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Diary date : 22nd June -2010


Waves from our dreams

Travel and blogging do not go always well together. So much to see and do and of course take photos! Photography is all about the light, so you get up before sunrise often and stay up for sunset! Long days and after many weeks, months you find there is not much rest time! And even less time with fickle power and even more fickle Internet connections to actually blog about your adventures, and of course pure laziness plays a part in my late blogging. Anyway my last blog was before Bali!

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The Taj, We arrived on Friday and yep the Taj is closed Friday… Sat am we were up bright an early almost 1st ones in the gate, zoomed to the main viewpoint  for 1st light and… no water in the fountains… ack! hard to capture the famous reflection without water. After some sleuth work we figured the pump had failed and tomorrow it would be fixed….


Taj Mahal, Mary and no water..

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Heat, sweat, tiredness, sleep, dream, pain, searing pain! dream?  Eyes open, darkness and  knife like pain, reality I have been bitten by something, spider, snake?
Mary, Mary ehhh.. Mary nuuuuhhh, lights, turn the lights on I have been bitten and it hurts!

Lights flicker on and a critter dashes for cover under my pillow, I squish hard with pillow, peer slowly under.. zooom critter tries to escape, Matt seeks revenge and squishes bug harder. pain is worse, ack this is serious what was it? In the dim fluorescent light the small body of a scorpion is revealed.

Every childhood movie involving scorpions flashes though my head (at 24fps). Question, how many survived?   Am I the bit part expendable actor or the hero?
I wrap my arm tight with a shirt (its in all the movies), should I write a quick fair well to everyone or make Hemingway like dry jokes before I go?  Help seemed a better option, the night staff at the Hotel peered at the scorpion with bugged out eyes and the dead scorpion peered back.  They had never seen one before and it took a while before they realized I had been stung. A quick call to an expert (Hotel manager), best advice wait and see what happens. if it swells up a nighttime dash to the hospital for anti-venom or something? Starting to relax and accept my fate, I ditch the shirt tourniquet and holding my arm high to slow the blood flow to the sting (movie advice) we went back to the room. Peering at the bed sheets for more critters we find a large 6″ by half inch  red and white centipede with a forked tail, this time in Marys bed, she hop’s around the tiny room squealing just like the movies!
The kindly calm Indian hotel staff called for security, the centipede was arrested and squished. We were offered another room, an air-conditioned one to wait out my final hours… very thoughtful. Ice and an anti-histamine were taken,  Its now 2am or so and the ice has reduced the pain and the swelling appears to have stopped to the point that sleep is an option, or is it the final drowsy end…

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Left Kanha on the 1.30pm bus, a 5hr ride through farming communities and rocky hillsides.  It all looks very dry and the underbrush is always being burnt off in small patches to prevent major fires. The Lady behind us had a very nasty looking arm and it was bandaged but oozing yellow puss, her pain was clear and she gratefully accepted some Ibuprofen for the pain.  Most people in India cannot afford medicines. As usual we traveled without a plan and never book ahead and ended up staying one night in Jabilipur as we could not get a train to Varanasi  the same day.

We slept well on the train as some dignitary rode in our carriage which required 4 armed police guards with snub nosed machine guns, one at each end of the carriage and two in the corridor.   No chance of our bags being nicked tonight.
Security in India is ever present and most guards/police look very alert and mean business.

Rowing into the sunrise

Ginger Tea / Curd & Fruit               Hotel entrance.. (more…)

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We arrived in Umaria the nearest train station at on to Bandanvargh National park at  1am in the morning as the train was late, quickly negotiated the taxi down from 750R to 300R,  we almost went with a tuk-tuk at 400R but as it turned out the taxi was a blessing. It was 32km’s and the road was very rough and would have taken 3 times as long in a tuk-tuk as they do not do well on bumpy roads, not long after leaving Umaria you enter the Park and we had to wake up the sleeping night guard to open the gate. Tigers roam this road and you are not supposed to get out of the vehicle at anytime.
By the time we get to the village of Tala it is almost 2am and our chosen Hotel Kum-Kum  was dark and although the taxi driver banged on every door and yelled no one answered, apparently everyone gets up at 5am for Tiger  Safaris so they are very soundly asleep. “Bridges” our  taxi driver is at aloss of what to do wuth to homeless foreigners and  he says we are to sleep in the taxi (no one sleeps outside in Tiger country), so we crash for 4 hrs in his taxi. I woke several times in the night and swear I could hear a Tiger growling nearby! Turns out later I was probably correct as a Tiger had killed a pig a few days before next door just over a rickety wood fence next to our car.


