Category Archives: Kerala

A Road Trip through the Western Ghats

Can I précis the last few days into one post? Not sure but will give it a try. The last post update was, I think, on Thursday evening and it is now Thursday again, a lot has been packed into a week.. Tiruneli Village turned out to be within the boundaries of the Tiruneli Elephant Reserve so later on Thursday evening a night time safari was organized, leaving at about ten pm. Briefly, it turned into a scene from Jurassic Park. We got stuck in the mud, along with a couple of other search lit jeeps, within a few feet of a most enormous elephant, three foot tusks and everything. After much panicking and gear crashing the jeeps were extricated. We saw an attack elephant, monstrous and grey, who with a disdainful look at us humans gave a massive trumpet and crashed off into the undergrowth. We returned to the Home Stay to discover the car driver (Ravesh, pronounced Rhajeesh) had lost his keys ! Brilliant. They were later found at the first loo stop, forty five minutes back along the trail. That could have been awkward.
On the road early next morning after renegotiating the dried up river bed and the terrible road, heading for Masinagudi Wild Life Reserve. Another dull drive through endless villages until we started to climb out of the Plain and into Tamil Nadu. Immediately we were in the tea plantations, miles and miles of tea growing. Very green, very scenic, very different from anything in my experience, absolutely lived up to expectations. We climbed up and over low tea clad hills and stopped at Gulalur for lunch at Walter’s Curry House. Good curry and for the first time I didn’t let the side down, ate the whole thing with my right hand, no spoon or fork, and to tell the truth I did rather well. On into Masinagudi Park, dodging elephants and monkeys along the the road until we arrived at the main town where we were met by a Kumar who had lots of brilliant ideas. Another night time safari, a dawn trek, tribal dancing. Oh no, please, let’s find the hotel first and review the plan. We pulled off the road onto a track signposted Wild Breeze, Paradise Regained. Ground to a halt in the dusty courtyard, befriended by dogs and sat in the open air dining area to wait for somebody, anybody. We sat and sat until a someone came along on a motor cycle and checked me into a two roomed block, me on the left and no one on the right. It looked ok, checked the usual things, is there any hot water, yes, ok, great, not seen that for a couple of days, does the lock work, yep, ok great. Checked with the all knowing Kumar if there was the wifi in the town, oh yes, so we all piled into the car, back to town. Alas no wifi. This whole two day stay over plan was beginning to look bleak so I changed the plan. No, we would only stay one night, no safari, no trekking, let’s leave at seven thirty tomorrow and head for Ooty. Unusually firm for me, but really, the place wasn’t at all great, on the plain, hot, dusty, crowded, noisy and a dramatic change of pace after two days in Tiruneli. Returning to the Wild Breeze I discovered I had neighbors, three twenty somethings, from India, with two bottles of vodka placed emphatically on the patio table. Uh oh. Sure enough, one thirty in the morning I woke to a Bollywood movie playing loudly on the laptop, much screeching and violent puking. How I bless my noise canceling headphones.
Seven thirty we were back on the road heading for (Snooty) Ooty. Across the plain we drove until we met this wall, a scarp slope no less, rising to 2,286 meters, the summit reached by a series of thirty six hairpin bends. Up and up to Ooty. The book descriptions of the town were discouraging, and the reality bore it out. No problem, I will get the nine fifteen toy train down the mountain, not the early afternoon run. We made our way to the Station of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, bought ticket, had breakfast in the Waiting Room, tried to persuade Ravesh to meet me down the mountain in ninety minutes at Coonoor train station, climbed aboard and off we went. Built in Eighteen something by the British to transport themselves up to Ooty in the summer months where it was cooler it still runs today, attracting enthusiasts, tourists and British history buffs alike. It’s really fun. Perched precipitously on the edge of steep mountain sides, passing through deep gorges, over high high bridges and to the delight of all aboard, tunnels. As we pass through each one everybody cheers, hoots and claps, it’s very entertaining. My travel companions were a prosperous businessman from Bangalore and his wife who seemed absolutely thrilled with the whole thing, smiling and beaming non stop, from top to bottom. After the short run down the mountain we arrived at Coonoor, looked around for Ravesh, no Ravesh. I had done everything I could think of, showed him my ticket, pointed to schedule, yes arrives Coonoor at ten forty five, made driving gesticulations at car, you drive to Coonoor train station, see you there, to no avail, alas. After hanging about and declining offers from every taxi driver in town to see the sights I was forced to call The Fixer, Romey, back in Fort Kochi. No problem, he will call you soon. Hmm. Eventually my phone rang, garbled exclamations of car breaking, big traffic, etc etc, and Ravesh drove down the mountain to Coonoor.
