I don’t know what to think, I might be bored. We are now at two hundred and fifty kilometers, and have stopped once in seven hours at a truck stop, transport cafe type place, rather small, in fact very small, seated about twenty. The curry was ok, the bits on the side were better, the customers were exclusively male, lunch for two was six dollars. The drive north has been quite eye opening, a two lane road all the way, there are no passing places, ha, not even any any passing lanes. Overtaking just happens when necessary, blind corner, sure, brow of a hill, go for it, what is most alarming is when we are four wide barreling down a two lane road and a truck appears coming in the opposite direction. Of course the reverse happens too, we round a corner and there are four lanes of traffic coming right at us. Oh it’s a bundle of laughs. Unfortunately the scenery is deadly dull, village after village after village all looking fairly much the same and about a mile apart, all the way.
Ok, now it got dark and it got interesting. The Western Ghats just sprang out of the dull plain, one minute it was flat flat flat, the next we were climbing, through a series of eight hairpins and still we climb. I can look down at the lights on the plain far far below, it is reminiscent of the approach to Masa Verde. Of course people try and overtake on the hairpins resulting in beeping beeping, gears grinding and much hullabaloo. Looking up I see truck or car lights impossibly high up, are we really going all the the way up there. Cars are parked beside the road, people sitting on the walls enjoying the view. We pass through a check point, papers are handed over, not sure why. We are on a high plateau and everything is different, there are spice stalls, tea booths, honey for sale, tasty looking restaurants.
I kept thinking, we must be nearly there, we must be. But no, the driver started showing a lack of confidence also, stopping and asking the way frequently, not very inspiring I thought. The procession of villages started again, more interesting as the populations were out and about, but less navigable due to them spilling into the streets. We continued until finally driver said, would you like beer? Well sure, but no bar in sight. We climbed some dingy stairs and I joined a queue of the local, er, well, I have to say, drunks, to buy two bottles of beer to bring along for dinner. To say it was seedy would be an understatement, I think it was the only liquor outlet for miles around and attracted some pretty rum characters (pardon the pun), I feebly tried to protect my pockets from thieves, looked as if I knew what I was doing and emerged unscathed and triumphant with two bottles of warm beer, total price, one US Dollar. Good I thought, we must be getting close, it was nine pm by now, how close are we, I enquired, only about an hour he says. Despondency and near sense of humor failure. More stops to ask the way, road gets narrower and narrower, until really only a single lane. Funny how those expressions spring to mind, but couldn’t help thinking, if there is a hotel at the end of this road I will eat my hat. There are mile markers and I saw one that said fifteen, ok, if nothing appears after fifteen lets turn back to that Holiday Inn I saw a while back (not). By this point the road had ceased to be a road and become more a boulder strewn, bone shaking track. We came to habitation, not only habitation but a vast three storey building full of marauding children. Incongruous, yep. Apparently a school for the local, tribal children, a boarding school. Oh, then the track ended. Driver turns down what appeared to be a dried up river bed, oh come on, hat eating reconsidered. We bounced down and there was a man, standing by an open gate, he waves us in, we park. He turns out to be a charming young man who runs a “home stay” way the bleep out here, takes bag out of trunk, puts it in room, is that my room, I enquire, oh no, that is your tent. After ten hours driving it looked like a palace. At ten forty five I declined the offered dinner, I felt bad, but that late, curry, I just couldn’t handle it. One beer and I felt a bit better and walked about asking questions and getting acquainted. He has two rice paddies, a field of cabbages and one of carrots. He has a large plot of Capsicum. Roses, Morning Glory and lots of palm trees. I wandered over to the gate and he came scurrying after me, no no, you mustn’t go out, the elephants are coming, maybe tigers too. WHAT ! Any snakes I asked, only cobras, and king cobras, any scorpions, oh no. Well that’s a relief. I considered the second bottle of beer, and drank it.
Slept very soundly until five am when the chanting started, there being a Temple to Vishnu directly up the mountain behind, quite famous I hear. Sara, you would have loved it. A simple flute and a lady who had this knack of harmonizing with the echo of her voice, which came back, reflected off the surrounding mountains so there were two of her voices simultaneously. Not sure about these things but it sounded like she was joined at the important bits by other female chanters. Morning Ragas for real. Quite memorizing. It went on for an hour. Can I tape it and put it on Soundcloud? Well no more sleep for me. Wandered about in the dark, looking where I was going ! The sun came up, warming everything, quite cold at night. The day passed quickly, we had a stroll to the temple, straight up, vertically, for about a mile. No comment. Went to the temple but of course I couldn’t go in, being a heathen and all, but the grounds were pleasant and contained a four hundred year old working viaduct, and Maurice, a tunnel, fifty kilometers long that the locals used to escape the British years ago. It goes right under a mountain and comes out, well, fifty kilometers away. Interesting. It is/was hidden amongst the religious artifacts and was never discovered, or so the story goes, I had to take my shoes off to gaze upon the entrance and was not allowed to take a photograph. (just in case the Brits come back?!). Not much else happened for the rest of the day.
That was it then, a day in Tiruneli, high up in the Western Ghats. Perfect.
The dried up river bed approach to the Home Stay.
The four hundred year old aqueduct.
The four thousand year old ritual bathing pool at the Thiruneli Temple.
Back breaking work planting rice.