Home base-KumKum Lodge        Suki 4×4-India made!

Checking in to our cabin we met the owners of a 500cc Enfield motorbike, a young Irish couple, Laura and Steve bravely riding the highways of India, tigers will be easy for them.
They had booked a Tiger tour in the eve and we shared the cost about 3,000R ($65.00) per jeep split between us. We had a bumpy ride into the park and drove through lovely forests and bamboo groves, saw lots of deer, monkeys, eagles, mongoose, but no Tiger.
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Yep its true I’m sick with some sort of bug, God knows what!   Don’t get me wrong, I am loving India and especially the people who have redefined  the word friendly, however it must be told that almost every city, town, village so far has open sewers on every street.  Streams and rivers look more like the local garbage dump, its a good thing the blog does not support smells of India. The trains also join in spreading everything along the tracks and I it appears to me  the toilets get busier in the stations and thus the stations kinda stink especially in the heat of India. We read a great article on the subject in the Hindu Times, calling on Indians to demand change. Tourists to India that fail to mention  the pollution and health hazards both in the cities and the country side are clearly seeing the world with rose tinted glasses. I was sure careful but was outwitted by a simple bug.

So back to me, with the fan on the ceiling constantly whirring and a high temperature both in my head and the room, it seems like I am spinning and the fan is still, constant treks to the toilet bring little relief and although starving, I fear eating as the after effects after 4-5 days are taking their toll. All the while the Hotel had decided to undertake a new installation of air ducts which involved loud banging to form the metal ducting for most of the day, there was no peace  when the banging stopped as the family next door would seize the opportunity to scream something at each other probably just as well I speak no Hindu.
My one attempt to walk the hallways ended with an innocent fart, yes fear of farting is real… (more…)

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Mamallapuram  faces south east across the Bay of Bengal and every morning the sun rises through a hazy sky and the light is a soft magical yellow colour, fisherman in small multi-log or painted high prow canoes paddle out through golden waves, not really surfable but the one surfer in town did offer to rent me his board, to bad the waves were never good enough.

After two lazy days doing very little we finally rented a moped and explored the many temples along the seashore and inland.
Out on the west side of town behind the bus station is  “Krishna’s butter ball” a 30ft diameter red sandstone rock ball sitting on  a large red rockshelf, the British tried to move it with elephants in the 1800’s and failed, Mary tried too.

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Trains are cheap about R 800 ($20.00) 2nd class to travel for around 12hrs, it varies if you go 3rd class it costs half that or less. Buses for the same distance are R 150 or less ie way cheaper and a very different experience, full of small towns and tea stops. So we took the bus again from Madurai to Trichy R70, about a 6hr ride.
We spent most of the day on roads next  to  fields of Palm trees or rice paddies, its still the dry season so dust is every where and when they say India gets under your skin they mean it. Towards sunset we went past giant rocks very similar to Ayers Rock in Australia. The bus station in Trichy was huge, we knew there were a few Hotels near the station so we just wandered until we found one and checked out the room, yep no mozzy net, no toilet paper, one or two lizards and a few cockroaches, no sheets,  perfect R500.

We confess we had a Pizza!  the cafe next to our hotel had pizza on the menu, 1st time we had seen that anywhere, and heck it was not spicy and was great!  Real pizza, too bad it was not a meat lovers. We could not eat it all and tried to give the last two slices to the waiter, his mom (probably 80yrs old) also worked there clearing tables and he looked sheepish as she gave him the evil eye on the idea of eating western food.

Up early stashed our bags at front desk and headed for the Fort and Temple.
For all the traffic and apparent chaos I saw the 1st road accident on the way to the Fort, it did not look good a pedestrian had been hit by a car/bus.
To get to the Fort we had to find the hidden temple entrance on a small side street. Just past a giant Sari (classic Indian dress of bout 3m of fine silk or cotton material) shop we found it. We could see the Fort way up above (500ft?) us and about 1.5km away, and right here is where the Temple starts and we had to remove our shoes and leave them, We started out with a blessing from the temple elephant,
each level of the temple stairs took us higher and when out on open steps the rock was really hot on bare feet so we had to run from shady spot to shady spot. Its a steep climb up many stairs and through different temple areas. back out into the full sunshine the lack of shoes makes us run for the top, the view is spectacular and the haze cannot hide the other Temples on the far side of the river about 4 miles away, the river is almost dry and about 1km wide, all around us there is a feeling that every creek and river is about to burst with water as soon as the monsoons arrive.
On the way back down I am (Mary is gone not sure where) invited in to a giant temple hall that has about 100+ palm leaf lunches lade out across the stone floor and many hungry people are about to get an awesome free lunch.