Down and down we went, I have no idea how high 2,286 meters is but I tell you what, with the ninety minute descent in the train and then another two hours descent in the car it had better be quite high. We were back on the plain, the Coimbatore Plain to be exact. More dust and heat, more village after village. Oh, and then we had an accident, a bus rammed the driver’s side rear passenger door, not a really big deal, but all hell broke loose. Shouting, waving, pointing, crowds gathered, people came running from every direction, Rangers vs Celtic, the SF Giants vs the LA Dodgers weren’t in the same league, it was quite exciting. I sat firmly in my seat eating banana chips hoping this wouldn’t turn into a Tamal Nadu vs Kerala riot. The police came, the Army came, the situation was stabilized, I ran out of chips. A call back to The Fixer in Kochi confirmed that the insurance was up to date and any damage would be covered, that was that. Interestingly Ravesh did not seem in the least fazed by this incident, we were straight away back into the four wide overtaking, brows of hills, blind corners, more laughs.
So we came to the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve or it’s approaches. The first road block, you will pay three hundred Rupees and one hundred for each camera and why are you late? Pardon. You are late. Really, why, when. You must be here by three o’clock, really, don’t see that written anywhere, I think he was going to screw me for another few hundred, nope, nothing here about three o’clock. Now we must search the car. Really? Search away, please. We passed and were waved through the barrier. It was up and up, not sure how but we were climbing the Western Ghats once again, more switchbacks, more views of the dusty Plain, poor Ravesh, poor car, the road surface was dreadful. Then another checkpoint, I will see your passport, please fill in this form with your name and address, ok, fine. Filling in a form with San Anselmo Ca 94960 on a track, at a checkpoint, in the Indian jungle seemed, well, just a bit odd, frankly. Maybe its a next of kin thing in case i am devoured by a Tiger. Then another car search, hey, Ravesh and I had got it down! The mileposts said thirty five, gloom, but then we arrived at Mission Control Parambikulam, Army, Police, Forestry people everywhere but we were greeted amiably enough and I was shown to my tent, large enough for a bed and a bathroom, deck outside, beaming neighbors and long tailed monkeys, big ones, with very long tails, swooping about in the trees twenty feet away. Did anyone see the movie Greystoke ? Those hoo hoo hoo s had accompanied me these last few days, at a distance, on mountainsides far away, but here the hoo hoo hoo s were close, real close, in fact on my roof. Peacocks too, strutting about displaying their feathers outside my door. Birds sang in the trees, hogs snuffled about, it was truly Wildlife, at last.
Dinner was a group affair in a communal dining hut, circular, thatched with open sides where I met my beaming neighbors, Chris and Princela with their two children, holidaying from the far South. Chris is a Second Officer on a cargo ship and recently returned from Oakland where his boat had been delayed because of the Occupy Movement (Sebastian !), small World. With dinner complete there was little or nothing to do but go to bed. Up early for the Bird Watching Hike, can’t say we saw much, a Spotted Owl and a few others named in the local Tamil dialect so I have no idea what they were. Bringing up the rear I couldn’t help but glance back occasionally to check we were not being stalked by Shere Khan. Of the eighteen hundred or so Bengal Tigers left in India this Reserve boasts fourteen, alas of course we never did see one. There are also Spotted Deer and a type of Indian Bison, Leopards, Flying Squirrels amongst other beasts within the Reserve. Breakfast was served and I got to chatting with the neighbors, the lack of Internet access came up, naturally, Chris burst into action, producing gadgets by the pocket full. Within minutes we were f/b friends, they were reading my blog, exchanging emails and of all blessings allowed me to call home for ten minutes (two dollars), my first unstilted conversation in a week ! We all loaded up for a trip to a nearby village for the elephant riding, alas, the elephants were absent, not a big deal as the outing was really for the children and they didn’t seem too upset.
Later in the day I was ushered into quite a large van/truck type vehicle, with great suspension, and we made our way into the jungle on very narrow tracks. We saw the Indian Bison, I was shown the last Teak tree left in the forest, more Spotted Deer, huge squirrels, etc etc. I went for a paddle on a bamboo raft on a lake, saw a crocodile, and ended up at Parambikulum Village for tea at a tea stall. Inhabited by four different tribes the village prided itself on it’s literacy rate, a good thing. Another good thing is the Government owned cell service which covers the whole of India and provides Internet access also. I was told that any village can call the Government to have a tower built providing the inhabitants with web access on their very inexpensive phones. The guy next to me had three handheld devices which pinged and chirped constantly. They left me in the dust with my glitzy iPhone, another good lesson.
Ok, gotta wind this up, thanks for getting this far. So much for my précis. Am now back in Fort Kochi getting ready for the Rajdhani Express tonight to Goa.
More from there tomorrow.

