Thursday, June 16, 2005

G.O.C. - DAY X

At breakfast I wanted to eat cheese dosa, and Ma thought that by cheese they must mean paneer. But I insisted that this isn’t north India, where cheese would mean paneer! Ma asked the steward if cheese meant paneer, and he shook his head and said, “No ma! Cheese is different and paneer is different!” That was just too funny the way he said it, like he was teaching an ignorant child!
This day was filled with viewpoints. They had picturesque names like GREEN VALLEY VIEW, UPPER LAKE VIEW, and so on. We also saw a cave – MULLA, MURRA, or some such name. The actual cave had been barricaded with metal wire because long ago some guy had fallen in and died. There was even a plaque in his remembrance placed there by his son.
At dinner we were served by a very jovial waiter who praised the restaurant to great heights and almost commanded us to come back for lunch the next day!
People who say Tamilians are stuck up, must get their head checked for any loose marbles!


This day all we did was travel from Munnar to KODAIKANAL. So we left God’s Own Country behind and entered Tamil Nadu! We stayed at Hilltop Towers Hotel. It was pretty good. After nine whole days I had a pizza! It was Indian-style, but was still quite good! D and I were in a deluxe suite, while my parents were in the honeymoon suite! That cracked up D and me! We made this big deal of them opening the door and going in to the suite! It was just too funny! The suite had a round bed! Too bad it didn’t actually revolve! :))


Next day we went to BLOSSOM INTERNATIONAL PARK, where we saw a bunch of flowers. We also did pedal boating. At first I just acted like I was pedaling, but then D caught on to me and made me pedal, and would check periodically to see if I was pedaling! He he!
After pedaling I saw a swing hanging from a tree branch and ran towards it before anyone else could sit on it! I just lovvvveeee swinging! It’s the nearest thing to flying through the air!
Then we found this rope suspended in the air and a metal seat attached to it. D and I took turns pushing each other right to the top of the rope and then whizzing down! That was a lot of fun! We even pushed Ma and Dad up, and they too had a lot of fun!
Next we went to MODAPATTY DAM, which is about 81 meters high, I think. It was quite impressive. The bases of the slopes around the dam had been cut into steps by water erosion. Took a couple of pictures here too.
Next we headed to ECHO POINT. But it started pouring cats and dogs. And we couldn’t even get out of the car. On the way back we saw some elephants with mahouts seated atop them. Ma started screaming excitedly at me to take their picture. I was a little slow in switching on the camera and rolling down the window, and by then there was a long line of cars honking behind us, and we had to move on. Ma became quite snippy after that! It would have been funny, if I too weren’t pissed off!
Anyway we just drove off, and the rain lulled me to a semi-conscious state, till we reached T & U, a hotel where we had our lunch. Then we went back to our hotel where my parents went to sleep, D went to call his girlfriend (hee hee! He’s not going to like this!), and I read ‘The Namesake’ by Jhumpa Lahiri. It is a really good book!


