Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cooking in Cochin

While on my own in Cochin, I signed up for a cooking class at one of the Homestays not far from the Cherimel where I was staying.  Homestays are like B&B's elsewhere and typically are converted family homes, often very large homes that used to accommodate extended families.  The Cherimel is such a home and Bernard and Sally's place was also though he has extended his original house and built on extra floors and rooms. 
Originally, both Richard and I were going to the class but, knowing that his interest in cooking is unquestionably in the outcome not the process, I rearranged to do it after he left.
We were a group of seven, 2 young couples and 2 single girls, one 19 and the other early twenties like the two couples.  They were all quite serious and eager and we sat on chairs in the kitchen of the hostess, Lelu, equipped with paper and clipboards.  We watched Lelu's cook do the chopping while she dictated and explained her recipe and instructions for the process.  When the ingredients were assembled, we followed her to the stove and watched the sequence of sauteing and stirring etc.  What was interesting to me, as a long-time maker of all kinds of curries, was the fact that she first of all cooked the vegetables and then made the sauces, the "masala" separately and then put the two together to simmer.  She referred to all the sauces as the 'masala', the Hindi word for spice.  She made a fish curry and aubergine, lentil and squash curries, all different and very tasty without being spice hot. The last item was the chapatis and while we had been spectators of the rest of the cooking, we each rolled out the dough prepared by the cook and fried our own chapatis to eat with the rest of the dishes.  The evening ended with our feasting on all these dishes!
Very successful - interesting and fun.  She strongly recommended making the curries the day before you plan to eat them.  There is a website on which she has posted a selection of recipes - she said she is not eager to put many on the site since that might discourage people from taking her class!
If you are interested: is the home site then follow links to: experience  then: cuisine  then: non-vegetarian for her videos

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Riding a Motorbike in India

Motorcycle diary

Let me start by not recommending you follow my example.  I have ridden a scooter around Vancouver for about 15 years and my confidence is reflected by my aggressive riding habits.  I enjoy the thrill of weaving in and out of traffic, using bicycle lanes to pass and racing at 125kph on the highway.  My record for the approx 20 Kilometres from the West End in downtown Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay is 17 minutes and I only ran 3 red lights on the way!!  Riding a motorcycle round India?  What a thrill!  I jumped at the idea and pooh-poohed Wendy’s fears.  In preparation, I rented a 201cc bike in Vancouver for $150/day and took my driving test to upgrade my scooter licence to allow me to drive a motorcycle – I was failed for going too slow!
Once in Delhi, we looked around for motorcycle rental, and found a dealer willing to rent us a classic Royal Enfield 500cc “Machismo” for $11/day without checking my driving licence closely, and we were committed.  Built virtually the same way since the 1930’s, this is the bike used by the Brits in WW II and is a far cry from my modern Japanese-built scooter. There were a few days delay before we could get a train ticket to Chennai (Madras) our planned starting point, and I used the intervening time to study the way Indians drive.

Typically, Indian drivers do not pay much attention to anything behind their vehicle, and aggressive drivers push their noses forward, beeping or honking hard.  Once ahead, even by a few inches, it is for the vehicle behind to give way. Entering traffic takes right-of way if it is in front of you, and opposing lanes are used at will, if you can get there first. This leads to appalling snarls, with all traffic blocked until someone gives way and the fun begins again. Traffic police watch seemed to with boredom on their faces. The only evidence of their involvement was the unnerving sight of a policeman viciously pulling the hair of some poor young tuk-tuk (3-wheel auto-rickshaw) driver who had obviously been caught transgressing some rule or other.  Traffic is absolutely chaotic in the smaller roads in town, and I searched for the courage needed to ride in India. 

Rajeesh, who rented us the bike, agreed  to  take me to a quiet spot in Dehli so that I could get used to the bike before venturing into traffic, but when the time came, instead of being taken to this quiet area, I was required to follow his man through the mayhem of Karol Bargh to get there.

Panic, panic, but I could not show my fear and wimp out.   Onto the bike, loaded with all our stuff, but fortunately no Wendy, and I launch into the traffic. The front wheel wobbles side-to-side at low speed and I try to turn out of the shop into the traffic and over I go onto the road, to the great amusement of all the many local motor-bike shops!    I am pulling at the heavy bike to get it upright again and men rush to help.  Not a good start.  A moment to face the embarrassment and we are off again, weaving through cars, motorcyces, scooters, tuk-tuks, people, cows, and bicycle-rickshaws, trying avoid the pot-holes and attention of the few watching traffic police.  The quiet place is much further than I would have liked, but we get there and I can at last practice.

