Archives for the month of: December, 2012

On leaving Kerala for Goa we commented to each other how clean the places we visited were and we often saw people sweeping in front of their properties and there were many signs about not littering and not speeding etc along the roads.   There are also an amazing number of very lavish houses either new or being built.   In the small villages there were a number of new commercial buildings and along the way many  new blocks of flats and others under construction.  All the stations are very clean with little stalls selling drinks, fruit and snacks.

We had a much more pleasant trip down the mountain to Ernakulam (Cochin) with the same driver who must have had a change of heart because he drove very smoothly and luckily there was very little traffic going down the mountain at 9.30 in the morning.  We got in early enough to visit the “Fab India” shop which specialises in handwoven fabrics.  In  Cochin it was a three story building full of clothing, homewares and natural products.  The fabrics are of every pattern and colour and they sell everything in the way of clothing as well as bed linen, soft furnishings,table ware and cloths.

We then took our driver to have lunch at the “family restaurant” where we took our driver before we got on the train at 3.15pm  headed for Panaji, Goa, a trip of 13hours.

The train was very comfortable and we were alone for most of the trip in our 4birth compartment.  The “Pantry Car” on the train supplies all the food and the waiters walk up and down the train calling  veg. omlette, cheese sandwiches, onion Bhaji, vegetable sandwich and tomato  sooou..p but they also sold things that sounded like “honey bunny” and “noody nah”.  We had no idea what they were.

We arrived in Madgaon station, Goa at 4.30am to thick fog which made for a nervy trip to our hotel about an hour away in Panjim or Panaji to the locals.  India must have the worlds supply still of carbon paper and checking into the hotel or filling out a laundry slip or getting a receipt for clothes are in all done in duplicate or triplicate.

The Panjim Inn where we stayed which is an old Portuguese house and is still in the same family 5 generations on.  It has a lot of character and some lovely antique furniture and fittings.   They kindly let us check in at 5.30am at no extra charge so we got a few hours sleep before getting up and having some breakfast.  Tracey a friend from Perth who had been travelling in Rajasthan and northern India for three weeks met us at the hotel and we spent a few hours chatting and having a bite of lunch at the hotel before heading to Old Goa in an autorickshaw (a bit of a squeeze for the three of us but our driver told us that they sometimes put 15people in one (small Indian people).  The trip took about 1/2 hour and our man waited for us while we saw the many churches and cathedrals – one more impressive than the next.   It is amazing to see the collection of such large churches in such a small area.  Our sweet autorickshaw man dropped us back  in the main street of Panaji (18th June St) where we shopped and had a delicious frozen yoghurt.

There are a lot of architectural leftovers from the Portuguese occupation of the town for over 500years.  There are some beautifully renovated buildings and some under renovation and some crumbling ones as well but it does make for an interesting mix of buildings in the town.  It is a pretty clean looking town and there are a lot of parks and beautiful large trees in and around the town and down towards the ocean.

We walked for a few hours and did some clothes and jewellery shopping before heading to “Delhi Durbar” a wonderful non vegetarian restaurant where the service was impeccable and the tandoori food delicious.  Their gulab jamuns and kulfi were the best we had tasted.  Our little Nepalese waiter was delightfull.  He took a photo of the three of us and reappeared about 10minutes later with a complimentary calendar for next year with our photo at the top.  They did this for all the clients that night and presumably as a gesture before Christmas and the New Year.

The taxi driver dropped us off at our hotel before taking Tracey back to her resort about 3/4hour north of the town.   Goa is very spread out with many beach resorts to the north and the south of Panaji.

We went for a long walk the next day to the Goan “Fab India” shop which was even better than the one in Cochin.  In front of us was a gibbon who was galloping along the street.  We did a bit of clothes shopping there and then took a couple of things for alteration to a nice little man on the first storey of the municipal markets.  He altered sleeve and shirt lengths for us and added some lining to a dress and covered a burn mark all for $3.

We caught an Autorickshaw back to hotel for a shower and then to Fidalgo hotel and the O Goa restaurant to try some Goan food.  It was very tasty and completely different to north or south Indian food with more subtle spice flavours. Most restaurants give you little onions and other little snacks to eat before ordering your food and I gave Maurice what I thought was a green bean which he chewed and swallowed.  I didn’t have my glasses on and didn’t realize it was a chilli.  Maurice nearly had a seizure and was jumping around to hurry them up to get him some yoghurt.  He couldn’t talk and could hardly swallow so I was relieved when he started to settle down after a bowl of yoghurt.

They had a three piece Phillipino trio singing who had very good voices.

We walked back to the hotel which was only about 15minutes away as it is a very pleasant temperature in the evening with breezes off the sea.

Panaji has a nice atmosphere and there are not too many people on the streets so it is comfortable to walk around even during the day.

We hired an autorickshaw for a couple of hours for $6 (we gave him $10) to take us out to Dona Paula beach about 10kms away where a lot of Indian tourists were walking along the promenade and up to a lookout to take in the views.  He then took us to the Marriott hotel in Miramar where he waited while we had a “Long Island Iced Tea” and sat and enjoyed the view.

I had been trying to get a CD of Ravi Shankar’s classical Sitar music and was unable to find one in all of Kerala but finally found one in Goa.  Such a coincidence that he died on the 13th December in the USA.

