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Day Eleven - An Englishman's Tea

The Ellora caves are a world heritage site, rock hewn buildings caved straight out of the cliff. They sound similar to the churches we'd seen in Lalibella, Ethiopa only instead of a Christian flavour they had been built un competition by Buddhists, Hindu's and Jains. Funny that three different religions should all need to do exactly the same thing to worship their respective deities. Anyway, they are our current destination and a good 800km drive from our place in Goa.

Accordingly we set off at 5:30. Pasha was disagreeable with such an early start but we soon push started her into it. Tony roared to life briefly and then gave up a few times until finally he was warm enough to kick on.

The temperature had been gloriously warm at Goa but as we left in the early hours there was a nip in the air. Down jackets, hoodies and hats came out to keep us warm as we motored across the mountains that surround Goa.

The air was cold. Very cold. My fingers stung with the wind chill and we were all uncomfortably cooler than we should have been.

We stopped at around 8:30 for some Chai. We'd overshot the cafe. So I walked back and a lovely lady brewed up a fresh batch. Shiny silver tray in hand with four small glasses of brown, spiced, nectar sat on top, I returned to find the others balking at the scenes of human excretia they'd just witnessed around the back of the truck stop. Even better, (than the chai not the shit), Al had thought ahead and bought apple cake from the German bakery in Palolem the night before. We munched and drank and filled our bellies. More chai was needed though so I collected the glasses and turned for the cafe. A group of locals had gathered outside of the shop near our Tuk-Tuks and I gave them a hearty, big smiling, still-wearing-my-sunglasses-like-an-american, "Good Morning!" At the final syllable my right foot lost traction on the gravel slope, it then connected with my left foot causing it to disappear sideways too. The tray lifted and the glasses flew. The sunnies went up in the melee and the tray left my hand to chart a new course. My knee, and shortly after the rest of me, hit the deck as glass and stainless steel made a cacophony of awful noise around me. I couldn't have hit the ground any more wholeheartedly. As I stood up I felt like a footballer; lame as a dog but but bound to be fine in two minutes' time.

The strange thing was, there was silence. I turned around to see that the reason I hadn't heard any noise was that my 'friends' were still in the silent belly tensing phase of raucous laughter. Laura had tears in her eyes. So did I.

I looked around for any sign of compassion but Team TukTuk had set the locals off too. My shattered ego and a tray of glasses went back to the cafe where even the cate lady was being told the story of the Englishman who couldn't take his chai. She was slapping the table in laughter.

By the time we pulled into our hotel in the IT city of Satara, we'd covered 370km. We went out for dinner and a chap who we'd passed earlier in the day was having a birthday meal with his lady and two friends. After finishing cutting their cake they came and gave us some which was a lovely thing to do.

Back at the hotel I was getting our bed ready. "Hon, have been in the bed yet?" "Yep, sorry, did I get it dirty?" "Have you used the slippers?" "No." I picked up a pair of neatly placed but well used hotel slippers, browning nicely where once they'd been white, that were sat under our duvet and threw them in the bin. When I called reception they sent their 'Head Boy,' his title not mine, who asked would I like just the sheets changing or the duvet cover as well?

Posted by ibeamish 08:56 Comments (0)

Day Ten - Winter Sun

Our day of rest had come. We lay in intil nearly eleven before wandering out for breakfast and a swim. At the southern end of Goa, Palolem Beach is slightly less busy the the main beaches further up the coast. Concrete buildings have been banned on the waterfront and now a line of wooden buildings offer the good life to anyone with a few rupees to spend.

We swam in the warm Indian Ocean. We ate calamari, pakoras, humous and naan. And, we tasted our first ever Indian wines. A sav blanc and a sav/chenin blanc blend. Neither were at all bad. Rich joined us for a sunset glass and Ollie and Squirrel disappeared having found a lorry to transport them and their tuk-tuks 800kms up the coast!

Our four poster bed felt like a nest. It was lights out as soon as our heads hit the pillow.

Posted by ibeamish 08:53 Comments (0)

Day Nine - The Self Preservation Society

With our farewells to the pigeons complete we were wheels-rolling at 6:30.

We stopped for a Chai and a bite to eat on the way out. The Chai stops are something we really look forward too. The artistry that goes with making the perfect cuppa is not lost on any of the chai baristas. Each morning we leg it for about two hours, 70km-ish, and then we stop. Stretching tired and simultaneously skittish legs we get a chance to say hello to some new faces and it's also a chance for someone to take the title of India's finest Chai (according to some british types in a tuk tuk).