A motorbike is not a scooter which has an automatic transmission and can be driven entirely by my right hand using the throttle and one hand brake.  A motorbike needs both hands and both feet working in synchronized co-ordination.  The left hand operates the clutch and horn, the left foot changes gear, the right foot the rear break and the right hand operates the throttle and front brake.  In India, the horn is the most used instrument after the throttle. It is used more than the brake or clutch and gears.  Since drivers typically only look ahead, it s used to warn people in front that you are behind, and going to get your nose ahead at the first opportunity possible – beep-beep, honk-honk!  Operating a motorbike on a highway, with space and time to think of which hand and foot is needed to operate the bike is pretty  easy.  In the cities, you need to be able to operate the bike instinctley, without thinking so you can use your attention for navigating and staying alive.  My 150 kilometers of ridingexperience in Vancouver was not enough, and it was a miracle  that I was able to drive in Delhi, without any accident.

A half-hour practise in a disused park, then we were off to the railway station  - one of the technicians delivered Wendy to the training area.    I had sussed out the route earlier and knew an easy way.  Rajeesh knew an easier way, and sent one of his mechanics to guide us.  Needless to say his way was both longer and harder and eventually the mechanic abandoned us and waved us on in the right direction and we were on our own.   We made it to the station and spent most of the rest of the day getting the bike packed and into the baggage van of our train to Chennai.

Arriving in Chennai after two nights and a day on the train, We watched to bike unloaded and got it cleared out of the station.  Then unpacked, and re-fuelled (tank was drained for transit) and we launched into Chennai traffic.  Fortunately it was a short easy run to our hotel.

For the next day, I had studied the route out of town carefully on the map.  The way was straight-forward, and I was confident: turn left over the bridge to the seafront, then right and straight out of town.  What could be simpler?  It was not long before the road we were on hit a T-junction that was not on the road map and I turned right, then left again, heading for the sea?.  The road started winding.  Street names were very difficult to find and those we did find, were often not on the map.  Roads were often diverted and by the time we had gone round a few large circles that spewed us out into other roads with multiple choices, our sense of direction was lost and lost again.  Asking directions caused more confusion as the instructions given were conflicting and vague.  This was before we found out that the only people to ask directions from are the tuk-tuk drivers.  They know all the roads.  Some two hours of circling the city in traffic and we are finally directed onto a toll road going South where we want to go.

At least we can noow confidently ride in traffic!  The solution is to drive slowly at our own pace, and just ignore the beep-beeps and honk-honks .  Hand on clutch and foot on break, ready for the unexpected.  It is not as hard as it looks.  Most Indian drivers proceed at a reasonable pace and they are not angry drivers.  It is the tuk-tuks and other two-wheel riders that are always trying to nose in front of you, but they are not travelling fast and they are highly manoeuvrable.  You can make your way along quite merrily, if you keep your cool.

Finally a clear stretch of road and we can move up the gears to top. The sun warms our bare arms and the country starts to unfold.   The powerful Machismo comes into its own, purring happily between my legs and I start to pass all the lesser-powered bikes that had nosed in front of me in town.  Pure exhilaration, we become part of all the sights, smells, tastes and feelings that are India.  I feel like Toad of Toad Hall and shout “The open road, the open road!” It‘s fun - just don't end up in the ditch, like Toad! Without a windshield, 80kph feels like 160kph, so there is no incentive to go faster, which is just as well as that would be dangerous.

Clear roads come to villages with lots of people, vehicles and wicked speed-bumps that will throw a rider unlucky enough to be going too fast.  Slow to a fast-walking pace, and the villages too can be easily navigated.  Some villages have long sections with nothing but ruts and potholes – I’m told this is the result of a local politician siphoning off state money that was sent for the roads. Some drivers use the slow-down in villages to pass aggressively, and honk-honk their way past. One can stop at numerous stalls and get a great (but small) coffee for 23cts, or two delicious parathas  (bread patties) and curry gravy for 75cts. This is the life!
Riding in India is not that hard, once you gethe hang of how the Indians drive.  They are generally a lot more cautious than they appear.  Many drive slowly and carefully like we do.  We saw very little road rage, despit their anoying habit of nosing in front of you if you leave the smallest of gaps in front, and the persisent honk-honks to pass.   

