Very Long Trip Report, Part 1 - Cochin

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#1 Apr 10th, 2009, 23:17
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  • kedgeman is offline
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OK, just back from our 4 weeks in March, travelling around Kerala and had a great deal of wonderful help here and from Tripadvisor (were this is also posted). I promised to do a trip report as a thank you and hopefully to help others who follow in our footsteps. So here goes.

I will split into parts, as I tend to go into a great deal of detail and people may want to eat or get some sleep !!

Some background info. I am 56 years old and my wife is 42 (yes I’m very lucky) and we have travelled quite a bit. We like to think we are fairly adventurous and tend to travel more in a backpacker style, but do like some home comforts, at times. Also we prefer to spend our time travelling, just in one country or just one part of a country, as opposed to rushing around trying to see everything. Whenever possible, we prefer to try and get away from the main tourist places and do our own thing (this was to provide us with some narrow escapes and unique experiences, in Kerala). We also like walking even if it’s hot!!

Food – my wife is vegetarian and doesn’t like spicy food, me, I’ll have a go at almost everything if it’s not moving, and have a passion for chilli.

Our initial ideas are posted here - 4 Week Itiniary and we more or less did most of it.

I will try and do reviews of the accommodation separately in the Hotel section.

Days 1 – 4 COCHIN (Photos here COCHIN)

We flew with Etihad Airlines from Manchester to Abu Dhabi and from there onto Cochin. Cost us £357 return (from Trivandrum) and was excellent. Arrived into Cochin at about 03.50 in the morning and cleared customs with no problems. We had pre-booked our accommodation in Fort Cochin at Micky Villas (1,500 rupees per night, Air con, Hot water, very clean and new, quiet, no food options apart from free tea, coffee and biscuits) and had arranged with them to send a car to meet us. Cost 850 rupees, which is a bit much, but we didn’t want the hassle of dealing with the taxis and trying to find the accommodation at that time of the morning.

Went straight to bed for a few hours and then ventured out into the heat. Micky Villas is a 10 minutes walk and is slightly out of town and down a quiet backstreet. We walked down the street to the main road and immediately saw a temple elephant in a yard, having its lunch! Great start. Russell (who is English/Indian) the owner of Micky Villas had told us, at night there was a festival going on, just down the road. So this is where it was from.

We wandered into town and started to get our bearings. Took the compulsory photos of the Chinese fishing nets and fended off the rickshaw drivers who wanted to take us on their 50 rupee tours (I’m sure this didn’t involve any trips to their friends shops!!). “Go today as Dutch Palace is closed tomorrow” yeh, yeh heard it all before, thank you very much. But they weren’t lying – it was closed the next day!!
Walked all around the main part of Fort Cochin exploring the back streets and took photos of the kids leaving school. Found an ATM (only use the Nationwide Flex Account card when we travel) and drew out some money. Back into town and had lunch at the “Elite Bakery, Princess Street”, which was to become our regular place to eat.

We tend to try and eat as local as our instincts allow us and this usually means eating where there are a lot of people already eating, as the food tends to be turned over quicker and not left standing all day. The “Elite Bakery” ticked all these boxes

Visited St. Francis Church and walked to the Dutch Cemetery and then to the small beach where we watched the local fishermen casting their nets out. We also spotted some dolphins swimming out just beyond the rocks and watched them for some time. Then it was back along the promenade to the fishing nets and a rest under the shade in the park.

Our impression was that the fishing nets are a bit touristy and they only seem to work them for this purpose. The fish they have on sale, I’m sure comes from further out at sea. But it still remains a good place to visit, if you don’t mind being somewhat pestered by the local sellers.

Returned to our place to sit on the veranda and relax before walking back into town. Had dinner at “Chariot Beach, Princess Street”, which was OK. Sat outside at the side of the road with mozzie coils under the table, but later found out this was one of the places you could get Kingfisher, if you sat inside.

On our way back to Micky Villa, we could hear the drums and music coming from further down the main road, so we walked a bit further and experienced our first festival. It was just great, with a big stage with lots of dancers. Then the elephant comes past with its headdress on and goes into the temple. The drumming gets louder and goes into more of frenzy. We stayed until about 11.00 and it was still going on. It’s hard to describe a festival, but if you ever get a chance, go see one.

The next day, I had to get my priorities right and I found out where the liquor shop was, three blocks further down from where we had watched the festival. So we set off walking, as we got to the area of the festival, we heard drumming again. The elephant was again in the temple and the drummers were still hard at it. Found the liquor store and got 5 bottles of Kingfisher and a litre of “Old Cask” rum (really very good rum) There was a large fridge at Micky Villa which you can use, but Russell (the owner)said we needed to keep the receipt for the liquor, just incase the police think he is selling it to us. We then walked into town and found a place to buy a SIM card for our phone. We knew we needed a passport photo and our passport. They took copies of the Indian Visa also. Bought an Airtel (Lifetime) card for 99 rupees and about 450 rupees of credit. Shop around, as one place on Princess Street wanted 240 rupees just for the card.
Must say, I later on in the trip had to laugh about trying to buy this SIM card. I asked at a lot of shops if they had the card and most shook their head from side to side, I said thanks anyway and left. It was only later that I realised the head shaking kind of meant Yes or Of course. They must have thought I was mad asking for the card and then walking out after they said yes!!

OK, it was time to start seeing the remaining tourist sites. We decided we would walk over to the Dutch Palace and Jew Town area, so we set off and walked along a canal. People looked at us out of curiosity, as maybe not that many tourists head that way (was a bit smelly – the canal). At the end we turned right and walked down through the spice area which was packed and interesting. Went into a large courtyard area were they were drying ginger and in side rooms they were bagging it. The smell was great. Upstairs was just a shop, so only worth it if you want to buy stuff.
Down to Mattancherry Palace (Dutch Palace), but as mentioned it was closed on a Friday. But we did notice a lot of locals suddenly go into a shop opposite the bus area and palace. We hadn’t eaten breakfast and this looked promising, even though there weren’t any signs outside. So in we go. Everybody gave us a good look as we sat at a table and we wondered what we were in for. No menu, so when a guy said Thali we went for it. Well I was OK, as it was fish curry and quite nice. The wife managed to get by on rice and some of the sauces. But it just kept on coming. Every time I managed to finish a dish, it was topped up. By the time we were due to leave, there was as much as when we had started!! This was to be our cheapest meal of the trip – 50 rupees for both of us.

We then walked further down the road into Jew Town. This was a bit of a wake up, as we had been totally local until here. Everyone trying to get you into their shop, it wasn’t for us. Went up to the Jewish Synagogue, but again we had bad luck, it was now 1.00 pm and it was closed until 3.00 p.m.!! Not to worry – the Jain Temple was on the route back into town. This isn’t mentioned in the Lonely Planet South India book, but is in the Rough Guide to Kerala. So, we set off walking and after asking a few people, we eventually found it. Guess what.... it closes in the afternoon!! Not the best of luck today. Gave up and walked back to the main town and bought some cakes from the “Elite Bakery” and then back to Micky Villa to sit on our veranda, eat the cakes, cold Kingfisher and a rum and coke. We were pretty tired as we had not really sat down all day. But after a shower, we went back into town and thought we’d try the rooftop restaurant at the “Elite”. Went upstairs, but it was hot and there seemed to be a lot of mosquitoes, also the prices seemed dearer than the ground floor, for the same food. Back down to sit with the locals at the formica tables and a fan. Food here was very good. Then back towards Micky Villa and the festival was going on again. More people were spilling onto the main road and the sound system had been cranked up a notch or two. Then there was a procession with some Theyam dancers and drummers. More dancers with large floral displays on theirs heads went swirling by. Then came some motorised floats with large animated models of deities on them. Wow, we so lucky to see all this. There were some other tourists about, but not many. Seemed like not many tourists in town knew about it. Again we stayed until gone 11.00 and they were still going strong on the stage

We still had two days left before we had to leave Fort Cochin and head north to the Pooram (see previous post here Pooram in March). We had originally intended to possibly stay at Cherai Beach on the last night. But after talking with Russell at Micky Villa, he had got to know what we liked. He suggested that it was going to be a bit of journey with our luggage, just to lie on a beach for half a day. His recommendation was to just visit the beach and then come back when we wanted. OK, he got another nights payment, but it did seem like the better idea.

So what to do? We decided to hire a scooter for two days!! Now, I’m no motorbike rider, but have hired Hondas and scooters in Thailand, Vietnam and the Greek Islands, so felt reasonably confident. Russell said that if we headed south along the coast road, he’d heard there were good beaches and small fishing villages. Just around the corner from where we were staying were a couple of bike hire places, so we went and got a Honda Activa for 300 rupees a day. Hired it from Sam Mike Tours who is opposite the Santa Cruz Basicala. Tried bartering, but they just tried to give us a worse scooter. No forms to sign, just left my passport, as security. Got two crash hats and the first stop was the petrol station up by the jetty. I reckon that all bike hire places siphon any remaining fuel off for their own bikes and just leave you enough to get you to the nearest station!! Filled the tank and it cost about 240 rupees.

We headed south and to be honest once we got out of the main part of Fort Cochin the traffic became much lighter and it was a joy to chug along at our own pace. We simply kept following whatever road was the closest to the coast. This was more us – independent, and off the tourist main route. But there is a problem to this. Which we soon found out. Once you are off the beaten track, there are no facilities for tourists i.e. we couldn’t find anywhere to eat and we hadn’t had breakfast. Also no toilets!! There were some stalls selling biscuits and water, so we got by. But just be aware. There may well have been places to eat, but we didn’t see them.

Anyway, we took some side detours and into the backwaters, where again locals seemed surprised to see us. But they were so friendly, smiling and waving all the time. The places were really peaceful and pretty. Stopped at the side of the road when we saw some men making new canoes in their yard. They were quite happy to let us watch as they planed the timber to shape using basic hand tools and you could see the way the pieces of wood were held together by stitches of presumably coir string.

Further along the road we came to our first fishing village located on a really pretty beach. So we drove down and plonked ourselves on the beach to top up our suntan lotion and to chill. Wasn’t going to happen!!. We were something unusual. Some men came and stood right in front of us and just stared. I had read that this could happen, so it wasn’t too surprising, just a bit strange. Anyway after a few photos of their highly colourful boats and a couple of them (which they seemed happy enough with), we set off again. We knew the sea was to our right but couldn’t see it much due to all the rock walls. We were later told these were installed after the Tsunami. So we pulled into a clearing and climbed over the rocks. No beach – just sea. Then the kids appeared. This was to become a regular occurrence. Anyway they were just happy to try and talk to us. Just the usual “Where you from” “What’s your name” etc. I asked them if they could teach me my first word in Malayalam. I said what is the word for “hello”, they looked puzzled and then simply said “hello”!!

