and then there were four....

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December 17th 2006
Published: January 26th 2007
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Having checked the previous evening that Jess's flight had left Blighty on time, we made the early morning jaunt to the now familiar Bangalore airport and sat back with a coffee to await Miss Lewingtons arrival. It was great to see her familiar face again and after a few tears and hugs we were soon whizzing back along the streets to the hotel. A quick chai and we left Jess to snatch a few hours sleep while we headed off to the supermarket, my first in India, to stock up on supplies and antibiotics! Oh we could have spent hours exploring all the produce - a curry cooks heaven; a myriad of exotic fruits, spices, breads, popads and snacks. It looks quite a bit of persuasion to get Sue away from the bombay mix!

Refreshed we said our final farewells to the Indrianagar Country Club and headed off to the bus station for our 6 hour luxury a/c VOLVO (so we definitely be safe) bus journey to Madekeri. A market town in the mountains of the Kodagu region, Karnataka. It was a fairly uneventful ride through the countryside, stopping briefly at Mysore for a pit stop, we were surprised to find communal female urinals, which sparked a debate and much hilarity as to which was round one squats. Jess has arrived the conversation has reached new heights!!

As the bus wound its way up the ever increasing slopes of the mountains we left the sandy fields and urban sprawl, entering the rainforest; wild lush vegetation on either side broken only by the cardamom and coffee plantations and little villages. We were all exhausted but excited to be together at last, after many nights in stokie drinking vino and attempting to plan our India adventure.

The rainforest retreat was a perfect start, it's an organic plantation situated about 10km outside of Madekeri, run by an visionary couple who actively promote environmental awareness and research into sustainable agriculture. We only met the wife, India's very own Felicity Kendal, when she took us on a tour of the plantation, and we all sat enthralled as she explained all the history, ethos and currently activity. It's amazing how much energy one can generate if you are passionate about a topic.

Our home for the next few days was a little white cottage in amongst the plantation valleys, surrounded by trees, plants, flowers, snakes, mossies, spiders and many other flying bugs... Luckily (!) we forgot to "doom' our room on the first night and we were rather pleased we had, as Felicity later informed us that all bugs were important to maintain the ecosystem balance! It was perfect sleeping to the sounds of the jungle night, sitting by our very own camp fire and washing with wooden fired hot water in the outside loo.

Meals were taken outside the luxury cottages about a 10 mins trek through the jungle, past the pineapples and geese (the best every guard dogs!), amongst the bamboo, with the stream trickling by and they were delicious. All local organic fare whipped up into dishes, cabbage cardamom & coconut, fish curry, dhal, beans & chilli, wild honey, okra & mustard seed, rice, chapatis, beans & toms, aloo & onion curry, raitha, palak and the odd chocolate complan (for days when curry was just to much for my tum!). By unanimous agreement the best meal was our picnic lunch - a Chapati fajita eaten in the middle of the paddi fields under the shade of a huge bamboo tree. I can see them becoming a Rudkin specialty!

I wasn't feeling my best but I'm so pleased I made the day trek, everywhere you looked there was so much to see and the air was so fresh and pure. We set off with a few of the other guests along the dirt road, heading down the valley to the river below, and with our newly found knowledge we were able to identify the green black pepper creeping high up the bluegums, planted neatly between the igloo shaped coffee plants, the cinnamon and legume trees, compost heaps (not rubbish!), vanilla pods, bamboo and neatly trimmed hedges fronting the wooden houses and plantation fields; and all around the bright red flowers of the poinsettia, hibiscus and pink of the bougainvillea. We wandered on until we reached the river, a quick game of poo sticks and we bade farewell to our companions and were led off into the paddi fields, full of villagers harvesting the crops until we reached a rather rickety wooden bridge suspended about 25 feet above the river. Our guide went first but unfortunately (ummm it looked quite scary) some of the wooden rungs had rotten so we set off through making new tracks in the bush in search of another crossing point. Finding a place we took off our shoes and were guided through the fast flowing current, stopping the other side to dry off!

It wasn't a particularly strenuous walk but after lunch the hour long march straight uphill through the plantation soon got our hearts pumping. The 360 degree view from the top was so worth it and stumbling down the shortcut the other side of the valley, using the trees and plants to halt our decent we made it home for afternoon tea and biscuits - so civilised.

The last day we set off in our jeep to the Karnataka State Elephant Sanctuary to watch the elephants being washed in the river, the owners perched on top directing them into the water and slowing lowering themselves onto their side trumpeting in delight as they were scrubbed clean with coconut husks and sprayed water from their trunks. I still can't get used to seeing tame elephants - I always think of the wild, tempestuous/ aggressive elephants at Liwonde!

In the afternoon we ventured onto the Tibetan refugee settlement, near Kushalnagar, in search of the Namdroling Monastery and an 18m high gold plated Buddha. I was really keen to go having missed out on Dharamasla earlier and even though access had recently been denied to tourists we managed to literally just stroll in without the required permit.

It was so peaceful and monks in the traditional maroon and yellow of all ages glided around the site. The Buddha was dazzling and flanked on either side by two equally impressive statues, set in a huge hall that was covered with brightly coloured Tibetan paintings, some really rather racy.

Our calm was shattered by the Indian auto drivers, who insisted on us paying for a number of extra's... They are a hard old lot up in the hills as we found out earlier when we arrived off the bus from Bangalore... then it was like a standoff at the ok corral at dusk; us v's them... they won... we had no other means of making the 10k uphill drive to the retreat. So this time we followed the monks peaceful demeanor and didn't argue, didn't pay, just popped on our sunglasses and sat quietly in the back of the auto - they drove us back rather stumped at our reaction!

Picking up our bags we started the long journey down the other side of the mountains to Mangalore on the Western coast. Driving through the now familiar landscape on pot holed roads, past villages decked out with orange bunting and the rubber plantations of the lowlands. Halfway to our destination we were joined by an unexpected guest, a friend of the drivers, who squeezed in beside me. I really wasn't in a chatty mood but his enthusiasm soon won us over and we spent the rest of the journey merrily discussing the economics of the area, where we where from, whether we were married, had children, why not, our professions, how long we were in India for, did we like India, was the food spicy... the usual chat.

Kerala next....


1st February 2007

Arctic conditions
Hot showers weren't discovered by everybody in the rain forest....hohohoho and all clothes were worn at night!!! Rather like Romania is at present... It was amazing up in the mountains - a fab introduction to southern India - and the stand off at the bus ok corral in Madikeri was legendary...Hendo is a master negotiator - it's in her blood! Jxxx

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