We went to another excellent restaurant called the “Sher -e Punjab” that night where we ate very different and delicious vegetarian food from what we had had previously.

On Fridays they have a large market at Mapusa about 1/2 hour out of town so we got an autorickshaw and headed off to the market.  They sell everything there from food to clothing, carpets and furniture.  I did see an original willow pattern small bowl which I wanted to buy but the stallholder wanted $140 for it.  I don’t think he wanted to sell anything or thought all tourists were idiots!  Needless to say I didn’t buy it.  Instead I bought a nice cotton skirt for $3.

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We left the boat at Kumarakom and drove through to the “Western Ghats”.  We passed through Thodupuzha where there is a statue of Gandhi spinning thread.  This is where he took the stand and declared that he wuold  only wear homespun cloth.

We passed many rubber and pineapple plantations on the way to to Munnar and many very impressive and very large houses.  Everyone told us that these were built by Indians who had make a lot of money working in the middle east.  Much more than in India where a lot of workers are paid between $2- $3 a day.

Munnar is north east  of Cochin and high up in the mountains of Kerala which the locals call “God’s own country”.  We thought we were getting a bit close to God when we found that the driver definately had a death wish – he tried passing on every curve we came to and then braked suddenly when he was faced head on with another vehicle. It was a long bumpy 4hour trip.  The driver then told us that there was a helicopter service planned for next year taking 1/2 hour to Munnar.

We were deposited at a designated spot and then a jeep picked us up and took us down the very steep slope of the mountain to the Kaivalyam retreat, a small resort (only 8 rooms) but beautifully appointed  and with spectacular views over the surrounding mountains.  There are about 15 staff who are all friendly and helpful.

It is high season from November until March in Munnar and this attracts many honeymooners.  The women wear many silver and red coloured bangles half way up their arms showing that they are newlyweds. We couldn’t believe that after a 4hour trip on the winding mountain roads a lot of them only stay for 2nights before moving on to other areas.  We forget that they probably all work and they have to make the most of their short holidays like we used to!

There are no other buildings around the retreat/resort and it is all vegetarian food and no alcohol (we had a couple of beers on the boat!). We have a lovely private glassed in sitting area (and a door we can open with flywire – the first we have found in India) so that we could sit overlooking the mountains and valley below us as we sipped on our lime/sodas.

The couple Harish and Anju that own the property also run it and a lot of thought has gone in to it’s planning.  They come from Pune in the north and worked in Japan in I.T. for ten years before coming back to India and building the resort.  Harish is also the yoga teacher and they provide a free walk through the spice plantation walk as well as complimentary yoga.  We also had laundry and ironing done which was so cheap at $3 for 23 items.  Maurice the housekeeper has otherwise been doing the “smalls”.

They also have a  resident cat called Munu who is very cute.

It was warm during the day but cooler at night.  The only sound in the morning were birds chirping and we had a wonderful sleep in a very comfortable bed.

We really have been lucky in that in nearly nine months of travelling we have only had a couple of uncomfortable beds.

The following day we bumped up the steep road again in the jeep (luckily we hadn’t eaten beforehand)  to the top of the hill where we took the three wheeled autorickshaw (more bumping for 8kms) to Munnar, the main town of this area. There were scores of autorickshaws waiting to pick up the mainly Indian tourists and most of these come from various citites to Munnar for “the season”.  They must sleep in the back of their vehicles.  After the high season they go back to the cities and villages from where they have come.

There was a lot of new road surfacing taking place in the centre of town and as in many Asian countries the back breaking work of carrying the blue metal in baskets on their heads and spreading the tar was done by the women while the men stood around supervising the work.

We wandered around and in one of the many textile shops I bought a sari to make a long shirt for $4.  The small shop was crammed full of every type, colour and fabric of sari you could imagine all tied in bundles and it seemed to be the most reasonable shop as it was packed with buyers.

We also saw for sale a few small American flags with Australia written on them – someone messed up there!

We walked part of the way back and found a nice restaurant in the “Bellmount hotel” and had some very inexpensive lunch and then caught another autorickshaw to the Pallivasal Tata Tea Factory.  We walked down the mountain through the beautifully sculptured tea plantations.  In many places the tea bushes are fitted like pieces of a jigsaw placed around the natural formation of rocks.  We walked down over a bridge to near a waterfall and a cute little “coffe” and tea house where we had some fresh lime/sodas. The cafe had a wall of bottles of every imaginable spirit which had then been planted with various things.  With so little liquor allowed in Kerala and none at the cafe we wondered from where they got them all.

We started back towards the top of the mountain when a nice man in a very little 3wheeler truck stopped and asked us if we wanted a lift. We must have looked exhausted and although we were tempted we decided that we needed the walk back up the mountain.  There are many lemon scented gums in the area and in a couple of places when we looked at the landscape around us we could have been back in Australia.

We took the uneven steps this time and not the road so made it up in about 1/2 hour and we then walked along the main road and then gingerly down our steep road to the resort.  We were exhausted by the time we got back.

At 7am we went to the complimentary yoga session which was held in a lovely octagonal building facing the sunrise.  Harish is an excellent yoga teacher and has been doing yoga since he was a child as both his parents were yoga teachers.  The hour and a half did us a lot of good and limbered us up for the day.