We went to quite a few places on this day. First we went to see a WATERFALL that had no name! It was trĂ©s beautiful! It wasn’t a high waterfall, that is, it didn’t fall from a great height, it was more of a cascade of water, and a low bridge was built over it. D and I went down to the rocks from the bridge, while our parents stayed put on the bridge. I took some pictures (that’s what tourists do if you didn’t catch on!).
Two families had also come, and both the husbands and all the kids stripped down to their undies! I was just flabbergasted! It looked like they wanted to take a dip in the waterfall! They obviously didn’t realize that not only was the water frigid, but also fast flowing! People! What can I say?!
After the waterfall we went to RAJAMALAI HILL, on summit of which was the ARAVINIKULAM (not sure about the spelling) NATIONAL PARK, home to the NILGIRI TAHR. They belong to the goat family I think. On the way up we saw a family of four Nilgiri Tahrs: mommy, daddy, and two yeng vuns! Hee hee!
They were quite cute looking, and at the same time intelligent looking too! And they were not at all shy, in fact were quite curious. We were only about 2-3 feet away from them, and did not run away. Of course everyone was very excited to see these elusive creatures, and a great number of pictures was snapped and footage on camera caught. They looked somewhat like gray deer. When we reached the park, a thick blanket of fog covered everything. We had to park our vehicle and walk the rest of the way. We went up a little, after which both parents were tired, so D and I went up a bit further. There was so much fog that water droplets clung to our hair! We could see only about two feet in front of us. We went in search of some animals, but they were all probably deep in the forest, so only after a little while I told D that we should just head back down, as I was getting very tired, climbing the steep incline.
Of course, when we came down our parents pounced on us at once and started shouting, “We told you not to go so high, why did you go? There’s so much fog around. What if you’d gotten lost?” I told them that we had actually gotten slightly off track (I blamed it all on D!), which of course didn’t help matters further! :D
Next we went to a TEA MUSEUM. It was an old colonial house that had been converted in to a museum. It was an interesting place. We saw an old-style stove and a wooden bathtub, just like the ones we see in cartoons! We also saw old telephones, which didn’t even have dialing keys, and also a phone-operating machine. There was lots of old fashioned furniture too. At the back of the museum was a small tea factory, where we saw how tealeaves were ground up, dried and sifted and stuff. The whole place permeated of a strange smell that I thought was a mixture of boiling tea and chlorophyll. After a while it got a bit nauseating.
Ma was very thrilled to see the whole process of tea manufacturing, and went around studying all the machines and equipments thoroughly. I don’t know why, she doesn’t even like tea! But I’ve found out over the years, that Ma is curious about anything new that she encounters. :)
Then we went for lunch to a restaurant called Silver Spoon. A family of four – mother, father, son, and daughter - was seated opposite to our table, and D and I cracked ourselves silly commenting on how they were just sitting staring in to space, not talking at all! We were being really silly and wicked. They were sitting so glumly! Here D and I were bickering and cracking jokes all the time, and there the siblings were just staring morosely in to space! D joked that they are probably just hungry and would cheer up once their food was served to them! But even when their food arrived, they ate in a very glum, bored manner too!
After lunch we went to a gift shop called Kurinji (it’s a plant that flowers every 12 years, it’s going to flower in 2006 now). I bought some gifts for all my friends.
At dinner D was as usual in one of his “silly” moods (come to think of it, he’s always in that mood!). We were talking about how some people use too many words to try and clearly define something, and D suddenly said, “I’ve two daughters, both of them are girls!” I just burst out laughing when I heard that!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


This wasn’t a terribly interesting day. We started out of Thekkady at about 10:30 am and reached MUNNAR at about 3:30 pm. On the way we passed by TATA Tea Estate. It was humongous! Totally never ending! The roads were not very nice. They weren’t all that twisty, but my head was spinning almost the whole way!
After five whole days I got to watch Star World! I watched my favourite channel from 4:00-8:30 pm or so. Munnar was very foggy. Fog continuously rolled over the hills; it even entered our room through the window! That was quite captivating!
The only bad thing was that Munnar was too silent! I just hate it when it is too silent, because then there’s a continuous buzzing in my ears that just does not go away, and this can get really annoying!
So ended Day VI on a slightly disgruntled note!

