Posted by: glenswatman | February 21, 2011

20110211-20 INDIA Kerala and Tamil Nadu

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FRIDAY 11 FEBRUARY – We both have a good night’s sleep.  Mid afternoon we lunch at Trattoria where the vegetable maugli is excellent, we have now learnt to order one meal to share then if we are still hungry we can order more food but one meal is usually sufficient.  It takes me 5-hours on the internet to book our flights to the Andaman Islands, the internet keeps going down which makes research slow then some sites won’t let me use an English credit card and others increase the price when I go back in.  Eventually I use www.cleartrip.com and get Kingfisher flights with 2 return tickets from Chennai, out on 18th March back on 2nd April, a total of Rs 17782 (£140).  This should fit in well if Steve manages to get tickets for the England v W Indies cricket in Chennai on 17th March.  In the evening we are invited to join Norma and Chris for drinks in their suite.  They have been staying here but had to move because their cheaper bungalow was booked over the weekend so they have upgraded but just as they were moving this morning learnt that the bungalow booking had been cancelled but moved anyway for an extra Rs 250 (£3.75) night.  They are Geordies and well travelled so we learn a lot and now want to visit Sumatra.

VARKALA 6, HOTEL THIRUVAMBADI

SATURDAY 12 FEBRUARY – We have a bit of a lazy day. Pop out for lunch at Trattoria, Vegetable Shaki Kurma, coconut milk, dry nuts and a brown sauce.  In the evening Steve goes out to watch football in a bar.

VARKALA 7, HOTEL THIRUVAMBADI

SUNDAY 13 FEBRUARY – We return for a buffet breakfast at Café del Mar.  Throughout the day most of the other hotel guests leave and we feel like we have the resort to ourselves.  Late afternoon someone shins up the palms near our room to tie the coconuts to a rope and lower them down.  When he has finished he chops the tops of a couple of them and gives them to us to drink.  For our evening meal at Trattorias we try the local speciality fish in banana leaves, Rs250 (£2.70).  One portion serves the two of us and the fish is cooked to perfection with many herbs and spices in a juicy sauce.  On line I manage to books tickets for the England v W Indies world cup cricket game in Chennai on 17th March, Rs1000 (£15).  I also book our flights from Chennai to Delhi with Indigo Airlines, RS1 (2p) each but with taxes it comes to $2861 (£41) each.

VARKALA 8, HOTEL THIRUVAMBADI

MONDAY 14 FEBRUARY – We make the long walk to “Temple Junction” past the local beach.  At the bottom of the steps there are many priests who seem to have set up a personal offering and blessing station.  At the junction the ATM rejects my card saying it is blocked and I must contact the bank.  Hasten back, but make time to stop for breakfast, and then call the bank who says it is not blocked.  In the evening we return to Trattoria for our Valentines meal figuring we can’t beat the fish in banana leaves.

VARKALA 9, HOTEL THIRUVAMBADI

TUESDAY 15 FEBRUARY – We breakfast at “Sunrise” on the Rs 90 (£1.35) special of tea or coffee, freshly made fruit juice, 2 eggs fried or scrambled, 4 slices of toast and jam plus fruit salad.  Today the ATM works using the same card we tried yesterday, must have been the machine that was blocked not my card.  Walking back we check out the clinics as many are now reducing the prices on treatments.  Nandayanam Panchakarma Centre still has the Valentines special of a 45 min body massage and a 45 minute facial for Rs500 (£7.50).  Steve can have a 60 minute massage for Rs300 (£4.50) so we book in for 7pm.  The treatment is interesting.  Steve has a male masseuse and myself a female and we are taken to separate rooms.  First I am asked to undress completely and sit on a plastic chair.  My head is massaged with lots of oil before I am told to like on the nearby table face up.  The girl then proceeds to slather about a litre of oil on me whilst making sweeping motions from my ankle, up my leg, over my stomach then down my arm then repeating this on the other side.   Next I lie on my stomach and much the same is done although with a little more emphasis on my shoulders.  I am instructed to take a shower – soap, shampoo and a small rag are provided.  Next I have to dress then lie back on the table face up for the facial.  She double cleanses my skin then has me sit up whilst she puts a cloth over my head then wafts something like a kettle of steam in front of my face to make it sweat.  I lie down again and she wipes of the sweat then applies a face mask and eye pads.  After removing this she uses some sort of facial scrub then asks me to rinse this off in the sink.  I am expecting this to be followed by a toner and moisturiser but instead am told that is the end.  Suspect she has over run on time and cut it all short but it was still a very nice experience and I sleep really well afterwards.

