Try that in Oz and the knives would be out for you.

The rest of the ride was uneventful. And after a late lunch (pizza at Pizza Hut) we dropped the bike bike to Mr Mohan. His look of joy when he saw us was quite beautiful. We are not sure whether he was glad we were still in one piece (each that is), pleased to see the scooter back in a similar condition or just pleased to see us. I suspect, however, that he had run out vehicles to hire and the return of ours got at least one of his waiting customers in the saddle. Happy is the hire man who can't give you Bike because his whole fleet is in motion!

There were NYE celebrations taking place all over White Town. There was a huge crowd watching the traditional dancing near the Ghandi/Nehru statues and lots of noise and light on Beach Road generally.

We have never been NYE celebrators so we came home to bed.

Lots of fireworks during the night.

Day 15 - Sunday 01/01/17 - New Years Day - Pondicherry (Auroville)

Still suffering from flu, especially Carol, we determined to get out today and made it to Auroville. This was a 15km auto ride north of pondi.

It is best described, I suppose, as an international community living and working here.

They say that it is not a religion, but their belief is that humanity is not the final pinnacle of evolution, but just another stage and that the human race will continue to evolve into the next stage which will be superman (no capital 's').

What is very clear is they have turned what was apparently a barren landscape into a green park like contemplative atmosphere, with pleasant tree shaded walking trails and outlooks.

IMG_0695.jpg Auroville

We headed straight back into White Town for dinner at the rooftop restaurant of the the Chateau Hotel.

The food was terrific, (as all food tends to be in India) but we specially enjoyed a glass of Kingfisher - our first beer on this trip.

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I don't know what the alcoholic content was but I'm glad we didn't have the extra strong version. We thought we could see elephants on the way home!

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Day 16 - Monday 02/01/17 - Pondicherry - Madurai

Apparently, the Queen and Prince Phillip have been suffering from a similar flu to that which we have been combatting. So if your Royal Highnesses are following this blog, which I would expect to be the case, bearing in mind my British heritage and the fact that's it is set in India, a former jewel of the empire, well you will appreciate that you are suffering along with some pretty choice company!

Notwithstanding the royal connection, I think it is starting to leave me (many thanks to the confusion of cold and flu tablets that my kind pharmacist supplied to me in Multhiapet.). Whilst I completely stuffed up his kind instructions as regards taking before, during or after food, and I deliberately reduced the dosage so as to stretch out the cure as long as possible, my symptoms were manageable and have at the time of writing largely gone.

Not so Carol who is still coughing etc. Unfortunately, she just can't take the cold and flu tablets.

This was our last day in Pondi. I think it is a place that neither of us would recommend, leastways not over the Christmas New Year holiday period and definitely not when you are crook.

Anyway, we took a last walk into town and found a nice little 4 storey, family restaurant, De Bussy, for our last repast. The food was delightful, with special mention of Carol's Veg Soup and my Sweet Corn Soup.

And then, after a last cappuccino at our favourite bakery, we wandered back and forward across town to collect our luggage and get to the bus station in time for the 9:31pm bus to Madurai.

As expected, there was no a/c (and we didn't need it). I never did find out if it was a Volvo!

Day 17 - Tuesday 03/01/17 - Pondicherry - Madurai

We arrived in Madurai at about 4:30am. It was quiet and cool. A nice combination.

We were advised by an auto driver that the hotel we had booked was new and naturally not located in its previous central location, in the middle of everything. Thanks Lonely Planet (2002) and Booking.com!

Still it was new and very clean and they let us in early. What. A luxury to be between clean sheets and then to have a proper breakfast in the morning.

The main attraction at Madurai is the Sri Meenakshi Temple.

We got there at 2:00 so naturally it didn't open until 3:30 or4:00, depending on who you asked.