We decided to do the spice plantation walk a bit later and one of the employees took us nearly down to where we had been the previous day but through many acres of cardamon plantations.  The cardamon plants look very much like ginger plants only the leaves fan out into many sections.   Harish and Anju have 11acres of cardamon and another man has about 50acres of cardamon bordering their property.

In Munnar there are laws governing what can be grown in certain areas and the surrounding area of more than 5 kilometres of land is designated solely for cardamon plantations.  Harish told us that some people flaunted this law and built resorts on the land which were afterwards demolished by the authorities.  We also saw pepper vines growing up the trees and some coffee trees.  There were tarpaulins full of Arabica coffee beans which needed to dry for a couple of weeks and they then give the pods to a factory which collects the beans from various estates before getting the coffee back as roasted beans for use at the resort.  We tried the coffee and it was very good.

The jeep took us in the late afternoon to the “Punarjani” traditional village and to a performance of just over an hour of “Kathakali” a traditional Keralan dance drama.  The first section consisted of the brightly painted and decorated woman displaying emotions one by one with hand and facial movements as they were explained by the announcer.  She was very good at it and received much applause.  All the while there was a cymbal player and very energetic drummer who I’m sure would need shoulder reconstructions in his old age.  He beat the drum for the entire hour with much gusto.  The second half depicted the usual, love, despair, disdain and  reconcilliation of the two main characters but the third character who appeared on stage and danced about and only screetched at the top of their voice we could have done without!  As with most ethnic concerts/performances this went for 20minutes too long and with the constant wailing of the singer (telling the story in we presumed Malayalam) and the ear piercing drum and cymbals we were glad when it

finished.  We were sitting up in the Gods and I nearly got crushed by all the indian tourists when I went to take a couple of pictures of the main characters as they were all jostling at the same time to have their photos taken with each character.

We were glad that we passed on the “Kalari” martial arts performance which took place in what reminded me of the arena of the coloseum only on a smaller scale.

The next day we took it easy.  I had a touch of gastro (nothing to do with the food as Maurice was fine and we shared everything we ate) which persisted throughout the night and day but luckily Doctor Maurice had just the thing in his medicine chest to arrest the nasties.  He went to yoga with a nice French couple who thought yoga was only for old people (read Maurice I suppose) but they were amazed at the work out it gave them.  I lingered in bed and when I could, drank ginger tea and dry toast with vegemite (which I had lovingly carried all over the place).

I had to for go the massage treatment that afternoon but Maurice went and enjoyed a head and body massage in Munnar.  The trip back probably undid the most of the treatment as the many potholes are designed to put your back out.

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We left Cherrai beach at 10am for the 2 1/2 hour drive to Alleppey to board our houseboat for the 2night backwater cruise.  Our Captain Cyrus and chef Vijesh couldn’t do enough for us and Vijesh served up many delicious dishes for lunch and dinner and fried bananas for a snack in between.  So much for trying to lose weight!

They told us that there are more than 1000 houseboats plying south Indias largest waterway “Vembenade lake” and all the backwaters in Kerala.  The water stretches for as far as you can see in all directions.  There was a lot of succulent river weed with purple flowers in the lake.  When we started off at 1pm we saw many other houseboats, day trippers, and local ferries.  We tied up for lunch and then made our way down many of the larger backwater canals.  It was a beautiful day with a lovely breeze blowing and we passed many householders doing their ablutions, washing their clothes and dishes all in the backwater canals.

We stopped at the local market where they sold enormous scampi which you could buy and have the chef serve them up for dinner.  As we left the market Maurice went up the plank and the boat started to move away and I could see him falling in the canal  which would have made a good photo but he was quick thinking and stepped back off the plank.

There is a lot of birdlife along the canals and other than the birds you can hear the women beating clothes on the riverbanks.  Maurice noticed that his jeans were much softer – no wonder with all the thrashing they do to them.

It was so relaxing sitting back in our armchairs watching the locals repairing their boats,fishing, herding their ducks into the river for a swim, tending their bright green rice crops and dredging the silt from the river.  Most were very friendly and waved as we went by or gave a little nod.

When we tied up for dinner I noticed a cute little white cat bounding up and down the river bank.  I remembered that I still had a tin of salmon in my bag so I took the top of it and left it on the riverbank.  The cat did a couple of sweeps of the area before heading for the tin of salmon and the label was nearly licked off by the morning.  Maurice suggested that it was probably the best meal it would get in it’s lifetime.

The captain has been teaching me some Malayalam, the local language here in Kerala.  We asked them what happens if they go north to somewhere like Mumbai and they said that they then have to speak English (which they are all taught at school) as most of them don’t speak Hindi or other Indian languages of which there are many.

We were given a large fruitbowl with lovely little bananas,pineapple, what they call oranges but seem a cross between an orange and a mandarin (but not a tangerine) and some little black grapes.  When we tasted the grapes they tasted very familiar and they were the same variety as we had at home.  This was the first time we came across them anywhere in our travels.

Our second day was just as relaxing and more tranquil as we saw only one other houseboat as we ventured down the smaller canals where we could just about step into someone’s house. The locals didn’t seem perturbed by boats floating by and continued with their daily routines. There was water everywhere and rice paddies  as far as the eye could see.

We tied up for lunch and dinner and captain Cyrus always positioned us so that we could see the sunrise or the sunset.