G.O.C. - DAY V

Day V had a delightful beginning! I saw black monkeys from my room! I just went on taking pictures till Ma had to drag me away to breakfast!
First thing we did was to go for a boat ride on PERIYAR LAKE. We saw wild boars, otters, sambar deer, wild buffalos, wild dogs, jungle mynas and kingfishers. Was very, very excited to spot all these animals, as were the people onboard the boat.
There were quite a few honeymooners too, acting downright silly! Two couples were together, and they were the worst! They would go to the front of the boat in pairs, while the other pair would take their pictures. And by doing so they would block everybody else’s view! I was so annoyed at them that I even snapped at one of the guys to move out of my way, and then regretted it at once! I was doing exactly the same thing that I detest seeing other people doing – being unnecessarily rude! Sure the guy was blocking my view, but I could have spoken politely and not brushed him off as if he were a fly!
Anyway, after the boat ride we hired a guide and went for a trek in the forest. I was just too excited about going in to a real, live jungle!! I was also a little (O.K., quite a bit!) scared that some wild animal would jump us from behind some bush! This was a tiger reserve after all!
We started out on the plains first. The guide pointed out to a group of dogs and muttered something about a sambar deer. I just nodded my head and began to follow him. My parents and brother were trailing behind, as D and Dad were helping Ma down a steep incline. As we neared the wild dogs, they ran away toward the jungle. And then the most gruesome sight met my eyes! There was a half eaten deer lying right at my feet! And then I understood what the guide had said about the deer! D was quite excited and began filming the corpse! The insides of the deer were completely torn away by the dogs! There even some whitish organs lying near by! Hmmm… I think must have grossed out most people reading this, so I’ll stop here!
As we entered the forest, I could keep on hearing rumbling/roaring sounds, and kept imagining a tiger coming tearing out from some bush! But I soon deciphered the noises to be emanating from cars passing through the reserve! So much for imagining coming face-to-face with a tiger!
We walked quite deep in to the forest. After only about half an hour or so, Not-So-Deadly-Dad said that he was too tired to continue and that we should head back. I was not too pleased with this decision, and put my foot down and demanded that we have never ever been in a forest, and never ever may do so in the future, and also we should get our money’s and continue with the trek. I think my last words had the desired effect, and we continued with the trek! :D
We didn’t see many animals, but saw a group of lemurs eating jackfruit, some birds and a variety of spiders! We also saw a great many trees; well we were in a forest!
Jokes apart, we saw trees with humongous trunks. They must have been at least 100 years old.
We also saw a lot of elephant poo! The guide kept away from the tracks where the poo seemed fresh. I was just amazed that elephants could fit through such narrow spaces! And the branches and bushes didn’t even seem all that trampled upon! Strange!
In to our second hour in the forest, D noticed that leeches on the protective socks (they made from a very thick cloth) that I had worn over my shoes and pants, they were knee-high. I was extremely distressed by that, as I obviously didn’t want by blood sucked! Removing the little buggers was a tiring task! They just wouldn’t come off, how much ever D and I tried poking at them with sticks! It was awfully creepy!
By this time, even my legs were hurting, as was my lower back, which hurts when I walk a lot. I was just glad that I had booked a massage in the evening for myself!
Anyway, we reached the guide office, where our guide brought a packet of salt and began sprinkling salt on to the socks and inside our sneakers too. The damn leeches dropped off at once! Thank God!
We then had lunch and retired to our rooms, where I read ‘Deception Point’ by Dan Brown till 7 pm, after which D and I went for our massages. The massage I took was called Abhyangam, a massage for proper blood circulation of the body and relaxation of the mind. Hot ayurvedic oil, which smelt a lot of eucalyptus, is massaged on to the body. It actually wasn’t as relaxing as I thought it would be. There was a lot of sweeping action and not much kneading, which is what I needed! Washing off all the oil afterwards was a big problem! The oil was very thick, and had to wash myself about 4-5 times! And my hair also covered with a thick layer of the oil!
For dinner we again had the sinfully delicious “Fried Fish Kerala-style”!
And there ended Day V.


Day IV started out very well too – had the best tomato uttapam ever, for breakfast! Hee hee! We started off at 11 am or so for our next destination – PERIYAR TIGER RESERVE in THEKKADY. But first we went to the Allepey beach. It seemed to be much cleaner than the Bombay beaches. The sand was also a lighter shade, almost, but not quite, white.
We passed countless townships on our drive to Thekkady – Kumarakom, Kollum and a few others I cannot recall.
The whole of Kerala can be compared to the northern temple town of Varanasi, except in Kerala, there is a church at every corner you turn. Most were very intriguing looking buildings, the builders had crafted them with much imagination!
One thing I was thankful for on this journey was that neither were the mountainous roads terribly twisty-turny like the ones up north, nor were they isolated. I remember, some 8-10 years ago we had gone on a pilgrimage to Gangotri, Yamnotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath. The highways between these places were so isolated that it was very, very depressing! We would see one car, bus or truck very few and far in between. I would actually be happy to see another vehicle on the road that is, when I was looking out the window and did not have my head buried in my mother’s lap!
Anyway, on the way to Thekkady we stopped at a waterfall by the roadside and took some pictures. The scenery was equally breath taking! We saw hilltops covered with clouds! It was just beautiful!!
One or two kilometers from the Periyar Tiger Reserve we stopped at HIGHLAND SPICE GARDEN. I was very excited to see spice plants as I’d never seen them before. We saw cardamom bushes (according to Ma raw cardamom tastes sweet), spearment, peppermint, jackfruits, different kinds of chilies, ginger, a natural insulin plant, kaveri coffee, lemon grass, capsicums. Ma bought a few spices for herself and some relatives, and mango pickle and honey for me.
We reached Aranya Nivas, our hotel, which is located in the Periyar Tiger Reserve, at about 4:30-5:00 pm, famished yet again!
For dinner we had “Fried Fish Kerala-style”! It was simply scrumptious! So the end of Day IV was very good too!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