90_IMG_0709.jpg. The very impressive South Gate

We got to the gate and were advised that our knees and shins were a most unwelcome sight and we should either cover them or get lost!
There was no end of vendors prepared to take R100 to provide an oblong of material. And even fit it on for you sir. One enterprising tailor wanted to make me a pair of trousers for the same price. He took one look at me and said 'you are 34 regular aren't you sir? I probably am but I made do with the wrap around skirt. We can cut it up for tea towels when we get home!

I have to say that as Templed out as I am, this was a very impressive one. Everything was on a grand scale with four huge carved gateways and elaborate stone carving both inside and out.

Poor ladies apparently still sell their hair here:

IMG_0710.jpg Here is some on sale outside the temple.

(Wow, I just looked out the train window and I saw a highway with just 2 cars on it! Amazing. (I'm writing this on the train, tomorrow).

After the Temple, we were hungry so we asked some locals where you could get a good bit of local nosh. They enthusiastically pointed out Stree Sabarees just across the road and we were not disappointed.

I particularly enjoyed the butter and garlic dhosa and the vegetarian spring rolls, but it was all great.

180_IMG_0711.jpg The spring rolls

IMG_0717.jpg We pose with our happy waiters

With carol's cold not improving, we decided we would head for the Nilgiri Hills tomorrow for a bit of R & R. If she doesn't get better soon, we may have to snatch it and head for Chennai airport to fly home. We will see.

Day 18 - Wednesday 04/01/17 - Madurai - Coimbatore

We took the Dadar express towards Coimbatore this morning, our first step to the Hills and hopefully to get carol into some healthier air. The carriage wasn't a/c but we were able to score a whole bench seat each for the whole 5 hour journey (or maybe it was 6 hours). The ticket man on the train advised us to go to Coimbatore as the best staging place to get a train to the hills.

Our routes as as follows: Madurai Junction , Dindigul Junction, Karur Junction, Erode Junction, Tirruper Junction and Coimbatore. Aren't they wonderful names? Especially, Dindigul Junction and Erode.

The countryside was generally very flat and sparsely populated. Occasionally you could make out hills to the north west but I don't think it is the Western Ghats or the Nilgiri Hills yet.

We found the train and the station premises much cleaner than our experience in 2010. They have even started installing sewage tanks under the toilet compartments on many train carriages. They say they are the first such in the world........??

One does miss the weird sensation of watching the sleepers going past as you pull the chain! And when you were using one of the Asian loos, you seemed to be squatting very close to the track!

Nothing is sacred is it?

Seriously though, it all points toward a cleaner India, which will be better for all. But somehow it's not quite the same as it was.

Arriving at Coimbatore, we tried to book tickets for Ooty but you can only book to Mettupalalyam. Then you have to get a separate ticket on the Hill Railway. We need to be back at the booking office at 5:00am with the train leaving at 5:30am (I'll believe that if I see it!) and connecting with the Ooty train if there is one. (It may be stopped by a landslide, the monsoon or just a break down. I hope not, as these little hill railways are a real highlight for me.)

Getting a hotel in Coimbatore was easy. We just walked across the road from the station and took the Hotel Rani's Grand. R2180 a night for a/c, ensuite and window view of building next door either under construction or demolition. It's hard to tell at this stage. There are a couple of workers in thongs using two tables as their ladder. They are either installing or liberating computer wiring. Again, it is hard to tell which!

Before going out for dinner, we took in the view across the road to the station, the town behind and the still far off hills. Carol commented that the brownish haze in the distance looked somewhat ominous. It actually looked a lot like bushfire smoke although, I think it is just the 'blue' haze which gives the Nilgiri its name. (Not quite our own Blue Mountains).

Rani's Grand came supplied with its own restaurant. So we ate there and were not disappointed.

To cap it off a nice lemon tea at the adjacent restaurant and back to the room for a bit of precious shuteye before the train ride in the morning.