VARKALA 10, THIRUMVAMBADI RESORT

WEDNEDAY 16 FEBRUARY – We were planning on moving on tomorrow, the swimming pool is now very cloudy and not fit for swimming, but after getting an Email we make a new plan.  Our host in Madurai has invited us to join his family on a holiday to a hill town leaving Friday morning.  To do this we must leave today for Kanyakumari in order to get the train on Thursday night to Madurai.    After lunch we take a rickshaw Rs80 (£1.20) to the station and buy our train tickets, Rs 76 (£1.10) each, for the 2.05pm.  It doesn’t arrive until 3.35pm but in the meantime we have been entertained by watching the people on the opposite platform.  Just before a train pulls in many of them jump down onto the track and stand on our side.  As soon as the train stops they are able to climb onboard without waiting for passengers to get off and thus increase their chance of getting a seat.  We manage a seat in the 3 tiered sleeper seats without doing this and after Trivandrum have a whole carriage to ourselves.  We leave Kerala and enter the state of TAMIL NADU.  Arrive at 7pm and take a rickshaw to town, Rs30 (45p).  In the bazaar area near the temple we check out a number of hotels and settle on Hotel Saagar with a large modern double room at Rs 500 (£7.40).  We have great views and can see the two islands, one with a temple and the huge Vivekanada memorial.  Philosopher Swami Vivekanada “the wandering monk” made extensive journeys across India and this is in his memory.  Opposite it is a rock with a huge statue of Tamil poet Thiruvallavur, a bit like the Colossus of Rhodes standing guard.   Drop our bags and set out to explore to town.  This is the tip of India, the meeting of 3 oceans and Indians see it as a pilgrimage to come here so it is very busy.  Our timing is perfect for the Kumari Amman Temple as they are about to start a ceremony.  Steve must remove his shirt and hang it over his shoulders and we both take off our shoes.  A donation is requested then we are ushered into the amazing stone carved seashore temple.  It feels like something out of Indiana Jones as along with the devotees we are taken through various chambers where different things happen.   At one point we both have red powder daubed on our foreheads, what an experience.  Wondering the streets we buy a bunch of bananas Rs 10 (15p) and other really cheap snacks to nibble on.  There are numerous Rs20 (30p) and Rs5 (7p) shops selling lots of cheap junk.  By 9pm we are getting weary so head home

KANYAKUMARI, HOTEL SAAGAR – Rs 500 (£7.40)

THURSDAY 17 FEBRUARY – Within India this place is unique as you can see both the sunrise and sunset over the oceans and thousands flock to the waterfront to watch.   We didn’t ask for it but a knock on the door wakens us for sunrise at 6am.  At the waterfront we are pestered by vendors selling pearl necklaces, fancy shells, maps and guide books.  By 7am it is apparent the sun is hiding behind low cloud so we return to our hotel to learn that we could have watched the non event from the roof top where we see the sun appear above the clouds as a huge red ball.  Return to the room for a nap but the man knocks us up again around 8am to give us our receipt.  Although this is the meeting point of the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal there is no obvious change of colour.  At the ferry port it is a short wait until we take the RS20 (30p) ride to the Vivekanada Memorial.  The circular ferry then goes to the statue where you can climb to the base before returning to the mainland.  We walk around the town and see the memorial to the 2004 tsunami, this is the point where it hit India and many people were killed.  There is also a Ghandi memorial where his ashes lay.  Luckily most hotels in India offer the room for 24 hours so we are able to return to watch TV and rest.  At 4pm we go to the station to be ready to get a seat when the train arrives.  They tell us all the sleeper seats are reserved so when the train arrives we quickly get into the general seating area and bag a spot.  In fact the train seems quite empty until we make the first stop when our carriage quickly fills.  In sleeper class these benches are for 3 people but in general for 4.  However after our 3rd stop there are 5 people squashed on each side and others lying on the luggage racks.  By the next stop the floor is full of people as well as there are no limits on the number of tickets sold.  At one point I feel something running down my back from the rack above and look up to see a small child, I panic a bit when I think she is peeing on me but it turns out it is only their tub of olives that has fallen over and the oily vinegar is running down.  It is almost a journey from hell and most uncomfortable but obviously far worse for the people who are going to Chennai and won’t arrive until next morning.  We manage to clamber through the sleeping bodies to alight in Madurai.  It is a huge station and bustling with people at 10pm.  Outside we are stopped by Theresa & Adam from Poland who are also going to be staying with Couchsurfing host Raj.  We need 2 rickshaws to take us to his home where he is waiting and by the time we have finished introductory chats it is after midnight.