Roads are mostly not bad, but they do become narrow in places and pot-holes appear without warning on side roads.  You also need to contend with dust, gravel and vehicle exhaust.  On coming vehicles will use your lane to pass and you have to move over to the edge of the road, or even onto the dirt shoulder, to let them by.  On coming motor bikes will also use you lane to pick up speed when joining your road from the side before crossing over to their own correct lane.  But all can be managed and there is a thrill to be 70, and riding through India like a teenager!


My dad's grave
Bangalore - St Marks Cemetery

By an amazing coincidence, the brother of a friend (Peggy D'Mello) of Helen's (Richard's sister) was a young senior accountant in the Imperial (now State) Bank of India in Bangalore where my father was Agent (Manager) when he died in 1953.  My mother was devasted by the loss and the assistant agent was Hindu with no familiarity with Christian burials, so he (Peggy's brother) took charge and arranged for the service and burial.  It was this amazing coincidence that enabled him to identify the grave to Helen when she visited in 1997.  Peggy & her husband Sandy also looked after us in Bangalore and showed us the grave.

Headstone - "God's Good Man"

The headstone looked to be in perfect condition but the ground had sunk in front of it and the cement floor of the enclosure was covered with mud.  We scraped some off and then Sandy called two workers over to help and they used a spade to loosen and scrape the earth away.  After some debate, we decided to have the grave maintained on an annual basis rather than try to build up the surround and prevent accumulation of earth during and after the rains. It would have been nice to do the cleaning up ourselves but we had no tools and it was clear that the two cemetery workers saw it as their job.  Richard gave them some money to do the cleaning up now and we will contact the supervisor by email for next year.
View of cemetery

It is a Christian cemetery and graves date back to the 1800's.  The area beside where Richard's father is was simply an open field till a few years ago.  

Entrance to cemetery

Burial registrey

The registry is kept in the office at the cemetery and the supervisor showed us the original and the copy.  A copy is necessary particularly in this climate since it helps preserve the original from damage by oil on hands etc.
Canon Elphick conducted the burial

St Mark's cathedral where the burial service was held

Richard checked the office here but they do not have any records - all are at the cemetery itself, as we saw.
Inside St Mark's

Rev. Canon Elphick

Poignant story from empire days

Peggy and Sandy D'Mello

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wendy alone

Wendy alone....
Mine is a very tame episode compared to Richard’s adventures but not without its quieter pleasures and surprises 
I waved goodbye from the hotel steps and watched him round the corner in a cloud of dust. How to spend my two days in Cochin?  Without the bike to hop on to and whiz around town, I would be on foot or looking for tuktuks.,
I set out on foot to find some more dressings for my ankle which still needed to be protected  from the dust and dirt of the streets.  Cochin is a very hospitable place for walking – with sidewalks and tuktuks who cruise by, look hopefully at you but then move on.  Rather than being loud with honking, the streets are alive with the sounds of children in school  -  all  of them, from tots to teenagers, neatly dressed in their school’s uniform.  I seem to have hit lunchtime when I passed by – a leisurely start to my day  – and they were out in their hundreds – perhaps thousands in three schools – racing around in the heat, the older ones raising dust in an open bare earth area playing cricket and soccer.  
I stopped at St Stephen’s cathedral.  Claimed the oldest church in  South India, it dates back to 1568.  Inside I happened upon Finn who saw me and came up the aisle to say hello.  His Mum, Brona, was there with her parents who, as she had told us when we met the day before on the ferry from Ernakulum, had arrived from the UK to spend a month with her.  They were about to go to the synagogue and offered me a ride with them.  I wanted to take another look at a carpet I saw a couple of days ago, so went along with them.  It turned out that they know someone in London who wants to do a houseswap with someone on an island on the west coast.  Well, we know someone with a house on an island and  a couple of weeks in London sounds great - so we'll follow that up.
As we walked down toward the synagogue, I happened to notice a necklace that looked identical to one I was coveting from another store but was not prepared to pay his price.  Brona and her Mum came in to look at it with me - the price was a quarter of what I had been quoted elsewhere so I bought it.  It's rather dramatic but unusual and I'm hoping I won't be shy to wear it!