Day 19 - Thursday - 05/01/17 - Coimbatore - Ooty

The 4:30 alarm got us to the station booking office by 5:00 and up to platform 3 to await whatever train would take us to Mettapalyum. This turned out to be the Chennai Mettapalyum Express. It's an overnight sleeper and most of the passengers were getting off at Cbe.

We were just settling in to an empty sleeping area when a gentleman called into us words to the effect 'No! No! Splitting.' Not quite sure what he meant we were about to get off when the train began to move. After a mild panic, it stopped again and we able to get off and move up closer to the engine. Sure enough, the train had been split into two sections and the bit we first got into wasn't going anywhere!

The remainder of the Train moved away, with us aboard at a little after 6:00 and arrived at Mettapalyum at about 7:00.

Here we discovered our folly. The little blue steam train was fully booked out. Apparently, the trick is to sleep at Mettapalyum the night before and then get up at 5:00 and queue for the steam train ticket at R30 per seat. If you are really well organised, and you know your travel dates, and you are Indian Railways tech savvy, you can always try and book on line. We might give that a try if we actually decide to leave this little bit of paradise.

Our attempt to dumb it out in an apparently empty compartment was quickly put right by the officious ticket lady and we were back out on the platform, complaining to anybody who would listen (ie nobody apart from some young French backpackers who were as equally organised as us).

Miraculously, at the last minute a couple of seats became available at R280 each. They literally were the last seats on the train. OK it wasn't the A$0.75 that the wise people were paying but let's face it A$7.00 isn't bad for a 46km 4 hour journey on a heritage railway passing through the most glorious scenery and transporting us into a sane climate. We took the seats as offered.

We ended up making friends with the officious fare collecting lady who sat with us for one section of the trip. After giving us our ticket, she gave us an impromptu mini concert in Hindi. Beautiful.

As noted above the trip up was superb. The temperature was slowly dropping and the air became crisper and cleaner. The scenery was lovely especially on the left side of the train. The first 26 km is handled by an old oil fired steam loco which sits at the down hill end of the train.

This first part contains some steep sections and the loco uses a rack traction system. It also uses copies amounts of water and has to make 3 or 4 stops to replenish its tanks. Everybody jumps out to stretch the legs, enjoy the scenery and get a cup of tea which is usually available.

The last 20km is not as steep and is easily handled by a standard narrow gauge diesel.

I checked out our ticket acquisition troubles on the web later on and it would appear that many people had had the same experience and that we were extremely lucky to get seats.

On arrival at Ooty, we took an auto to the tourist information office which is located at the top of a mountain 2 km distant from the station.

They recommended the Tamil Nadu hotel, located right next door and we took a room there for about R2000 a night. We have a big room and big bathroom and our own 1 chair balcony. We love it. There is no a/c or fan and there is a blanket on the bed and two more in the cupboard if required. We have already added a second blanket and are comfortable. This place is very civilised.

We are not leaving until Carol starts to get rid of this flu.

Eating in the hotel dining room, I had the Veg soup and a butter paneer masala and carol had the soup and a veg curry. The food in India continues to be uncompromisingly excellent.

Posted by Vicschu 17:44 Archived in India Tagged pondicherry madurai toy_train ooty auroville coimbatore tamil_nadu_hotel Comments (1)

Pondicherry ponderings

We ride a sccoter

sunny 30 °C

Day 10 - Tuesday 27/12/16 - Pondicherry

Not a completely lost day. We dragged ourselves into an auto and took a trip into White Town. R100 each way.

We spent much of the afternoon sitting on a bench on Beach Road watching the waves roll in from the Bay of Bengal and the constant flow of traffic. We managed to find a shady bench all to ourselves and this combined with the sea breeze helped to revive the spirits a little.

A walk away from the beach revealed some nice old French colonial buildings which had been or were in the process of being turned into very expensive and highly sought after hotels. Inquiries indicated no vacancies until half way through January. Disappointing but expected.

