Pretty good sleep in the shared dorm at the jungle place but it was reminiscent of being on a school camp! I think the main two trouble causers were Gayle and Keli. They woke up at 630 and slowly got louder and louder until other people woke up. They were reasonably quiet in the dorm but as soon as they stepped outside to the showers increased their volume considerably. Then came back into dorm and went back to whispering!!!
Pretty long boring drive to Mysore but there was some entertainment in the form of a Bollywood movie. It was quite good but mostly because it was so over the top. I can see why every kid here dreams of being in Bollywood it would be a lot of fun. The hotel in Mysore was awful, the lobby was quite clean and fresh but clearly it was just for show as the rooms were dirty, smelt of damp and not comfortable. Oh and the restaurant was called Mysore memories!!!
Anyway headed off to Mysore palace which is 2nd to the Taj in terms of Indian palaces. It was very impressive, very colourful inside and full of info about how the royal family used to use it. Interesting fact which might come up in a pub quiz, the glass comes from Glasgow. There was then the opportunity to go saree shopping!!!!! I politely declined as did 3 others and we went to a local chai stall for tea. The owners were very excited as we were the first non Indians to go in there. Dinner at a nice restaurant then back to hotel for drinks. The hotel bar was a dark smokey room with about 6 Indian business men in there but we braved it and probably took over a bit. Our leader then made quite an entrance by tripping over the TV cables and disconnecting the whole lot. It’s a good job it wasn’t cricket. It took 4 hotel staff over an hour to reconnect it all. At this point we were starting to wonder if our guide had had any other incidents because he did come across as very clumsy. Clumsy and very giggly! That’s when he started to tell us stories from his other trips. Someone had not got off the train so were stranded on their own, another passenger had lost all their stuff and someone had died! We have another week with this man including train journeys…..
After a rubbish sleep its off to a hill town above Mysore to visit the local temple with really great views above Mysore. Then drive out to Somanathpur to visit another temple which would have been interesting had we not been more bothered about standing in the shade, first hot day for a while and we weren’t prepared. Drive back was interesting as we stopped at this random banana shop, then an incense and oils place, apparently lilywater oil best protection from mosquitoes. It went downhill from there though. Heavens opened just as we were going for a look around the local market. We got absolutely soaked so couldn’t be bothered with market. Got tuktuk back but half way there he broke down. So there’s 4 of us squashed into a tuktuk stranded in the middle of the road in a massive puddle with the poor drive trying to get it restarted, which he did eventually. We actually cheered much to the amusement of onlookers. So everything soaking wet and now have to get organised for sleeper train. All we could do was put out wet clothes into a plastic bag and hope they’d be ok. Overnight train was fine, guy in our part was a yoga teacher so that was interesting. I got the top bunk which is fine but you have to be some kind of acrobat to get up there and down. Needless to sat I wasn’t very graceful. The drive from Chennai to Mahabalipurum along the coast road was very interesting. Lots of fishing and local stalls but the shocking thing was the still very visible signs from the tsunami. I don’t remember India being reported much in the UK so hadn’t realised how badly affected it was. I guess because it’s not a tourist spot the international press chose not to report it. Mahabalipurum is a lovely little town but none of us can say it properly. So we called mul.l.l.l.l.l.urm which quickly became the phrase of the holiday. Anything we couldn’t pronounce became mul.l.l.l.l.l.urm.
First cycle experience in India which was different. Rickety old single gear bike with a pedal that turned every time I tried to use it. Took a photo which is on Twitter and now the intrepid facebook page! Hotel was really good here, even had a pool so we all took the opportunity to cool down from the beating sun. Next two days were a bit of a mad dash. Long drive to Puducherry where I hoped we would get a chance to look around the French quarter but didn’t. Saw an elephant blessing people outside the temple which wasn’t very nice to see actually. Poor thing chained up.
Nice to have the opportunity to drink champagne though! On our way back to the hotel did liquor store run for rum, all of 2.40 and then stupidly sat up until 2am drinking. Next day felt awful, combination of the heat, t-shirts were soaked through with sweat just by sitting around, too much booze, not enough water and very spicy food. Not ideal prep for a 6 hr train journey. Arrived in Madurai at 3pm and told heading out at 3.30pm to visit temple. It was very warm, over 35, humid and busy so can’t say it’s been the highlight. In fact none of us really listened to the local guide. Those two days were pretty disappointing as felt like a lot of travel to not see much. Next two days made up for it though as we headed back up to 1000m to Thekkady close to Periyar National Park. The weather was appalling and it felt like we were in Cumbria a lot of the time but the scenery is beautiful. The accommodation was kind of old wooden houses surrounded by lush vegetation, great for relaxing in. The afternoon offered the opportunity of an auryvedic massage but didn’t fancy it based on people’s previous experience. And I think I was right too as the ones that had gone looked traumatised!
Evening saw a demo of a local martial arts which included mock battles with swords, jumping through rings of fire and one leapt up a 10ft wall just to shake hands with the audience. Next morning early start to go for walk in park. Told to put on this cotton gaiter things to protect from leeches. Thank god we did. Stopped to look at something and noticed loads of leeches on my shoes and gaiter, everyone was the same. So whilst up to that point we had enjoyed looking at tiger paw prints, elephant bones, kingfishers and other tropical wildlife we spent the rest of the walk obsessing over leeches! It took a good shower and thorough inspection of all our clothes before we could feel normal again. The start and end of the walk was cool though, we had to get across the river on bamboo rafts. They were about 10m long and 5m wide. You had to side step on to them then stand facing forward whilst being pulled across with a rope. Afternoon was supposed to be the 36 curries off banana leave, sat on floor with locals for a big festival but it turned out to be 4 curries off a banana leaf and no festival!!! I’m just glad I didn’t bother with the saree. We were told it was a big celebration and we’d sit on the floor eating these curries. We had the opportunity to loan saree but 4 of us concluded that sat on the floor eating curry was too high risk and didn’t fancy the cleaning bill. The others that had bought them spent 3 hrs getting ready to wear them for an hour sat around a table in the hotel restaurant!!!!
The evening made up for it, cooking class at a local family house. This year it was more hands on, we all had to chop, peel and prepare. Not sure how but I got roped into doing most of the cooking bit. We all survived so must have been ok. Oh and had a walk around a locals botanical spice garden. About 1 acre of land full of every spice possible. Next day drive back to sea level and the backwaters. They are as lovely as what you see on tv. Stayed in homestay with family determined to feed us, really nice food but far too much. Evening walk and then a boat ride in a huge dug out canoe. Next day final transfer back to Kochi. Local bus ride which was hilarious, 11 of us trying to get on with big bags, or in the case of the Americans 4 big bags. Then our final night, local restaurant and then some rather dodgy back street boozer. Good last night but sad to say bye to everyone, particularly the 3 I’d booked with. We literally didn’t stop giggling which I’m sure drove everyone else mad. Our guide has renamed the trip the giggling tour. So we survived the two weeks and no incidents for our leader either! It’s been 2 weeks of extremes in weather, one day so hot you can hardly breathe and sweating buckets, to days in pouring rain and really cold night’s. It’s been great though, fab way to get back into the country and still as full of surprises as the first time.
So I negotiated my flights to Madurai and have been up at project since Friday, work starts tomorrow. Will post an update soon about how it is, it’s been an experience so far that’s for sure.