I wandered about a bit - didn't go to the carpet place but by the time I had walked up and down this particular street, all the vendors claimed they recognized me and that I had promised to come to their shops and why wasn't I stopping now, just for two minutes to look - that's all they wanted, not buy, just look, please madam, make me happy for two minutes, come inside, many beautiful things...
I took a tuktuk back to the hotel.  It was a treat to open my door and find the bed made with the sheets tight and white and clean towels - first time this trip, I think.  
I made myself a cup of tea with our newly purchased immersion heater, tried for a second cup and it blew!  Alas - we only bought one.

I got busy on my computer.  I wanted to take advantage of the hotel’s wifi and download books on to my MP3 player in preparation for our 36 hour train journey from Bangalore to Delhi.
The system for doing this is terrific but it takes a few hours to get through the whole process of searching for books etc.  But I'm now well prepared with five new books!
I tried writing on our laptop but the keyboard is so erratic that I give up after managing a few lines.

So, that was Day One - no charging elephants or falls on speed bumps!

I went out to the shops again next day but remembered that I have to carry this stuff on the train and didn't buy anything more, except for the rug I mentioned earlier.  It folded up neatly and was easy to carry.  A taxi took me that evening to the railway station.  I felt a bit lost when I arrived since I could see no boards listing the departures and platforms - of which there are eight.  I also needed change for the taxi.  A young man came up to me and asked if he could help.  Gratefully I said yes.  He gave me change and then asked about my train and took me up and down to find out where I was to go and also directed me to where the coach would be that I was listed for - very kind.  We had booked two seats since Richard was originally going to go with me.  We didn't cancel since it wasn't expensive and the extra seat space would mean I had more room to spread out if I wanted to.  In theory, that is.  Well, that didn't work out.  I discovered that our two seats, while they had consecutive numbers were not actually side by side.  One was an upper bunk in the main coach area and the other was along the wall and listed as a side seat, much narrower than those in the main area - though I did not notice that at the time.   Advice to train travellers in India: avoid the seats listed as "side".  We saw that the designation on the ticket was SL but didn't know what it meant.
Anyway, I ended up sleeping in the lower bunk side seat while I could have used Richard's upper bunk and been a lot more comfortable.  The people in the main area simply took over all the main seat space which I found annoying as well but what to do... Also they decided to bunk down at 9:45 and switched off all the lights so I had to go to bed as well.  This was a three level bunk sleeper train.  Six people. 
Sheets and blankets and pillows were rented for the nominal amount of 50c  - I asked for an extra pillow so got the whole set of stuff.  The exta blanket helped soften the lump between the two seats that fold down to make the bed.  I pulled out my mp3 player and began listening to one of my books - and blessed Vancouver's public library and the hotel's wifi. 
The morning came fairly soon and I picked up a pre-paid taxi for the trip into Bangalore.  He delivered me to the Catholic Club about 10:20 and there was Richard, waiting in the lobby :-)

Richard alone day 3

Trees by the road

Fortunately, my eye was good enuf to see when I woke up, so I take off early. 

On many roads, there are trees that must have been planted by the Brits.  In some places they are huge & magnificent, creating a shaded tunnel for the roads. Other places, like this they are sparse.  The Brits must have planned to stay in India a long time when they were planting.  Very little evidence of recent roadside tree planting. 


Breakfast on Dosa for 25cts in Mysore, then 2 hours on the net on emails and the blog.

Mysore palace

Then the Mysore palace. Built about 1910 on a design by a Brit, the palace makes the centre of the city.  Sumptious and expensive

Computer bookstore - Mysore

Macdonalds on the Bangalore road

Munching a "Big Marahajah"

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Richard alone Day 2 Jan 17th

Mysore Jan 18

Planned an easy day ride today - to Salem, only 140k away and so slept in.  Breakfasted on a great papaya that I'd bought last night.  Checked the map, and "what the hell!" - changed plans and decided to go the scenic route over the Niligiri Hills through Ooty - the summer capital for the Raj - and on through Mysore to Bangalore.

First went to check Racecourse Road - I did not recognize any houses, but found the Coimbatore Club round the corner where my family were members in the1940's.

  I remember leaving off playing in the nearby coconut groves (long gone) because someone had reported seeing  a python there.

Coimbatore club
A ""forbidden" picture - lists of past preses on wall

I had to sneak photos of the club, 'cos the managert said "no photos" ( I bet they have photos on their website!).  A fabulous reminder of the Raj, with high ceilings and places to lounge. A dark, dark bar, and the pool is long gone.  I imagined my parents with us children there.

Off to Mysore and I took the wrong road.  A 20k diversion, but on some lovely deserted road.  It's cool and pleasant, riding in India is fun.