Off again and after some more backwaters side trips, were we saw local Chinese fishing nets, we passed the security guarded gates of Marai Beach Resort. We travelled a little further on and again into a clearing and climbed the rock wall onto a beautiful beach. It was completely deserted as far as the eye could see. Superb.

By now time was getting on and we had travelled about 60 km from Fort Cochin, so we set off back. It took about 1 and half hours to get back, but we’d had a really great day. Parked the scooter up at Micky Villa and walked into town, visiting the Santa Cruz Basicala on our way. Tonight we tried the upstairs “Talk of the Town” restaurant. Seemed very popular and we had to share a table. Unfortunately we got there just at the wrong time, as we placed our order and then 5 minutes later there was the power cut. It then took another half hour after the power came back, to get our food. We were ravenous. Food was OK, but liked the “Elite” better. Plus, quite a few mozzies here.

Next day was to be our last in Fort Cochin (and very eventful it would turn out to be). We decided that now we were mobile and I was more used to driving in traffic, we would visit the Dutch Palace, Jewish Synagogue and Jain Temple again, but by trying to keep off the main roads (at least until I could get my Last will and Testament printed!!!). By foul means or fair we found the palace and somehow entered via the rear entrance. It was interesting to walk around, so much to take in. Then down to the synagogue, where I had to have a pair of fisherman’s pants provided. (stupidly only had shorts on). Again it was interesting to look around. We now knew the road to the Jain temple and were there about 11.00. After stopping at the local food place (again) opposite the buses and palace, were we bought some buns/spicy cakes?? As you would expect, you have to remove your shoes to walk around the temple (but shorts were OK here). Be warned it gets very hot as the day progresses and the bare earth can burn your feet. Get there as soon in the morning, as you can. There appeared to be some sort of ceremony going on in one of the side buildings and there were lots of people. One man asked us if we knew about Jainism (which we didn’t) and he explained it simply to us. There were big celebrations that day, at one of their main temples in Gujarat (I think) and that was why they had a large scale model of it in this building. Those that couldn’t attend at the main temple had to make do with the model. They feed the pigeons each day at midday (according to the Rough Guide) and the pigeons where waiting. But today they weren’t doing it until 12.30. We had a lot more to do, so we gave it a miss, signed the visitor’s book and set off into the traffic.

Next we were going to visit Cherai Beach. This involves taking the scooter over on the ferry. This is quite an experience in itself. You park up at the motorbike area (it’s a bit like a funnel with 10 bikes at the back but only one allowed through at the front) and then go and get your tickets (think it was 5 rupees for the bike and 2 rupees for us two). Then you wait for the ferry. This arrives and all the cars have to come off, then the bikes and passengers. In the meantime all the waiting bike owners have appeared out of the woodwork and you are now sat in the midst of a Le Mans type pack! One glimpse that they are about to load up and all the bikes fire up and start inching forward!! But first the cars load, along with all the foot passengers. My wife boarded and I sat there eating exhaust fumes. Then it’s the bikers turn. The pack turns ugly and you are almost sitting on the bike next to you, he is so close. Inch by inch you move forward, but somehow someone has found a gap a mouse wouldn’t fit into, and he’s in front of you. As I got nearer to the front it was becoming obvious we weren’t all going to get on. Lots of shouting and horns blaring. But six from the front and they put the chain across. Waved goodbye to the wife and sat there waiting for it all to happen again!

Did get onto the next ferry and did see dolphins as we neared Vypin Island and did meet up with the wife!
Set off down the road and soon came to another festival area. It must have just finished as people and fully loaded rickshaws were leaving, piled high with decorations. Saw the road down to the lighthouse and took it. Went past the refinery and got to the lighthouse. Can’t say it was worth the trip. The temple opposite was more interesting. Anyway the lighthouse was closed, so we continued along. The road soon disappeared and turned into a track. But we kept on going and exploring. Went quite a way along the rock wall passing houses where people would come out and shout hello. Eventually the track turned into soft sand and we couldn’t go any further. Climbed the wall and found a small deserted beach, which was good. Turned back and found a side road that took us all over the place until it ended where they were making a new bridge across the canals. Thought we were stumped until a local pointed out a detour alongside some houses, very narrow. This led us to a small wooden footbridge which didn’t seem strong enough. But a local went across and didn’t die, so I gave it a go. Eventually we found our way back to the main road and carried on towards Cherai.
But we were soon tempted by another side road to the left and more backwaters. Now I should point out that these side roads aren’t paved they are just compacted bare earth or stone and are potholed and rutted. But if you take it slow you are fine.

So there we are trundling around the backwaters, taking photos and everyone is so friendly. We stop to take some pictures of some small children who seem delighted when we show them and their parents come out and say hello. We set off and it happens! A woman comes out of a house and waves hello to us. I take one of my hands off the wheel and wave back, we hit a big pothole and crash!! Typical English, we immediately pick ourselves up and say we are OK . But it was obvious we weren’t. We were covered in dirt, I had badly grazed my arm and foot and my wife had blood running down her leg from a bad graze on her knee. The whole village comes out and they take us into a nearby house were they sit us down. Someone gets some water and they start to clean our wounds. Then someone goes and gets some iodine and puts it onto the grazes. A man arrives who can speak a bit of English and we tell him to thank everyone. He asks what are names are, I tell him my wife’s’, and that my name is “Stupid”!! Everyone laughs. They insist we go to hospital, whilst we don’t think it’s that serious my wife thinks we should get checked out especially in case we get an infection. Luckily we were only travelling slowly when we crashed and the bike is still driveable. It’s got some scratches but nothing that will affect us driving it. So we set off to try and find the hospital. Getting to the main road, we ask and are pointed towards a building further along. We go in and a nurse says there isn’t a doctor until 5.00pm. Ok, we will wait. So we sit there for about 20 minutes with people looking at us strangely. Then another nurse who speaks a bit better English arrives and explains to us that we are in a Nursing Home!! She gave us some more directions to another hospital, so off we went. But this one turned out to be a Mother and baby hospital!! However after asking a few people at the roadside, we eventually got correct directions and found the proper hospital. It was really new and looked impressive. We even had patients leaning out the windows and shouting hello to us, as we parked the bike. This hospital is nothing like in the UK. Here you would have to wait possibly 4 hours to see a doctor. But in Kerala, we walked straight in and got treatment straight away. We did get some awkward questions, like how it happened (told them a dog ran out in front of us), also what street it happened on? We didn’t even know where we where? Still they cleaned our wounds and dressed them with bandages and told us we could take them off the next day. All very efficient, quick and free!!

So, that was our day over. We never did get to see Cherai Beach. We drove back towards the ferry and stopped at yet another festival that was going on at a roadside temple (3 elephants at this one and the usual drums, flutes and horns etc). The trip back over on the ferry wasn’t as chaotic and we got back to Micky Villa to review our wounds. We were so lucky to both have had crash helmets, as we could have hurt ourselves more. Apart from the main grazes I had a belter of a bruise on my thigh. But nothing that was going to stop us from enjoying the rest of the holiday.

Then it was time to take the bike back!! As the scratches on the bike weren’t too bad, we decided to tell them it had fallen over and we had scratched it pulling it up. We knew we were in for some pain over damages, but thought this excuse may minimise it. We wore long pants and sleeves to cover our injuries and handed the scooter back. We pointed out the scratches, as it was dark. He looked horrified and took it for a quick ride and said it was badly damaged. We knew it wasn’t as we had been driving it for about 30kms after the accident. He never believed that it had happened just falling over (and he was right!). But then we had to enter into protracted negotiations. He rang someone up and said it was going to cost us 1,750 rupees for the repairs. He even said the indicator lens would have to be replaced, which had the smallest of a scratch on it. We said look we know we have to pay for some compensation, but we doubt you will even get anything done to the bike. He said he would have to take it in tomorrow to immediately get it repaired. We pointed out that there were other scratches on the fairing that had rusted and never been repaired. But he insisted our scratches were worse (which they weren’t). We pointed out that there was still about 150 rupees worth of fuel left in the scooter, to which he said we could take it if we wanted!! Anyway we kept pointing out that we knew he was never going to repair it, but were willing to pay some compensation. Eventually,( in order to get my passport back) we just gave him all the money we had, (less 100 for dinner) which totalled 1,440 rupees + 600 for the hire. He said he thought I was robbing him and I said I thought he was doing extremely well out of the deal. He said that we should get Micky Villa to come and look at the bike in 2 days time and he would be able to confirm the repairs. He obviously knew we were never going to do that.
This saga has a slight twist which will be revealed later in the holiday.

Our last night was spent at the “Elite” and the festival. But our injuries were beginning to hurt and the day had taken its toll. We went back and started packing for the next day’s departure.

The next day we walked back into town and had our first breakfast of the holiday at “Chariot Beach”, it was just toast, butter and jam, but it was food. Last walk around Fort Cochin and back to finish the packing. Russell, had arranged a taxi to take us to Ernakulam Town railway station (250rupees). He had also, prior to our leaving the UK, rung the hotel in Ottapalam for us to reserve a room and confirm the Pooram was on March 10th.

We had enjoyed our time in Fort Cochin and had some scars to remember it by! But we were now looking forward to the Pooram and wondered if it would be that much different to the festivals we had already seen. Boy, were we in for a surprise.


Mod note: All the sections of this long trip report have been merged into one thread so people can find it easily.
Last edited by JuliaF; May 28th, 2012 at 15:59..
#2 Apr 13th, 2009, 17:02
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  • dhans is offline
#2
Thanks. Could you make it a journal?

Hans

Tips for trips to India with (young) children: India with kids
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#3 Apr 14th, 2009, 00:00
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Ah, very nice and long report! I am sure those bike trips were very rewarding in its own way, the injuries notwithstanding! Waiting eagerly for the next part!
miles to go....

