Sunday, March 1, 2009

The end at the beginning.

I have just been going through the blog correcting the more glaring spelling and grammatical errors. I can only plead, dodgy keyboards and curry overload as mitigating circs. However, I must admit spelling has never been my strong suit as Mr Bellwood noticed back in 1976, the year of my F in O’Level English. Anyway, spelling aside, I hope you have enjoyed this little linguistic exercise and if any of you are interested I am going to put my entire diary online as soon as possible.

Love to you all, A+A+J+L.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mr Ali and then France.

Mamallapuram is a great place to end our trip to India. There is everything we soft westerners need: clean rooms, toilet paper, pizza and other people like us, whilst still being India: cockroaches, turds on the beach, Thali and people like us but different.
Returning from dinner on the 1st evening I got into conversation with a guy in the street. He had had a drink or three but he told me that he was the most famous magician in Mamallapuram. You’re Mr Ali I said and we met 16 years ago. It was indeed the same slightly tipsy magic man who had performed his turn for me on the beach in 1993. We arranged to meet again on the beach the next day and then when he missed that, the day after and he finally got it together to perform for us in his house the pm of our last day. In 1993 Mr A was quite a poor magician, but in the intervening years he had polished his act and it was very funny and very slick. He has a real talent and had us all baffled with his sleight of hand. He performed the same egg in the shorts trick on Jacques that he had performed on me with the same jokes and it was all great fun.
At the end of his show he produced a Cobra snake from a basket which he said still had its fangs. The snake was magnificent and we were all glad Mr A was there as it turned towards any movement and struck at an incredible speed.
Our last evening was spent in a great restaurant, run by a French ex-pat and then we took a taxi to the organisational mire that is Chennai Airport. The flight was no more or less horrible than any other long haul and we returned to France in relative ease.

Note: The differences are striking between the 2 countries but one thing which struck me was how empty France is compared to India. In India you are never (day or night) alone. There is always someone within sight and usually 100’s of people. In France the countryside is totally empty and one can be alone for the entire day. I wonder if India has an immigration policy.

Mr Ali 16 years on.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fort Kochin To Mamallapuram

Well we finally got through the day and caught the train at Ernakulum for Mamallapuram. We climbed on board and found our places for the journey in the second class AC section. We had hoped to change 2 of the berths with whoever else was travelling to get the 4 berths together but there was a grump who wouldn't oblige. Never mind, we settled in with our sheets and blankets to tried and get a little sleep. For my own part I slept intermittently and the kids had no problems. Angie however, who has been having trouble at the best of times, had another rough night.We met a really interesting young chap who works on the Anderman islands and he showed Jacques some of his photographs of the wildlife. The rest of the journey whiled slowly through Tamil Nadu to Chennai. We found a taxi who asked 4500 /- for the trip to M. Angie offered 800 and a reluctantly settled for 1200 including tolls. This it turns out is about the correct rate for the journey (we had an idea) but it didn't stop him from being surly in the extreme and finally quite insulting.So now here we are back in M., showered and clean (24hrs in the same clothes without a wash in India is getting a bit limit even for us - Helen.) and ready to enjoy our final 3 days. The sun is hot and the sea is blue so its time for a dip in the briny.

Friday, February 20, 2009


Scuffing about in Fort Cochin

Today is turning out to be a bit of a pain. We had to leave the room by 12 noon and our train is not until 21.45. Thus we are spending quite a lot of time getting hot, bored and bothered whilst we wait. Because the bags are packed and we don't have access to clean clothes or washing facilities until tomorrow we can't even let the kids play in the park. So here we are in the cyber cafe, the kids are on the BBC site and I am doing this.It is evident that the person who set this place up has never used a computer themselves. The table in front of the screen is so small that the keyboard is way to the left and the space left for the mouse is so small that it is virtually useless. The wires are so short that you can't move anything and the few keys I can read are so stiff, typing is very slow. They have a system of pop-ups which have made me 2 offers of marriage in 15 minutes and promised to make me rich and handsome. Not bad for 30 rupees an hour. I have my photos on CD now but of course there is no CD reader on this computer. Such is life.Here's to a cooler and more relaxed tomorrow.......