Back on the main road and traffic and villages and dust and diesel fumes.  No problem to me now.

The foothill of the Nilgiris, and we leave the plain.  Signs:  "The Queen of Hills" "Plastic free" ( I think many locals miss that sign!) The country is greener, the vegetation ever more lush.  The road starts to hairpin.  Really sharp hairpins that only one bus or truck can navigate at a time.The ususal competition to go first.  Honk-Honk, beep-beep.  Motorbikes have to maneouve & squeeze in where they can. Peek past the vehicle in front - nothing coming before the next bend, and a rush to pass starts.  I am really glad for the 500cc in the Enfield which enables quick passes in short distances.

Glimpses of the hazy plane below, spectacular waterfalls off the hills, potholes in the road.  A lot longer, but  much better road than up to Kodai - the low retaining wall between me and the big drop is in a lot better shape.  Watch for the odd uncleared boulder, always alert for suv's with suicide drivers who pass as they enter a blind corner.  Slam on the breaks when a bus stops in my lane to take on a passenger. Climbing, climbing, climbing - everytime I look up the road is still climbing above me.  It's misty. I am cold & stop to put my jacket on. Families of monkeys scavenging on the road.  Then the small towns - Cooner - Wellington - with people, bicycles and Tuk-Tuks.   How on earth did they get the Raj government up here?  Then I get a glimpse of the small guage railway & I remember. I am above the mist.  Tea plantations and I stop to buy what looks like great tea from a roadside stall.

Finally Ooty - I see nothing impresive, so don't bother with photos.  I buy some home made chocolate, email Wendy about my changed route.  It's late - past 3pm so I take off again.  The road is really good - quite wide and a good surface.  I sway through gentle left & right curves.  This must be the stretch that Trek tours suggests cycling up to Ooty.  One place reminds me of Scotland - I sing "these aren't my lands' hills.." People riding real horses.  I think of the Raj.

Then a step drop back to the plains - switchbacks, potholes, suicide drivers, the lot.

At the base of the drop, signs for a Tiger reserve.  Tourist suv's, but no "whities".  I go through a small town & pass more signs for the wildlife park.  No habitations, the scenery is different.  Giant bamboos.  I start filming.  Riding with my right hand on the throttle and the camera in my left hand.  Speed bump.  No problem, I am going slowly.   Then a doozey of a speedbump.  Wow!  My instinct is to slow down, I release the throttle. Stall. The bike is in gear and bumps, and over I go.  Still filming.

Motorcyclists behind stop and help me upright the heavy bike.  Some gas split, but no harm done. The bike is fine and I wave to my helpers as I pass them.

Further down the road, I see the elephant, less than 20' from the roadside.  I stop, engine off. Camera, filming.  An suv stops behind me to watch the elephant .  While sitting, I push the bike back to get a better angle.  He  is maybe 40 feet away.  I think it is a lone bull - no other elephnats around. The elephant snorts, stamps his foot a couple of times and starts coming towards me.  Quick, he's after me.  Start engine, into gear and go.  Where's the camera?  It's Ok, I've still got it.

I stop a bit down the road.  My helpers come by, see the elephant and whizz on.  Another bike stops the other side of the elephant.  An suv cruises by. I'm filming and the elephant starts coming towards me again.  OK.  Bye-bye.  I'm off.

Later I see wild pig, deer and black-faced monkeys. A lot better than Periyar, where we saw not a lot of interest.

Sun is dropping and the light is becoming magical. I go though a second Wildlife park and it is all very beautiful.  No people or habitation, it's like Africa.  It's been a great day.

Something gets in my best eye and hurts.  I'm losing vision and it becomes impossible to ride.  I stop at the park entrance & find a place to stay.  An early night and a fitful rest.  It'll be a big problem if I have only one eye to ride with - lack of vision depth would be enough to get me off the bike.

Mist on the way to Ooty

Buying Tea from roadide shop

Giant bamboo in game reserve

Whizzing by - they helped me right the bike

This elephant is coming for me!