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#4 Apr 14th, 2009, 22:05
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Very Long Trip Report, Part 2 - Pooram at Ottapalam/Chinakkathoor/Pallapuram

Days 5 - 6 POORAM AT OTTAPALAM/CHINAKKATHOOR/PALLAPURAM (Photos HERE)

(Original link where we found the info for the pooram Kerala Tourism

We had booked our train ticket in advance from the UK and had opted for the more comfortable 2 tier A/C. When we arrived at the train station, our driver checked what platform we were to leave from and we sat down and waited. I was amazed to see women walking between the train tracks collecting litter and putting it into baskets.

The train pulled in and we were helped by the attendant on the platform to the right carriage. Turned out they hadn’t put a 2 tier A/C coach on, so it was 3 tier A/C – no big deal. We managed to get window seats, put our backpacks under the seat and settled back to enjoy the ride. The trip to Ottapalam took just under 3 hours and was quite pleasant, arriving only about 15 minutes late at 16.15.

We had already arranged to stay at the “Hotel Aramana”, which we had read was not far from the station. Imagine our surprise when we got off the train and the hotel was right in front of us! No need of a rickshaw here. Went into what turned out to be the back of the hotel, and were directed around to the front. Now Russell from Micky Villa and a friend off one of the forums had both rung the hotel and made a reservation for us. But when we rolled up to reception, they had no note of it. Luckily they had plenty of rooms, sadly they spoke little English. We were shown a few rooms and decided on an A/C room for 650 rupees + 15% tax = 750 rupees. It was quite good for the price, 2 beds, TV, hot water and a balcony overlooking the railway station (OK for train spotters). We did however struggle to get towels, soap and a toilet roll. They did turn up at various stages, but it took a few times of asking.

Asked which way town was, and set off walking. It was only 5 minutes up the road. On the way we noticed a group of men playing drums and once they spotted us we got mobbed! Everyone was trying to talk to us at the same time, so friendly. We managed to escape and got up to the main road where we were greeted by the sights of what appeared to be any normal Keralan town. However we soon began to realise that Ottapalam doesn’t get that many white tourists (or any tourists at all!), as everyone seemed amazed and surprised as we walked by. We just wandered around the main streets taking it all in, photographing the traffic and looking for somewhere to eat later on. This was when I started to realise that restaurant/cafes were called “Hotels”. We found a couple that looked clean enough, so went back to our proper Hotel, to freshen up. Now the Hotel Aramana has two bars downstairs, one normal and one A/C. The normal bar seemed the busiest, so I went in and bought a bottle of Sand Piper to take back to the room. I think the locals got a bit of a shock when I went in, but were very helpful. I couldn’t help thinking that some of the guys who had been in there a while and had had a few beers, must have taken one look at me and then their beer and thought “I must stay off the strong stuff”

Back into town for dinner and we tried one of the “Hotels” which was in a mall and was VEG. Ok for the wife and I can get by on vegetarian food for a while. We went in but had the usual problem of no tourists town = no English. They had a large menu in English, but when we asked what it was and if my wife could have it none spicy, we met a brick wall. We tried our best mime act of no chilli, but still weren’t sure we had got the message across. This was confirmed when her mushroom masala arrived and I had to eat it. It was the spiciest/hottest meal I ate the whole trip. We were also served what appeared to be a witch’s hat type bread. We didn’t know what it was or what to do with it, so we slowly unwrapped it and ate little pieces off it. The locals looked at us in amusement and it wasn’t until someone else had one, that we saw them simply smash it flat and then pour their curry over it!! We were learning.

On our way back we found a bakery that looked very clean and when we went in, we saw they also had a restaurant at the back. The wife hadn’t really had much to eat, so we ordered some lovely cakes and sat down to eat them. Again, everyone was looking at us, especially as we had refused the offer of dining in their A/C room, but we understood why, we were a curiosity. Not everyday you see English tourists in town. It was getting late and we knew we would have a full day tomorrow, so we went back to the Aramana. The band must have heard we were in town as they were going full belt below our room (nothing to do with the bar of course), so it was some time before we could think of sleep. It was then we noticed we didn’t have any top sheets. So again down to reception, this time with the Rough Guide, which luckily had the phrase for bed sheets. Thirty minutes later they arrived. This just gave me enough time to kill 2 cockroaches in the bathroom! The Hotel was clean, but this was the only, time in 4 weeks, that we encountered cockroaches in our room.
During the night, we found that being so close to the railway station did have its drawbacks, as you could hear the train announcements from the tannoy system, booming out, what seemed like every half hour.

The next day dawned and we decided that we would have try breakfast at the hotel in their A/C restaurant. Again we encountered the no tourist, no English problem. There wasn’t a menu and the only thing we were offered was toast and tea. It turned out to be just that! Toasted bread with no butter or jam and tea (with sugar) that seemed like it had been made back in February. Still, we were learning by our mistakes.
At reception, we asked in which direction the pooram was, but they seemed to indicate that it really didn’t get going until the afternoon. So that left us with the morning to fill. In the room tariff brochure, it listed places of interest, and I quote:
1. 12Km from the famous “Vallathole Museum”, Cheruthuruthy
2. 12Km from the renowned “Thiruvilwamala Temple” and the “Punarjani Caves”
3. 10Km from the “Ananganadi Hills”
4. 4Km from the famous “Varikkassery Mana Nalukettu”
We had heard that the hotel was used a lot by film crews who used the surrounding area for location shoots. So thought some of these places may be interesting.
Reception couldn’t really help us, so we went outside to try our luck with the rickshaws and try for the nearest places (3 and 4). A local man came over, who spoke a little English, and we asked him if he could tell us what Varikkassery Mana Nalukettu was. He kind of explained that it was a large old house. We enquired about the Ananganadi Hills, and he said they were really beautiful. A rickshaw driver was waiting so we tried to ask him how much to the hills and the old house, but he couldn’t understand us. The local man helped and said the driver wanted 150 rupees to take us to the old house! We said what about the hills, the local guy asked the driver and told us he wouldn’t go, as it would be too hot!! What an excuse. Anyway there was no way we were going to pay 150 rupees for only 4 kms and he wouldn’t budge. We decided we would walk and possibly find another rickshaw. The local guy told us to go to the main road and turn left. So that’s what we did.

We thought, 4kms, not that bad, it will pass the morning. So we decided to walk all the way. Can’t say it was the best walk we have ever done, just plodding along the main road. But we did get to see, some people with what I can only describe as the “floral twirlers”, getting ready for the pooram. They were bemused, as were most people, to see 2 white tourists walking along the main road. But we did find out from them that the pooram started around 3 pm. We also saw some people in a large house, drying, what to us seemed like pasta, in the yard. Don’t suppose we will ever know what it really was. Oh, and we saw a temple elephant being transported in the back of a truck (so that’s how they get them around)
After what seemed hours of walking, we decided we had gone too far along the main road, so stopped the few people we spotted and showed them the tariff brochure and the words “Varikkassery Mana Nalukettu”, also tried to pronounce it to them. At first we didn’t have much luck, which I later put down to our complete lack of Malayalam pronunciation and the probability that some people couldn’t read English. Anyway, after backtracking a bit we found a shop and they understood and told us we had gone way too far and we should have taken a road off to the left. So, back we went, and down the side road. This was better, as it took us into the countryside. Eventually we arrived at some large gates, but were unsure if this was the place. Luckily a man on a motorbike stopped and asked if he could help. He told us this was indeed the old house. But the gates were locked. Another bike stopped and they had a good chat. The result was that normally the house was open everyday, but not today. It was closed today due to the pooram! Well at least we had passed the morning away. We were gradually getting used to India, whatever happens, happens!
Back up to the main road and started to walk back. Luckily we spotted a bus and jumped on. Five rupees, and 10 minutes later and we were back at the main bus terminal in Ottapalam.

If you would like to see what we didn’t – here is a link Old House

After returning to the bakery and having a rather good meal, we stocked up with a few snacks, and returned to the hotel for a well earned rest, ready for what lay ahead.

It was 3.00pm and time for the main event. By now we had realised, there was a distinct probability that we would be the only 2 white people visiting the pooram. This prospect, we found rather exciting. Back up to the main road and turned right. Again we decided to walk to the Sree Chinakkathoor Bhagavathy Temple at Palappuram. We had been told it was only about 2.5Kms away, so a pleasant stroll. However we were unprepared for what lay ahead of us.
The road out of Ottapalam was lined with hundreds and hundreds people taking advantage of what seemed like every horizontal surface they could find. They were sitting along the roadside, packed along balconies, sitting on rooftops and even on top of bus shelters. Just as we were leaving Ottapalam, we spotted one of the large bamboo horse effigies up ahead, making its way to the pooram, and being carried by a host of strong men. It soon became apparent that possibly everyone in the Palakkad district + 2 English were out to visit the pooram. There must have thousands of people walking along the road. Everyone, and I mean everyone, seemed amazed to see us walking with them. But they also appeared to be really pleased that we had joined them. We were a curiosity and a novelty.
As we walked, people lining the route would spot us and wave. Of course we waved back, and soon the whole side of the road would be filled with laughing, waving people. Then it was the turn of the other side. This went on all along the route. We felt a bit like the Queen and Prince Philip, must feel. We could feel the warmth and the friendliness of these people and were quite touched by it.
We passed a group of highly photogenic dancers (which I will call Kathakali, possibly someone can look at the photos and tell me what all the different dancers were). Then after one and half hours in the sun we arrived, at what we at first thought, was the temple and were a little bit disappointed. There were 3 elephants, some drummers and dancers and a large crowd of people. But we had seen all this before in Cochin. Possibly the pooram was simply a procession along the road and we had missed some of it. So we took a few snaps and watched. Then we noticed that there were still a throng of people walking further along the road. At first we wondered if they were simply going home. But after pointing and saying pooram, we realised that we were simply at some sort of gate and we had only seen the warm up act!
So, on we walked. For some of the way with the 3 elephants, who had now left the gate area. After another hour and a quarter we arrived at the main event at 17.15pm. It was a huge dust covered field and we immediately spotted 17 elephants in front of the main temple, with their associated drummers and horn players in full swing. The area was packed and throughout our time there, became even more so. We were surprised to so many people. But that was nothing compared to their surprise at seeing us! At first we noticed that people would stand nearby us and their friends would take a photo. But as the day progressed people would come up to us and say “one photo”. We understood and had no problem with this. So we posed for photos. However, at one point during the afternoon, more and more people arrived and we must have had about 40 cameras pointing at us. Everyone, they say, has 5 minutes of fame. I think this day was ours. I still find it odd that we may be someone’s screensaver!!
Also, for some reason, those without cameras, all wanted to come up to me and shake my hand. Those that could speak good English came and had a chat and everyone was exceedingly friendly.