Today we had a pre-planned tourist destination. The mighty Jog Falls. India's highest falls as the waters of the Sharavati River cascade over the red sandstone and plummet down to continue their route out to the Indian ocean. Except today someone seemed to have turned the tap off. It's dry season in India and a dry waterfall looks remarkably like a cliff. Though I exaggerate a little. There was enough water to identify that some of it was falling and so the pedants amongst us were content. We also discovered that a dam has been built upstream which essentially controls the flow of the falls and they've not been the same since its construction. The air was cooler here, fresher and the vegetation along the river lush and green. The view was very satisfying and at the same time as admiring it we got to play with an extremely cute little puppy that had been tugging at trouser legs and followed us from the car park. The bridge over the river offered wonderful views and we stopped to take pictures. And then we heard the roars of excitement as we turned around to see Ollie and Squirrel hurtling along the bridge to say hello. Ollie's pumping fist and Squirrels grin told us all we needed to know. Two had become three and you know what they say; two's company, three is a race.

In one of those wonderful moments where life unknowingly synchronises itself we found that Ollie, Al and I all had the drivers' seats. In scenes reminiscent of some sort of Anglo-Indian Italian Job, three Tuk-Tuks absolutely bombed it down winding forest roads descending from the mountains as we went. Weaving in and out of each other, the wind roared though the tuks, back tyres squealed around corners and front wheels did that bouncing shimmy as our partners shifted their weight in the back seat trying to keep our inside wheels grounded. Squeals of fear and delight came from Tony's back seat as an hour and a half of sheer happiness flew by. We only had one near miss with a truck too but this time we were all out of the way and safe as its blaring horn and massive wheels thundered by. Boys own stuff. It was like adventure go-karting. In Olliems words, "We'll park 'em off in half an hour, so let's thrash the arse off them now!"

As for our route, our plans had changed again, we'd be pushing on through. No Gokarna for us; we'd be supping beer in Goa by sunset.

On the motorway we started spotting some other Tukkers as everyone's routes began to converge on Palolem. We also caught up with Rich the videographer who was hunting us Adventurists, Nick, his driver pulled along side us as Rich began asking how we were finding it. We squealed something back at him whilst narrowly avoiding a nonchalant cow.

The border guard at the entrance to Goa waved us through, "Welcome to Goa," he said. Ten minutes in and we noticed the bottle shops. Booze is far more easily accessible in Goa. Which is now a Union State of India. Essentially self-governing but holding allegiance to India and, on occasion New Delhi holds on to the reins for a bit until the situation calms down again. An hour into Goa, we pulled up outside Kate's Cottages, our home for two nights. Greetedby Kate herself who was a fantastic host. The beach lay fifty metres away; we'd done over four hundred kilometres and it was time to let our hair down. We started with Goan fish curry at a candlelit table on the beach, we finished doing enormous jaegerbombs dancing to Toto's Africa in a bar called Neptunes with the sea on three sides of our little peninsula. "I'd bless the rains..."

Posted by ibeamish 16:50 Archived in India Comments (0)

Day Eight - Temple Hunting and the Escape from the Flower La

sunny

Mysuru or Mysore derives its name from a word referring to the place where the demon buffalo was slain which is a pretty awesome idea for a name. The city also boasts the cleanest air of any Indian city so the guidebook told me. India's cleanliness has been in our face and up our noses since our arrival. When I say cleanliness I mean volume of litter, air pollution and the state of the water ways. Plastic is a problem. Take us for example. Four Brits in India for three weeks each drinking at least two bottles of water per day. 168 plastic bottles will need to find a final resting place when we leave. 1.3 billion Indians are using plastic consumables everyday from chewing tobacco in small plastic pouches to essential items such as water urns and sheeting. Based on our current experience there isn't a great deal of recycling available. As versatile as plastics are it's only when their graveyards are this obvious that it becomes clear that we either need to learn how to recycle them more easily or just ban their use all together.

One of the most striking things about India so far has been the pride in how people dress and to some degree it reminds me of a night out in Liverpool. The lads are in their best shirts and a smart pair of trousers, the analogy doesn't extend to open toed jesus boots, and the girls have given it one hundred percent in their brightly coloured sparkling outfits, their hair combed back perfectly into a long thick pony tail and a little bit of make-up and a fair amount of jewellery to complete the look. For all the dust here people appear exceptionally clean. Every morning we see ladies sweeping their front yards dressed as if they were off to dinner in a fancy restaurant. The gents are normally having a quick game of cricket at 6:30 when we pull out.