We found the Governor's residence and beautiful Barathi Park and then moved on to a bakery located just across the canal. The coffee machine had broken down but the pastries were very tasty. That is until we started walking away and my stomach was suddenly griped and twisted into all sorts of uncomfortable shapes.

We headed back to Villa Sentosa and I for one spent a most uncomfortable night.

Day 11 - Wednesday 28/12/16 - Pondicherry

Infirmity haunts us. Carol still has the flu and I suspect that I am about to succumb. Some days you just don't want to get out of bed!

However, Carol did make the effort fairly late in the day and took a trip into town again. This time on the local bus. She had no idea where it was going and she eventually got turfed out at the depot.

She spent some more time on the sea front and headed back to yesterday's bakery for some more of those yummy pastries. She brought one home in case I wanted it but, in view of yesterday's episode, I declined.

We had a go at the in house TV the other night. I virtually had to reprogramme it to get it going, but when I did, we couldn't find anything in English. So we switched it off and I read Carol some Charles Dickens essays. It's funny, this stuff was written more than 200 years ago, but it is incisive, witty and much of it is still relevant today, and always will be, I think. And it takes on a new dimension when you read it out loud.

My dear old Daddy would be very happy to know that I have well and truly caught 'Charlie fever.'

Day 12 - Thursday 29/12/16 - Pondicherry

We were inclined to stay in bed again and feel sorry for ourselves today as well.

However we finally got up in the afternoon and started walking into town. And we both started to feel better. We ended up walking all the way into town (its only about 2.5 km). On the way we tried to get change for some of our R2000 notes at various banks but were told that that was not possible. They didn't want to know my debit card and we got the same reception at two ATMs, after which we gave up.

This 'demonetisation' experiment may be good for India in the long run but it's a pain in the proverbial for us simple tourists and I should imagine for the locals as well. Basically, as I understand it, in a literally overnight action the Government withdrew all the old high and intermediate notes from circulation and now just issues new 2000, 500, 100, 50, 20 and 10s. The only way you can cash up any of the older large notes is to put them into a bank account. The idea seems to be that everybody should have a bank account and that accordingly, their finances will be more transparent, tax evasion will be harder and the 'cash economy' will be done away with.

I say 'best of luck', but I don't imagine that the habits and customs of hundreds or maybe thousands of years are going to go away just like that.

The big problem at the moment is that because the government's action had to be done in secrecy, they haven't had time to print enough of the smaller denomination notes, so everybody is jealously hanging on to what they have got. Try paying a R100 auto fare with a R2000 note! You won't if you know what's good for you. The poor driver would be lucky to take R1000 all day and the last thing he needs is to use up his float on one fare. It's the same in the shops. Everybody is after any small change which you might have accumulated. Even the R1, 2 and 5 coins.

Just for the record, we are working on an exchange rate of about R40 to the Oz $. We reckon that's about right after you subtract the taxes and bank charges etc.

Anyway, just as we were despairing of getting any more small denomination notes, we did a deal with a motor scooter hire wallah (R750 for 2.5 days) and rode away with a fistful of 100s in change. Actually Carol was the negotiator and she did vey well. She got a rate of R300 a day whereas all the other hire guys wanted R400. It remains to be seen if the vehicle will last mechanically for the 2.5 days!

So what do I think of riding a scooter in India? Pretty hairy but lots of fun. I guess there are some basic road rules but I haven't worked out what they are yet. They drive on the left side of the road most of the time, unless they decide to keep right for a while. You don't give way to pedestrians unless it is absolutely necessary. Everybody gives way to cows. And that's about it!

After negotiating our transport, it was time to fill up the tank. This was naturally confusing. The attendant gave us R250 worth of petrol according to the dial but wanted to charge us R 350. Needless to say, R100 notes are not so easy to obtain so we declined his request and just paid the R250.

Heading northwards to Villa Sentosa we caught sight of yesterday's bakery and decided to adjourn for a coffee and comfort stop. I parked the scooter, slipped the key in my pocket and ordered a coffee to die for. It was brilliant or maybe it had been such a long time since the last, in Chennai.

