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Published: March 14th 2011
And then there was the trip by taxi and train to Calicut in Kerala. Our train (the Netravarti Express) left from Karmali in Old Goa at 9:58pm and we arranged a taxi for the 45 minute drive but he failed to turn up. Everyday there were numerous taxis waiting in the laneways to the beaches, but of course on this evening there were none. Kelly finally asked Caeton, our land lord if he could phone for one – and the immediate reply was “I have my own” – excellent we thought until he then asked if we knew the way to Karmali. Of course we didn’t. No problem – he stopped at the exit of our laneway to the main road and got some general directions from a number of people and off we went. It had been one thing to drive those narrow, busy roads in the daytime on the moped – it was another to be driving them in the dark in a much larger vehicle. After crossing the bridge into Panjim and then turning left, I was more confident that we were on the right track. Suddenly the roads were a lot quieter and we were out in
the countryside. A couple more confusing intersections and a few enquiries made of pedestrians and we arrived at the train station right on schedule. Great job ,Caeton.
And then we waited, and we waited – and had plenty of time to explore the station. Huge ceiling fans above the open platform came on – to keep the bugs away- and dropped the temperature considerably so out came the sweaters and the pashmina’s (now Kelly was grateful that I had bought more than one).
The Indian train system is rather efficient (except for the trains running late). W had been waitlisted on this train but had learnt a couple of days earlier than we were confirmed. The reservation board just inside the platform listed all those who were boarding at Karmali and their carriage and berth number. Included in this information was how many carriages you were away from the engine – our carriage A1 was 7 from the engine. And in case you missed this piece of information there was a large board with a diagram of the train and carriages with all the carriages numbered appropriately. On the platform itself, there were also signs as to exactly
where each carriage would stop. These trains are really long and as they only stop for a minute or two at smaller stations, it is best that everyone knows where they should be. Along the walkway to the platform there were also two train diagrams – the train going south had the locomotive pointing couth and the train to Mumbai was going the opposite direction. All helpful information for the directionally challenged.
A posted notice stated that our train (#16345) was running 120 minutes late – that time came and went and finally at 12:45am the train pulled in. Carriage A1 (7th from the engine) stopped exactly where it should.
Sleeper trains have their berths arranged in either 2 tier or 3 tier and we were in the former. The berths are arranged in groups of 6 with 2 narrow berths against the side of the train and then 4 berths at right angles forming a kind of compartment. The lower berths convert to seats for during the day. All bedding is provided, neatly folded on your berth. We were in berths 18 and 35, both side berths. Kelly was in 35 which was a lower berth and which was
fairly uncomfortable for him as the joint where the 2 seats folded down was right under his hip. I was in an upper berth which was quite a scramble when it is late at night, all the lights are off and the ladders are obscured by the privacy curtains pulled across the berths. I also had no window so was somewhat surprised when I woke up at 8:40am – I had slept through all the “coffee” and “chai” calls as the sellers went though the carriages. Kelly was on his 4th cup of coffee by the time I joined him. Luckily his seat mate had gone elsewhere so I was able to use his sate. My lower berth mate was still sleeping so I would have had to stay in my skinny upper berth otherwise.
The train windows are fairly grimy – apparently trains are taken away for a “washing” at the end of each journey but I don’t think they get to dry before they are covered in dust again. Despite the air cooling it was quite stuffy in the carriage and my favourite spot was standing in the open doorway watching the world go by. The serenity
was broken only by the Indians doing their ritual hoiking in the washrooms (one western and one squatter) behind me.
Many stops later – some short, some long – we arrived in Calicut at around 11am.
It wasn’t difficult to get an autorickshaw and soon entered the traffic mess that is Calicut. The Alakapuri hotel was a lot more expensive than expected but we were given a cottage room (huge bedroom, entry way and a bathroom big enough to sleep a few more people) so that probably explains the price. The hotel is built around a large lawn area and was remarkably quiet for being just off the main road. The huge dining hall was rather stuffy but the staff pulled a table and chairs over to the edge of the verandah so we were in the fresh air. Ordering lunch was somewhat of a challenge due to the lack of English. What we learnt was that Keralans eat “fish curry rice” at lunch and so nothing on the menu was available. We agreed to whatever was suggested and ended up with way more food that we needed but it was so good. The fried fish was to
Our guide book mentioned a decent coffee shop so off we went ……in the heat of the day amidst crazy traffic – however, surprisingly the traffic stops for pedestrians – occasionally. The coffee shop was nothing like what we expected – we are off the beaten path now remember - a large room with cafeteria type tables and a couple of elderly Indian gentleman running it. Not trusting that the coffee wouldn’t be Nescafe, chai was the drink of choice.
Evening time there was “lawn service” at the hotel – all the tables and chairs were dragged out onto the lawn and that became the restaurant – quite unusual for India because usually grass is there to be admired, not to be sat or walked on. It is against Keralan law for beer to be sold outside a bar, so the bottles had to remain inside and the beer served in glasses.
Our taxi to the ayurvedic center picked us up at 1pm for what was to be quite the journey. To start with, the roads were in excellent shape – this is the richest state in India. We slowly started winding our way uphill.
Immediately in front of us where some very highl, very steep hills (the western ghats). The driver pointed out the road at the very top – we had to crane our heads to see it – that was where we were going. 9 hairpins bends, many other not quite so steep turns, plenty of monkeys and a rapidly deteriorating road, along with our driver attempting to pass everything in sight made for an interesting ascent. Once at the top, we were in the spice garden area – rubber, pineapple, banana, coffee and tea plantations with peppercorn vines climbing anything they could. The occasional scent of the coffee flowers wafted into the car.
The drive was starting to get rather long – the roads were alternating between good and atrocious. The closer we got to the Ayurveda Yoga Villa, the worse they seemed to get – parts involved navigating between rocks and ruts - they are planning on improving them as evidenced by the large piles of small rocks on the side of the road. Finally after 2 hrs and 45 mins we arrived at the absolute end of the road for our 2 week stay.
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