Donating money at the Temple instead of giving to street beggars helps pay for food for many hungry poor people to eat and is the best way to help the poor and makes sure the money is used for food rather than other  uses.
I declined the meal as Mary would have had a few words about my eating without her!

Found Mary and our shoes at the bottom of the Temple steps, we wandered into the Sari shop as it had a giant sale on and there were 3 very crowded floors full of buyers every Sari you could imagine from R2,500 to over R25,000, more than a motorbike!
Headed back to the main road and found the bus to the Temple, crossing over the river the temples loomed high above the palm trees. From where the bus dropped us of we walked half a km  and on the way were peering into an ancient locked  shrine and up popped a friendly monk on a bike with a key to let us in!


Like an ancient skyscraper the  Temple tower’s way above the street. As we entered the Temple gate we ran into a small noisy procession led by drummers and followed by an oxen drawn cart covered in flowers.  Wandering around the temple many areas were closed to non-hindus but we soon found an Elephant  and many more statues of Shiva and other friendly gods.
Some Temples you feel completely welcome at and others there is a sense that perhaps we are not quite as welcome and I cannot say I blame them it is a sacred site and tourists with giant cameras are way out of place really.
Towards 5pm we paid  10Rp to get on the roof of the temple, lovely views across the temple and almost no one else up there, one man we chatted with apparently was a priest and had been at Mother Teresa’s bed side giving the last rites when she died. We stayed until almost sunset when they closed the temple.
Caught the bus back to the Hotel and grabbed our bags before jumping on the sleeper train to Chingleputti (not spelt right). We thought it arrived at 8am but turned out to be 4am… sigh never mind we had an early morning Chi in the dark with a bunch of tuk-tuk drivers and waited for the 1st bus to Mamallapurram at 5.40am.
Its only about a 40min bus ride  to the coast and the sun was up by the time we arrived. had another Chi at the bus stand to help get our bearings and met a hotel owner, we went back to his place that turned out to be almost on the beach and had a large swimming pool, after a bit of haggling he gave us a pretty good deal (500R) as all of India seems to like the 1st sale of the day and will drop the price considerably to make this 1st sale.

Finally we were on the beach, lovely sun rise over a beach full of small fishing boats, had breaky in a blue painted cafe and read the India Times with a cup of coffee.

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    Oh my god the journey from Munnar down to the lowlands was like a scene from a Tintin book, narrow winding single lane cliff edge road with vertical  drop offs into the valley below, at one point we came round a hairpin bend to find a tractor sideways across the road. (on Video), looking ahead I could see where our road was going along a shear cliff and would have happily walked down if the bus had slowed down enough for me to get off.

Finally we hit the bottom and drove more slowly along a long straight road to Maduari, a huge temple town where we stayed in a Lonely Planet recommended Hotel "Maduari residence" that had a central  courtyard 6 stories high with a glass wall elevator, not what we were expecting, including an all you can eat yummy breakfast ($18.00),  not bad for R800  night for a double room. The Temple is huge, 4 towers about 120ft high one on each side of a square building complex about  1/4  mile on each side!
Inside hundreds of Hindu statues stand amid hundreds of stone columns and dark corridors, in the center is a olympic pool size pond called the tank with a large gold leaf lotus flower sculpture.

All around us Pilgrims are praying and chanting to individual Deities and offering food to there gods, some areas are off limits to Non-Hindus. India is mostly Hindu and for the most part regardless of cast or wealth they truly live and breath there religion.


The bazaar near the Temple in Maduari is way older than the Hindu temple and is full of tiny tailors shops where I had a shirt made for R300. Its hard to appreciate the fine detail in the Temple from a distance and we were lucky to spend a lovely evening and sunset on the roof top of a shop overlooking and close to the temple, a lovely sunset  along with saffron tea courtesy of friendly store owner from Kashmir.

The following day we went with Khristelle a young  French girl, by bus about 16km  to another Hindu smaller temple cut into solid rock, and on top of a hill with 1,600 steps is a Moslem Mosque. The Temple also had a school for Sanskrit priests they spend all day reading and chanting. A full tour of all corners was given which was not the norm as most temples have off limit areas to non Hindus, we were even blessed by the Priest (R 20) and given a garland of flowers. Out into the heat of the midday sun we climbed the 1,600 steps  past a troupe of Monkeys and over bare red rock carved with pilgrims names and footprints to the ancient Mosque which had view back over a flat plain as far as we could see in all directions. At the Mosque we were protected by young boys with catapults as the Monkeys bite…

Lunch at a local cafe was the normal meal (R30) served on palm leaf.
Arriving back in town we took the 10pm train to Trichy.

