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Published: December 22nd 2009
you wouldn't get away with that in Blighty!
As we've moved down the country we've seen a big change in landscapes and crops. From cotton to rice-paddies, to hillsides of tea bushes and coffee, and crops of root veg and now the more tropical outline of banana plants and palm trees.
Finally we arrived at the coast and first stop is Kochi in Kerala and we opted to head for Fort Cochin which is one of the small islands just off the mainland. It doesn't feel very much like India with it's blend of Portuguese, Dutch and English heritage. India's oldest European style church is here along with a Synagogue, a thriving Jewish community (all centred around a place called Jew Town, which doesn't sound very pc to me!) and a port with cantilevered Chinese fishing nets - it's a right old hotch-potch, but very relaxed and with great seafood.
Kerala is actually a communist state, but it works here and the state has really high rates of literacy (90% +). There aren't any obvious signs of communism apart from the odd sickle and hammer flag (really!) and the Indian ridiculousness on the roads is still evident.
There are lots of westerners here and it's pretty
Best dressed Goats
the neckerchief is THE fashion item this season....
geared up for tourism which has its pro's and con's. On the downside it doesn't feel very much like India and there's lots of tat for sale, but on the positive side there are more bars around and I managed to find a beauty salon which does waxing!
I also had a full body massage, which would have been lovely if only the lady doing it didn't have a gas problem - she kept burping all the time. The body massage was followed by some kind of facial which involved a girl washing my face over and over with what smelt like carbolic soap and really cold water with a little massage in between each wash. I reckon she washed my face maybe half a dozen times - and I know that it's pretty grimey here but I don't think I was that grubby! Anyway with my sparkling clean face they then gave me a head massage using some kind of almond oil, which was lovely, except by the time it was finished I looked like I'd modelled my hair on Amy Whitehouse and I smelt like a bakewell tart! The experience was finished off with the girl rubbing
me down with a damp flannel to remove the oil - a but like having a bed bath!
We went to see a traditional Kathakali dance show while here. The make-up and costumes are really elaborate and the dancers use different eye and facial expressions to help tell the story along with hand signals. The dresses that the men wear have huge crinoline-like skirts and when they thrust their hips they can shake their booty like Beyonce! Before the dance they showed us the different eye movements and facial expressions for different emotions and the sign language for different phrases, so when the dance itself started you could kind of follow the story. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, fish swim in the river, the sun sets, they have an argument, bees swarm around a lotus flower (oo er, Missus), anger, tears, he cuts off her breasts.... The End.....
We also had a day on the backwaters of Kerala which was really peaceful. The small canoe type boat was punted through these small waterways and you see the villagers going about their day to day business - washing themselves in the water, beating the living daylights out
of their laundry etc. We stopped at a small-holding and were shown how they use the husk of the coconut to make coir rope which is then sold on to be used in the manufacture of different items, mats, furniture, ornaments etc. The individuals are formed into groups of maybe 150 people and this works on exactly the same principles as co-operatives in the west. It was really lovely to see how everyone lives but up close on the waterways you quickly notice that there's as much a litter problem in these backwaters as there is on the streets - there were random single flip flips floating everywhere like some strange water-borne crop! I'm sure there's a business opportunity in second hand flip flops if someone could be bothered to gather them up and make them into pairs.
So it's nearly Christmas and as there's quite a high presence of Christians in Kerala there are more signs of the festive season, with Christmas decorations and trees everywhere - it looks kind of odd in the glorious sunshine. It was also Kim's birthday - one of the ladies that we met in Ooty so we had a birthday night out
with her, which was celebrated wearing Santa hats!
We left Kochi to head back towards the Western Ghats for a homestay place we've heard about. The bus journey was pretty hair-raising as we headed back up into the mountains - the road is quite narrow and there are loads of buses and lorries as well as cars and bikes and one section of the road has 9 consecutive hairpin bends and there's a sign at each bend counting down and reminding you that death is a definite possibility if you don't drive carefully!
Anyway we arrived safely and the place was so peaceful - it's in a nature reserve and there was hardly any traffic so no horns blaring night and day, just the sound of the cicadas. It was really lovely to be staying with a family, they were really welcoming and the food was absolutely gorgeous - enough to tempt Hugh out his self-imposed vegetarianism (not me though!). There was also plenty of it so still not heading in the direction of India thin!!
When we first arrived we went out into the forest and I came over all Bear Grylls and spotted some elephant
dung - Hugh thought it might be cow or water buffallo but to be honest I've seen enough cow dung close up to know it wasn't that - time on the farm well spent! Apparently Bear Grylls says that if you're in dire circumstances and dying of thirst in elephant country you can squeeze water out of their dung - thankfully I'd had a nice cup of chai before heading out so wasn't feeling too parched! The family told us that over the recent few nights they'd had elephants tramping over their rice paddies and eating their banana crops. I was well excited and imagined the elephants coming right up to the house and having a little nosey around. In the morning after the first night I looked for signs of elephant footprints but I don't think they were actually anywhere near the house.
So we headed off the next morning to a local waterfall which involved scrambling up rocks to get to the top - I didn't actually make it to the top because I kept slipping and sliding and having suffered the number broken limbs that I have in my life decided it would be prudent to
stop before it got too tricky. Hugh and the guide went to the top though and waved down at me! When they came down we went to the bottom and I went for a swim in the pool at the bottom with some local lads - the water was a bit on the nippy side but nice!
In the afternoon we headed out with a guide into the national park - unfortunately it was Sunday and everyone and their aunts and uncles were also there so it was like driving up and down the M5 and hardly conducive to luring the animals out of hiding. We did see some spotted deer, some langour monkeys, a couple of huge squirrel type things and a bison that was the size of a transit van. The guide tried to get us excited by telling us that the noise the monkeys were making indicated that there was a tiger nearby but to be honest it didn't really do it for me. So we were heading back to the homestay really disappointed about not seeing the elephants when a driver told our guide that a group had been spotted about 5km away near the
road so we headed off and sure enough there was a group of 5 or 6 elephants (including a couple of young ones) munching away on bamboo leaves only about 20 metres from the road! It was lush!!
So after a couple of days of peace and quiet in the country we took a couple of buses and a train and headed back to the coast and are now in Mangalore. The trip back down the mountain wasn't as scarey as going up and Hugh made friends with a little lad of about 8 and let him share his i-pod - he seemed particularly keen on Primal Scream!
All the trains to Goa have been booked up for weeks but we've just managed to get unreserved seats (ie, third class!!) on a 'local' train first thing in the morning - this means that instead of the 5 hours that the express trains do the trip in we're probably going to take 8 or 9 hours but at least we'll get there even if we have to stand all the way. We don't actually have anywhere to stay when we get there either, but have a couple of folks
looking out for places for us, so fingers crossed. I can feel a nativity type scene coming on where we arrive but there is not a room anywhere and we end up sleeping on the beach - note that in this particular nativity there is no conception - immaculate or otherwise, and I doubt there are any donkeys either, though plenty of cattle lowing!
Wishing you all a very happy Christmas and New Year - hopefully my next blog won't have much to report apart from a relaxing time in Goa!
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