There was a side arena where we spotted all the bamboo horse effigies, so we wandered over. We noticed that all the women and children were either on raised outcrops or in the grandstand and only the men where in the crowd. We soon found out why. The horse effigies are hoisted up by about 30 to 40 men who then rush around the arena, finally stopping and then trying to throw the horses into the air. This is by no means an easy task as they must weigh a tonne. Once they are done trying to get them aloft, they again charge like madmen around the arena, and you have to quickly get out of their way, or be crushed in the stampede. Oh and the dust created is a joy. Don’t wear anything white!

The afternoon progressed and we realized we needed to have a sit down and eat our snacks. The trouble was that, wherever we went, we were the source of attention, and we just needed 15 minutes of peace. Finally we found a spot behind one of the stalls crushing sugar cane and sat on the bundles of cane. We kind of knew what it must be like to be a famous celebrity, when you just need some solitude.

Refreshed, we headed back into the throng. Next there were some different dancers (Kathakali??) being carried next to a huge floral float, that was also being carried. The group kept stopping and they would do a ritualistic dance whilst being held aloft and then move off again. Just as we finished watching them, the fireworks started. Or more like mortar shells than fireworks. They were in the furthest arena and there must have been rows and rows of them going into the air and exploding. They got faster and faster until it became one large continuous thump. We had to put our fingers in our ears, it was so loud. We were nowhere near the arena, but could feel the shockwaves pounding us! Finally the battering ended and we noticed that back over in the temple arena, the elephants had moved over to the side of the field. There was a large group of drummers and horn players in front of them, along with a huge crowd. I tried my best to get some photos, by holding my camera above my head, but it was no good. It was at this point that some local men took hold of us and pushed us through the crowd to the front. Shouting for everyone to make way!! Being a celeb for the day has some advantages. We snapped away and soaked up the atmosphere. Looking behind us we noticed at the very far side of the field, where the fireworks had previously been, there were another 10 elephants and their drummers. So in total there were now 27 elephants at the pooram.

After walking to the far side to watch these new elephants for a while, we walked back along the road, which was filled with different dancers , musicians and street bands. Back up to the main arena and we spotted yet more, different, highly decorated ethnic performers (no idea what these were, see the photos). There was always something different to see.

By now the sun was starting to go down and we noticed that both groups of elephants were slowly moving from the opposite sides of the field. Eventually they both lined up facing each other, at the edges of the centre arena, with their bands playing. It was fascinating to watch. However it was now dark and we were really beginning to feel tired (we had been stood up most of the day, not to mention the walk in the morning). We noticed that the temple was illuminated and decided to take our last photos. But before we could get near, we again had to endure the crowds of people who wanted to stop us and take our photo or to shake hands. By now the novelty had worn off and we had had enough. So we decided to call it a day.

We left and thought it would be easy to get a rickshaw. But everyman and his dog had the same idea. We saw rickshaws leaving with people hanging out the sides and holding onto the back! So it left no option, but to walk. At least it was dark and we managed to slip by most people. After about 20 minutes we were back at the temple gate, which was also illuminated. I noticed it was full moon and wondered if that was why the pooram was held that day. Looking back we noticed that quite a few of the elephants were walking along the road. So we took our final photos of them. Eventually we reached a small village and managed to find a rickshaw back to the hotel. We arrived back at around 9.30pm, exhausted but totally thrilled at what we had witnessed. In the light of the hotel we could see how much dust we had collected and we now had what I called Indian feet!


Finally there was just enough time to go down to the bar and get my first taste of Kingfisher Strong and then it was time to pack and get ready for our next adventure.

We felt really privileged to have been able to witness and take part in such a unique spectacle, together with such wonderful people. We feel that this was a once in a lifetime experience and if anyone ever gets the chance, they should go.
#5 Apr 14th, 2009, 23:52
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#5
Excellent write up, but lol, I have to laugh!!

I am from Ottapalam, and believe me, I wouldn't dream of walking that 5-7kms to the temple with the Pooram procession! In all 24 years I lived in Ottapalam, I've done that walk twice! Both when I was in college (which is half the way along the procession route)!

lol @ your Indian feet too - its a typical sight to us locals - in fact, when I was young I had permanent tan marks from wearing those half-open-half-covered footwear and running around in the dust. And I would expect a swollen toe or two, one bleeding and the other with the nail handing off if you had particularly fine pooram day!

'Varikkasseri mana' is indeed a favorite location for a lot of movies, but I didn't think its just 4kms away from Aramana. Speaking of Aramana, it was the only local watering hole in Ottapalam for a very long time, and Aramana and the near by cinema called 'Imperial Theater' playing tacky adult rated Malayalam or Tamil films was the ideal hangout for generations of Ottapalam-ites who want to skip a few hours from college/school etc. However, they have put themselves slightly "upmarket" (for Ottapalam) recently, and they do good food too. I was there last August, with my wife and her parents (Europeans) and while they were keen on trying out the accommodation there, they ended up staying at River Retreat in Shoranur (about 5 times more expensive, but really nice place!)

If you had walked all long the length of the railway station to the left from Aramana, you would be able to cross the tracks (walk thru of course) and into the river - its usually a very pleasant spot with lovely clean sand and a great place to sit enjoying the mild breeze (which is delightful considering the heat and humidity) and watch the sun go down, we call it "Ottapalam beach".

Let me know if you need explanations of what is going on at various stage of the Pooram. You certainly witnessed the busiest day of Ottapalam of the whole year!
#6 Apr 15th, 2009, 15:44
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#6
Comments on some of your photos:

2: Your witches hat (lol) is what is locally known as 'Ney Roast', or 'Ghee Roast' or 'Paper Roast' etc. Its prepared almost like 'dosa' (rice and lentils), only thinner and larger, and with ghee. Delicious with coconut chutney, sambar etc.

If you are bored of sweet tea and soggy toast for breakfast, ask for 'Idly' next time. Again, it comes with coconut chutney and sambar. Steam cooked rice dumpling goodness with no spices what so ever! Also ask for 'Uzhunnu vada', which is lentil-doughnut sort of thing and again its very mild.

4: The wooden horses. Each village or area that is under the 'thattakam' (region) of the temple will prepare one of these horses, which they carry to the temple, and "race" there in front of the deity. Its a competition to see who's horse is the best to look at and which team can throw theirs the highest.

7 & 8 etc: Floats and dancers depicting various gods etc. Just like any other float any other procession really - sponsored by various Pooram committees and businesses.

18 & 19: Hmm, not sure if that's supposed to be Kathakali costumes. They look more like 'Ottamthullal' costumes - I am not sure.

21: Is the best part of the pooram for me.

25: Is Goddess Kali.

I am not surprised about you are getting a lot of attention in the Pooram crowd - its usually people from Ottapalam to the temple and another 5 kms to the East of the temple (The two sets of elephants you saw, one set is from Ottapalam side and the other from Lakkidi side. Its again a competition between the two sides to see who could put up a better show). However, you shouldn't have had much of a problem in Ottapalam town itself. My wife, wearing Indian cloths, got by without as much as a curious look from people, but her parents had one of two kids coming up to them asking 'where you are from?' or 'how are you?' etc, but that's all.

Looking at the photos and writeup, it sounds like you had a fantastic day! I just hope my explanations help you understand it a bit more!
#7 Apr 23rd, 2009, 22:44
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Thank you very much for the information you have provided, especially about the bamboo horses. We did wonder what that was all aboy.

Part 3 about to be posted
#8 Apr 23rd, 2009, 22:51
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#8

Very Long Trip Report, Part 3 - Thalassery & Kannur

Days 7 - 11 THALASSERY and KANNUR (Photos HERE/

Having experienced the pooram, it was time to move on.

We had a really early start, as we were to catch the 05.05am Mangalore Mail train to Thalassery (Tellicherry). Again, we had booked this train before leaving the UK and as we knew we were going to need a sleeper, and had opted for 3 tier A/C.

So, at 4.30am we were up and lugged our backpacks downstairs, past a deserted reception and out into the dark. The rear gates were padlocked, but luckily there was a guard in a little hut, who opened them for us and we were across the track, through the fence and back onto the station platform. Our train was to depart from the far platform, so it was heave-ho, up and over the footbridge. We were surprised at how many people were already there waiting. We thought the place would be deserted.
In the distance, we could hear the loud crashing explosions of the fireworks/mortars from the pooram, which appeared to still be going full strength!

The train arrived and we tried quietly to push our packs under the bottom beds. The only spare bunks were the top ones. Luckily a man who was awake, showed us the art of scaling the rungs, and we climbed up. We were provided with 2 freshly cleaned sheets and a pillow case and we settled down. Surprisingly we managed to get a couple of hours sleep and it was daylight when we awoke. The train was slowly starting to come to life. But we were sort of trapped on the top bunks until the people below, woke up, and sorted out the seating. It was interesting watching the sellers walking up the carriage selling chai and coffee and various sorts of presumably breakfasts. We had read a lot of bad things about people getting ill by eating train food, so we gave it a miss, but it sure smelt good. Anyway 4 hours later we were in Thalassery.

We had done a bit of research on Kannur before we left the UK and had read the guide books and knew there where only a handful of places to stay on the beach. Generally, if possible, we prefer to try places that aren’t listed, but have been recommended by fellow travellers on the forums. So, we opted for Ezhara Beach House, which we had emailed prior to leaving the UK, and had confirmed with, via email, whilst in Ottapalam (yep, we found an internet shop in Ottapalam). We had been told that Ezhara Beach House was midway between Kannur and Thalassery (about 15kms from each) , but they advised possibly Thalassery was a touch nearer. So here we were at 9.15am and it was time to explore for a while.

Reading the Rough Guide to Kerala, it suggested that you could easily walk to the fort within 15 minutes, so we decided to leave our backpacks and walk into town. By asking, we found that there was a Parcel Office on the other platform, so yet more physical exercise getting our packs over the footbridge. Into the office where we thought we would simply just plonk our bags and pick them up later, for a few rupees. But this is India and there seems to be a form for everything. So we had to patiently wait whilst a huge ledger was brought out and all filled out in duplicate and then another sheet had to be completed, giving the time of deposit and approximate time of collection! Very efficient.