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A long and winding bus journey, the local bus for us no air conditioned Tourist bus, figuring out the bus system is easy you just ask 3 people and hope they all agree on which bus we should  climb on, most of the ticket collectors on the buses seem to speak a bit of English and all are friendly. Although the bus stations look hectic and disorganized once you understand the routine catching buses is easy and very cheap and a great way to meet local people  R70 ($1.85) 5.5 hrs.  We climbed slowly up hill and the city noise soon  vanished and tree filled valleys and birdsong took there place, I was glad to be going uphill as our bus was on the inside of the road corner, leaving the downhill hill bus teetering on the outside edge as we pass on hair pin bends. As we climbed higher the drop off on the road side gradually gets steeper and I am already worrying about having to get on the downhill bus.  5hrs later we started to see the 1st tea plantations, rolling hills covered in a lush green carpet of tea. Munnar has some of the highest tea fields in the world.  Jumping of the bus we are greeted by the eager tuk-tuk drivers (3 wheeled taxi with covered roof),  a dizzying array of hotel options and local tours is pushed our way. We opt for the hotel that was recommended by a fellow traveler back in Kochi on the ferry,  JJ cottage, but it is full next door is Greenview, every room has a view of the tea fields and although small the rooms are clean and staff friendly (R550 per night for double). We were starved after our long bus ride and supper was at a more upmarket place than  normal , surprisingly cheap and very yummy, all nice and spicy, so far most curries are mostly served in small metal bowels and a meal often has several hot spicy offering’s, rice is extra and  if your feeling brave or lucky chicken or other meat will add 50% to the price. 
The following day we are woken by the local rooster and a chorus of birds and goats sounds. The valley is partially filled with morning mist,  we jumped up early and tried to work out how to get close to the tea fields as most were out of the town, tuk-tuk drivers are costly here so we opted to catch a local bus back downhill 6km’s.
4R instead of 400R on tuk-tuk. We were finally in the tea fields, early morning light filing the valley, purple trees hanging over the single lane road lush green tea as far as we could see,  children all waving at us as they head for school far from the craziness of the city’s. 

Mary surrounded by tea.

We walked back to town passing tea workers and a small troupe of monkeys, we sat still for a bit and one or two were inquisitive  enough to come close, there small elf like ears and wrinkled skin made them look more like hobbits than monkeys. Later we did a deal on a scooter (500R, no paper work just drive it away, gas is about $1.10 a liter) for late afternoon  and all next day.We scouted out some locations before sunset and headed back for supper at Rapys in the market, had a nice kerala "meal", served on a palm leaf with rice, 3 curries and tapioca like sweet desert (R45).
Watched some black and white old Indian movie on TV for a bit, most channels are in Indian or local language Mamallalum, there are something like 400 different languages / dialects in India!
1st light is about 5.30am, managed to get up and scooter the 8kms to our chosen spot without incident,  the tea fields were hidden in a thin veil of mist, as the sun rose the mist swirled around the small round hills and we were treated to the sounds of Hari Krishna music coming from far up the valley.

  A few photos later we scootered  on down the road and came across  a tea stand with a dozen or so locals and children waiting for the bus, yummy sweet milk tea (R5), we were closely questioned by all about where we came from and if we are married and how many children we had. after several photos of a mother and her children  we drove away and could see the tea lady scooping more water for tea from the stream. We headed back through town and up towards "top Station" some 32kms away and another 2,000ft up, on route at a tree full of bee hives hanging form the branches we meet Ram from Delhi he is on a kind of pilgrimage to see temples and visit relatives, he invited us for supper and to see a local folk dance. People in India are quick to ask if we are married etc and also just as fast the topic turns to  the importance of living life in a spiritual way full of family and personal growth. Top Station had a great view and although hazy we could see for miles and Mary ate some fruit from a local elder, I declined (if its not cooked or peeled I will not eat it).The meal and the dance later were a both awesome and Ram has invited to his home in Delhi to meet his family.

On our last day in Munnar we hiked up through the tea hills far away from the roads, it was like a maze of pathways think Hampton Court maze London the size sooke. we stayed up by choice until after sunset coming back in the dark, thankfully we had our trusty headlamps (thanks Rory), on the way we found spiders, bugs and in a small stream crabs, yup fresh water crabs at high altitude! to small to eat.

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