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Still in Fort Cochi.

The last 2 days in Fort Cochin have been very nice indeed. We had a slight worry when we first moved into the room as a gigantic Cockroach fell from the ceiling which put Angie of the Vaso de Gama Homestay for a while. However the room is huge with 3 beds with fitted mosquito nets. Once the nets are in place even if there is a cockroach monsoon we are under cover. Anyway, it seems that the one we saw was a loner so all is fine. The mozzies are also plentiful, but nets and spay seem to work. Last night we went to a Dhosa house in Mattucherry (about 3 km away) and ate Massala Dhosa, Vada and Onion Utthapam. The food was great and instead of spending 10Euros or more for dinner we only spent 2.This morning Jacques and I went out for a walk at about 07.30 down to the fish landing. We watched men loading boxes of fish and prawns in ice onto their bikes which they would then peddle on the streets. After we went to a coffee and snack stall for some breakfast. The conditions were indescribably filthy and I have some pictures to show later, but the food was good and hot. We met the girls in a nice bakery for a posh breakfast number 2 and here we saw the biggest cockroach yet. It just goes to show, you never can tell.

Driving lessons for Aubergine

We have ridden in a variety of Rickshaws over the past 3 weeks. Some are bigger, there is room for 4 on the back seat plus luggage, some are smaller and one of us gets to share the driver’s seat. Today we were in one of the smaller ones which had been blinged to the max by the young driver. There were bits of cable conduit used to decorate the seat supports. The entire interior was upholstered in red and black vinyl complete with trim and Ferrari stickers. The rear window was a transfer of a Moderna and it had a triangular exhaust. On the return journey from Jew Town, Leonie was seated next to the driver and this is where the story begins. Mr Schummacher (let's call him this) passed the controls to a very excited 10 year old and let her steer and control the throttle. Once she had got the idea, the rest of the journey was spent to a chorus of "Slow Downs!" from the rear and shrieks of laughter from the front. We sped through the traffic, zipping round a roundabout in total disregard for other users of the road (read earlier post on how to drive in India) into a side street where Mr S started to apply the breaks. 3 speed bumps latter we disembarked from a still vibrating machine onto the mercifully stable pavement. I think we have found an opening in India for little Leonie should she ever need a job in India. My only worry is that she will put the cause of road safety back 10 years.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Fort Kochi - Cherai Beach - Fort Kochi

The solution to the mozzie plague was to move out. We had had 3 nice days in the very interesting Fort Kochi with lots more left to do. But we had also visited the famed Cherai Beach and decided to give it a try.
Whilst staying in Fort Kochi we took a trip to Ernakulum for Angie to do a little shopping. This usually involves any amount of hand waving, gnashing of teeth etcetera whilst I look on in an embarrassed silence. This time was no exception, but at least I had something to do. Just outside the shop, squatting on the pavement, in a 1 meter by 1 meter shed, was a man making jewellery. My silver bracelet from 1992 Rhajastan had lost the end and I asked him if he could fix it. He said he could and then set about making a piece from a bit of scrap silver. This all took a very long time and I was beginning to wonder how he would solder the new end to the bracelet as there was no gas or electricity supply to his hutch. In the end it was quite simple. He melted some paraffin wax onto some charcoal. Propped my bracelet on a bit more charcoal and then set fire to the wax. Then with the aid of a small pipe he directed a hot blue flame from the wax to the solder and made the join. This whole procedure, together with the polishing took almost 2 hours which is precisely the time Angie needs to break the will of a salesman. Perfect.Cherai Beach is described in the Lonely Planet as the best kept secret in Kerala. Not any more, the developers are moving in along the beach road and the locals are still using the sand as a toilet. Having said that we took a room at the shoreline Hotel (the manager swore us to secrecy as Angie had worked her magic on the price again) which had the benefit of having cleaned the bit of sand between itself and the sea. We spent all our time walking on the sand and swimming and generally had a great time. It was no 5 star place (sic. the Lady Helen) but it was nice.We are now once again in Fort Cochin, sleeping in Vasco De Gamas house and allegedly in the room where he left this world. As yet I have not opened the wardrobe but there is an old kit bag in the corner. I wonder.....