There were again lots of christian churches and shrines along the backwaters and we were told that some villages are 99% Christian and all of Kerala is made up of at least 40% Christian and  of the other population most is made up  Hindu and some Muslim.  Thomas the apostle came to India in 45AD so Christianity has been around a long time.  It is well demonstrated in the hundreds of churches that we saw in our 4weeks in Kerala.  There were still others under construction.

The smoking laws in Kerala are very strict and  it is forbidden to smoke anywhere in public and can only be done in one’s home or garden.  We also asked him about the few “Toddy” shops that we saw along the way.  Toddy is a liquor made from the flower of the coconut tree and can be quite potent.

We landed at Kumarakom, Rainbow cruises other port also on the backwater and were picked up for the 4hour drive to Munnar.

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We arrived at Cochin at 4.15pm and we were collected and deposited at our hotel “Les 3 elephants eco resort”  I booked a cheaper room and found out why it was “eco”.

There was no ceiling in the bedroom so bugs fell on us during the night and there was a constant rustling noise in the palm thatch roof.  Added to that a dog next door howled at the full moon all night so we didn’t get much sleep.

I mentioned that we weren’t told about the no ceiling bit to the very vague French guy running the place who had a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth most of the time at the reception desk. He also had the same shirt and  pants on for the duration of our stay.   He thankfully upgraded us to an airconditioned room with ceiling which was a much nicer room as well at no extra cost.  There were also no elephants there!  The description of the place on the net made it sound as though it was on the beach but it was on the backwater instead.  It is a lovely setting and looks over the “chinese fishing nets” on the backwater which are used only by Indians now.  Only the name “Chinese” has remained. It was only a short stroll to the beach which was nice for a walk in the mornings or evenings and there were lovely sunsets each night.  The small resort (11 bungalows) has only been open for 1year.  They have a small menu but the food was very tasty and fresh apart from the fried fish.

We had fish from the ocean – not the backwater the first night and the cook had cooked it to death so the second night we decided to try “chill out” further down the beach which was also just OK.  The third night we opted for a restaurant in the 5star resort a good hour’s walk away.  We weren’t disappointed there.  We had a delicious dry cooked mushroom dish with slivers of coconut.  The resort had only been open for 6months and they were really trying hard to please.

We decided to go to the Athirampally waterfall which were about 1 1/2 hours by taxi away.   We had seen spectacular shots of the waterfall during the monsoon when it is more like Victoria falls in length but was not quite so dramatic in non monsoon time.  It was still very impressive with a massive amount of water crashing down to the river and rocks below.  We definately got our exercise that day with walking all the way down to the bottom of the falls and up again.

A cheeky monkey at the falls stole a litlle girl’s icecream and proceeded to eat it while keeping the other monkeys at bay.  I thought the little girl would cry but she just laughed at it.   We stopped at the lovely Bumphur Muzhi gardens about 20mins from the falls and had a long walk around there.  There were an literally hundreds of blue butterflies around one small bush in the garden and some interesting trees and flowers.

We were stopped on the way up by a crowd of teenage boys outside one of the many Catholic churches in this part of Kerala and asked for a donation for Christmas.  We also saw what we thought was a political type of rally with a large banner in front and a crowd of people following but it turned out to be a protest by the locals about a liquor shop that has opened in the area.  It is very strange here – you can have a beer if you have your meal in or outside your room but they are not allowed to serve alcohol in the restaurant.  We only saw some alcohol at the 5 star resort.

I  have got into the habit of waggling my head at people who I look at and they usually respond with a nod and a big smile.  So many people we met on the beach want to know where we were from and shake your hand or want to have a picture with you and many say “welcome to India”.  All the children shout “hello” as soon as they spotted us and some come up to you and ask “what is your name” and “where are you from”.

Maurice has got the accent down pat and two of our friends Vince and Tony have both hung up on him when we have skyped them so he must sound like a true Indian.  I just get asked if I’m from the Punjab – obviously my olive complexion and Roman nose are taken as prominent features for Punjabis.

The mosquitos are vicious around here and David from the villa gave me his tube of “Odomos” insect repellant which has worked a treat.  They buzz around me but don’t bite which is a blessing.  I plan to buy a few tubes of the stuff to have while we are travelling especially in Asia.

We took an autorickshaw the other night and the driver spoke good english and showed some initiative by giving us his phone number in case we needed him again, so we did use him or his brother who shared the vehicle again.  The autorickshaw’s inside roof was decorated with large flowers and lights which flashed every time he braked.  We felt as though we were in a disco.  The three wheelers are a very popular form of transport but do sound like the old singer sewing machines.

We spent our last day having a long walk on the beach followed by our own yoga session and relaxed for the rest of the day.  In the evening we went for another long walk along the beach as far as the small fishing harbour with many chinese fishing nets and other small fishing boats.

The four tables in the restaurant are set up as mini billiard type tables and are covered with glass. When the glass is removed you can play the game which is called  “Karom”  They play with round discs and the rules are similar to a pool game and the object of the game is to flick the round discs – black for one side, white for the other side – into the pockets at each corner of the table.  I tried my luck with not much luck but it was good fun and like pool requires a lot of practise.

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After eight days at the villa Maurice and I moved up to Udayagiri for 6days, their other property about 40 minutes drive from the Ayurvedic Villas and further up into the mountains.

