Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Our Week in Kerala


Some things in life do not go quite according to plan and Doug’s barber, Talib’s, attempt to slightly darken Doug’s hair (quite why, will be one of the great unanswered questions!) has been one of them! It turned out to be a perfect colour match to the Queen’s Daimler – burgundy! Anyway, back to travelling ……….


Our recent trip to Kerala started with a scooter ride to Thivim railway station but we went early to catch up with a wonderful family we’ve got to know through Julie (second left) who used to work for P&O. Last time we saw them Julie was expecting Samuel who is now 7 months old. The family had offered to keep our scooter in their garage and take us to the station. Albino (white shirt) was so helpful – he pressure washed the scooter while we had tea with the family and then drove us to catch the train.  27847768_2141735729485099_1503688891_n

Samuel, at a very advanced 7 months old, stole the show of course!


This is Thivim railway station (well, about 2/3rds of it!). As the trains are nearly half a mile long the platforms have to be that long as well and you need to find the correct position on the platform to stand so that you’re not half a mile away from your carriage!


Thankfully the list you need to consult to find your platform position was correct and we were soon safely aboard for the 16 hour journey to Kerala. Doug was eager, as always, to get his head down!


The train delivered us to Ernakulam Junction and we soon found our very nice hotel which we’d booked for the first two nights. We planned to visit Fort Cochin, Alleppey and the Western Ghats mountain range during our eight day stay. Unknowingly we were to eat with gold plated cutlery later in our journey but Ernakulam offered opportunities to eat at the other end of the scale (off the street!) ………


…….. and the young man, who’s little kitchen was housed under a tarpaulin in a back street – and who never seemed to sleep!, produced some amazing food from his two gas rings. On the left is a plate of the most wonderful deep fried battered bananas.


After our two nights in Ernakulam we got an Uber taxi to take us up to Munnar, a hill station in the Western Ghats. Soon after leaving the coastal plains of Kerala we were into the forests of the mountain range with it’s rich vegetation and waterfalls ………….


…….. and meeting some of the local wild life.


The flowers are abundant in the slightly cooler atmosphere of the mountains. The Brugmansia, which we’ve grown ourselves with some care, grow wild on the slopes …….


…….. and there’s some we can’t name!


Doug was particularly enthralled by the size of the Poinsettia which are a favourite Christmas pot plant in the UK but which grow into large bushes.


We found a rather swish hotel to stay for the two nights in Munnar (which turned out not to have showers but instead, the traditional Indian way of a large bucket of water and a jug!) and they arranged a scooter for us to drive ourselves the 20 miles to Top Station which, at about 7000 feet, is the highest point from the town. If we turned one hairpin bend we turned a thousand during the ride but sadly, we saw no elephants!


We wanted to experience the tea plantations, the mountain scenery and cooler clearer air associated with the Western Ghats and our journey to Top Station certainly delivered. You’d think James was piloting a Harley Davidson rather than 125cc scooter!


For the whole 20 miles the mountain sides were covered in the most carefully tended tea plantations ………

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……… and we came across several tea pickers close to the roadside so we could stop and talk and watch them. There are about 5000 pickers in the area around Munnar delivering around 16 tons of leaves each day to the central processing factory (which we visited and had a tour around on our way back down). We were reminded that these are tea trees not bushes and they are 120 years old!


We finally reached Top Station and went to several viewpoints but due to this being the dry season there was a thick heat haze which limited what we saw. The view was better than the pictures show and we could actually see for many miles. Perhaps we could see into the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu but we weren’t sure!


Being able to stop anywhere to enjoy the flora and fauna, lakes and mountains our scooter ride was definitely the right way to do it for us. It was also a public holiday week end and so was very busy but, with so much space, there was generally room for us all.


Returning for our last night in Munnar Doug decided to hunt out some beer. Outside of Goa alcohol is not that readily available and, here in Munnar, this shed was the only place in town where it was for sale!  And there was quite a queue!


From Munnar we took a very comfortable a/c bus ride to Alleppey where again we found a beautiful hotel (that’s where we had gold plated cutlery at breakfast!) for one night. They were extremely helpful and arranged a lovely Kettu Vallam (based on the traditional rice boats) with it’s plaited palm thatched canopy. The boat was just for two people and had a very nice bedroom and shower room, lower dining deck and upper lounge deck. Two staff looked after us and cooked for us and made us feel very welcome.


During the overnight trip we cruised through the lakes and backwaters known as the Kuttanad with endless paddy fields and villages only accessed from the water. For dinner in the evening Doug fancied some fresh water prawns which we had to get from the local fishmonger. Here we are tied up and buying prawns, ice creams and drinking fresh coconut water. 


Here’s James relaxing on the upper deck …….


…….. and lazing around as if he owned the place!


We’re getting a bit better at selfies!


Lunch on the first day was served Keralan style on freshly cut banana leaves …


….. and in the evening Doug wore his Mundu to go for a walk along the water’s edge and was congratulated by a local resident for “having a go”!


The next morning, after a very relaxing and quiet night we headed back towards Alleppey. It was rather like a morning rush hour as there are hundreds of Kettu Vallums on the water. Luckily there is so much space that it’s generally not a problem.


From Alleppey, after a hair-raising journey on a bus without glass in the windows! (which is the norm) we arrived for our last night in Fort Cochin. On a visit by boat from Ernakulam on the first day for a quick look around we spotted this stunning Old Courtyard Hotel and decided it would be nice to spend our last night in Kerala there. Our room was in the far corner at the top of the spiral staircase – very cool and colonial! 


A quick bit of investigation and we found the place where they based the TV personalities for the “Real Marigold Hotel” series. Fort Cochin is very touristy and the shops have been turned over to expensive souvenirs and high class clothing (one even boasted to be “Lionel Blair’s Dressmakers”!) It’s a charming place nonetheless with a lot of colonial architecture to be enjoyed.  


We also just had to do the tourist thing at the Chinese Fishing Nets ……


…….. and pull on the ropes to raise them. We got one small crab which went back when we lowered the net again!


And, talking of crabs, one of Doug’s meals just had to be crab!

Well, after eight days and a 16 hour return train journey (which got us back at 4 o’ clock in the morning – resulting in a bizarre, and rather cold, trip with two English guys, a suit case and two rucksacks on a scooter at that time of day!) we got back “home” to Candolim. It was an amazing few days seeing yet another part of India; meeting some lovely people along the way and seeing some of the most lovely mountain and waterway scenery.

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