Men in Skirts

The Lungi is the universal all purpose lower body garment for the Keralan male. It is a simple rectangle of cotton cloth which is wrapped around the waist. But it is here that this apparent simplicity ends. The wearing of the Lungi is a surprisingly complex affair. Once secured there is a choice to be made. Do I wear my Lungi long or do I wear my Lungi short? Most men seem to be in a permenant state of indecision about whether to go mini or maxi. As they walk about the town they will wear it long, then on a whim change to short and then back to long again. Hours each day are spent in the adjusting of the Lungi, in preparing to adjust the Lungi and in being not quite happy with the hang of your lungi. One can hold the corner revealing your leg in readiness for a mini moment. When you are having your mini moment tying and retying are a must, but as the front is often used as a little pouch for you cash any purchases require another quick adjustment.

It's not easy being a Lungi man.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Fort Cochi - The Mosquitoes Strike Back.

Our first full day in Periyar started with a 3 hour nature trek in the Wildlife Sanctuary. We shared a car with a Swiss lady and thus formed a group of 5 for the walk. After several places where different sums were paid and the usual bit of misunderstanding between as keen as mustard tourists and still sleepy officials we thought we were ready. We waited patiently by the shore (we now had a 6th member of our group - a birdwatcher from Bombay) for our guide. Other groups were beginning to set of and we enjoyed the entertaining spectacle of too many overweight westerners nearly sinking the little bamboo raft used to cross the neck of the lake and then getting stuck in the mud. Much hilarity and shoe removal later they arrived moistly secure on the other bank. Still no guide. We were beginning to think the oiled machine had thrown a cog when he puffed up to us. (Traduire ca Patricia!) After our little pep talk and a tut-tuting about our inappropriate clothing we set off to follow the other bands of intrepids along the well worn paths along the shore. Thankfully the groups spread and we were relatively alone when our guide spotted something. We crouched and followed thinking about elephant. Over the slight rise and through the trees we could see a large herd of Guar - Indian Buffalo. Not elephant but magnificent beasts nonetheless. Our guide was most happy that the other groups had not seen them and sat down for a celebratory cigarette. The next 2 hour passed and we saw magnificent scenery, gigantic trees, can now recognise several wild herbs and we ticked of giant squirrels, 2 sorts of monkeys, wild boar and many birds in our little trekkers guides, but sadly no elephant.Next day and a hair raising drive sees us on the coast in Fort Cochi. We are back on the coast and the mercury has climbed considerably. We have just spent the first night in an OK place but despite assurances we have been plagues by the little blood suckers. A solution will have to be found! May the force be with you.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Munar and Periyar

