Mystical Mountain Mayhem

Trip Start Apr 16, 2013
Trip End Dec 20, 2013

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Flag of India  , Karnataka,
Friday, May 3, 2013

Hello to our avid readers from a mega-hot Bangalore.

Last time we wrote we were in Varkala, we had another nice day on the beach down there where we had lots of fun swimming in the very choppy sea before a big storm broke. We met a cool guy from Saudi in a restaurant that evening called Raed who told us some interesting stories about his experiences on Indian trains - a drunk on the bunk above him wetting himself - you can guess the rest. Eurgh. Anyway we still hadn't managed to fathom out the train system, everyone was recommending we get A/C tickets but they were all booked up for months with big waiting lists so we decided to brave standard class to get up to our next stop - Munnar.

Train journey was . . . ok. It was absolutely packed, Jim got pooed on by a bird in the station - it was huge, warm and smelled like curry - not a good start to a 12 hour journey. A nice man looked after us and made sure we got on the right train. Indian trains are so bizarre, the ticket they give you has a different time and number to the train that arrives, there are no announcements and you have to walk across the rails to get to the right platform - all good fun. So we were glad of our Indian surrogate dad for the morning - Onil. He got us a good (standing) space and then after a couple of stops found us some seats whilst he remained standing. He also read Jim's palm for him!! There are also constant calls of "Chai, chai, chai" "Biryani, Biryani, Biryani" and something else we haven't worked out yet, in short, India is never quiet. The journey was hot, and by the time we arrived in Ernakulum (our midway point) we were hungry, sweaty and a bit irritable. Got a tuk tuk to the bus station and again took us ages to find the right bus but we eventually made it on to our bus to Munnar, the journey was about 5 hours up windy mountain roads - the drivers are mental but the scenery was incredible and you could feel the air get cooler as you got higher up.

Luckily, we had spotted our guesthouse - Greenview - from the bus. We got an amazing room on the top floor. Tiny but with a window across the whole wall looking out over the tea plantations for 550 rupees a night (about 6 pounds). 

We loved our time in Munnar and the refreshing climate was certainly welcome. On our first day we headed to the tea museum which was through Munnar town (typical busy Indian town centre - not that great). The museum was full of propaganda from Tata who own all the plantations, they showed us how the tea was produced etc which was interesting but we never got a cup of tea!! We went to their cafe after and they gave us milky sweet tea out of a machine which we found quite funny

The highlight of Munnar was the 15k trek we did up into the mountains and through the plantations. We arranged it through the guesthouse and our guide - Roji - was brilliant as were the Finnish couple who joined us for the day. We started out at 6:30am and made our way up through the plantations learning about the tea production (much better than the museum). We reached the top (2200m) for breakfast at 9:30 and the views were just breathtaking. The rest of the trek was downhill through grassland and jungle where we saw lots of different types of fruit/spice/vegetables, a 1000 year old tree and some crazy insects including flying lizard/crickets. Laura was feeling pretty sunburnt despite having on Factor50 suncream and by the time we finished the trek (3pm) and had a traditional Keralan lunch it was pretty obvious the sunburn was BAD. We bought the suncream in India and are pretty sure it was just moisturiser or definitely not Factor 50 anyway! Lunch was amazing and then we watched a big storm from the patio of a cottage in the grasslands. That evening we just chilled out, applying lots of aftersun and watched the awesome storm from our window. 

The next day in Munnar was spent recovering from the burn and chilling out on the roof terrace of our Guesthouse, it was nice to reflect on the first two weeks of our time in India. We got up early the following day for a trip up to Top Station - highest road point in Munnar on the Tamil Nadu border and were expertly escorted by Rajamani the best tuk-tuk driver in Kerala. Set off at 7am, had a traditional Indian breakfast - Iddli (Laura is still not sure about curry for breakfast) and arrived at Top Station at about 8:30am we had the place to ourselves and, again, the views were out of this world. We saw wild black monkeys in the trees too!! Rajamani acted as our official photographer for the day insisting we pose LOADS at different stop-offs so we now have about 50 photos of us. On the way back down we stopped off at some waterfalls, lakes and an elephant park although we didn't want to go in - Munnar was getting full of Indian coach tours as it is the start of the Indian holidays which runs throughout May.

Our final day in Munnar was spent just chilling out before our overnight sleeper coach journey to Bangalore - what an experience . . . 

We set off at 4pm from Munnar and had a double sleeper bunk at the very back of the bus on the upper level, in hindsight - not a great choice. The roads were crazy - we went over into Tamil Nadu on mountain roads at speed. Laura had to sit on the floor and concentrate very hard not to be sick whilst Jim got thrown around on the bed banging his head on the ceiling. This journey went on for 12 hours. Laura did get back on the bunk eventually but even when the roads were less windy they were still massively bumpy and lots of stopping and starting. Needless to say we didn't get much sleep and it wasn't a high point of the trip so far. We were just dropping off (around 4:30am) when we were hauled out of the bunk saying that we had arrived - 2 hours early - not surprising at the speed we were going! 

We had been recommended a hotel to stay at by another traveller and in the guidebook so we got a tuk-tuk there. We had to wake the guy up on reception and got a rather frosty greeting but we paid for a room anyway and got shown up. The place was a hell-hole, cockroaches in the bathroom, paint peeling off the wall, matresses strewn across the corridor - it looked like a prison/old hospital/something from a horror movie. We couldn't stay there so we managed to get our money back and swiftly left into the dark streets of Bangalore (we also saw a rat on our way back up the street). Trying not to panic we got out our Rough Guide and found another hotel, flagged down a tuk-tuk who got lost and tried to sell us another hotel and eventually made it to Empire International. We have paid much more than we'd like but it is clean, has wifi, A/C and free breakfast so we felt much better!!

24 hours in Bangalore have been . . . ok. It is just a big Indian city although we have enjoyed the novelty of coffee shops and shopping malls. As it is just a stop over we don't really feel inclined to 'sight see' so we spent most of yesterday afternoon in Hard Rock Cafe - it was so good to eat burgers!! We have enjoyed having some time to skype the family and re-coup. In the evening we went back to Hard Rock Cafe to have some beers and watch an Indian rock band called Skratt who were AWESOME! They did a song at the end that was rock/Indian fusion music. 

So today we are just having another relaxed day before our overnight train to Hospet tonight for our next stop in Hampi. It is FIRST CLASS AIR CONDITIONING!!! We are so excited and very proud of ourselves for actually managing to buy a proper Indian train ticket - watch this space to see if it lives up to our expectations.

Anyways, India is still constantly challenging and amazing us and our adventure is rolling out nicely. Thanks for all the comments and emails they mean a lot!!

Lots of love to all

Laura and Jim xxx
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