The day started out very well! I had onion uttapam for breakfast, and it was delicious! In all the tours that we have been on, I would drive my mother up the wall when it came to eating breakfast. Till now, we had traveled only in northern India, where dosas and uttapams were not on the breakfast menu, and I don’t care much for toast and jam or aloo parathas for breakfast.
But now, breakfast was a much looked forward to meal!! I just love dosas and uttapams, and can never get enough of them!
We were greeted by a new driver, Anthony, who could speak decent English, and also, thank the Lord, a Qualis!
We set out for our next destination, Allepey (or Allapuzha as the locals call it), which was three hours away. We reached Allepey at 12 noon or so, checked in to our hotel, Prince Allepey, and then went for a cruise on the backwaters. Aah! This is exactly why I wanted to go to Kerala, to see the famed backwaters of God’s own country.
So we headed towards Kumarakom. On the way we saw quite a few people standing on the banks with fishing poles, fishing for their lunch! The scenery was truly awe-inspiring! Shady avenues of coconut and banana trees, and brilliant coloured flower bushes lining the banks.
As we neared more open waters we saw birds (species unknown) gracefully flying in tight formations. And I also saw to my right great big billows of clouds framed by a violet-tinged sky! I’ve never seen this colour in the sky!
After a while I dozed off. I was half awake, half asleep, not being able to differentiate between reality and dreams. After roughly 2 ½ hours we reached the Taj Garden Retreat, where we had lunch. The resort was very pretty! Small individual bungalows standing in shady avenues, with names like Kingfisher, Woodpecker and so on. Hmmm… I think I’m sounding like I’m plugging for the resort, so I’ll stop the description here! But it truly was a beautiful place!
After lunch, D had to got to the bathroom to do (ahem!) you-know-what, and we had to sit in the lawn waiting for him. Our boat driver (or is it captain?) came to get us, as it was getting late, and no traffic was allowed on the water after 6 pm. So I went on giving my brother missed calls to make him hurry up! I had no wish to get stranded on the resort, however picturesque it was!
On the way back I slept for more than half the journey. We came back to Allepey at about 7 pm.
Dad bought a pair of silver earrings for me from the little gift shop in the hotel. Also bought another pair for a friend.
Then had dinner, which was strictly O.K., except for the murgh malai tikka, which was yummy!
D was more obnoxious than usual at dinner! Allepey air must really agree with him!