India has a nice tempo; a nice rhythm to life. Until the local mosque starts chanting the call to prayer at five bloody thirty. Laura and I haven't heard it for a long while but fortunately for us on this occasion the Imam was up against our alarm clock. We got up thinking just how unsociable it can be to have a Mosque for a neighbour. At least Christians repent their shame in silence.

On our way to dinner the previous night we'd seen the Palace of Mysore lit up in all it's one hundred thousand lightbulb glory. It wasn't quite as grand in the morning haze as we stopped by the entrance the to briefly admire it and take photos that we'll probably look at once or twice more in our lives. The palace used to be wooden until it burnt to the ground, then it was just ash. That was in 1897. They got to work on it straight away and started building a more fire resistant structure which they had finished by 1912. It was then the residence of the Maharajah until 1998 when the courts placed the palace in the hands of the Karnataka state government. The royal family have lodged an appeal; I'm not sure if they lodged it as squatters or from another stately home. One suspects they're doing alright.

Culture session completed Al and I briefly flirted with the idea of a McDonalds for breakfast but after a couple of weong turns we ended up just getting out of town and trying to chew up a few more kms instead.

Out if town, Emma and Al stopped and bought some flowers from a lady in a stunning blood orange sari at the roadside. Al came over and adorned laura with a sweet scented white and golden flower bouquet. All seemed to have gone well as Al and Em pulled away but Laura and I were having stalling issues and the lady was approaching us with a menace about her walk. I was bricking it and telling Laura to get us going ever more frantically but the more I got excited the harder neutral became to find. By the time amshe got upsides us I was pretending I hadnmt just been screaming 'Laura! Let's get the flip out of here!' in a mild tizz. Our lady seemed to think we had to pay for the flowers too and after a short discussion where neither party really knew what the other was saying, and in the secret knowledge that our getaway had failed, we handed the flowers back. That seemed to make her happy again. We should give our purchases back more often. Maybe next time.

We were all getting tired with our relentless hours of driving and despite functioning well a little tension was starting to creep into the group.

We were driving to Shimoga and the roads had opened up nicely since we left Mysore. We were going so well that we would be arriving at 2pm. That had Laura hunting for adventure. We pulled over and had a quick meeting. The temple at Hallebeedu was a bit of a detour but promised great things. We had a roadside vote and it was clear that we were all struggling a bit with the idea of changing schedules and what would ensure at least a small amount of night time driving. We'd also be taking a compete punt on what the road surfaces would be like. Democracy won and a vote in favour of side tracking was ruled legit; we changed course and set sail.

The next hour and a half was some lovely if inefficient countryside tukking. We did get lost at one point and were debating which rutted dirt track to begin off roading on (a shockingly bad idea) when we were suddenly surrounded by a group of school kids and a teacher clutching his 'Learn to Speak English' text book. Brilliant.

The kids were awesome; all smiles and hello's. The teacher gave us great directions and told us to turn right after the Master Control Facility and that road would take us to Halle Beedu. We left with our horns blaring shouting our good byes wondering what the hell happens at a Master Control Facility.

The 50km detour turned out to be 80km. Time was ticking and we were now questioning if we'd actually make to Shimoga by nightfall. All these uncertainties weren't helping the tension.

As we pulled into Halle Beedu and found somewhere to park the anxiety was reaching a crescendo. It was hot, we were tired though none of us would admit it, and as we slowed to a stop we were mobbed. Guides, books sellers, curios merchants, coconut stalls all trying to sell to us at once. For the first time we were exposed to the reality of being tourists and the conundrum of just what to do with our luggage whilst away from the Tuks. Too heavy to carry around we'd have to leave the big bags behind but we were naturally worried that they could disappear easily if unsecured. Sweat was beading on our furrowed brows and all the while we were trying to explain that we needed neither a copy of the Karma Sutra nor a refreshing pair of coconuts. Valuables went into back packs and I asked the lady at a nearby stall to keep an eye on our bags on the promise of buying her wares on return. As security I bought a coconut and said the same thing to the coconut guy.

Thin lipped smiles abounded as we rounded the corner all of is hoping this was worth the hassle. We passed through the entrance gate into the grounds of the Hoysaleswara Temple and as we approached the weight on our collective shoulders diminished with every step. As we stood directly in front if the temple the last vestiges of tension evaporated completely. Before us was something very special indeed.