Wild pigs

Struggle to open my eye

Sore eye

Wendy's healed ankle!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kochi Jan 16th

We have everywhere been impressed by the huge trees to be found here.  Finding out their names has not proved too easy.  These giant canopies may be banyan trees or maybe 'rain' trees, so called because they absorb the rain and continue to shed drops long after the rain from the sky has given up. 
Stopping to pick up more equipment - bandages and tape - though my ankle/burn has improved tremendously and I can walk normally at last.
What that means is that I can now go shopping!!!
The photo does not do justice to this jacket that I have had my eye on since I saw one in Delhi soon after we arrived. 
We have agreed that I will stay on in Cochin until Wednesday night and Richard will leave Monday morning and ride the bike to Bangalore.  It is a journey of about 550km and will just be a ride to get there - not a sightseeing and stopping to enjoy the places journey.  I can resist that pleasure and will instead take the train and meet Richard in Bangalore - a sign that I am fully independent :-)!
While he was here, however, we tried to see the many sights of Cochin and on Sunday took a 10-15  minute ferry across to Enakulum for the grand cost of 2.5 rupees - about 10c. 
Ferry to Enakulam - the engine
First on the list was a visit to see another of the banks where Richard's father worked at some point.  Richard remembers coming to Cochin when he was about five or six.  According to the tuk-tuk driver, a fairly old man - in his late 50's or 60's - the bank building is about 80 years old so may have been the one Richard's father actually worked in.

State Bank of India 0 Cochin
 It's a tall building for its age....
The whole building

Clock tower for Synagogue (hidden behind wall on left)
On our return from Ernakulum, we rode to the very old Jewish synagogue, built with the permission of the Portuguese in 1568.  It is in the quarter called Jew town that is now mainly occupied by Kashmiri shop-keepers.  There were strict rules about photography as the notice outside indicates.  Violation would result in permanent confiscation of one's camera.  Shoes off inside as is typical. 
We ate out that evening in an area called a "food court"  It was actually a row of about 6 little cookout stalls, all attached to each other, that offfered very similar menus, the main attraction being that they would cook the fish that you brought them.  So we went down to the fish stalls along the seafront and bought a kilo of tiger prawns which the restaurant then cooked for us.  Scrumptious!  Strategically placed right at the fish vendors tables were young men - again - who would offer to cook as soon as you got within a few yards of the stall.  What with the vendors calling out for you to choose their fish and the waiters intent of getting you to their cooks, it was an entertainment in itself.
Another feast of seafood
Having decided that we would leave Bernard and Sally and their guest house Dreamcatcher when our three nights were up, we went in search of somewhere else that I would be staying at by myself for a couple of nights.   The Chiramel Residency, also what is considered a 'homestay' being the converted home of the owner,  is upmarket from Dreamcatcher.  Good bed, wi-fi, spotlessly clean, and low key.  The owner is a gracious, very calm woman who has no need to tell you her life history.  Of course, life histories can be fascinating, but Bernard was so aggressive we could not wait to get out of his reach. 
Wendy's "home" while Richard rides

Richard on his own Day 1 Jan 16th

Wendy's leg is finally well enough for her to walk normally.  The dressing came off this morning without tearing & the procees is no longer painful.

She decided to stay on in Kochi to shop & take a cooking lesson.  I took off on the motor bike for a three-day ride on my own to Coimbatore & Bangalore.  She will follow by train & we will meet up again in Bangalore.

There is always a pain in parting, and a small fear at being on one's own, so it was not easy to take off on my own.  But I wanted to ride the motor-bike some more.  A ferry off Fort Kochi, and I was alone on back roads working my way up the coast.  Coconut trees, light traffic, a cool breeze while moving, and riding was fun.  I ride more carefully with Wendy than on my own, so it was great to give the beast the throttle it likes whenever I wanted to pass.  The engine responds and the put-puts stretch, then get closer together as we surge past slower bikes, cars and busses.  In places, the rural houses were as big and well-designed as many one can expect to see in a Canadian subburb.  Money from "NRI's"? (Non-Resident Indians)

1.5 hours doing 40kms along the coast to a second ferry, then back onto the National Highway.  More traffic.  Vehicles ignore motorbikes in on-coming lanes and simply over-take.  Heading towards them, I have to move to the edge of the road or onto the unpaved shoulder to let them pass.  The wind, dust and occasional smoke make one's eyes smart, and I have to blink & rub my eyes frequently in order to see.  Movement slows in the villages, but we keep going.  The Highway enables speeds of up to 80kph in places, so progress is faster.

I stop occasionally to stretch and have a coffee, or pick up water.  One stop is beside a typically well-hidden liquor store, so I can line up with the villagers & buy 26oz of local scotch for $9.  Villagers grab their small bottles guiltily and scamper.  My purchase is carefully watched by all.