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An elephant on a truck.

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Tea Plantation. Lots and lots of tea.

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Traffic hazard ahead.

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An elephant and me. An elephant and I ?

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Mother and baby.

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We are going up there, all the way to the top.

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A view from the Nilgiri mountain train.

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A view of the train.

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Crossing a bridge.

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The Age of steam is alive and well in Ooty.

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My tent at Parambikulam Tiger Reserve.

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A Woodpecker, just.

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Indian Bison grazing.

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Hugging the last Teak tree in the forest.

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A very big bison bull.

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A Spotted deer fawn

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The jungle below looks like a carpet.

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A crocodile .

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Another day another boat.

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Main Street Parambikulam .

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Meet one of the neighbors.

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Last boat ride of the trip, the ferry back to Fort Kochi.

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Lastly, here are Princela and Eliza whose phone I used to call California.

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The Road to Tiruneli.

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.

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The lunch stop.

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The dried up river bed approach to the Home Stay.

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The four hundred year old aqueduct.

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The four thousand year old ritual bathing pool at the Thiruneli Temple.

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Back breaking work planting rice.

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Sunset’s golden glow.

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Peppercorns in the sun.

The Kerala Backwaters

Thwack thwack is the background soundtrack to lunch, tied up to the bank of the seemingly endless waterway known as the Backwaters of Kerala. There too is birdsong from many unknown species and screeches of animals further back in the low jungly islands all about. The floating wild Hyacinth, fondly remembered from the Mekong, is prolific, I wonder, do they harvest it ? There is constant bank to bank canoe traffic, visiting, trading, schooling, I have no idea, but the pace of life is very very slow. Children cycle up and down the adjacent path crying out “What is your name? Where are you from?”. Men in the traditional dress, a longi, a kind of skirt, amble about doing apparently nothing, but I do notice they keep their eyes on the water, perhaps judging the fishing potential. The ladies, bright in their saris, thwack thwack thwacking the daily wash on convenient rocks.
The boats, which are everywhere, appear to be low draft barges with intricate bamboo woven roofs and walls built on top. Some are big fifty or sixty feet long with two decks, the upper one being an observation deck and the lower containing sleeping cabins, lounging and dining area, bathrooms, kitchen and crew quarters. My boat is quite small, room at the bows for two deck chairs and a table with four chairs, behind which is the cabin and bathroom with the kitchen at the stern. More than adequate for one, me. I count fourteen boats at this moment and that is just off the port side. Local bus boats speed along taking locals to and from, much faster than ours and creating something of a wash.
South and South we go, I can tell by the position of the sun, deeper and deeper into this vast waterway, I am completely lost. We follow narrow channels maybe three hundred yards across for half a mile or so, emerging into long wide lakes, perhaps one mile wide, two miles long and then on, to another distant channel. As we pass a narrow channel I can look down it, straight and palm lined into the distance, reminding me of the Canal du Midi with its famous Plane trees, are they really going to be cut down ? Wracking my brain to come up with an equivalent of this geographical feature, and failing. Is the Inter Coastal of the eastern US seaboard anything like this ?
We turn into a very narrow channel, too narrow for most of the boats, and we are in a village, on both banks, incongruously there is a pedestrian foot bridge, boys swim, men bathe, more thwacking, there are shops, well kind of, a bus boat rushes the people home, it will be sunset soon. Ferry, let’s call it a ferry. There is a Church, St Mary’s, I hear Mass. There are nuns, and a hospital . We stop, negotiate fish prices for dinner, king prawns it will be, curried presumably. I enquire about beer, a bottle is produced from behind a pile of empty boxes, Kerala seems officially dry. I was told proudly told that there are two liquor stores in all of Kochi, in some of the larger street food booths beer is sold, and consumed, out of tea pots.
We have joined a procession of boats all heading down a narrow channel into the setting sun (this is live narrative folks!) I assume to a place to tie up, or anchor, for the night, tea is served, no snooze, I might miss something. I see my first rice rick, like a hay rick, only rice stalks. I am not sure of the American translation, in fact I don’t think we have hay ricks in America, piles of straw ? Evening approaches and the ladies are fishing off the banks, come on guys, where are you ?
We tied up, strangely, along with many other boats onto a kind of tow path across from which is a house, in fact a whole row of houses, each with a boat tied up across the narrow path. Our front end is almost right in the lady’s wash area, evening ablutions are carried out within inches of the boat, very odd. Walking along the path I found others who also found it a bit odd, Brits, of course, a Polish lady, Daga, a Norwegian lady, Christina and four year old Angelina and none of us could figure it out, why are we here. Oh well, not going to stress about it.
Brilliant dawn and sunrise, will try and post photos as and when. PROBLEM. My camera has stopped working, lens jammed. So to tuk tuk back to Kochi and now at Canon repair center. Motor is blown, too bad, camera only three months old. Hope then to be off to mountains for six days, the Western Ghats. So this might be bye bye until Goa on March 9th. Will have stories to tell and photos to share.