Now the guide book is a little misleading here, as it seems to imply you come out the station and walk down a hill to the fort. But in fact you come out into the car park and there is a small road to the left which slowly winds its way into the town. Which way to go? We couldn’t see any downhill direction. So, we started to ask people, but nobody could understand us. Finally we found a police lady, but she also didn’t understand “fort”, so we tried “beach”. This was more successful and she pointed us in the direction. Off we walked, through a bustling, busy town, and 30 minutes later we found ourselves pushing our way through the local fish market, getting quite a few odd looks!

Down onto the beach, which was definitely just for locals. Don’t expect sunbeds and umbrellas! Anyway, I thought as the fort was listed as being on the beach, it would be really easy to see. But it wasn’t! So we set off, trying to pretend we knew exactly what we were doing. Took a few photos of the fishing boats and happened to look up and spotted what looked like some ramparts of the fort, set inland a bit. Climbed up a really steep path and found ourselves in the graveyard of the pinkest church we had ever seen! Can only assume that this was St Joseph’s Church, as the boys school is next door. Next to the church we found the old British cemetery where we tried to find the grave of Englishman Edward Brennan (as mentioned in the guide book), but it was a bit overgrown and the stones had badly eroded, so no luck. However we were now at the rear of the fort and it looked fairly imposing. Walked around to the front and found our way up the steps and inside. Just after the entrance there was a kind of museum/information room where a kind man showed us photos of more forts and temples. We wandered around the battlements and over to the lighthouse (which to be honest has seen better days), where we sat in the shade and planned what to see next. The Rough Guide mentioned that the “Odathil Palli Masjid”, was worth a visit. So we thought we would give it a try. But where was it? We asked the man at the information room and after he asked a few other people, they indicated we should walk along the main road, back towards the fish market. We also wanted an ATM to replenish our funds, so we had 2 objectives. Setting off down the main road, again wasn’t the most pleasurable of experiences, lots of traffic etc, But we walked and walked, past the fish market and into the spice wholesalers area. Quite a few people would come out, smile and shout hello. We showed a couple of people the guidebook and again tried saying Odathil Palli Masjid, but all they could understand was Masjid, and they pointed the way we were walking. Eventually we arrived at a mosque, but it wasn’t the one described in the book, this one was painted green.
We were getting hungry, hot and sweaty (normal day in Kerala, for us!!), so decided we would try our luck back in town. Back through the spice area and up into the centre. We tried asking a few more people about the mosque, but no luck, so gave it up as a bad job. Wandered around and finally found an ATM opposite a large park. Guess what, at the far side of the park was a large mosque, was this it? No it wasn’t.... never mind, I’m sure it was beautiful.

Time was getting on and we had seen as much of Thalassery, as we were going to see, so we walked back towards the station. We stopped at a few local “Hotels” to try for some lunch, but they were all Non Veg (so no good for the wife). The last one we had seen, before the station, was a small one on the main junction and it served biriyani, which the guidebook said was the speciality of Thalassary. In we went. It was very local, but again it was just non veg. The wife said she would make do with just rice and I ordered chicken biriyani. The manager was so friendly that he specially made my wife a plate of vegetable curry to go with the rice.

Back to the train station, collected our bags (20 rupees) and it was time to try and find our way to the beach. We had written the name down and tried showing it to a couple of rickshaw drivers, but yet again they either couldn’t read English, or simply had no idea where it was. It was at this point that a very kind man who was waiting nearby came over to help. He acted as interpreter for us, but he didn’t get much luck either. We had sort of anticipated this problem, and Ezhara Beach House had given us the number of George who was one of the owners. Our Airtel SIM card had been activated, so we gave him a call and explained the problem. He in turn spoke to the kind gentleman and he spoke to the rickshaw drivers. It was three way conversation, with us just being bystanders! The end result was the driver now had an idea of where we were going, but we had to sort out a price. Our interpreter said the driver wanted to use the meter, but we had no idea if this was fair or even what the rates were, so we asked for a fixed price. Finally he said 150 rupees (which Ezhara Beach House had told us was about the right price), and of we went. Yet again the Keralan people had proven how helpful and friendly they were. The ride to the beach provided us with the first proper idea of rickshaw travel in Kerala and we soon learnt that when travelling with our backpacks we needed to get the larger Piaggio rickshaws. We were crushed together like sardines in a can! Anyway, we eventually made it to Ezhara Beach House and were met by our host Hyacinth. At this point I would point out that Hyacinth runs the house and her husband George works in Cochin and returns at weekends.

What a place!! It is located right on the beachfront of Kizhunna Ezhara Beach and is shaded by coconut trees. There is a small Muslim fishing village nearby and then just peace and solitude. The house is at the start of a long beach which is fine golden sand and perfectly clean.
Hyacinth greeted is and showed us the old house which she and George had renovated. We were the only people booked in so we had the choice of upstairs or down. Downstairs had 2 bedrooms and a bathroom. But upstairs had 2 bedrooms, bathroom, fridge and a full length balcony overlooking the beach. No contest! We paid 1,500 rupees per night including breakfast, filtered water and laundry. We lugged our bags up a flight of very steep stairs and unpacked. One of the first things Hyacinth had asked was if we had any laundry. Boy did we have laundry! After the bike accident in Cochin and visiting the pooram, we had enough clothes to give any soap powder a good test! So we loaded her up and set of to walk to the “Secret Beach” which she had told us about.
It was to the left of the house and over a headland. We did get a bit lost and wandered into somebody’s garden, but as always they were very friendly and showed us the path again. It wasn’t too far a walk and we soon found the beach, which we had to climb down a steep path to get to. It was just a small beach, but had some lovely views along the coast. Back to the house and Hyacinth asked what time we would like dinner. There wasn’t any option really to eat anywhere else, so we asked how much dinner was. Not much was the reply! How could we refuse! We said about 8.00pm and pointed out that I liked anything, and my wife was vegetarian and wanted non spicy. No problems said Hyacinth. There was just enough time to venture onto the main beach and have a quick look further to the right, where we found some local fishing boats. Back to our room, borrowed two glasses from Hyacinth and took our rum and coke down onto the beach, where we sat sipping them, whilst watching the sun set over the Arabian Sea. Just what the doctor ordered. A complete opposite from the night before at the pooram!

Dinner was served at a table in front of the house and we had so much food we found it hard to eat it all. But did our best, it was delicious. Also Hyacinth said she would put some Kingfisher and Sand Piper beers in our fridge (75 rupees). I still had my receipt from the liquor shop in Cochin, so everything was sorted. This, we realised, was going to be a hard place to leave! After dinner Hyacinth joined us and we sat chatting. She told us about her life story, local gossip and the history of the house and we regaled her with our adventure so far in Kerala and of other countries we had visited. It was just like sitting talking with an old friend.

The next morning we had breakfast and our first taste of Indian fare, which is really what we wanted. Again there was a tonne of grub and all very tasty (so much better than toast). Oh, and the best tea we had the whole trip! Whilst we were sitting there we spotted a mongoose at the side of the house. Hyacinth told us they come everyday and she puts water out for them. Sure enough they appeared near the kitchen and helped themselves to the water and licked a lid from an ice cream tub. Wildlife at breakfast! She had also told us that crows/ravens could bother us, as they would peck at the upstairs windows. They were simply pecking at their own reflection in the glass and it never bothered us, in fact we found it quite amusing to watch.

Now we like beaches, but are not ones for lying out baking all day trying to look like a wrinkled prune. We prefer to chill in the shade and don’t care if we get a tan or not. Also, due to our wounds gained as a result of the previously mentioned bike crash in Cochin, we couldn’t really go into the sea to swim. So as this was our first full day, we lazed around and then decided we would explore. We set off walking along the beach and it was completely deserted. The only company we had were crabs who scurried along the edge of the surf (looking like they didn’t want to get their feet wet), and eagles/brown kites soaring overhead. The beach stretches for what seems like miles, so we walked and walked. Crossing a small rocky headland the beach continued, and so did we. Eventually reaching another rocky headland, which we thought we could cross. But this route took us along the cliff and past quite a few houses. Finally it turned into a road and headed more inland, so we turned around and headed back to the beach. By the time we got back to Ezhara Beach House, we were pretty tired, as we had been walking for hours (and this was meant to be one of the relaxing parts of the trip!!). Up onto the balcony, feet up and cracked open a really cold Kingfisher. Some things are just too good to put into words!
Whilst we were resting, a rickshaw arrived, with two new guests, who took the ground floor, so Hyacinth was now fully booked. The new couple were German and had been recommended the house by a previous guest they had met in Varkala. It turned out they were a fire act/jugglers and were great company.
Dinner that evening was a communal affair and we even had about 30 minutes of rain, where we briefly had to move the table under the ground floor verandha. Hyacinth again joined us and we all had a good chinwag.

The next day was due to be our last full day, as we had only planned on staying 3 nights. However, we had decided that it was just too special a place to leave just yet. We knew we most probably had too many days pencilled in for Munnar and Varkala later in the trip, so asked if we could stay on. Of course Hyacinth was delighted. I would like to think that was because she enjoyed our company and had nothing to do with the extra cash!!
This morning, the waves were pounding the beach and reaching right up to the tree line (possibly there had been a storm out at sea the previous night, hence the rain). The German couple decided to hire Hyacinth’s scooter and go shopping in Thalassery town. We chilled and then went for a walk around the local village. Once you start walking along the road you enter into maze of side roads and its pot luck where you end up. We walked down some small roads and the locals almost did a double take when they saw us. They must get some tourists from the beach house, but I assume most stay in or around the beach area. I did think to myself, that they must be saying to each other “Now there’s something you don’t see everyday!!”
As we walked we could hear that in some of the houses, the locals appeared to be weaving. We then spotted some, what I presume was yarn, hanging out to dry. Next we spotted a lady working one of the weaving machines and she was happy to let the curious white people have a look. After pottering around the streets and being greeted by everyone we met, we thought we would walk back along the beach, so headed down to the coast. Finding the beach wasn’t a problem, getting onto it was. As mentioned the waves were crashing up the beach and this was causing large flooded areas up against the protective rock sea wall. We wandered along the wall area as best we could, but in places the water had breached it and we had to backtrack. This was definitely amusing the locals, seeing two tourists endeavouring to reach the beach! Eventually we found a dry spot on the beach and by timing it right we managed to jump from the rock wall, over the deep pool of water and onto the sand. Having made it we saw that it wasn’t far back to the beach house. But after only 5 minutes of walking along a deserted beach, again with just the crabs for company, we realised we weren’t going to make it. The waves that had built up along the wall had flowed along until they found a route back to the sea. This route now lay in front of us. There was so much water, it had carved out a deep fissure in the sand and was gushing through it. There was no way we could attempt to cross here as the water would have swept us away, it was flowing so fast. As we stood there the fissure grew wider and wider and the water faster and faster. It was time to turn back. Yet again we had to retrace our steps and climb onto the rock wall. At least it was easier as some of the water had gone now. Back up to the road and back towards the beach house. But some school children had spotted us and came up asking for the usual “One pen” or “One Rupee” or “Chocolate”. We knew, and Hyacinth had confirmed, that we shouldn’t give into their requests as it would just fuel the fire and cause more pestering on a greater scale, for future tourists. So we just laughed and joked with them, as we walked. As we neared the beach house, we could see that the beach was clear of waves, so thought we would make a break for it down the side of a house. Big mistake. The house turned out to be the local school and we were out of the frying pan and into the fire!! All the kids were outside and once they spotted us, that was it. The girls encircled my wife and I got all the boys. It was all good natured and we had a laugh, trying to make ourselves heard above their repeated usual questioning about our names, where we were from and where was our unlimited supply of pens! Making our apologies to their teacher for disrupting his lessons, we made it to the beach and back to the security of our balcony. Every day in Kerala brings something different.