I make it to Coimbatore (21k) by 3:30pm & cruise around a bit, seeing no places to stay.  I follow the Lonely Planet map to the bus station & find many hotels.  The first six I try are all fully booked.  The seventh wants $21 for a double room , non-aircon.  I try a few more & get a non-a/c room for $10.  I unpack & get back on the bike to see the State Bank of India building.  I am assured that it is over 80 years old, which would make it the same place my father worked when we were here in the 1940's.  I take pictures.  On the way back, I pass the cotton mills - Coimbatore is a cotton town.  Is it my imagination, or can I really remember ,as a child with my dad, visiting large rooms with many people operating cotton gins?  Or was that just a picture in  history book?

The whole area is packed with people. No places available at the nearby Internet and no seats available in the many restaurants I check.  Finally I go back to my hotel, get a beer sent out for, then eat in the hotel restaurant.  I have yet to see another white face in the town.

I remember  "Coimbatore Race track"  It is a circular road in town.  I think our house was on that road & Michael, our cook, used to take me from there to school on the back of his bicycle.  I ate chapattis in the servants' quarters.  Impossible to know what is real and what is imagined.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Kochi Jan 15

We arrived in Aleppy at 6:30 p.m so it was nearly dark.  We had phoned ahead to Gowrie Resort - a collection of cottages with a main building in the centre of town.  A young man was sent in a tuk tuk to guide us through the town.  He was able to take all the luggage and me and Richard followed on the bike.
At the dock, there are always the auto-rickshaw drivers (tuk-tuk) as well as touts to offer ideas for accommodation.  In the dark and with nowhere planned, they can be a boon, of course.
On the ferry, we had got talking to Charlotte from Denmark.  She worked for an environmnental organization and was quite despairing of what she saw in India - the relative lack of hygiene and the general inadequacy of garbage disposal.  She had spent her first week, however, well insulated from such local and ubiquitous realities.  She went to an ayurvedic resort and had herself done over.  The analysis of her chemical/physical needs resulted in her being put on a porridge diet for every meal every day.  What she was paying for this treatment did not get spent on her food, she said!
It sounded though as if the time was well spent - water poured all over her in a rhythmic spiralling movement that had a strong emotional as well as physical effect and consultations with doctors that she found alerted her to herself in new ways.  She was travelling alone and when we all got off the ferry, she was relying on touts to help her find a place to stay.  She was quite taken with our mode of travel so we were amused to see that the person she chose to take her to a guest house was not driving a tuk-tuk but a motor bike.  So, her large backpack strapped on, arms around the driver, she sped off into the night with a wave and a grin - she was young, of course - maybe 35.

The place where we had booked turned out to have the most luxurious beds/mattresses we have encountered on our trip.  What a treat to have decent 6in  foam to sleep on!  The rest of it was minimalist.
The owner must have found a discarded consignment of children's sheets - or sheets usually bought for kids.
Teddy bears and Disney characters, balloons and balls were the decoration.  As usual, there was a bottom sheet around the mattress but we had to ask for a top sheet - the same vintage, much washed, faded and frayed at the ends, but clean.
Camel riding in Alleppy beach (not us!)
  We were put in a non air con room that was very large and had four beds - yay! - extra pillows and space to spread out all our stuff. At $14 it was just fine and we had a comfortable sleep.

We rode around town next day and went down to the beach.  Only a couple of tourists (i.e. white people) swimming and Richard hadn't brought his bathing suit so he couldn't swim.  I sat on the wall while he went exploring a bit to see the camels.  Of course it was tourists getting rides - but local people - and the ride was about five minutes - which could well have been long enough for most people's anatomy!  We tried it in Karachi long years ago and had no desire to repeat the experience here!
Packed, ready to leave Alleppy

The second night at the Gowrie, we moved into an airconditioned little cottage which Wendy liked very much.  Packed up again in the morning and set off for Kochi/Cochin about 70km up the coast.

We took a coast road which was longer of course but more scenic and probably less traffic - especially few of the dreaded busses that hurtle along, sending the minions among us cowering on the sidelines.  We had also been told about a particularly lovely beach en route so planned to make a stop there.

 It was lovely and virtually empty as far as the eye could see in both directions.  Fine golden sand and the sea rolling in - inviting some, but alas, not me!  Richard had a good long swim while I cut up our papaya and held court to local children who came in search of pens, sweets and money.  Alas we had not brought a supply of pens - often asked for - but I had some candied ginger to share - papaya they were not interested in :-) - and resisted the request for money. 