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There is much visiting from shore to shore.

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More visiting.

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The Backwaters.

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More houseboats.

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Suddenly, a foot bridge.

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A rice rick !

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Something of a balancing act.

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My small boat, tied up for the night.

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Heavy traffic on the waterway.

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A houseboat Armada.

Well it is India!

I have read of the newcomer’s potential exasperation when trying to get anything done in India resulting eventually in the expression “well it is India”, so I have kept a large reserve of patience in case things begin to take their time. The first cup of tea for instance that took ninety minutes to appear. Today, being the last full day of my hotel reservation period, is the day I set about planning the next phase, a houseboat overnight in the backwaters. I had been checking out the many many boat ticket offices as I walked about town so headed to my first choice, A Fair Trade Boutique, and found them to be most obliging. The price seemed right, about half that of some other places I had looked at, they took plastic, but could I come back later after the boat Captain returned their phone call. Sure, no problem, I will go and find a domestic SIM card for my phone, they told me where to go.
Found a booth type shop manned by gentleman who feigned no English, but I caught him muttering understandably, and the we got to business. Oh no, not just any foreigner can buy a SIM card, you must have passport photo and permission. Really ? Ok, I left my photos at the hotel, but spotted a passport photo taking booth across the street. Be right back says I. A certain amount of dithering, pondering and decision making took place and then they took the photo. More of same and then they printed it, four photos, one dollar. Back to phone person armed with required photo. He produced a massive form and stuck my photo to it. I quailed, form filling not my strong point, but persevered to his satisfaction and then he wanted my passport. How difficult, how humiliating, how embarrassing, but I retrieved it from my document/money belt buried three layers deep upon my person, right there on the street. Nobody seemed to mind. So on it went. Another form appeared, he filled it in and faxed it, somewhere, then told me to return in half an hour, go have a juice says he. Ok fine, it was getting hotter and hotter. Juiced, I returned. He seemed pleased. Not me, no no sir, that is not a micro SIM that I need, do you have a clipper. No, no clipper and he produces a razor blade and sets about the SIM with that. On and on. I returned to juice bar and he came too, still trimming the SIM. Then we had to find a paper clip to eject current SIM from my phone. OH. Of course it didn’t fit, more trimming with blade until yes, it now fits. Great, back to phone booth with SIM installed but no signal. On and on, hotter and hotter. We are two hours into this by now. More calling, dialing, pin # entering, finally my phone chirped. Let me outa here. Thanking him as graciously as possible I ran away. To the Post Office!
I will cut this short. You must wrap your package to Seattle sir. Hmm. Ok. See sign in clothing shop that says package wrapping. Please wrap this for me, oh yes. A custom made linen wrap is created, my package goes in and the whole thing sealed with wax. One dollar. Back to Post Office, lady takes package, and money , no customs forms, no nothing. Will it ever arrive on East Thomas, only Nat and Erin will know.
Back to the beginning, to the boat booking and ticketing office. Everything was done and they will pick me up at 10.00am tomorrow.
Well it is India.