It is a beautiful property with villas stepped up the mountain side with magnificent view over the plains below and to the sea in the distance. Maurice and I stayed in the highest situated villa and we could lie in bed and look out over the spectacular view. We also had the largest number of steps to climb which was good for us. The sunrises in the morning were beautiful and when we did yoga in the morning we also had a lovely view from the yoga room.

We felt like celebrities there because we were the only guests and all the staff pampered us. There were no other guests as they were still finishing some villas and making some noise but we said that that would not bother us. There are only 7 villas in total. We had a resident frog in the small room housing the computer and there were many varieties of birds singing in the morning. There was forest below us and a large coffee plantation next door.

The lovely cook Girija prepared the most delicious food and her offsider Prabakar served our food and they were both lovely people and very helpful. Giriga gave me some of her recipes which were particular good. We all our food, our daily treatments, massages and consultations with the doctor and the two yoga sessions a day and at $170 for both of us a day to include all of that we thought was very reasonable. That also included the pick up and drop off in Calicut 3 1/2 hours away

I went on Monday the 26th November with Meena, Chaya, Sonia and Gerry from the other property to Mysore for the day. Maurice didn’t want to interrupt his treatments so stayed and was well looked after by the staff. I met the others about 3/4 hour away from Udayagiri and we travelled through the Rajiv Ghandi National Park where we saw spotted deer and elephant. Tigers are also found on the reserve which is not far from Udayagiri but we didn’t see any. At night and during the day you can hear what sounds like shotguns to scare the animals away from the villages and crops.

We stopped at a nice little hotel for a buffet breakfast where we kept to our allowed foods more or less. I did allow myself an egg which tasted delicious.he scenery changed from the lush jungle of the park to a drier plain and then to vast areas of sugar cane, banana plantations and then to market gardens and lush rice paddies.

It took us about 3 1/2 hours to get to Mysore, 50kms with more potholes than road which kept us lurching and bumping from side to side in the vehicle. We had a few good laughs along the way.

We then headed off up to the Chamundi hills and to the temple at the top where there were a lot of hawkers selling all sorts of things. We took our shoes off and went through to the temple. Our coconut was broken in the “coconut breaking area” so it could later be eaten and then we presented the offering we had bought which was then taken and some of it returned to us with more flowers.

We then headed off to the Mysore Palace down on the plain. It was shoes off to walk inside the palace. It was not as opulent as some of the palaces we have seen in the north but still very impressive. We made our way out and met a nice family from Gujarat who were on a bus tour and who invited us to come and stay with them if we came to Gujarat.

We made our way past the obligatory hawker stands which line the way out to the car and then went back to lunch at the same hotel. This time it was a la carte with tasty food and breads.

After lunch we left Gerry to try and get an internet connection and we went off to a silk and handicrafts emporium where the other three girls stayed to choose saris and other materials and goods while I took an exciting autorickshaw ride to first the post office for stamps and then a bookshop to buy some postcards which they didn’t have.

It is a pity we didn’t have David (who wasn’t feeling well and stayed at the Ayurvedic villa) with us as all the autorickshaw man wanted to talk about was cricket. He wanted to know how far from Adam Gilchrist did I live in Perth. When I said it was very close by (which it is) he was visibly impressed. The bookshop said that the Mysore postcards were out of stock and they only had three from other places in India so the little autorickshaw man took me back to the palace to get some not so good small postcards from there. He was really sweet and only wanted 100rupees $2 for the entire run around.

There has been a flurry of activity with welders/tilers and painters at the villas in readiness to accept other guests at the beginning of December. It hasn’t been intrusive at all to us and we loved it there.

On our last day there Prabaker took us to the Irpu waterfall about 45 minutes drive from Udayagiri. In that time we went across the border from Kerala state to Karnataka which is only about 10minutes away from where we were. There were countless coffee estates along the way and some very nice large houses on the properties. Apparently Karnataka produces the most coffee in India. Workers were sweeping large areas of concrete on which the coffee beans dry. They are picked at the end of March.

We left the villa on Friday 30th November at 6.30am and the driver weaved his way up and down the mountains past many small and some larger villages to Calicut where we arrived about 9.30am. Rushhour was starting about 9am when all the schoolchildren in their pristine uniforms and the workers started off for the day. School starts at 9.30am with 1hour for lunch and finishes at 3.30pm.

We stopped at Kalya silk shop which was 5 floors of materials and outfits to buy Maurice a cotton shirt and then to the Ayurvedic medicine shop to buy the powder which has helped him so much with his arthritis. It is applied as a paste and apart from looking like a Papuan New Guinea mud man has done him a lot of good.

We arrived at the station at 10.30am and took the driver who had done a wonderful job to breakfast. Maurice liked him because he said referring to him “old is gold”.

Our nice little waiter from when we arrived was there and he served us chappatis, egg curry and two vegetable curries for a total of $2.

The station was run very efficiently and there were people weeding the tracks and painting the building. We easily found our comfortable sit up carriage which was well marked and left for Ernakulum (Cochin) at 11.35am for the 4 1/2 trip.

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We arrived in Calicut (Kozhikkode) about 1/2 hour late at 9.30am and were met by the driver from the Ayurvedic Yoga Villa. He informed us that there was a strike and that any non private vehicle was not allowed to travel until 12noon. It had something to do with taxi fares going up and that they were “very problems”.