A beautiful beach - fine sand for miles and miles
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The boats were fishing boats and behind us, in among the coconut palms, were the fishermen working on their nets and further back, their houses.  We saw no women but two of the children who came up were girls - they said they go to school but since it was a school day, who knows whether they understood my question.

Kerala regularly elects the Communist Party

The  first sight of this hammer and sickle was a bit of a surprise, but then we saw it several times, even though it is pretty outdated, despite the fact that the communist party is still regularly elected.  

new catholic church
We stopped for a coffee and snack at a place that turned out to be historically important and that was in the midst of preparations for a major Christian festival celebrating the martyrdom of San Sebastian. We wandered around there for half an hour and then went on our way, not wanting  
to get to Cochin too late in the day.

Replaces this 16th century original

After much winding around on roads that were not marked for the ignorant but were clearly in the town somewhere, we happened into Fort Cochin, a section of a much larger city, Ernakulum, that now mainly caters to tourism with Ernakulum being  the  workplace  and business centre, .We had not booked anywhere to stay and by the time we arrived it was nearly five and thus ndusk.  We hesitated and stopped by the side of the road and were instantly spotted by a tuk-tuk driver who wanted to find us a place to stay.  It must have a good bed, says Wendy.  He took us to one place that we rejected, then to another that I was about to reject but then got bullied (it felt like that) into accepting since the owner insisted that he would put a new and softer mattress on top of the old one and it would be fine and besides, everyone else loved their ayurvedic mattresses so what was I complaining about.  They rushed about, pulled out these new mattresses from their store room, still in plastic covers.  I tried squeezing one and it did not seem to resist the pressure too much so I agreed to try it.  They rush upstairs to put them on the beds.  
They stand back and await the verdict.  By now about 20 minutes has gone by.  I lie down on it.  Well, my body makes a slight depression.  It is not a wooden board.  Richard leaves it up to me entirely.  I am "the princess and the pea" person.  The owner, a very large overweight man, and his smiling and sweet wife, nod heads and assure me it is very comfortable. It is very firm.  It is not as bad as the one in Kollam that we had to endure after we left Viri.  Okay, I say.  So we stay there.  The room does have aircon.  He gives us a slight discount for 3 nights.

Bernard is eager to please and be helpful.  We tell him about a restaurant we have read about in Lonely Planet.  He offers to show us where it is.  We start walking and he is on his motor bike and keeps stopping, waiting.  After a block or so, I suggest I ride with him since I am unlikely to walk/hobble all the way.  I get on the bike and he takes off leaving Richard walking with no destination to reach since we don't know where we are going.  It all works out, however.  He drops me off and then goes back and picks Richard up.  Great - very nice of him.  We had a good dinner and took a tuktuk back. 
 The bed was very firm and I didn't sleep well but it wasn't terrible enough to pack up again and leave.
We decided we would find somewhere else after the 3 nights. 
Fort Kochi jail, used by Brits to hold some prominent nationalists

Fort Cochin is historically very interesting and is also a great place for shopping and eating.  My ankle is getting much better and I expect to walk perfectly well in a day or so - faster than Richard!  It is no longer painful enough to demand painkillers and is looking healthy.  
On our way into town we had passed a white guy driving a tuk-tuk with a white girl in the back and luggage strapped to the roof. Hmmmm????
It turned out that they were one of 60 teams doing a 3000 km run from the north  of India south to Cochin and Saturday was the deadline for arrival.  A fund-raiser for charity, the run/race attracts people from Europe, the UK and also Australia and Canada.  This year they expected to raise $200,000 that would be used to build filtration plants that provide clean water to about 60,000 people. A really good cause and, to judge from the comments on the board and from teams we chatted to, the experience of a lifetime.  A Canadian pair we met had followed his parents (early 60's) in taking on the challenge.  You know who is now interested in trying this adventure but he won't have me as a partner! :-)

Tuk-Tuks after the 3000km run (3 Canadian entries!)

Enlarge if you can, to read comments from the Tuk-Tuk run
Inthe  evening we took the ferry over to Ernakulum and went to the

Shiva temple where we had read that a big festival  was underway.

Temple elephants

Elephants could not stampede!

About 70 musicians play a repetitive tune for several hours at the temple

 After nearly 3h with no apparent new dramas to witness, we left, much impressed by the brilliant
spectacle and amazing  perseverance of musicians - all male  and various ages