Today was Friday and we had read that the Kannur area was renowned for its Theyyams and in fact we were in the season for them. Hyacinth had found out that there was a local one taking place tonight, so she arranged for a rickshaw to take us there, wait and bring us back, cost about 250 rupees. She had been told that it started about 6.00pm, so we set off and looked forward to the treat that lay ahead of us. We got there for 6.00 and walked into what was like a church yard with various temples dotted about. There were a few drummers in front of one temple and we spotted a seating area to the left where there were a couple of other tourists. Sitting down next to them we asked if we had missed anything. They told us they had had the pleasure of getting there for 4.30 and all that had happened was the drumming. We settled down for the show. After about 30 minutes more drumming, a rather portly man arrived and joined them. He seemed more important, as he had a robe about his waist and a headdress. After he and the drummers visited each temple they finally arrived at the one in front of where we were sat. He was seated and some attendants started to decorate his head and torso in an elaborate pattern. The place had started to fill up with locals, so we knew something special was about to happen. The decorating process took some time, but when it was over he picked up a small shield and sword and for about 2 minutes pranced around waving the sword and banging it against the shield. We had now been here an hour. He then was seated again and his attendants brought out 2 metal structures which they placed either side of him into which the locals went and queued up. They were each presented to him in turn and they all seemed to have a good chat. We just sat there waiting for something to happen. But nothing did. I kept thinking this must just be the warm up act and the real theyyam has still to begin. Sadly not. It dawned upon us that that was that. The four of us sat it out until 8.00pm, but nothing else took place. Not quite as described in the guidebooks, it seemed more like a church service, but at least it was local. The books do say it can be hit and miss, and I think we got a miss. By the time we got back to the beach house, I realised that was 4 hours of my life I wouldn’t get back again! Hyacinth asked what we thought of it, and then told us that other guests had had much the same experience. Luckily we had seen far better at the festivals in Cochin and Ottapalam and also we had dinner waiting for us.

The next day dawned and George had arrived from Cochin. But was rather tired, as he had had to come on the overnight bus, due to the trains being full. We had our breakfast and then we chatted to George who was a wonderful source of knowledge about Kerala and travelling tips. We had intended to travel from Kannur to Wayanad, stay there and then to Ooty, Coimbatore and Munnar. But thanks to the forums we knew that the Wayanad parks were closed due to fire risk. We did know there were other sights around Wayanad, but it was the parks we really wanted to visit. Also getting from there to Munnar was a bit of a slog. So we asked George his opinion. He suggested that even though there were indeed other interesting places around Wayanad, it was going to be extremely hot. He gave us another route to Munnar via a couple of places we had never even heard of, never mind thought of visiting. They seemed like our cup of tea, so we decided to pass on Wayanad this trip. After all you always need a reason to come back!! Georges’ route gave us more time and another reason not to leave the beach (and we didn’t need much of a reason). So what were we to do today. Well we had read on the forum that there were some backwaters and islands, north of Kannur, at Payyannur, which were supposed to be as, if not more beautiful, than those around Alleppey. George had arranged this trip for the person who had posted about it, so could give us all the details. He suggested that one way would be to get a rickshaw into Kannur and then catch a train to Payyannur and the either walk or rickshaw to the jetty. The ferry times were 6.30am, then 9.45am, 1 pm and 4.20pm. It was now approaching 11.00am and we didn’t think there was enough time to do it that way. So he suggested we take Hyacinths’ scooter. If we set off soon we could just make it for the 1.00pm ferry. OK, I had my confidence back after the accident, so we voted for the scooter trip. George wrote down the place names in Malayalam for us and off we went. Realising that it was about 60kms from where we were starting from!

We somehow found our way through the maze of side roads and onto the main road up to Kannur. This was where the fun began (not). Now, we had experienced some traffic in Cochin and its surroundings, but this was the NH17 and the main route to Mangalore and beyond. This was hardcore traffic!! This was take no prisoners traffic!!
In India they drive on the same side of the road as here in the UK – the left. But in India, it seems like you must spend as much time on the right hand side of the road, as humanly possible, trying to see if you are braver than the oncoming driver!! It really seems like you will have a rickshaw trying to overtake a slow moving truck, with a bus trying to overtake the rickshaw, whilst a taxi is trying to get past all 3 and all on a bend with another bus thundering towards them. We were usually somewhere in amongst all of them!!
We thought we were coping reasonably well with the situation until we started to approach the outskirts of Kannur town and the traffic started to become more congested and took on a sadistic streak. I was beginning to understand that you had to ignore what was behind you and hope that they would avoid you (my wife was acting as rear gunner and would shout truck or bus coming). All my attention was focused on the condition of the road surface, what was happening in our immediate vicinity, and whether anyone would take a blind bit of notice as they hurtled out of side roads without looking, even when we sounded the horn!
Somehow we made it safely into the centre of town and arrived at a roundabout, where we assumed we needed to go right. Road signs would have been nice! However, it was sheer lunacy in trying to go right. Maybe if we had had a tank, we may have stood a slight chance of getting through the solid wall of buses and trucks! So we had no option but to turn left and see where it took us. Well it took us into the bus station, were we had a jolly ride around trying to find a way out. Somehow, and I still don’t know how, we found our way out and even back onto the main NH17 on the far side of the roundabout! The journey continued. Ever aware of the time and how far we still had to travel, we didn’t have the time to stop and admire the passing scenery (if there was any) and we just solidly kept our heads down and struggled on. We had no idea of where we where and towns and villages just came and went. Eventually we stopped and showed people the place names George had written for us and we got directions. We finally ended up in Payyannur, but still had to find the jetty, which, with the help of Georges’ Malayalam writing, we found out was left off the main highway and down through the town, across the railway (always a joy to cross with their triple speed bumps each side) and then left. We knew we were close but still had to find it. Lots off stopping and poking our scrap of paper at people. Lastly, a kind man jumped on his bike and gestured for us to follow him and he pointed out the side road down to the jetty. Phew, we had only just managed it. It was 12.50 and we had 10 minutes to spare. The wife walked up the road to a small shop and just double checked we were at the right spot, which we were. It had taken us 2 hours of what I can only say was shear misery, to get here, but we had made it. We knew we had the horrible journey back again, but at least we could relax for a couple of hours and enjoy the backwaters. We stood on the jetty and waited. One of the men from the shop wandered down and asked what we were doing. We explained that we were going to visit the backwaters and the islands. He looked puzzled and said there wasn’t a ferry until 6.30am the next day. We said, no, we know there is one at 1.00pm. He kind of shrugged and got into his canoe. Oh, now we understood, he was going to try and offer to take us for a fee. But he didn’t, he simply paddled off? So we waited, and we waited and then we waited some more! By the time it got to 1.30pm, we realised that he wasn’t kidding and there wasn’t a ferry. Aaaaaarghhhhh!!!!!!!. What did Kerala have against us? We had gone through all that, just to stand on a concrete jetty and look at what we might have seen. We rang George, to see if he could offer any advice. He said there should have been a ferry, but if not, then maybe we should wait for the 4.20pm one. This wasn’t remotely a possibility. Not only did it mean waiting around in the middle of nowhere for 3 hours, but it also meant we would be travelling back in the dark. No Way, José! He told us there was another road we could take and try and get over to an island. He tried his best to direct us over the phone, but it was never going to work. We tried our best, but basically ended up at a dead end near a large Naval Academy. It was time to admit defeat. So, we bit the bullet and set off back, along the highway from hell! Again it was a solid 2 hours of being pushed off the road by trucks and buses, before we made it back to the beach house. We looked at each other and our faces were completely covered in dirt, sweat and suntan lotion. I likened the experience to playing a computer game were you only have one life!!

This was the worst day of our trip and unless you are an experienced bike rider (or simply have a death wish), I wouldn’t recommend ever attempting what we did, even if you had a guarantee from the Pope that the ferry was running. Simply allow more time and take the train option, or stay where you are and stick pins in your eyes!!
We are still waiting for some sort of certificate or medal which states we drove along an Indian highway, on a scooter, and survived!

The next day was Sunday, and sadly, it had to be our last at the beach. We just had to be strict with ourselves and move on. We sat with George and Hyacinth and discussed where we would go from Kannur (prior to Munnar) and how to get there. George gave us directions and advised on places to stay and what transport to take. So we were sorted. We had a look at some of the accommodation, he had suggested, on the internet, which was in Hyacinths’ room, and then settled down to do nothing.
We took our books and Ipod down to the beach and just chilled in the shade of the coconut palms. This was despite the best efforts of the local children, who collected every shell they could find, which they arranged into a large pile, for our approval. Finally topping it off with a dead baby lizard... nice!
In the afternoon we took a gentle stroll along the beach and chatted to some local families who had come from the nearby villages and then took our last photos of the sunset (of course, whilst sipping our rum and cokes on the beach).Then we just had enough time to write a little poem for the visitors book and for the wife to get “No meat, No Fish, and No Chilli” written down in Malayalam, so she could show it in the next places we would eat in.
George had to leave to catch his train back to Cochin and said he would buy our train tickets for us, for the next day, and send them back with the driver. We were slightly concerned about this train, as he said it left Kannur at 05.45am, but when we checked on the IRCTC website, it didn’t list it. However, when the driver returned with the tickets, he confirmed that they had checked the time and it was correct. But, of course, as it was for the next day, we just had ordinary second class tickets. Cheap, but we were a bit wary about 6 hours in second class. Hyacinth said to simply have a word with the ticket inspector on the train and ask him if he could upgrade us to A/C, and give him a few rupees for his trouble. Wink, wink.
So, that was it, we had our last dinner, which Hyacinth had prepared specially for me (as I had seen the Green Lip Mussels on the beach, so she had bought some for me), said our farewells to the German couple and went to pack, ready for another early start and yet another, well off the beaten track adventure, in Palakkad and Nelliampathy.
#9 Apr 24th, 2009, 01:21
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  • delhiwala is offline
#9
Ha Ha Ha....I liked this bit !