Still no pics. Sorry.We continued our stay in Munnar enjoying the excellent hospitality at Johns Guest House and took the promised trip out to Chinnar. Still in quest of elusive Elephants we drove through the magnificence of the Tea Plantations, direction Tamil Nadu. We passed through Chinnar intending to stop on the return leg. In Tamil Nadu we were promised the "2nd largest crocodile Sanctuary in Asia". Well if that is the 2nd I don't want to see the 3rd. Entry was 50 rias, that's half a rupee each, plus 25 rupees for a camera. We owned up to 1 camera and I kept mine in my pocket. The 2nd largest crocodile sanctuary in Asia consists of not quite a dozen concrete pens with up to a few sleeping reptiles in each. The spectacle is unedifying in the extreme. Apparently they only move when being fed and the rest of the time they are as immobile as the future handbags they represent. Back towards Chinnar and a quick Thali on a banana leaf in a truck stop. Good food, still no after effects. At the first ranger station in Chinnar we are told that there are no elephant about. At the second a similar story, but we decide to hire a guide for 2 hours and go for a walk in the jungle. He was a pleasant young man and full of jungle lore so we learnt quite a lot. We visited some ancient rock paintings and stood on a high rocky outcrop to survey the vast jungle. Still no elephant though. On the road back to Munnar, Hussain spotted a Nilgiri Martin crossing the road which was quite a sight. Then he spotted a troop of black faced monkeys feeding in the trees. I got out to photograph them but they soon crashed off through the branches. After our last night in Munnar we head for Periyar Wildelife Sanctuary. Once again Hussain is as good a tracker as he is driver and we see a Lynx cross the road and a 2 meter Rat Snake climbing the banking. The afternoon will be the highlight of our trip. After a considerable haggle, Angie organizes an elephant trek for us. Well actually it is for her and the kids, I watch and take pictures. I also benefit from a logging display paid for by a group of Germans. Then we get to wash the elephant. This is a very wet making affair and ends in the elephant shower which we naively imagine is us giving her, she is a 26 year old Keralan Elephant, a quick rinse with a hose pipe. Oh no. A volunteer is needed and Leonie is sent first. She climbs onto the kneeling elephants back who then sucks up about 30 litres of water and sprays it over her back and the unsuspecting Leonie. After 4 goes L has had enough and we then got the same treatment. This whole thing is quite contrived, but well worth it and we have whale (an elephant) of a time.
Reply to Hev. Q. Why Aardvark and Aubergine? A. My brother Simon always says when asked the question "what’s for tea Dad? Either Rat and Raspberry or Aardvark and Aubergine and they seem to make a good pair. That’s why I called the story at the start of the blog Aardvark and Aubergine go to India.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Cool Munnar

We are all really enjoying Munnar. It is a small town on the banks of a fast flowing river joined by a series of ancient concrete bridges. In the curve of the bus station are a multitude of small stalls and shops selling tea, spices, the usual tourist paraphernalia and balaclavas. Yes, the flea bag is back in a big way here in Munnar. This seasons fashion is jeans for the ladies with a bright shift style top, a throw and a jaunty balaclava to top it all off. Men continue to favour ultra tight trousers with shirts, black nylon jackets and a scarf over the head if they don’t have a flea bag. It’s true, the evenings are cool here but it would have to be positively Siberian before I took up this particular fashion.Yesterday, we took a rickshaw to the dam 14kms from our guest house. We then spent the next three hours walking back. The road winds down through stands of Gum trees, imported here in 1961 as fuel for the tea drying plants, and tea plantations. The government of Kerela is very progressive and the plantations are now mostly workers cooperatives. Also each house on the plantations must have enough space for a kitchen garden and to graze a cow. If the latter is not available the plantation must provide free milk to the children. Not bad eh! What would Thatcher the Milk Snatcher have made of that one in the days when she could still think?The views are spectacular and we will have lots of pictures on our return but I am still having upload problems. Tomorrow we will take a full day tour with Hussein our taxi man and on Tuesday he takes us to the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Our host has a cousin who runs a home stay there aptly (I hope) called El Paradiso. He will organize for us to visit a little and hopefully see some wildlife.Keep the comments coming.Patricia j’adore tes commentaries. Profitez de l’absance du petit ca fait du bien. Bisous.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Munnar and a Virus.

