From the Sea to the Hills

Trip Start May 01, 2010
Trip End Apr 30, 2011

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Where I stayed
Prems Home Stay Kochi
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of India  , Kerala,
Thursday, February 3, 2011

From mountainous Munnar, we caught the 6.30am bus descending down from the Western Ghats to the coastal city of Cochin. The journey passed quickly until we reached the outskirts of Ernakulam, the mainland hub of the city, where we crawled along at a snail’s pace through streets choked with traffic. Ernakulam looked pretty horrible – busy, hectic and noisy, with streets piled high with litter – and we were glad we weren’t staying in that part of the city. The bus stopped at Ernakulam’s bus station from where we grabbed a rickshaw to Fort Cochin , located on a peninsula surrounded by the sea. Compared to Ernakulam, Fort Cochin is an oasis of relative calm and serenity. It is a historical town containing ancient churches, mosques, and crumbling old buildings dating back to the time of the Portuguese settlement and the British Raj. It is a tourist hotspot and many of the old buildings have been converted into guesthouses and upmarket boutique hotels. The streets are quiet by Indian standards and small herds of goats wander freely about. We stayed at Prem’s Homestay, where we took a room in the house of a very hospitable family who looked after us well. We stayed here for two nights, spending our days moseying about town in the baking heat. By the water’s edge are a series of giant cantilevered Chinese fishing nets, one of Kerala’s iconic images. We also made a rare discovery – a bar openly selling beer! Our discovery was short- lived, however, as when we returned the next day, we found it closed. We were told that it was because it was the first day of the month?! We had not realised before coming to India that alcohol would be such a rarity and considered almost taboo. It is just not part of Indian culture.

Fortunately good food is a big part of their culture! Twice we ate at the Pumpkin Vegetarian restaurant where I was served a delicious Keralan meal of various curries and pickles served on a banana leaf while Tom had a creamy aubergine masala.

During our second evening, we joined an Indian cooking class, led by the delightful Mrs Leelu Roy in the kitchen of her family home. There were nine of us in the group and we spent a thoroughly enjoyable two hours learning how to make four different Keralan curries and a chapatti. The best part was at the end when we all sat around the big dining room table and tucked into a scrumptious feast!

The next day, we caught the first train out of Cochin and headed north to Calicut. We rode in cheap second class and spent the next five hours squeezed up against our fellow passengers. As in much of the overpopulated world there is no such concept as personal space. Arriving in Calicut at midday, we took a rickshaw to the bus station and hopped on another overcrowded bus back up into the Western Ghats to the town of Kalpetta, gateway to Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. We have had some crazy bus drivers on our travels but this guy took the biscuit! He tore along at great speed, wildly overtaking on hairpin bends while we both gripped the metal bar in front of the seat. We had several near collisions which made us gasp although none of the other passengers batted an eyelid. Obviously they are used to it!

On arrival in Kalpetta, we checked into PPS Tourist Home where we were told that they only had deluxe rooms available. On entering the room it quickly became apparent that their definition of deluxe was somewhat different from ours! The room could do with a serious deep clean, and the fan looked like it was about to detach itself from the ceiling at any moment and made a loud clunking sound with each rotation! It was also very noisy. On the plus side, the bed was clean and comfy and the staff friendly and helpful. We hadn’t eaten much all day so ventured into town to find some food. We soon realised that Kalpetta doesn’t receive many western tourists. We were the object of much friendly curiosity and couldn’t find a single restaurant that was either serving food at that time or where we could make ourselves understood. When we reached the end of town we gave up and walked back to the hotel where we discovered there was a good restaurant serving all our veggie favourites!

We had come to Kalpetta to go trekking in Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary but were informed that the park does not currently offer any trekking and the only way to view it is by way of a jeep safari. So in the morning we met the affable Rajah, our driver for the day who was going to show us the local area and then go into the park for a few hours to hopefully spot some wildlife. Our first stop was the lovely waterfalls at Kanthan Para which means Husband Rock. To get to the falls, we had to go down a narrow lane which was great as it meant that it was too narrow for any coaches or buses and therefore no tour groups! We had the place to ourselves so it was nice and peaceful. As we were leaving, we spotted a long snake swimming through the pool at the top of the falls. Tom took a photo and Rajah identified it as a rat-eating snake which is non-venomous.

Next we stopped at a viewpoint called Sunrise Valley, a beautiful spot overlooking a forest filled valley with mountains across the other side. Again we were the only people and could enjoy the place in peaceful solitude. For lunch we stopped in the town of Sultan Batheri where we had an amazing Thali, which is a selection of about ten different curries and pickles. It was absolutely delicious and cost about the equivalent of a dollar each!

In the afternoon, we went to Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. We had only been inside the park for a few minutes when we came across our first elephants, a group of four females of different ages including a small baby! A few minutes later we encountered another group although we couldn’t stay to watch them as one of the adults started trumpeting and then charged us for about fifty metres down the road while we sped away! By a watering hole we saw a small group of bison and also plenty of spotted deer which look a lot like our fallow deer. We also saw a couple of eagles in a tree. Rajah told us that he had seen a leopard here just three weeks ago. As we were leaving the park we spotted some langur monkeys as well as the more common macaques, and to top it all off a Giant Grizzled or Malabar squirrel sitting in the top branches of a tree, its long black tail dangling down!

On the return journey we stopped off at a 700 year old Jain temple containing some beautiful stone carvings. Inside a friendly man showed us around and gave us a quick insight into the Jain religion and how it differs from Hinduism. Unlike Hindus, Jains believe that the soul is not separate from the body. They try not to hurt any living thing and are strict vegetarians. They also do not consume anything that is grown from below the ground (no root vegetables).

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DomDiddlyDom on

L O T&C.Finally had the chance to catch up with your travels again after a month! I hope u 2 r both well & enjoying your travels - it does sound very hectic but extremely informing aswell (certainly to an avid average reader).I will try write a longer email during next few days, but 4 now, keep safe & keep smiling my friends, love yr Dom ;-0xx

Maria on

Just awe inspiring and so interesting to read. X

Mummy on

....what did you decide about your properties? Really enjoying your blog.

Mummy on

Oh after reading your last entries I have just got to go and make a curry. Your photos are fantastic - that beautiful kingfisher in flight, the heffalumps and those delightful monkeys. It sounds as if you are certainly making the most of your remaining time. lol

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