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Lots of kind comments about the nets so here is another. Interesting to see the old and the new.

First Day in Fort Kochi.

Daylight on Tuesday reveals Fort Kochi, strangely quiet. Last evening there was the predictable busy busy business, motor scooters, tuk tuks, cars, buses and much pedestrian traffic. Only a little like Viet Nam, obliviously walk out into the traffic, keep going, don’t stop, don’t look and be optimistic. Woke up this morning at eight thirty, oh good, a lie in, pottered about, made tea, looked out the window, then discovered I had left the clock gadget on Cambodia time. It was a little after 6am. Oh well, sunup is a good time for a stroll. But, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse ! Ok, there were a few goats, the occasional policeman, some soldiers, that was about it, well early I thought and kept walking. 7am then 8am and still the streets were deserted, the shops shuttered, no hubbub, no action. Hungry, I made my way back to the hotel and then it struck me, someone mentioned a strike last night, a 24 hour General Strike! Well that’s it then, innit, all the shops are closed, the banks, offices, gas stations, restaurants, the Post Office, the railways aren’t running, the airport is shut down, the port traffic halted, there are no buses, tuk tuks or taxis. It’s so strangely quiet, like going to Safeway on Thanksgiving morning.

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Nothing, nobody, anywhere.

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The story behind the Chinese Fishing Nets

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The Nets Waiting for the new day

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The net is lowered into the water.

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After a suitable period of time the net is hauled up, gradually.

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There may or may not be fish.

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Last photo of nets for a while, promise.

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General Strike activity, cricket. I counted four matches on this one “pitch”.

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Another pitch, more cricket. Do check out the Banyan Tree, there are many in town and provide welcome shade.

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Everyone goes to the beach to watch the sunset, over the Arabian Sea.

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Having fun.

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Crowd. Beach. Fort Kochi. Sunset.

On arriving in Kochi

Thirty thousand feet over the Indian Ocean with a plane loaded with sari clad ladies, bespectacled, serious gentlemen and small, happy bouncing children. I don’t know what I said or did but every seat is taken, aisles, windows, middles except around where I sit. Here I have four rows of three seats each all to myself, it is the emergency exit row but even so, dear dear. Air Asia is an odd Airline charging something like a third less than the price I was quoted back home and taking me to my destination in the space of one day, no overnight layovers in random ports. They insist in charging for everything, water is a dollar, Oreo cookies two dollars for a mini pack. They seem to style themselves on the Virgin America model, they even use the same font in their logo, but the seats are ok, leather like Jet Blue in red and black. Oh, the food is inedible and costs three dollars. Truly airline food.
I just wanted to check in as we speed along to try and share my excitement, juvenile perhaps, but this part of my circumnavigation has always been the most keenly anticipated and about which I am the most apprehensive. Will it live up to expectations, will I ? Or will I bolt behind a hotel wall, fading in the heat and refuse to go out into the crowded streets, alleys and markets ? Abandon my booked train rides and fly about like a So Bo Bo ? Ha. Whatever is that I hear you ask. It’s one of the many derogatory names given to people doing what I am doing, and I assure you there are many more to chose from. Actually I might devote an entire post to the subject. No, it would be boring. But really to see the supercilious looks I received when my waitperson offered to show me the best way to tackle a crab at dinner time and I accepted, well, it’s just plain snobery (maybe inverse snobbery. Anyone ?), he said politely. Get a grip people.
Charming interlude, was joined in my three across by two sisters, eight and eleven, who wanted to play with my tablet. Shame I only could offer Angry Birds. Do you remember the children in Phnom Penh market ? Anyway, shrieks of mirth, approving looks from cabin crew, the Dad came by and we shook hands. They got it, well the older one did, and oh my, what huge eyes they have.
So, plane descends, folding tray tables, electronic devices turned off, seatbelts buckled, you get the picture. Next installment from the ground in INDIA .
Landed, transportation into town, fifty kilometers, in traffic, that made it fourteen hours door to door. Gasp. Have been asked for first impressions and fortunately I took notes on the way in, well you can only look at traffic for so long. I will be brief however as dinner calls. Must say at this point, just helped an Israeli Doctor connect to his hospital in Jerusalem so he could view a patient X-ray taken thirty minutes ago ! Anyway, after only driving in I have to observe that they are moving ahead here. Road construction everywhere, big colorful trucks abound, billboards, huge and enormous dominate the roadside. A two lane road can become a three lane and even a four lane case of beeping mayhem. Guess what, red lights are obeyed not viewed as a suggestion to stop and you really don’t need to if you don’t want to, Hanoi, HCMC for example. The waterways look very tempting, vastly wide with many many craft moving about, I hope to be on a houseboat by week’s end. Lastly, the smell, it’s like the whole place is on fire ! It isn’t of course, maybe it is the burning rubbish, or what.
It’s great, I love it already. Tea was offered on arrival, it took ninety minutes to be delivered to the courtyard outside the restaurant, my type of place. I heard a Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer, rapturousness.
Curry time, see you tomorrow.