Our first destination was Cochin. The train arrived an hour late and we were supposed to be in Cochin for only a day, so half the day was already over when we reached Cochin. The driver, who we had hired through a travel agent, met us at the station. But he spoke no Hindi at all, and very little English, and communicating with him was a Herculean task. My father, as is his wont, lost his temper at once (one of the downs, I was talking about earlier) and raged against the education system in Kerala for not having Hindi as a second language and all that jazz. All I could do was roll my eyes and try to block his voice out.
And another bone my father had to pick with was that the car that we had booked was a Qualis, and the driver had come in an Ambassador. So the first place we went to was to the KTDC, where Deadly Dad demanded that we should be given a Qualis. After a silly confrontation, which was not needed at all, the guy in charge told us that we should speak to the travel agent who had booked the Qualis for us, and told us to use the Ambassador while we were in Cochin.
So after all this we went to our hotel at last, Hotel Aiswarya! There we freshened up, that is, just splashed water on our faces, except my brother, D, who just had to use my face wash!
Anyway, we had to hurry, if we wanted to see any of the tourist’y’ places in Cochin, which all shut down by 5:30 pm. And we had just a little over 45 minutes to see the places. Thank God all were in the same vicinity. So we drove to the area of Mattanchery, where we went to Jew Town, and saw the oldest SYNAGOGUE in India. It looked very ordinary from the outside, but the prayer hall was beautiful! There was also a room, which held paintings depicting how the first Jews had come to India. That was quite interesting too. It reminded me of how the Parsis had landed on the coast of Gujarat, hundreds of years ago.
After the synagogue, went to see the DUTCH PALACE. This building also looked quite ordinary from the outside. And we were just in time too, 15 minutes to closing time. Inside we saw murals depicting the Ramayana, and a few palkis and dolis, exquisitely crafted! One of the rooms contained the royal clothing, very rich!
When we came out, my stomach began growling uncontrollably! I hadn’t eaten anything since the morning in the train, when I’d eaten two cold idlis. I then bought a pack of Cheetos, and some peanuts to assuage my hunger somewhat.
We then went to see the CHINESE FISHING NETS that are unique to Kerala. On the pavement, my mother saw people selling fish, and as is her wont, went up to explore on her own. She became very excited when she saw all the different varieties of fish, and the giant shrimps, and ordered us to take pictures! I didn’t think it was a good idea, but Ma insisted! There was even a shark-like fish, which D insisted was a baby shark, but I was not too convinced.
When we reached Hotel Aiswarya, it was about 7:30 pm, and all of us were ravenous! We went straight to the restaurant and ordered our food. We had fried fish (yummm!), tandoori chicken, chicken tikka masala, appams, and chocolate ice cream for desert. Then we went to our room and crashed on to the beds!
This was the end to a very tiring Day II.

God's Own Country - DAY I

I’m back from my Kerala tour! Kerala really is God’s own country! It is so very beautiful!!
Am gonna start a series detailing my tour, day by day. This is Chapter I.

The trip didn’t start out on a very nice note. A family got into the cubicle opposite to ours, and the “head of the family” began screaming at another family already present in the compartment, ordering them to move their luggage out of the way to accommodate his!! What a creep!!
Later this same man, lets call him Mr. McScream, began playing “educational” games with his small son, asking him to name the largest mammal, the fastest bird, and other such questions. He later included three other children too (they belonged to the screamed at family). He asked them if they knew the definition of a mammal, and told them that a mammal is any living being that suckle their offspring.
Then he asked them if they knew about a bird that also suckles its offspring. I too was very intrigued at this point, and wanted to know the answer. All the kids scratched their heads, but were unable to come up with the answer. At the end of five minutes or so he proudly declared that bats were a species of birds that suckled their young!! For a minute, I thought that I’d heard wrong, but then one of the kids hesitantly pointed out that bats were mammals, but Mr. McScream said in a very lordly manner, “No, no! Bats are birds! If you look at them closely, you will see that they have wings!” Good god! I was like, is this guy for real?! Mr. Know-it-all (I could give this guy a few more choice names, but I will refrain from doing so!) should refer to an encyclopedia, or even a dictionary before trying to act all smart, but making a complete ass out of himself in the process! I’m sure that a bat is indeed a mammal, but being a very thorough person I even checked online for the exact meaning. And this is what I found: According to a bat is defined as

Any of various nocturnal flying mammals of the order Chiroptera, having membranous wings that extend from the forelimbs to the hind limbs or tail and anatomical adaptations for echolocation, by which they navigate and hunt prey.

Note that the term “flying mammals” is italicized!
So here’s my advice to the Know-it-alls of the world (this group, unfortunately includes me too, but only in very rare cases! :D): Get your facts right before opening your trap and making a complete fool of yourself!
This tour had a lot of ups and downs, and the downs were all to do with PEOPLE! I will elaborate on this in my future chapters! Actually, there won’t even be any need for elaboration!