Quote:
This was the worst day of our trip and unless you are an experienced bike rider (or simply have a death wish)........even if you had a guarantee from the Pope that the ferry was running. Simply allow more time and take the train option...
I did not fully understand the dread term "Terminal Illness" until I saw Terminal 1 D of Delhi Airport.
#10 Apr 28th, 2009, 00:25
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  • drgrudge is offline
#10
Nicely done! Waiting for the Varkala and Munnar travelogues.
#11 May 1st, 2009, 23:25
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  • kedgeman is offline
#11

Very Long Trip Report, Part 4 - Palakkad & Nelliampathy

Days 12 - 14 PALAKKAD (almost) + NELLIAMPATHY

(Photos here HERE)

Yet again we had another early start, to catch the 05.45am train from Kannur. Hyacinth had arranged to wake us and have a rickshaw waiting. So there we were at 04.30 am in the dark, ready for the next adventure. Hyacinth said she was going to come with us to the station as she had heard that there was the possibility of some demonstrations/ rallies, linked to the upcoming elections and she didn’t want us getting caught up in them. What a special person to do that for us at that time of the morning. Luckily the drive was uneventful and we arrived in plenty of time for our train, which was waiting. The rickshaw cost 200 rupees (I suppose it was extra due to the time of the morning). So we said our goodbyes and set off to grab a seat in a second class compartment. Luckily the train was starting from Kannur, so we easily got a window seat and it wasn’t that full. That however would soon change.
As the train headed further south more and more people boarded and it soon became sardine time. We had to laugh when a man climbed up onto the overhead luggage rack and promptly went to sleep!. Well throughout our 6 hour trip, we never once saw the ticket inspector, so never had the opportunity of upgrading (as it was a local train, we aren’t even certain there was any other option but second class). But to be honest, as we had the window, we didn’t find it too much of a hardship travelling cattle class. Oh, that is until the little boy near us was sick on the floor and then the woman next to me spilt her drink over my trousers. We were now experiencing the real India!!

Our destination was Palakkad (as suggested by George), and even though our original plan was not to backtrack, we realised, that sometimes when plans change, you have no option. So there we were stopped at Ottapalam station again which we had only left 5 days before.
Anyway we arrived at Palakkad station and set about getting our bearings. We were in no rush and first priority was to get something to eat. So we lugged our packs out of the station and turned left down the road where there where a couple of local “Hotels”. Found one that served VEG and sat down, much to the surprise of the owner. Again no English. So we stuck to the “Thali” option. The wife tried her Malayalam written, “No Meat, No Fish, No Chilli” piece of paper that George had given her. However we realised that in some places the food is already prepared and you just have to get what you are given. It was still a bit spicy for her, but she managed and it meant more for me! The thali was plentiful and only 60 rupees for the two of us. Once we finished, the owner came up and asked if he could take our photo. Obviously word from Ottapalam had spread that there where a couple of strange white tourists about, and he didn’t want to be the only one not to have our picture on his wall!!
We then walked back up to the station compound, where all the rickshaws where, and set about getting some transport sorted. Now the plan (as suggested by George) was to grab a rickshaw and get him to take us to the KTDC hotel. Ask the rickshaw to wait and then get him to take us to the Dhoni Waterfall, were we could trek for a while, then, get him to take us to Malampuzha Dam. That would have been the day taken care of and the next day we would head off to Nelliampathy. It had all sounded so easy when we were sat at the beach talking it through with George. However the first problem we had, was that none of the rickshaw drivers had heard of Dhoni Waterfall! Maybe it was again the fact that they couldn’t read English, or our pronunciation was rubbish, but we drew a blank. So we opted to just go to the KTDC hotel and try and get someone there to give the driver directions. Negotiated 100 rupees for the 10kms (he said) and set off.
India, still had one last trick up its sleeve. We got to the KTDC hotel and were met by a building site. The driver had a word with some of the workers, and then sort of explained to us that it was closed for maintenance!! He said there was another hotel further down the road and he took us there, but they were also having work done and the only room they had was a suite for 2,000 rupees. No thanks, not paying that to stay on a building site. (Tip – if you are thinking of staying in out of the way destinations, ring ahead!! We had tried this but couldn’t get an answer)
So we had to decide what to do. We knew that there were some hotels back in town, but the only reason we were in Palakkad was to go trekking, so didn’t want to stay back in town. We quickly decided to scrap staying in Palakkad altogether, and simply move on to Nelliampathy. Again we rang the place we wanted to stay, and confirmed they had a room for us. Then we found out that, unlike taxis, which assume they will travel back empty and thus charge you for both ways, rickshaws must assume they will pick up another fare on the way back. We needed to get to the bus station and this was further out of town, so the driver wanted 240 rupees for the round trip. We were in no position to argue and just went for it.

George had told us that we needed first to go to Nemmara , where we could pick up a connecting bus to Nelliampathy, and with the help of the locals at the bus station, we were soon speeding on our way. One hour later the conductor told us we were in Nemmara and we got off the bus to the usual surprise of the locals. They were very kind and showed where to catch the bus to Nelliampathy, which was just across the main road outside a small drinks shack. So we stood and waited. After about only 10 minutes a bus stopped with the conductor shouting “Nemmara, Nemmara, Nemmara”, so we thrust our backpacks up the stairs and squeezed ourselves on. The bus was completely full and we weren’t looking forward to having to stand for the next hour or so, as George had told us the road started to get very bendy. But after 1 minute the bus pulled up to the next stop and most of the people got off. So we had a choice of seats. Then the bus turned around and went back to where we had just been picked up, the remaining passengers and driver got off and all went into the drinks shack for a 10 minute pit stop!
Eventually everyone was refreshed and we set off again, passing fields and the glimpse of mountains in the distance. The bus went past the Pothundi reservoir, but we couldn’t see it due to the earth mound. However, once we reached the forest check post, the road started to climb and we were soon high above looking down on the parched reservoir. We could now understand why there were power cuts each evening, as there was very little water in the catchment area. (Sit on the left for the best views). The road starts twisting and turning and I started to wonder ,if, when they were building it, the workers had been threatened with death if they made a straight stretch longer than 100 metres!!! However the views where fantastic and we were now climbing the mountains we had seen from below. After about an hour of gear wrenching, somehow the bus made it up the steep road and pulled to a stop at the crossroads of Kaikatty/ Nelliampathy. As we got off we were approached by a jeep driver who asked where we were heading. George had recommended the Ciscillia Heritage and told us it was about 80 rupees for the jeep. This was exactly what the driver asked for, so it was refreshing to be given the correct price for once. Rucksacks and us in the back and we bumped and banged our way up through a beautiful tea plantation area, up to the accommodation, which was even signposted. Surprisingly Nelliampathy is covered in the Rough Guide to Kerala and even Ciscillias’ is listed.
We had been travelling all day and were quite tired and looking forward to a shower and some food. One of the first things we noticed was the difference in temperature here. It was a lot cooler and there were blankets provided on the bed. The rooms are not as described in the Rough Guide, which states they are “quaint wooden huts, overlooking tea gardens, with teak linings and solar powered hot water”. The rooms are actually in a brick built block, have corrugated tin ceilings and overlook the flowers gardens. But for 750 rupees including breakfast, we weren’t complaining, they were clean and spacious and had an attached bathroom. The sheets however were a bit damp and again we had to ask for top sheets. We did at first struggle to get hot water, but after repeated requests, we realised that the water comes from a heater in the restaurant block and you have to run it for ages until it arrives at your room. Once we cleaned up, we went to the restaurant, where we had “food”, which they put together for us, and then went to bed.

The following morning, we were the only people staying and we went to get our breakfast. We sat in the restaurant overlooking the beautiful flower garden (and sadly satellite dish) and tried to chat to the young man Apoo, who seemed to be in charge. Unfortunately, whilst he was very kind and helpful, he didn’t speak much English, and Joe the owner (who did speak English) had gone to Thrissur for the week. As soon as we finished breakfast and the dishes were cleared, Apoo asked if we wanted lunch. This is where we found out there wasn’t a menu. He simply said there was “Meals” or “Chapatti”. We asked what the “Chapatti” came with, to which he replied “OK you want Chapatti”. “No.. what is the Chappati?” He then said “No problem, you have “Chapatti”. We gave up with the Chapatti questions and tried “What is meals?”. But we got the “OK, you have meals”. We never did get to know what was on offer. But somedays we would have Chapattis, which was 3 chapattis and a couple of sauces. The rest of the time we had “Meals”, which comprised rice and a variety of dishes and sauces. All of it was quite tasty, and completely vegetarian. So basically if you thought you would be hungry, you ordered “Meals” and if you just wanted a light meal, you ordered “Chapattis”..., easy! You simply told him what time you wanted it. Oh, and also what time you wanted hot water.