Farewell IndoChine.

Well that’s it for IndoChina. What a treat, what a privilege, a big thank you to all the peoples of Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia, you have all been so kind and gracious. Not to mention your great food and cooking.
My five days in the Province of Kampot in the small town of Kep was a welcome break from the big cities, World Heritage Sites, museums, temples but most of all from the pollution and really really bad air quality. It took three days but I finally threw off completely the cold I caught in Hanoi. I did try a Post from Kep, alas still unfinished but will try for a successful completion at some point, but the power was unreliable and the web connection kept crashing. I have to say though that I couldn’t actually come up with too much to say that would be of much interest to anyone. The days passed far too quickly, breakfast became lunch, the afternoon into a siesta, tea became dinner and then it was all over and it was sleep time. Apologies to the squeamish but my sleep mates were wide and varied ! There was a dog outside my room every night despite changing rooms three times during the five day stay. Very large geckoes were constant companions both in and outside the room, there were toads and frogs kicking up a shindig for most of the night. I don’t really want to tell of the spiders and ants that marched about the rooms and the monkeys who screeched and yelled for most of the night, at least I suppose they were monkeys.
I think I may have mentioned the food, peppercorns, still attached to their vine, fried up and served with just about everything. The crab, the prawns, Lok Lak (a Khmer traditional beef dish), every meal was an exploration of my taste buds and an event to anticipate.
All too soon it came to an end and I was back on a tuk tuk to the bus station and the ride back to PP. Scheduled for 12.30 pm departure we were all still hanging about in the heat until about 2.00, will it come? Is that it? Where is it? Did we miss it? All the usual anxieties. Got to chatting with a Canadian gent, odd how they are always so easy to chat with, he from Vancouver Island and raised an eyebrow when I mentioned Victoria. Its good to get around a bit. Bus eventually came, another double decker, and I successfully found seat thirteen (angst) and who should settle in beside me but the Canadian. How do you do says I , Tim, no, he says, that’s who I am too. Not an Aries, but we had a most entertaining ride to PP. We ranged from the ten thousand hour rule, which dictates that to be really good at anything you have to have practiced same for said amount of hours to his six minute rule. I might try it.
Back home he specializes in emergency management at disaster sites and was in Cambodia with his wife and family researching for a magazine article she was writing on the indentured servant racket that is so prevalent in this country. Nice guy, we shared a tuk tuk to hotel row and off he went to find his family, funny to think he might be reading this. (hello Tim McLeod).
Not a very good evening as it was already getting late, did some gift shopping, Kramas (Khmer accessory), silk scarves, more pepper, a t shirt for me etc. went to the Foreign Correspondents Club, the FCC, for dinner and turned in early. That was the plan. Turned out the room had three extremely noisy extracta fans which I couldn’t figure how to disable. Called reception, first one, then two, then three hotel handy men came avisiting. Climbing on chairs, plunging the room into darkness, every switch, knob, dial, remote was brought into the scenario. Finally at about ten thirty I called a halt, herded them out and spent a largely sleepless night wearing my noise canceling headphones.
A 5am wake up call, 6am cab to airport, and this 8.30 flight. Oh yawn.
A break there for a read.
Right then, India for tea. Major expletive! Doodling over my 5.30 am cup of tea I made a couple of notes. I think one of the first books I remember reading was Kipling’s Just so Stories, so finally I am going to the land of Mowgli, Shere Khan, Bagheera and Baloo, O Best Beloved (s). I remember reading about the terrible famines and the tragedy of Partition. Plus of course the Bonzo Dog’s Hunting Tigers out in India!
I am on my way, have I planned sufficiently, am I prepared, time will tell I guess. If all goes to plan the next Post will be from Kochi (old Cochin) in the State of Kerala. More from there.