So back to our transport and bugger, where is the key? Not in the pockets, nor the money belt nor the backpack. So back to the bakery, but just before I get there, I look down and, there, lying on one of the bars of a grate over a less than hygienic drain was a key! It fitted the bike. Garnesh or some other god is looking after me. Apparently there are some 3.5 million gods in the Hindu pantheon. So thank you to the patron god of key losers. Maybe he/she can help us find the second key to the Golf when we get home.

The ride home was slow but exhilarating.

We were alarmed to read, in The Hindu, tonight, of another Indian Railways train crash up north. I think on one of the lines we were travelling on in 2010. Thankfully nobody perished but there was a large number of injured.

We will probably have to use the trains soon. It's a worry but what can you do? I shall pray to the patron god of train travellers.

Day 13 - Friday - 30/12/16 - Pondicherry

We rode downtown on our trusty scooter today. I felt I had pretty well mastered it when I discovered how to reliably operate the horn. All road users here delight in tooting (or ringing bells on push bikes) on a regular basis. Ie whenever you see a cow, pedestrian, any other vehicle, at all intersections, when you decide to travel on the wrong side of the road and just for the heck of it.

And when I discovered the manual choke, I was overjoyed. Now I was able to start the beast after perhaps only four attempts rather than a battery crushing ten or so tries.

We visited the Sacre Coeur Basilica and sat in on a very colourful, loud and well attended mass. They really enjoy their religion very seriously here, no matter what the creed.

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We tried to get a meal at Pizza Hut but there was no power for the ovens so we had to move on. But then we actually found a delightful beachside cafe, called, believe it or not, 'Le Cafe' - very French, and we broke the food and coffee drought. After some more mechanised and foot exploration, there was more coffee and cake at the bakery which we had previously frequented. And the daylight was fading so, back to the hotel.

I had received an email from Lorna (Mogford) asking us to look out for a couple of Bike Friday riders. For those of you that do not have any idea what a Bike Friday is, here is a brief description (or you could google it an check out the website). Anyway, a Bike Friday is basically a hi tech light weight collapsible bike which folds down into a suit case so that you can take with you wherever you're want to ride. Like most folding bikes, Bike Fridays are distinguishable by their small wheels.

The small wheels would be my main worry about riding a Bike Friday in India. Let's face it, the roads are crap and are full of holes and other hazards. I think I have already mentioned cows and goats. Then there are elephants and possibly tigers (though we've never seen one) plenty of excrement and piles of rubbish, rubble and building materials (all of which we have seen, often).

But the real concern is the potholes. Some of them would almost swallow a Bike Friday whole and wreak havoc on wheels, tyres, tubes and frame and possibly the rider.

The bicycle wallah would probably be able to fix structural damage an even rebuild wheels and there are still heaps of doctors here for the rider, but you would need to bring a truck load of those little tyres and tubes because there's little chance of finding them here.

Here are a couple of pix of what generally passes for a push bike here.

43703221E5C53F620EBB6C2AD64114A4.jpg A typical Indian bike, built for comfort, not speed and not for going up hills
43711DCBE98953B2D51F065265E0ABD2.jpg check out those springs

They almost all have big, 28" wheels, no gears, rod rather than cable actuated brakes and saddles with sprung suspension that you have to see to believe. Oh, and the chains are usually rusty and nobody wears Lycra or a helmet. (Actually much of the last sentence would apply to certain Caves Beach and Newcastle riders!).

Apart from the rusty chains and the super suspended saddles, they look remarkably like the bikes I was riding when I was a kid in England 60, or so, years ago.

So I doff my hat to the Bike Friday riders, brave men, and I wish them well and will certainly say hello if we happen to see them.

Posted by Vicschu 22:29 Archived in India Tagged pondicherry motor_scooter bike_friday indian_bikes le_cafe Comments (0)

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