Well I have finally got to make a new post. It seems that the card on the camera has a virus and I can't upload any pictures at the moment. I hope to get that sorted out soon.Trichy is an amazing place. The town itself is heaving with people, traffic and noise. The main temple which covers 60 hectares is the same but different. Despite the clamour and the bustle there is a peace and serenity. Amid the hawkers and gawkers people go about their poojas (Prayers or ceremonies) in peace. The Goporams are gigantic, the largest measuring 73 meters high, and painted as only Hindu religious fervour can. Inside in the cool dark it is about candles, offerings and ghee covered statues. Flower petals cling to the gods, fall and are replaced with each new prayer. Popular as ever, is Ganesh. Half man half elephant he is the deity of purpose and prosperity.In the second, smaller and quieter temple we visited, Ganesh is there in the form of a real elephant. This sad pachyderm stands, shuffling from foot to foot, accepting coins in return for a blessing. The blessed retreat, head bowed, with a hope of their prayers answered, but until now Ganesh remains deaf to his incarnations plight.We took two taxis to get from Trichy to Munar, passing through Madurai. The second leg took us from the plains up to the green delights of the Western Ghats. 17 thoughtfully sign posted and numbered hairpin bends and we enter a softer greener world of cardamom and tea plantations. Our guest house is cool and pleasant. It overlooks the river and the golf course and is a short distance from Munnar town. This morning when I got up to photograph the dawn there was a stark contrast between me in shorts and flip-flops and the other early risers in coats and balaclavas. The best one I saw was a boy of about 12, like me in flip-flops but wearing ear-muffs.We are planning visits to the national parks and the tea plantations so I hope to get the card de-virused and post a few pictures.Keep the comments coming they are great.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Advice about Cockroaches

On climbing aboard our second train between Villapuram and Trichy we found our places amongst the crowd. Seats numbered 25 to 28 in carriage D12. Every place was taken by fare paying passengers and there were a great number of non-paying passengers as well.Cockroaches.Angie spent the entire 3 hour journey making the minimum contact possible with the seats. The journey went well and was punctuated by the passage of innumerable sellers of coffee, chai, crisps, peanuts, masala sandwiches, samosas and I don't know what else. When we were about half an hour out of Trichy a gentleman asked us where we would be staying. When we told him the name of our proposed hotel he pulled a face and suggested that we think again. It was once owned by a friend of his but he wouldn't stay there because of the, you've guessed it.Cockroaches.We checked into the Femina Hotel which has a splendid foyer and rooms at reasonable prices. The splendour however only extends to the foyer. The rest of the hotel, rooms included, is on the slippery road to decay. We installed ourselves in the room and settled down under the mosquito nets strung from the wardrobe to the bars on the window. A hot night but awaking refreshed, my first job of the day was to kill the, wait for it.Cockroaches.I called this post "Advice about Cockroaches" but I don't really have any. In a country as hot as India, where decay is behind all facades, these companions of humanity are inevitable. You just have to live with them as they have to live with you.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ready for the next leg

It is difficult not to start each post with a line about the sun and then another about the food, because we spend the majority of the time avoiding the former and seeking the latter. Anyway suffice to say, it is hot and we have been eating curries.
We embark on our next leg to Tiruchchirappalli (Trichy) this afternoon. This begins with the ritual haggling over the price of the room which seems to have mysteriously have changed since we booked. There are also the surprising elements like extra fees for an additional mattress in a family room. However arch negotiator Angie is on the case so I leave it all in her capable hands. If only Barak Obama knew about her, he would send her to sort out the Israelis.
The train leaves at 16.00 and we have a connection at 17.55 about 40kms away. We are travelling 2nd class non-AC which should be interesting. We had planned to leave this morning but that train was full. We are due to arrive at Trichy at 21.00 and have a room booked in an old colonial hotel with a courtyard. Trichy is a city full of temples so we will spend tomorrow seeing as much as we can before moving on again to the cooler Western Ghats. I hope to find a place where I can upload pictures soon so you can see us in all our curry stained glory.

Happy Birthday to the Lady Helen (you know who you are) on the 4th.

Please leave comments. A+A+J+L.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Il a fait tres chaud aujourd'hui et on trouve que c'est parfois difficile de trouver quelque chose a mettre sous la dent. Nous avons manger des bananes au marcher ou on trouve tout sort de chose interessante. Il y a des pattes de tous les couleurs, des legumes inconues, des epices et des fruits en tous genre. Nous avons manger un Biriani au poulet embeller avec du papier journal. Delicieus! 50 cents d' Euro pour 3 personnes (maman ne mange pas de viande). Ici on mange uniquement avec les main et seulement la droite. Tout est tres, tres epice mais en aime ca.