Halebeedu was the ancient capital of the Hoysala empire. Founded in the 11th century (the British Isles were coming out of the dark ages) Halebeedu had a fortress and palace to boot. The temple before us was started in 1121 and took 86 years to build and looking at it we could understand why. No square inch had been neglected, friezes intimately and patiently carved and polished from solid granite surrounded the temple no two ceilings were the same. Two giant bulls sat elegantly each weighing several tonnes. A scholar on Indian architecture is quoted as saying that the temple "is without exaggeration, one of the most remarkable monuments ever produced by the hand of man," and even now it's hard to find sufficient superlatives to get across the majesty of this place.

Thousands of carvings adorned the walls . Elephants, lions, horse men, mythical beasts and pert breasted goddesses. Huge columns of granite immaculately turned as if their metre diameter was a mere wooden chair spindle. The ceilings were similarly detailed. This was the life's work of many master craftsmen and the way in which it has been preserved makes it all the more joyous to behold today. Mankind truly is brilliant sometimes.

We walked out cloaked in content. Our belongings were just where we'd left them. Promises fulfilled with our security team we departed; coconuts, Karma Sutra and curios in hand.

Destination Shimogo, a pair of 2 stroke engines, six wheels and four passengers. Life was good and we were tukking just nicely. Our lights were on a mission too. All four indicators were going hell for leather sometimes fast blinking and sometimes slow. Sometimes left and sometimes right. Fellow road users had started to point it out to us. We didn't have the fortitude to suggest what a ridiculous concept it was to be told off by a man on a bike whilst he was overtaking us overtaking a cow.

Our lodge for the night was a special one. The best yet. I spent ten minutes flushing the bird shit off the bathroom floor before Laura would see it. We had aircon but it was aimed directly at our faces; however, the resultant brain freeze and wind in your ears was more than offset by promising to solve the old 'morning breath' situation.

Down at the hotel restaurant we had Paneer Masala for dinner washed down with some Foster's water(!) and fizzy orange pop.

We needed to shower before bed. Laura came out of the bathroom laughing uncontrollably. It was a self pitying laugh at the state of our abode. Seeing bird poo on the wall, Laura had investigated. On top of the airing cupboard sat two little pigeons as quiet as mice. Our review will say "Air-con in rooms, average bird watching."

Posted by ibeamish 01:29 Archived in India Comments (0)

Day Seven - Tea in the Mountains

sunny

As a foursome we knew we had to put some hours in behind the wheel. An early start was the answer and when the alarm went off at 5:30 Laura and I were already awake.

Al was having some electrical issues and so was already investigating when we got to Tony.

Today was the mountain climb and climb we did; up to 2286m out of the smog and into the rarified atmosphere. Sharp mountains rose vertically with trees hanging at precarious angles. The road was steep, at times narrow and full of hair-pins and switch backs. The gears were worked and several times we came a cropper looking for a second that didn't seem to exist. I hope practice will make perfect. Two thirds of the way up we stopped to give both the cars and us a rest. Our stop was at a little Chai Cafe and the guy that ran it was a pleasure to watch. Chai and coffee were produced in a ritual of long pouring milk to gently froth it. The result was something special and enhanced by the view.

We came to the town of Coonoor which was a stop at around 1900m on the way to Ooty. It was stunning scenery. Tea terraces carpeting the upper slopes of sheer mountains. Silver Oak trees rising out amongst them as sun screens, frost protectors and water retainers like farmers overseeing their crop. We managed to get a tour around Highfield Tea Factory and were shown white, green black and flavoured teas as well as seeing a fairly primitive set-up for eucalyptus oil extraction. Needless to say we swapped some rupees for tea leaves. Their white tea was £125/kg!

We continued on to Ooty, winding through forested roads. Hair raising traffic aside it was blissful motoring. The mountain retreat of Ooty was actually the home if a hill tribe called the Toda, we would be told later, it wasn't until in the early 1800's the British chap John Sullivan an ex-clerk of the East India Company 'discovered' the area and began buying the land from the Toda and planting, amongst other things, tea. Others soon followed and Udhagamandalam (Ooty) was born.

Oncewe got through Ooty the going was more favourable. Our average speed went from around 25 to 45kph and we ploughed on. Straight through a tiger reserve! I'm of the belief that there are more speed bumps than tigers in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. We did see an Indian elephant, lots of deer, bush pigs and monkeys. The only tiger to be seen was Tony who was to be seen chasing a peacock named Pasha through the park.

An easy run into Mysore/Mysuru left us at the Aishwarya residency. We nipped over to see Ollie and Squirrel at the Radisson before having a feast at a street stall to compare notes on a superb day.

Posted by ibeamish 07:53 Comments (0)

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