We went and had some breakfast at a very clean little cafe in the station and the staff were lovely suggesting what we should eat. The choice wasn’t large with two sorts of rice pancakes, rice rolls and fried rice patties with either a masala gravy or egg gravy. It was delicious and with tea for me came to about $1.20 all up.

We decided to change our next train journey out of Kozhikkode from 9am to a later one as the drive from the Villa to Calicut took about 3 1/2 hours and we didn’t want to have to get up at 4am. We had to take a number first of all from a small machine located behind the counter to which someone luckily pointed us, then fill out a reservation form then wait for our number to be called and then buy the ticket. You had to give your home address and age as well, so Maurice got a senior’s discount!

We suggested to the driver that we have a wander around town as we had an hour and a half to kill so we walked around and saw the local markets and then went to an amazing dress/material shop which had 3floors of every colour and design of saris and shalwar kamiz that you could imagine. I bought a lovely coral coloured shalwar kamiz (trousers, tunic and scarf) for $15. The staff sit you on a chair and unpack everything you might like and throw it out for you to see.

We walked back slowly to the vehicle and left Calicut. The scenery in and around the town reminded us very much of Bali only that there were more high rise buildings just out of town. We had been going about 20minutes when a group of men stopped the car and shouted at the driver that he should not be driving. He told us to say that we were on our way to the airport if we were stopped but they still made the driver pull over for 10minutes.

On the 3 1/2 hour trip we passed many schools and colleges and universities with students in their lovely neat uniforms walking back to buses to go home. Kerala apparently has one of the highest literacy levels in the world. A lot of people know enough to ask you where you are from and give you the names of some Australian cricketers.

We stopped for lunch about 2pm at the “Sky Palace Hotel” where we three had a delicious meal of fried chicken, chicken with ginger and mountains of rice and some parathas. The whole meal came to $12 for the three of us. It was a restaurant only but they seem to call the restaurants “hotels”.

About 10minutes later the driver found we had a puncture so we pulled over at a little local open faced shop to fix the hole in the tyre. The friendly bunch of men there fixed it in a short time and then we were on the final journey which was round and round and up the mountain and I wished that I hadn’t eaten lunch as I was sitting in the back.

We finally made it to the Villa at 4.30pm. The Ayurvedic Yoga Villa complex is about 2000metres from sea level and is located above a fast flowing river and you can hear the river flowing from the restaurant and front villas.

We were then assessed by an Ayurvedic doctor and shown to our room which was one of three in a large villa, one of about six villas in total spead out in the lovely grounds. There was a large inside/outside upstairs restaurant area and a large room for yoga as well as massage treatment rooms.

The whole place reminded us so much of Bali – the buildings, the vegetation and the staff, doctors and massage ladies who were all very friendly and smiling and did everything possible to make you welcome.

Maurice has his treatments geared towards getting rid of his arthritis and I am doing the weight management programme. Story of my life!

The food is Indian vegan vegetarian and we are given a herbal tea only to drink. A few mornings we had fresh coconut juice. They like us to rise at 5am but most people have been getting up at about 6am in readiness for the first yoga class at 6.30am which is quite energetic. Breakfast is from 9am and then daily sessions with the doctor are allocated as well as daily massage treatments. I have a daily head massage to improve my circulation and they do their best to try and rip my scalp off so I hope it works. There is another session of yoga at 11am and then at 5pm another yoga/meditation session. Maurice and I have been getting into the swing of things and even I make it to the first yoga session. We then go for a walk along the few roads in the area past the rubber plantations and fields of grain,crops of beans, banana, tea and coffee plantations.

We met a lovely old chap who spoke good English who was tending his rubber trees. He gave us an explanation of what he was doing. I said that it was wonderful to see and he replied “why wonderful, this is normal”. For him maybe.

There is a lovely open sided straw hut above the river where you can sit and enjoy the sounds of the fast flowing river and the women washing and beating the clothing in the river and see the small children enjoying the water. One of the yogis who is a lovely chap plays the flute there in the morning and the sound carries down the valley.

The men go down to a level further down and wash the cows and the cars and small auto rickshaws.

The whole complex is quiet and serene and there are no traffic noises. There are wonderfully coloured black and red butterflies, orange, yellow and irridescent blue ones flying around.

It is cool at 6am and quite misty and then it clears into a nice warm day with blue skies. The evenings got a bit cool but it is a pleasant temperature to sleep as there is no air conditioning. If it is hot there is a room fan but we are high up in the mountains so have not needed that.

At the centre they are drying Indian Gooseberries (Amla) which are quite bitter and sour and then the taste becomes sweeter in your mouth if you have a drink of water. They use it for the Ayurvedic medicine. The head doctor showed me around the workshop where they dry, chop and prepare the various herbal medicines that they use for treatments. Apparently there are about six ways to prepare (Amla) and each has a different medicinal quality.

I was interested in finding out about the Amla because the McCusker Foundation for Alzheimer’s research in Perth are doing tests with the product which they say does reduce cholesterol and now they want to see if it has an effect on reducing the effects of Alzheimers.

The people staying here are lovely and good fun. There are people from all over the world including England,Holland,Norway,Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, USA and a few from Australia so it is a real league of nations.

