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January 16th 2007
Published: January 22nd 2007EDIT THIS ENTRY

Firstly, apologies for not writing in ages... beaches are just too time-consuming! Photos - I've put several on here, but several backwaters ones have managed to get onto the next entry instead.

Going back to where I left off - we went to see the temple which Madurai is famous for. It totally dominates the skyline every way you look, but unfortunately I found it more impressive from the outside. I think thats possibly because I'd been spolit by Thanjavur, where we were allowed to go right into the inner sanctum, whereas in Madurai that was reserved for Hindus. Still a hugely impressive temple though - and totally maze-like. It even has not one but two temple elephants on duty!

After Madurai we decided to skip Kanniyakumari in favour of Periyar National Park. Periyar is part of Project Tiger, so it does have some 30-40 tigers, but its very rare that they're seen by tourists, we did see evidence of tigers though - including prints and claw marks. We also saw much evidence of elephants, but unfortunately no real wild ones...

Periyar is in the cardamon hills - and as the name suggests, there are lots of cardamon plantations, as well as other spices. We went to a spice plantation with a tuk-tuk driver who turned out to actually be a really good guide. We saw coffee, pepper- the same plant makes black, white, red and green pepper depending on how you dry/treat it, turmiric root, ginger root, henna plant, rubber tree - they milk the trees then dillute the rubber and roll it out into sheets, chilli, cloves, cardomon, cinamon, pineapple, beetle nuts, coco, vanilla...and i'm sure several other things but thats all that come to mind...

After Periyar we boarded an 8 hour (!) bus to Trivandrum, in search of a beach. We found a great beach, in Kovalam, but unfortunately half of Liverpool found it first... Still, a very enjoyable couple of days of wandering along the beach and eating 8 inch tiger prawns was had (and hanging out in a cafe called Beatles...)

From Kerala we hit the required Kerala backwaters. The backwaters are lovely - all the more so if you can afford one of the mega swish houseboats which kept floating serenely past our polluting monstrosity (I exaggerate...). We decided to stop off at the ashram of Sri Mata Amritanandamayi
Giant Indian SquirrelGiant Indian SquirrelGiant Indian Squirrel

This is about three foot long.... considerably bigger than Theo, for those aquainted with my cat...
Devi - or Amma. She's known as the Hugging Mother - many of her teachings involve the concept of Universal Motherhood and she gives darshan (blessing) by hugging! Great place to spend a couple of nights - totally unlike anywhere I've been before. Full of hundreds of westerners floating around in white robes. Mostly German for some reason....

From Amma's ashram we continued north to Fort Kochi - which is a really pretty little place, with an amazing palace. The palace contains lots of murals dating from the late 16th Century - firstly of the Ramayana, but in the ladies' bedchamber they got a little....explicit.... amazing how popular with the ladies having 8 arms makes you...

Overall Kerala has to be by far the most civilised state - people actually queue here! Seriously, it has a literacy rate of somewhere between 90 and 98%, and passing through seems to be by far the most prosperous state I've seen. For anyone thinking of holidaying in India, I would definately recommend Kerala - the backwaters, beaches and Periyar are all amazing.

From Kochi we found a night train willing to take us up to Goa... and so now life mainly consists of sitting on the beach under palm trees reading Harry Potter....

Until next time..

Additional photos below
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For all those looking for holiday inspirations...I definately recommend Periyar...

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