Jacques et Leonie.

Girls in Saris

I am struck once again by the beauty and elegance of some of the Indian women. They glide by on their bicycles in the full heat of the day and carve a serene and seemingly oblivious course through the traffic. No trace of sweat on their brows, they flash a perfect smile and in a flutter of bright silk they are swallowed up. Another girl passes on a lilac scooter which is exactly the shade of her sari. Question. Does she have several scooters? Or are all her saris lilac? It is 01.30, incredibly hot (32 C in the shade). I think I need to buy a hat.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

India 1 : Jacques 0

At 04.18 on our last night Jacques came down with the dreaded Delhi Belly and was copiously sick. He missed breakfast and was clearly not well so we decided to take the taxi to Pondy (see previous post on Indian driving). He managed to keep it together until we arrived, when in apparent celebration, he was sick in the street. We spent the day with a sick boy who in turn spent most of the time sleeping until we went out for supper in a local restaurant. This was an interesting place. Half the menu was made up of alcoholic drink. This seems to be quite a cottage industry in Pondy where the taxes and thus the prices are lower than the surrounding Tamil Nadu. Anyway we chose some food, ordered a beer and Jacques was sick again. Food cancelled we went back to the Guest House and ordered a pizza for the rest of us. Jacques slept for 10 hours and then awoke pronouncing himself to be hungry and looking well again.

We chose a restaurant for breakfast from the guide book and ate very nice safe food on an ersatz French terrace. The Frenchest thing about the place was me, so you can imagine.

My personal memories of Pondy in 1984 are of quiet streets and pretty little buildings. This is still very much the case in the charming French Quarter by the sea. I had obviously zapped the thriving, bustling city that is the "Indian" Pondycherry. Here all is noise and commerce with fruit markets, fish markets, flower stalls, hawkers and beggars.

Arriving at the Ganesh Temple in central Pondy we found the place absolutely packed out. Not wishing to go rubbernecking into some important religious ceremony we continued our exploration of the town. There really are two halves to this place. In Indian Pondy life is frenetic and fast where only the fittest survive - witness the casualties by the sides of the roads. In French Pondycherry there is a sensation of calm and ease - here there are no victims, only the winners. I am feeling a little put off by this place. It is not India as I love it. Mamalapuram for all its faults was pure India even if it had developed just for us foreigners.


We have arrived in Pondycherry after a 2 hour re-acquaintance with Indian driving. Here are the simple rules you too will need to follow when you take to the wheel Indian style.
1. Might is right. Cyclists force pedestrians of the road: rickshaws force cyclists of the road: in turn they are forced of the road by the cars who bow down before the trucks.
2. Add an impossible number of motor cycles into the above mix. They do not appear in the hierarchy but circulate at speed in amongst the rest of the traffic.
3. The surprise element, if needed, is the cow. They walk, stand and even sleep where ever they like including the highway.
4. Put your newly acquired mobile phone to your ear and devote most of your attention to your friend, cousin, barber, whoever...
5. If you are on a motorcycle, balance something impossibly large and unwieldy somewhere on the machine where you can't quite control it.
6. Drive on the left, India is after all a civilised country, unless it is either a) closer to where you are going to by using the right b) quicker by using the right c) you just feel like using the right.
7. At all occasions use the horn. For example, at a junction, when over taking, when undertaking, on a blind bend, at a slight dip in the road, when passing a dog-goat-cow-little old lady, in heavy traffic, in light traffic, when you are on a wide, empty straight road with not another living soul in sight.
Follow these few simple rules dear reader and you too will soon be an accomplished Indian driver. Feel free to improvise and throw in the odd improbable move as the moment takes you it will just add to your style.