MADURAI, CS WITH RAJ

FRIDAY 17 FEBRUARY – We meet Raj’s wife Sudha, sons’ 10 year old son Manu Maharaj and 6 year old Abi Manyu plus Raj’s mother Silvei who they live with.  Theresa and Adam are flying out on Sunday so they will stay with Silvei whilst we go on the trip.  Plans have changed as Raj’s friends are no longer coming so an early start is not necessary.  I watch Silvei cooking breakfast and pick up a few tips.  We leave around 10pm.  During the journey Raj has lots of interesting information to tell Steve whilst I teach the kids a few games.  The latter part of the journey is very interesting as we begin to climb the mountains on winding roads.  We see really cute monkeys with babies and a nice waterfall.  The hill town of Kodai is very atmospheric shrouded in mist and the lower temperatures are very noticeable.  Passing the lake we arrive at the guest house owned by Raj’s company.  Unfortunately we then learn that the general manager and friends are staying for the weekend so we are relegated to the cottage in the garden.  This is very basic and cold and the beds have coir (made from coconut matting) mattresses which are rock hard.  Dropping off the bags we head out to lunch followed by a visit to the cake shop.  Sudha and Abi are tired so they return for a sleep whilst we got to meet Couchsurfer Avinash and his guest Jay from Chicago.  Avi lives way up on the mountain and we climb even higher for the views.  Arrive back around 6pm when everyone disappears for a nap, again with the children sharing their parent’s bed although with the cold we could do with a couple of kids to warm us up!  After a couple of hours they get up and Raj suggests that we might want to move to a hotel as they are not happy with the cottage.  They have come for a relaxing break and this place is not conducive however after a few phone calls he cannot get us rooms for tonight.  We go out for a meal but it is quite late and many of the restaurants are closed.  We end up at Hotel New Punjab which has a very good menu but Steve has an upset stomach and I feel it is too late to eat curry so we order cream of tomato soup only to find that is also spicy.  When we get back we grab as many covers as we can and pile on clothes to try and keep warm.  Neither of us get much sleep as Steve keeps having to dash to the loo, there are many dogs barking and the bed is cold and uncomfortable.

KODAIKANAL

SATURDAY 19 FEBRUARY – The kids are up early and I am happy to get up, everyone chills out (literally) for a few hours, even in my warmest clothes and fleece I am still cold.  Coffee in a flask is delivered but as usual it is weak milky coffee full of sugar.  Steve has Delhi Belly so stays behind when we go out for breakfast at 11am.  Check out alternative accommodation but Greenland’s Youth Hostel’s cheapest room is Rs1200 (£17) and still pretty grim.  Luckily Raj has been here before and knows that Hotel Valley View Inn has good rooms.  It is a modern hotel, carpet on the floors, large double beds with thick foam mattresses, good pillows and a lounge area with table, chairs and satellite TV.  We return to pick up Steve and relocate.  En route I buy bananas and water for him and notice it is packaged in a bag made out of a magazine page.  Raj tells me that all the hill towns in India now ban plastic bags and even the supermarkets have grocery sacks made from double thickness pages of newspapers.  Leaving Steve to recuperate we head off sightseeing.  This is a popular destination at weekends for Indians as they enjoy the cool air – bit of an understatement.    Near all the sights there are dozens of stands selling locally made chocolate, oils (especially the eucalyptus from the local trees), jewellery and clothing – warm jackets and jumpers plus over makes and seconds of brands sent abroad such as Gap.  Pillar Rocks viewpoint is very busy but we have to wait for the mist to clear to get a fleeting glimpse of the attractive rock formation.  At the central lake Abi & Manu rent bikes whilst Sudha and I check out the stalls.  I can’t resists some chocolates Rs40 (60p) 100gm.  People can also ride horses here but it looks funny with the owner pulling the horse along whilst riding a bike.  I am surprised to bump into Norma (from the same hotel as us in Varkala).    They are fed up of battling the cities and have changed plans to spend more time in the quieter places.  Next we drive further round the lake.  Again more stalls with some selling corn on the cob.  The stallholder uses a blower to make the charcoal glow then sits the corn directly on top.  After turning the corn many times each side is cooked so the lady then uses the outer corn leaves to wipe off the ash then dips half a lemon into masala spice and rubs it over the cobs, Rs25 (37p).  Even before we have finished this we go to a lakeside restaurant for a late lunch which I miss and just have coffee. So far we think that Indians eat much more food than us and at different times.  Raj knows the best places to buy oils and chocolates so I pick up Eucalyptus and Citronella at “South India Spices” and more chocolates Rs60 (90p) 100gm at the adjoining “Chocolate World Home Made Chocolates”.  I can’t resist the hot chocolate Rs 50 (75p) but am surprised when the man takes a hair dryer to the chocolate mixing machine and melts chocolate from the wheel into a cup to make the drink.  So rich even I struggle to half drink half eat it.  Get back around 6pm and find Steve’s been taking tablets and rehydration fluids and is feeling a little better even though his stomach is still growling.  I settle into bed with him to watch a movie and decline the offer to go out with Raj and family for a meal at 8.30pm.

KODAIKANAL 2, HOTEL VALLEY VIEW INN, Rs 990 (£14)

SUNDAY 20 FEBRUARY – After breakfast at the hotel we drive to Bryant Park gardens but there’s not much to see as the new plants have only just gone in.  For some reason people keep asking to have their photos taken with us, we almost feel like celebrities.  Return to the lake for the boys to cycle whilst Steve and I walk along the shore whilst doing the occasional photo stop.  After lunch at the bakery we begin the journey back pausing to photograph and interesting temple statue, a valley full of clothes lines (where all the hotel laundry is dried) and a couple of waterfalls including Silver Cascades.  It takes 3 hours to get back to the heat of Madurai.

MADURAI 1, CS with Raj

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