Maurice and I do the more energetic yoga session in the morning followed by an hour’s walk then breakfast. We can then relax or read by the river or in the communal area or in our bungalow. We then have lunch and I have a massage treatment which consists of first a very strong head massage followed by being rubbed all over liberally with a medicated oil then pounded with a cloth packed with medicinal powder and rubbed with that, then the two massage girls sprinkle a medicated natural powder all over (front, back and both sides) and rub that in vigourously with their hands. I felt a bit like chicken being basted, rubbed and ready for the oven.

Maurice has his treatment for his sinus problem and arthritis and he felt that it was doing him some good so far.

I went while Maurice was having treatment for a walk along the riverbank to a double storey building with a ticket counter. I paid 200rupees (about $4) to cross the river to the island and for the use of my camera. Down the hill is the bamboo raft which is pulled across the river in a matter of minutes. A lot of school children go over to the island to swim and many Indian tourists go there to see the monkeys which are quiet and not aggressive at all and the hundreds of beautiful blue butterflies. There was a whole family of monkeys sitting on a large boulder in the river.

We both go at 5pm to another yoga/meditation session which is great and the yogi does a lot of visualisation while you are relaxing on the floor with eyes closed . That night he started saying imagine a family of monkeys sitting on a rock and I had said nothing about it yet to anyone. Scary!

Some of the terminology used in the yoga classes is very funny. Meena explained that the terms are translated a bit literally so the yoga instructor told us to relax and listen to the birds “crying” and before we relax we are told to go into the “dead corpse” pose which is lying on your back with legs and arms outstretched. We were told to touch our index finger to our “tongue” (which is what I thought she said) but it didn’t feel right and I opened my eyes to see everyone else have their index finger touching their thumb. They also talk about your “four feet” and I thought we only had two but they meant the upper side of your foot.

The next day Ajith the Indian owner of the complex arrived who is a local but married to a Finnish lady and lives in Finland a lot of the time. He is very unassuming, very gentle and is very dedicated to creating a peaceful healing environment using only organically grown produce. He took a lot of us to his house about 10minutes drive away to see his Brahmin cows which supplied our milk. He said that there were tigers and elephants in the area and that the previous week a tiger came to his neighbours property and killed five cows.

All the herbs and medicinal plants are brought to the Ayurvedic Yoga Villas and you can see them all being chopped and processed.

Sundays only are a special day for food where you can have seconds and there is more variety of food served on banana leaves. The other days you are supplied your food according to what programme you are on.


We had a good 2hrs 50min flight with Emirates to Mumbai and after an hour and a half taxi ride we arrived at the Taj Vivanta hotel in Cuffe Parade.  We are two hours ahead of Dubai and two hours behind Perth.              INDIA MAP 002         

We met a nice young Indian who lives in Mumbai and he gave us some good recommendations for restaurants.  We tried one that night – the “Santoor” where we hd an excellent meal of tandoori chicken, aloo jeera and delicious mixed vegetables in a spicy tomato sauce.

The crackers and fireworks for Diwali had already started and there were a few loud crackers during the night. Diwali was the 13th November and the hotel came and gave us sweets in the morning.

At the Gateway of India a lot of Indians were enjoying their Diwali holiday and we walked past the Taj Palace on the Arabian sea.We had a bit of lunch at “Leopold Cafe” which was targeted in the Mumbai bombings a few years ago and which was made famous in the book “Shantaram”.  The food however was nothing special and it has been run by the same Iranian family for many years.

We caught a non air conditioned old fiat taxi to the suburb of Bandra over an hour away where we walked around the markets and had a lime/soda drink which is very refreshing.  In Dubai it is made also with mint making it very tasty.  As the taxi driver said there was “very traffic” because of the holiday with everyone out and about.

We went to “Khyber at Fort” for dinner where a lot of local families – Grandparents, children and grandchildren were enjoying Diwali.  It was a very atmospheric restaurant.

We went back to our 9th floor room and watched the fireworks exploding all around us.

We took an old Fiat taxi with an archaic meter to Bandra.   At the destination the taxi driver then ignored the meter and got out a piece of paper with fares from and to various places. It was over an hour’s trip and the charge was only $4.50 so we thought that was fair!

In front of the hotel they had done a beautiful decoration with flowers and petals for Diwali and inside the hotel there were beautiful displays of various patterns of coloured sand and flowers on the floors.

Near the Gateway area and I had some trousers shortened for $1.50 at the tiniest stall on Colaba Causeway with a nice man sitting  behind his old sewing machine and clothes piled high behind him.  We had a reasonable coffee at Starbucks which is very ornately decorated and comfortable and air conditioned.  The temperature outside was quite pleasant – about 32 degrees.

Mumbai is a contrast of rich and poor, opulence and squalor but it is a very vibrant city with people trying to eke out an existence with anything they have.  If they have a brush they want to shine your shoes even if they are sneakers but you have to give them full marks for trying.  There are very tall, upmarket appartment buildings next to slum areas.  There is a lot of building of high rise flats and they hope to be rid of the slum areas in 10years time.  Apparently a lot of the people from the slums are moved into the flats but feel isolated and miss the village atmosphere of the slums and some move back into them.  I suppose they will work it out eventually as long as they have gardens or places where people can gather and feel part of a community (like they have organized in China).

We walked down Mahatma Gandhi drive to the David Sassoon library which is like stepping back into the Victorian era.  We were allowed inside to have a look around and told not to make a noise in the reading room although the sign said “members only”.

