Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Hill stations and jungle lodges

In my head I have just had a million arguements with a million Indian men as to why their country is so overcrowded, why they all have moustaches and to why they have absolutely no consideration for a small white girl whom they are squashing on this insanely overcrowded bus!!! Im not moaning, just venting...... I have been on 7 local buses in 3 days, it's incredibly cheap but as mental as a box of frogs and believe me, that image is fairly accurate..but yes, it's all part of the process... Part of the fun.. My last two weeks have involved a lot of travelling from a to b to c and now, as a reward to myself, I am having myself a week on the beach..a very beautiful beach too with hardly any tourists or travellers......
I thought it was time to leave lovely Hampi after my yoga guru thought he was going to whisk me off into some kind of spiritual bliss alone in his hut, he called it aligning my chakras, I know it as something different. I am happy to say I didn't oblige but speedily flew out of the door and didn't return for 6 pm meditation...That day I hired a bike, a pink beast like my one in London and cycled for miles in the stifling heat and was accosted by small children in one of the villages. I managed to make a speedy getaway but was a bit disturbed about the barricade of very young Indian boys pulling their trousers down in front of me.. What a strange old day!!!
My next destination was to be the highest of three hill stations in the Tamil nadoo district. It was here that I thought I would be able to feed my thirst for mountain treks and lush green scenery.... The journey involved a very uncomfortable overnight bus to the city of Mysore where I stopped for a night in a fairly grotty room. Mysore itself didnt really hold a lot for me except for a palace ( think the pavilion in Brighton) and a man cornering me for 100 rupees for taking a picture of something irrelevant, I refused. I was happy to get on the bus the following morning and had a very pleasant 5 hour journey spiralling upwards into the hills through Breathtaking views, small villages and even the privelidge of watching a family of elephants heftily cross over the road and make their way into the jungle.
The air was fresh and cool when I stepped out of the bus 2000 feet above ground level, quite a contrast from the heavy pollution and bustle I had happily left behind in Mysore. Indian cities are SO overcrowded but when in the countryside you have to wonder where everybody has disappeared to and where they are all hiding!
After finding a guesthouse and completing all of the bureaucratic rigmarole neccessary to just put your head down for a few nights there were a few hours of daylight left to explore a little..
Ooty was established by us English in the early 19th century and even though development set in when India gained independence a few decades ago the English touch most definitely still remains. Whilst strolling through the quirky streets, past small shops, houses and kiosks specialising in varieties of handmade chocolate, I felt a warm, perhaps familiar feeling, reminiscent of a small, old fashioned seaside village toned with shades of everyday Indian life..The beautifully manicured botanical gardens and the racecourse which is fully active in the summer, definitely added to the quintessential English influence that was present and I could clearly picture a summers day there spent at the races in the clean fresh air, a country pub being the only missing ingredient..
The sun had gone down and the warm temperature had most definitely joined it and by 7.30 it was freezing cold, something which I hadn't been used to for weeks. It was hardly surprising that everybody was wearing wooly hats and ear muffs! The change in temperature was quite a shock to the system so after a quick dinner I was tucked up, fully clothed, under a thick blanket watching some nonsense on the only English speaking channel I could find on the television... Ooh the luxuries!
An early rise and a hearty breakfast were in store the next morning as I had arranged myself a trek for the day. There were around 10 of us driven to the starting point, a spot surrounded by sweeping hills against blue skies and bright sunshine and in contrast to the night before the temperature had welcomely risen to a very comfortable heat. To be honest the adventurer inside me was hoping for a hardcore mountain trek, a battle against the rapids and a fight with a wild animal but instead it was a more gentle walk through bright green coloured tea plantations, healthy looking vegetable crops and a mountain far less strenuous than I had anticipated, albeit enjoyable and picturesque. For lunch we stopped off in a mountain village and ate vegetable thali with our fingers and drank sweet refreshing chai..the small village which we reached after lunch was made up of small square vibrant concrete houses with colourful doorways and lines of hanging washing dotted around, a scene I will never tire of and alive with small children eager to have their photograph taken..
I spent a couple more days in Ooty, strolling around the botanical gardens, taking trips on local buses and as it was the weekend being mobbed by hoards of boys wanting their picture taken with me. I can imagine that there are quite a few pictures of westerners circulating indian social network pages tagged as their " new friends" we really are a novelty as far as they are concerned but it's always best to cover up as much as possible when posing as goodness knows what else these pictures may be used for!!!
Another of Ootys' charms is the miniature steam train which descends out of the hill station providing a romantic and stunningly scenic route to lower ground but once again if you are not careful and don't book before hand you will be sandwiched in a jam packed carriage, there really is no limit!!
By this time I had joined forces with two young men also eager to find some hardcore trekking.
Still unsure if the jungle lodge we had found was able to fit us in we headed to the gruesome town of combiatore where would have to wait for a phone call. When I say gruesome, I mean it, dust laden, smelly, polluted and overcrowded never the less necessary for an evenings stop over, a city pattern was definitely emerging.
All systems go the next morning and although we still didn't know the destination of the lodge we jumped on a bus towards the border of Tamil nadoo and Kerala where we were picked up by a jeep and driven further into the hills. An hours drive on a rickety road and we were greeted by our host Dominic. The first beauty of this hidden place was the location,. There were only two huts available for guests in the midst of the trees and wildlife fitted with the surround sound of natures own symphony. The second was Dominic and his endless amount of passion and admiration for his habitat. From once owning a busy cafe in Bangalore he gave it all up one day and hours later he was sleeping in the jungle and from there built his paradise from scratch, inspiring!
A two night stay here turned into three and could have easily turned into more as the days of trekking, followed by the evenings filled with delicous food and interesting conversation, silences filled with mating calls of female birds and the continuous hiss of the crickets were quickly becoming addictive. The trekking was fulfilling to say the least.. The first day we climbed a waterfall, walked through fields of banana trees and stopped off for chai where the oldest man of the village at 65, making him the leader took an immediate shine to me bless him! The next day I swore a lot. The climb up the mountain was slightly challenging but nothing intense where as the way down was atrocious as it always is.... Apparently, well definitely as I slipped in it, we were following the poo trail of an elephant. Now elephants have strong leathery skin and since I have been wearing a very high factor recently my delicate skin hasn't got there yet!! I was scratched to smithereens, sliding down banks through thorn bushes or holding on for dear life to the vines of a tree but hey, this is the adventure I craved!! It was true to say that I was happy to get back for lunch that afternoon....
So there we have it. I now feel like my trip to the real India has finally begun, just a stop off at a gorgeous beach for a few days to rest my weary bones and heal my jungle scars and I can start again....
Oh and the moustache craze I was wondering about... Apparently facial hair of such kind proves masculinity and verility the reason why the cultivation of facial hair remains almost essential in my new surroundings...

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