Sunday, 29 June 2008

On the way to Kochi...not!

Due to the delicate nature of my stomach and other parts of my body (thank you Imodium plus) and the fact that there were only the “come and get them” cheap seats on the toy train I took the bus instead. It was quicker, I had a window seat and the views through it would have been great if it wasn’t raining and the mountain scenery obscured by low clouds.

Arriving in the non-descript town of Coimbatore I got myself a room in a posh hotel (R800 an night in a non A/C room with cable TV!) across the road from the train station. With the bags dumped on the bed I crossed the road to get a ticket for the next’s days train to Kochi. With the ticket purchased and in my wallet I walked back to the hotel and by the time I was in the lift and on the way to my 4th floor room the sudden terror of dreaded realization hit me. MY TRAIN TICKET WAS FOR UNRESERVED SEATING! The memories of Mumbai train station and watching people trading punches just to get on board the carriage swept over me leaving me light headed and afraid.

Not to worry, there was a bar attached to the hotel and the kingfisher did the trick of calming me down.

After a peaceful nights sleep, like that of a dead man’s last night on death row, I awoke early and checked my ticket again and realised it really wasn’t all a terrible dream!

On the platform waiting…..the train pulled in…..the carriage was half empty and only 3 people were waiting to board…EASY!!! Don’t know what I was worrying about. I even got a single seat by the window…bonus!

My ticket was for Ernakulum Junction which is the name of the suburb next to Kochi. About 2 kilometres before that is the station of Ernakulum Town. As the train pulled out of Ernakulum Town I thought about getting ready to disembark as my stop was only minutes away. 75 minutes later the train next stopped at the small town of Kottayam…bugger, or so I thought! Sitting outside the station flicking through the guide book I was happy with where I was. I could get a ferry ride from Kottayam to Alleppey (and then If I wanted to go back north to Kochi I could do so easily) and then continue south down the coast.

So looking back, how many people can say that they have travelled on an unreserved carriage in India. Not many I’m sure! Mind you I hope it will be the case of once and never again.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

One hundred and forty seven

That’s right I am in Ooty the birth place of Snooker!

Arriving after dark due to the bus running late and also side swiping a rickshaw on one of the tight mountain roads I didn’t feel like “searching” for a hotel. Across the road were a gaggle of them and it was a case of third time lucky. The 1st two being far too grotty for words. At only R250 a night it’s basic but clean. For washing, as in most cheap hotels here, a bucket of warm water is provided in the morning. Arh…the joys of a flannel bath!

On the bus here from Mysore you pass through a couple of nature reserves. From my window seat I saw herds of spotted deer and several elephants, both on the road and being washed in the river by their handlers. As we got closer to Ooty the mountains got higher and the temperature dropped. It got so cold I had goose bumps and ended up shutting the window because I found myself starting to shiver…fantastic!

The next day I was out for a bimble around town. Ooty (or Udhagamandalam as it’s now called) was a hill station founded by the British Raj to escape the heat of the summer months. The max temperature is a low 25oc so they made a good choice! The town itself sits in a narrow valley with an artificial lake and racecourse towards the eastern end of town. From my hotel it is about a 15-20 minute walk into the centre of town, with the main crossroads being named Charing Cross.

Arriving to early at the tourist office I bumped into a Portuguese lass called Ana who has spent the last 3 years teaching at Liverpool university (luckily she didn’t have a scouse accent) so with time to spare and a coffee shop across the road a conversation was had. Going our separate ways after the tourist office we agreed to meet up later in the evening for dinner.

Ooty has a well established botanical garden; so can you guess where I went first? Most of the specimens are from Australia, South Africa and other parts of the then mighty British Empire. I spent a good two hours there taking many “most excellent photos”. After a well earned lunch I had to buy a fleece as it gets cold in the evenings, which males a great change from being down on the coast and sweating

On my way back to the hotel I passed a man laying on his back crucifix style in the middle of the road. This being India everyone drove around him. Was he dead or dead drunk? Who knows but in the evening he was no longer there!

On Wednesday morning it was off to the Tribal Research Centre Museum 11 kilometres from Ooty. Yes, a bus was used and seating on the shiny vinyl covered rear bench seat made the fast tight corners even more fun? Upon arrival myself and Ana were shown around the centre by the caretaker/guide for a couple of very informative hours. There are several hill tribes in the area each existing within their own small niche of living styles and belief systems. Later on outside I was sharing a fag with the guide. Turns out he was ex Indian Navy deep sea diver. When I say deep I’m talking 250m plus! He’d been around the world 8 times but when he hit 34 it was time to quit. Age and a blown ear drum put a stop to the diving.

Today I went to the intriguingly name thread garden. For 12 years, 50 people (allegedly) spent their working days creating the garden. What’s so special about it? Well, all the “plants” are in fact artificial. Instead of using plastic and printed silk like everyone else they used stiff canvas shapes then, by hand, wound coloured thread around them.

and that’s me being nice about it.