Next door was the upmarket Westside department store which is only small but has a good wine section and small supermarket and where we bought some good quality Tshirts and cotton clothing for $10 each.

We decided to see one temple and it was the Mahalakshmi temple which is apparently one of the holiest and the place to go at Diwali.  The main day to celebrate Diwali was the previous day so we thought that it wouldn’t be so busy the next day – WRONG!  There were tens of thousands of people queued up to give their offerings.  We saw a small queque and thought it didn’t look too bad.  If we had known the extent of the queue which wound it’s way up, down and around the alleyways we would have forgone the experience.  Women were lined up on one side (and were ushered along first) and men on the other side.   I took a photo well outside the temple of the lines of people and was nearly pounced upon by two policemen who told me not to take photos.  I of course agreed and said that there were no signs against taking photos and that I would not be taking any more.

We were the only westerners there so were great objects of interest.  We had to take our shoes off hundreds metres before we got into the temple and instead of me having spiritual thoughts as I was swept along, all I could think of was when could I get into the shower and scrub my feet!  If I had wanted to opt out there was no way I could do so with the crush of women around me especially on the final lap to the inner sanctum of the temple.  It was quite claustrophobic for me and  normally it doesn’t worry me.  My main thought was to get out and rescue Maurice who does suffer from clautrophobia and who I knew wouldn’t make it into the temple.  When I got near the altar there were about six swamis dressed in orange loin cloths collecting all the offerings and one spotted me and motioned me to come forward which was a feat in itself.  He then blessed me and handed me two sticky rice sweets.  The one thing I don’t like is having sticky hands so I generously gave them to two deserving little children as I ran back along the line to find Maurice.  He was nearly at panic stations so he managed to escape a bit further on with guards trying to stop him who thought he was trying to push his way forward!  It was an experience  – not to be repeated.

We caught a taxi back to collect my trousers and I did wonder if he would ever find them again but he brought them out like a rabbit from a hat and they had been done well.

We then walked back to our hotel on “Cuffe Parade” – had a long shower and a whisky in that order. We got talking to Evarist the doorman at the hotel who was a lovely chap.  He told us that he had worked at the hotel since day 1 – 40 years ago and that the hotel was situated on reclaimed land.  He was going to retire in April and visit his sisters in Melbourne and Sydney.

He recommended that we go and see a church past the military barracks which were close by and which was a memorial to the British soldiers who had died in the Afghan wars.  He also told us that Cuffe Parade was so named because the German and Italian prisoners were marched along the street in handcuffs during the Second World War.

If you were walking from the hotel the staff would give you bottles of water which was a nice touch as well as complimentary fruit every day.

We found a lovely vegetarian restaurant called “Chetana” for dinner that night. We had eaten there last time we were in Mumbai and I couldn’t remember the name of it but we managed to find it again.  They have a bookshop attached to the restaurant so I bought a nice looking cookbook for $6.  I had a delicious Thali which they keep replenishing when the small dish was finished.  At every restaurant that we visited we were given delicious little onions or fried lentils as an appetizer.  The same was true in Dubai where we were given either hoummos and bread or fresh spinach leaves and cheese and bread at the Iranian restaurant at no extra cost.

We had not arranged any food for the 22hour overnight journey so asked the hotel to prepare some sandwiches and juice for the trip.  We asked for three sandwiches and apple juice and thought it was a bit expensive when it turned out to be more than the train fare!  On inspection they had given us six sandwiches, chips and drinks – we weren’t going to go hungry!

We had transport organized to the station about an hour away for which we were very grateful.  We had experienced Indian railway stations before and thought it a good move as the station was teeming with people, luggage and goods of every kind.

Our driver was very nice pointing out things along the way.  He organised the porters and stayed with us until the train was unlocked and we could make our way to our airconditioned carriage.  There was no first class carriage so it was 2AC instead. The airconditioning worked so well we needed jumpers.  The journey began on time which was a good sign.  We had a little family of husband, wife and small son opposite us for a few hours and then we had the compartment to ourselves for most of the night.  We had a young couple join us somewhere through the night.

When we left Mumbai the scenery was very similar for many hours – fields of grain of some kind with a few grass huts dotted amongst them and it was much drier than further south. This then made way to quite dense jungle.    On waking the scenery was quite different with lots of lush looking palm trees and rivers and small villages along the way.  It was pleasantly cool early in the morning standing by the open door.

Photography from the compartment was impossible due to the dirty windows.

A nice I.T. chap I met by the door gave us his timetable so that we could see how many stops we had until we got off as there were no announcements.  We had made 19 stops from Goa and a number more from when we left Mumbai. It really was the milk run.  The train service was good with a chap coming around before meal time to see if we wanted to order breakfast, lunch or dinner and then all during the day and in the morning  there was a constant steam of men walking up and down the train announcing the sale of chai, coffee, biscuits and all sorts of Indian foods, the names of most we couldn’t recognise.

We had enough sandwiches to keep us going so only bought cups of very sweet chai or coffee.  We didn’t get much sleep as the carriages were very busy with people getting on and off most of the night.

The houses looked very neat on the whole in the south and my I.T. friend told me that most people paint their houses after the monsoon rains.  They do like a rather bright and gaudy colours for the outside of their houses.