Now the guidebook seems to suggest that Nelliampathy is the sort of place that doesn’t really have any wildlife or conventional tourist sights, but is more of a destination for trekking and for taking in the scenery. So that is what we intended to do. We had brought our trekking boots and it was time to give them a work out. We had no idea where to go but decided to head left from the restaurant and up to the viewpoint, as we had seen a sign pointing this way. After walking for about 10 minutes we came to an electrified wire fence, which was presumably the boundary of Ciscillias’. It didn’t look like it would deter any large animals, and in fact I doubt whether it was ever switched on. So we climbed through it and continued uphill. We heard a loud bird noise from one of the nearby trees and then saw a Giant Hornbill fly past and perch on a branch of another tree in the distance. It was an amazing sight. We also thought that the colours of some of the trees were very pretty.
The path continued uphill for quite a way and it eventually brought us out onto a wide open expanse of grassland. Dotted around this area were patches of elephant dung. Although it appeared quite old, it did show that there had been elephants present at some point. The views from the hillside were spectacular, it was just a shame that it was so hazy/misty in the far distance. We finally got to the top and decided to have a quick look into a small patch of trees on our left. As we approached the trees, we heard a slight noise and stopped. I then heard something make a rustling sound and shouted for the wife to run for it. We weren’t taking any chances. We had read that wild bison could be dangerous and we weren’t hanging around to find out if that was true. So, we both ran away and climbed, panting, onto a large rock and looked back. Nothing to be seen!. Upon reflection, I think it was most likely a deer running away from us. But who knows! Anyway, the rock proved to be a great spot to take some photos, so all was not lost. We slowly made our way back down, admiring the view and watching butterflies float past. Arriving back about 12.30, we had our lunch and ordered “Meals” for our dinner, later on.

To the right of the restaurant was a large expanse of jungle, and we asked if it was possible to trek through it. Apoo seemed to say it was Ok, so that was the afternoon trek sorted. We went round the rear of Ciscillias’ and met one of the ladies who was working in the garden. She gestured to us to follow her and she took us to some of the fruit trees, where she picked some fruits and gave them to us. We didn’t know what they were, but the ripe ones were yellowish green and inside was pink flesh. They were really nice and we later on found out they were most probably guava. Anyway, we carried on and found a small track up, into the jungle. This came out above Ciscillias’ on the side of a hill which had an outcrop of really tall bamboo plants, rustling in the most welcome breeze. Part of this hillside and the adjoining one had been badly burnt and we realised why the national parks like Wayanad and Chinoor had closed down. Due to the fire, the path had been destroyed, so we just judged what we thought was the best way back down into the jungle. Now I say jungle, but it was most probably more like dense tropical forest. We didn’t require a machete to hack our way through. We walked onwards listening to the birds and it was so peaceful. Then up ahead I spotted what looked like monkeys in the trees, Out with the binoculars and we could see that it was a whole troop of black monkeys. We watched them for quite a while until they moved off and we moved on, again not really knowing where we were going. But generally trying to head down and to the right where Ciscillias’ was. Then suddenly, we looked up at a noise overhead and there was the troop of black monkeys, sitting in the branches, looking down at us. We just stood still and watched them feeding and playing. We must have observed them for about 30 minutes until they got bored with us and moved off again. Wow, were we having a great time or what. However after trekking on for another 15 minutes or so, we began to realise that we didn’t really know if we had gone way past Ciscillias’ or not. We could just end up walking for hours in the undergrowth. The wife convinced me it was time to head back and retrace our steps up the hill. At least we knew we could get back that way. So, that’s what we did and got back mid afternoon, for a cup of tea and a welcome sit down.
But after a recharge, we thought there was just enough time for an early evening stroll. After all the hot water hadn’t been ordered until 6.00pm! On our way up to the viewpoint earlier on, we had spotted a track going off to the right, before the electric fence, so thought we would explore. This again took us to another part of the fence and again we climbed through. The track led us slightly downhill and past some trees where I was convinced we would again see the Giant Hornbill. There were other birds, and trees with huge fruits (jackfruit, breadfruit?), but we never again saw the hornbill.
The track eventually came to a sharp left hand bend, where it rose sharply uphill. We could tell that if we attempted the ascent of this almost shear path, it would lead us back towards the viewpoint. But it was either that or turn back. Most sensible people would have turned around and gone back, but as you can guess by now, that’s not always what we do. We should have gone back, but instead we headed up and hoped we could manage it without the need of ropes. Ok it wasn’t that steep, but it was one hell of a way to get your shirt all sweaty. So up we went. Not only did we climb up this hill, but then we carried on and climbed all the way back up to the top of the viewpoint again. Just to see if the haze had cleared at all. Which it had, a bit. We plonked ourselves down on a rock, to rest our weary legs and take in the view. I just happened to glance down and there in front of us was a snake quietly slithering through the grass. It wasn’t very big, but it was long. On our way back down we stopped to sit on some rocks overlooking the tea plantations and forest area. The sun was starting to get lower and the colours were becoming richer. Then to top off the day, in the distance we heard an elephant trumpeting three times. They were out there somewhere. So much for there not being much wildlife around the area. We had seen so much already and it was only our first day!!

The following day, our legs had recovered from all the uphill walking and we decided we would head off downhill, through the tea plantation area, in the direction the jeep had brought us. This was a beautiful trek, through the countryside, walking alongside the tea bushes. We met some men who were spaying the plants with “Urea”, which is fertilizer. They were very happy to have a chat with us and explain the growing and picking process. Down the hill and we came to a right hand path, the road bent left, but we decided to wander off into the tea plantation. There were a group of Tamil ladies having a break in the shade of a large tree and they all smiled and waved as we walked past. They asked where we were going and we said that we weren’t really sure, just walking. Next we headed in the direction of a small wooded plantation up ahead and trekked though until we found a path. Part of this area had been cleared and cardamom plants were everywhere. It was quite pleasant to be walking in the shade, again with nobody about. Once we cleared the trees we were back into the tea plantation and we had the whole area to ourselves. Stopping by a small pool of water, we decided to have a rest and sit in the shade. We spotted a colourful bird on a post, and simply took in the peacefulness of our surroundings. We had just set off again, when the wife pointed over to the tea bushes and there was a small brown deer, making its way along the edge. It hadn’t spotted us and we could watch it for a few minutes until it disappeared into the bushes again. We felt we had been really lucky, in the few days we had been here, spotting wildlife.
We followed the path and it brought us to a road which we took. Up ahead we heard some noise and saw a troop of brown monkeys swinging their way between the branches and over the road. We tried to follow them, but they weren’t for hanging around whilst we got our cameras out. That’s nature for you!
This road eventually brought us back, luckily, onto the main road and we turned right, again heading towards the crossroads at Kaikatty. We had simply done a large circular trek and were now close to the tea pickers lodging quarters. As we walked through this area, the ladies were leaving, after their lunch break, and they followed us down the road. We looked like the Pied Piper, with everyone behind us! But as always, they were all extremely friendly, and had no objections to us taking photos. We pressed on down the road, and after about another 30 minutes, decided we had gone far enough in the direction of the crossroads and would slowly head back. Turning left off the road, we went up hill through the tea bushes. We could see power cables and posts at the top of the hill and reasoned there should be a track. Surprisingly there were cows grazing in amongst these bushes, but we were later told they don’t really destroy much of the crop.
At the top, there was indeed a track and a few houses. Right led down to a large tea factory, but left was the direction back to Ciscillias. As we were stood there, taking in the view, the locals from the houses spotted us and came out to wave and shout hello. One little girl came running up and gave us some of the guava fruits and then ran off giggling, back to her parents. We waved and shouted Nanni (which we pronounced, nunknee), and were yet again bowled over by their friendliness.

We were now walking down the track and came to a junction, at the top of a patch of jungle. The path left, skirted round the tea bushes, whilst the path straight on seemed wider, greater used and a more direct route leading through the trees. So that is the one we took. As we set off down this path, we again noticed dollops of elephant dung, some old and some fairly new. This again confirmed that elephants were indeed somewhere in the Nelliampathy area. The path slowly descended downhill and we came upon a pair of concrete pillars with a chain across which had been pushed over. We reckoned only elephants could have done this. Sure enough, further on, we spotted a few branches on the trees either side of the track, which had been snapped. It was a very pleasant stroll downhill and was very peaceful. Then I thought I heard a noise. So we stopped and listened. Suddenly there was a tremendous crashing of branches from the jungle on our left followed by an ear splitting bellow of an elephant trumpeting. It could only have been about 10 meters away from us!!!! We ran and ran for our lives, glancing over our shoulders, expecting to see a charging elephant. Back up the hill, we ran, until we couldn’t physically go any further. We will never know if the elephant ever did come out of the jungle, but weren’t hanging around to find out. Looking back on it, the most sensible thing would have been to run down hill, as it would have been easier. But our natural instincts were to run back the way we had come, and, as we are still alive whilst I write this, it can only have been the correct thing to do. It was one of the most frightening experiences of our lives, that elephant did not sound happy. It most probably only wanted to frighten us, and it certainly achieved its objective!!
Once we both regained our breath and our legs stopped shaking, we retraced our steps back up the hill and took the other path alongside the tea bushes. This however soon turned right and started to lead us downhill, with the edge of the jungle on our right. We walked like we were stepping on eggshells, stopping every now and again to listen. We were petrified. There were noises coming from the jungle, which could have been elephants moving around, but didn’t seem that close. So we chanced it and carried on down this path. It eventually brought us out back down into the tea plantation area where the pickers were working. I felt like rushing up to them and telling them what had happened, but I didn’t.
The walk back was quite tranquil compared to what had happened. Took a photo of a bug, that looked as dangerous as the elephants, and got back to Ciscillias for mid afternoon. The day wasn’t over yet and we still had time to plod our way back up to the viewpoint for our last look out over the surrounding countryside, as the sun sank lower. Then it was back down again for our last meal of “don’t know what” and pack up ready for our departure the following morning.
The next day was going to be a toughie, as we were heading to Munnar and back onto the tourist trail.
#12 May 4th, 2009, 12:34
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Feb 2008
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  • snonymous is offline
#12
Nice read! Nelliampathy sounds like a lovely place to visit.

Do you know that you were privileged to see a
Lion Tailed Macaque -

http://s571.photobucket.com/albums/s...t=DSC_2727.jpg

http://s571.photobucket.com/albums/s...t=DSC_2686.jpg

http://s571.photobucket.com/albums/s...t=DSC_2685.jpg


When I read "black monkey", I assumed they were the more common Nilgiri Langur, but your photo is definitely the more elusive and highly endangered LTM. Congratulations and lucky you!
Travelpod / Flickr


-----------------------------------------------------
#13 May 4th, 2009, 12:49
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  • snonymous is offline
#13
Just read this now, after going through your Nelliampathy chapter. Adventurous trip by all accounts. It would be very nice as an article or journal.
#14 May 6th, 2009, 18:25
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  • LilBoy BigTown is offline
#14
Awesome report.

Good to know the injury wasn't too bad.
#15 May 6th, 2009, 18:36
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  • LilBoy BigTown is offline
#15
Once again, great reporting.

Way to go.
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