Tomorrow, if like today it’s raining I be on the toy train out of here. If however it is nice and sunny I’ll be spending one more day here and heading out into the hills.

The next day it was almost good enough so I went for a walk, got lost and then wet! Later on in the evening back at my hotel after a vegetarian pizza I was squatting over the toilet with liquid coming out of 2 waste extraction points. That flow was soon followed by the entire contents of my stomach…I thinks this means I’m ill but will I be okay to travel in the morning????????

Friday, 20 June 2008


I have come to the conclusion that Indian bus travel really isn’t for me. Even though I was in “seat 13” and not able to see that much of the approaching road I was able to see the apex of each twisty mountain curve. The horn was barley silent the entire 6.5 hours and going pass a recently crashed bus didn’t improve my mental stability. Also having to sit in a small chair made my tailbone numb (don’t get me started on my fat arse). At least in Iran the madness stopped as you passed the city limits. Here in India it’s more like a starting flag being waved!
I really don’t like being in a bus that overtakes a petrol tanker on a blind bend whilst on a narrow mountain road.
Anyway I got to Mysore safe and sound in the early evening. A cheap hotel (with NO tv) near Gandhi square and the Palace. I’ll be here for 4-5 days, depending on what’s about and how I feel.
I’ve been in India now for 6 weeks; it doesn’t seem that long to me. Before I came to India many people told me that I would either love or hate it! Truth be told I’m still undecided.

Bits of India I hate:

• Mumbai
• People shitting out in the open
• Being continually asked if I want drugs
• Bus travel

Bits of India I love:

• A certain dog in Goa
• The natural beauty of the landscapes
• The ancient temples of Hampi
• The people (when not trying to sell me drugs) especially when posing for their photograph. I mean how straight can the arms and backs be?
• The monsoon…it’s the best time to travel


Bloody hell!!!!! Turkey did it again and are now in the semi finals of Euro ‘08! Seeing that England didn’t qualify and I was in turkey when they did (the town went crazy) I’ve been supporting turkey!

Anyway back to today, the 1st place I wanted to visit was the Palace. It dominates the centre of the town and makes for one huge roundabout! Once again after paying the slightly racist price I was allowed inside. Straight away I had to hand over my camera as photos inside the palace are not allowed. I asked why and the answer “because there is gold inside” left me confused and puzzled. Inside the building (minus the shoes) I was greatly disappointed, whilst the architecture was amazing, especially the columns and the stained glass ceiling, it was all roped off. The display cases which were few and far between were so far away that even though the labels were large you couldn’t read them let alone see clearly what was inside.
From the palace I went to the museum. There, another R100 spent to visit a very boring and poorly laid out display of the maharaja’s personnel life. Let’s face it…seeing 8 gramophone players from the 30’s and 40’s is quite boring!
Passing the elephant ride, which for some reason cost non Indians twice as much, I got my shoes and after a couple of photos left disappointed.

Next I went to a nearby art gallery. It is 3 storeys in height and the ground floor was full of portraits of rich dead people from the Victorian and Edwardian Indian era. The 1st floor was more charming with pictures painted by local Indian artists. The last floor was a smaller affair filled with musical instruments. The one that really caught my eye was three mouth organs fused into a single cylinder that allowed, with a flick of the wrist, to change organs!

My 3rd port of call was the old headquarters of then yet to be Duke of Wellington. At just over 200 years old the building still looks modern and minimalist. The ground floor is used as a cultural centre with rotating displays. This month a small display of Indian Himalayan life and beliefs. Upstairs were some more rich dead guys on canvas and a smattering of Mysorian artists displaying their most recent work. Shame they didn’t have price tags on them!

Across the road from the hotel I was being hassled again by a drug dealer who wouldn’t take “f**k off you low life scum” to mean “please leave me alone”, so I ducked into the nearby bar. Damn, what were the chances of that happening on a Saturday afternoon? Like all good Indian bars the floor is an ashtray, the tables and chairs just about work and there is no tv, music or women to distract the men from the important business of drinking and arguing!

Later on in the evening after a long lie down I awoke feeling hungry. The good news was that next to the bar was a pleasant roof top restaurant. The food didn’t make the tightest of my muscles spasm uncontrollably a few hours later…this is a good thing!


I went to the Zoo……

Damned if I know why?

The snakes and elephants were cool to look at but once I saw the caged jaguar pacing up and down the fence with glazed eyes I remembered why I don’t really like zoos. Still I could be worse; it could be me behind those bars!

In the evening the Palace is lit up with a mind blowing amount of light bulbs and between the hours of 7pm and 8pm the local police band play their little hearts out! Amazingly it’s free to enter and the grounds are packed out with the locals.

For the last 3 days I’ve been hankering after a cheddar cheese and red onion crusty roll. However the chances of getting are one are slim to say the least. So on the way back to the hotel I settled for the next best thing. Yep…I found Indian’s answer to pizza hut. Proper cheese and garlic bread followed by pepperoni pizza. My stomach was making “I love you “noises for hours afterwards.


It’s my 4th day now without tea or coffee…I was wondering why I was finding it hard to get out of bed before 9am!
Today is my last full day in Mysore and in the morning went to Chamundi hill. Its one of the 8 sacred mountains in southern India, so why it’s called a hill? At the summit of the 1300m “hill” is a temple complex complete with the usual array of hawkers and vendors. To reach the top you climb up over 1000 steps, or like me take the bus! I did walk down the steps which gave great views of Mysore and the surrounding countryside. By the time I got to the bottom my left calf was going disco, so I decided to walk back the 2-3 kms to town. After about 20 minutes I came to the conclusion that I was indeed heading completely the wrong way. Not that I minded that much as I was enjoying the walk. As it neared 1pm I felt like a beer…one rickshaw ride later and yep, I back in the bar across the road from the hotel.

Tomorrow I’m off on the early afternoon bus (NO!!!!!!) to………

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

too long a time in this town

So finally after 14 days I managed to leave Colva.

After spending all my time either:

1. Reading a book
2. Watching TV
3. Drinking beer
4. Drinking beer whilst reading a book
5. Drinking beer whilst watching TV
6. Drinking beer and eating chips, pasta, pizza, southern fried chicken…I think you have got the general idea

I was getting far too comfy especially on that bar stool. It was a nice two week holiday but now it’s back to the day job: travelling around the world. Everyone on the count of three….1…2...3...damn you have a hard life (you bastard)

Taking a local train down the coast for 7.5 hours I reached the town of Mangalore. The train ride was my 1st amongst the cheap (but reserved) seats. The ticket only cost R68 and as the carriage was only 20% full I had a bench seat all to myself. It was an air cooled carriage as opposed to having a/c which meant a shed load of fans on the ceiling and all the doors and barred windows open.
It was great sitting next to the window, elbow poking out through the bars with my legs in a position that only men and butch lesbians can do watching the monsoon soaked vista pass me by.
From untamed jungle covered mountains, across paddy fields swathed in the frenetic green of freshly emerged rice shoots, flying over rain gorged rivers and catching glimpses of hamlets hidden by the palm trees. Travelling through the countless tunnels was fun until the exhaust fumes of the engine invaded the carriage like Frank Herbert’s Fog.
The best part of travelling by train in India is having a fag. As smoking is technically banned (with the threat of a R100 fine!!) all you do is stand at the door‘s edge or on the 1st foot plate with a death grip on the hand rail. Then you can enjoy the smells on the air rushing past! During the monsoon season the top speed is only 75kph and it’s nice not to have to worry about some H&S jobsworth pointing out how dangerous it is.

Due to the fact that I was getting into Mangalore in the late evening I pre booked a room. It’s the largest hotel in Mangalore…doesn’t mean it is the best.

The town of Mangalore is beyond uninteresting. Imagine Slough but without the tourist attractions!
I spent the day walking around getting lost but once again my inbuilt IKWIASIDNTAFDA worked well and got me back to the hotel, although I was hot, tired and sweaty.

On Friday I’ll be catching a bus to Mysore where I’ll be hanging out for 4 or 5 days.

That still leaves me with Thursday to fill…the room does have cable TV and room service mmmmmm

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Down by the sea

Arriving in the late afternoon I easily found a cheap hotel. Dumping my bags I made my way the short distance to have a look at the sea. The breakers crashing on the shore, the storm agitated waters swirling a dirty brown over the light yellow sand. Sand!!! I hate sand…why did I come here :P

The next morning I took a stroll along the shore. The compacted sand made for easy walking and the sound of the sea was loud enough to sooth the most savage of beasts. Lost shallow in thought I didn’t hear the 1st hello but I responded o the 2nd. It’s quite hard to be alone in India even in a small seasonal village during the off season. Anyway I made small talk with the bloke until he made me an offer of gay sex by patting me on the genitals. A few choice Anglo Saxon words followed and he made an undignified retreat of the beach and out of my sight.
Later on walking back along the beach to the village a 30 something local woman started talking to me. After a few minutes of the most formal exchange of information she asked if I would like to come back to her hut and have “tea” with her. However if I didn’t want “tea” with her then she had a younger sister who would be more than happy to have “tea” with me instead. Not feeling “thirsty” I declined. Nearing my hotel I was offered an expansive selection of drugs from all three classes…just another typical morning in India.

Three days later…

It’s still raining, you wake to the sound of rain, have lunch to the sound of rain, lie on the bed reading a book to the sound of rain, walk to the restaurant in the rain…anyone would think it was the monsoon season or something!

The village of Colva is a welcome change from the towns and cities I’ve been to so far. It’s quite quiet with only the odd “taxi mister” being a distraction. There are several bars and restaurant designed with the tourist in mind. I personally recommend the Tate ports bar. Multiple televisions, cold beer and comfy sofas. It makes the best place for a lazy Sunday afternoon beer…which is what I’m doing right now!

I was planning on going to Mangalore tomorrow but I really can’t be arsed.