Up to the Hills of Periyar
India; October 20th; Day 29; Periyar
After breakfast with George he gets his driver to take us to the bus stop in Kottayam in his auto-rickshaw. We ask around and hop on the Kumily bus which is to take us away from the waterways and up into the hills. It’s a bumpy 4 hour ride and the road gradually rises. In the fields that we pass we first see rubber plantations, then coffee and then tea. The bus is busy but not too bad.
On arrival we cart our gear into the Tourist Office which actually has some information. Five minutes later we are in an auto-rickshaw to the Green View Hostel. The room is fine; we have hot water and we have a terrace. It’s a pity that there is a building site next door but never mind.
We wander back into the town to search out somewhere for lunch. Nothing looks interesting or even safe so we return to Chrissie’s which is just down the road from Green View and seems to be a refuge for travellers seeking normal, e.g. non-Indian, food. We have pasta.
In the afternoon we try to find some more information about the Periyar National Park which is just out of town. We can’t even find the office never mind the information. But after a while we do finally stumble upon it. No point though as it is next to useless. So we decide to walk into the park anyway and see what we can see. It about a 3 or 4km walk which is not too bad and the woods are quite interesting. However when we get down to the park buildings and the lake we find that really nothing is going on. A couple of weeks ago they had an accident here where a boat on the lake sank with the loss of twenty lives. The park was closed for a while and now it’s re-opened. Nothing is happening however. No boat trips, no hikes and certainly no three day Tiger Trek which is what we were hoping to do. It’s all a bit disappointing.
We go in the park hotel for a cup of tea and watch the monkeys clambering about the place. Surprisingly quite a few Indian tourists are about but all they seem to want to do is get off the bus, look at the view and get back on the bus. Their is nothing to do here! We take a rickshaw back to town.
In the evening we have dinner at the Green View which is a major disappointment. We sit in a windowless dingy room and have boiled rice with boiled vegetables. We are too listless to do anything in the evening except to go for a desultory walk and confirm to ourselves that not a lot can be done in this town. You can buy spices if you want. The only sign of life is the effort the spice shops make to sell you some cardamon or something.
On the terrace we drink beer and look for football on the TV.
Night Walk in the Tiger Reserve
India; October 21st; Day 30; Periyar
We have breakfast at our hostel. It’s not very good. We idle away the day trying to figure out something to do around here. Not much is the answer. We can’t find anyone offering any trekking or hiking and the mountain bike place has stopped offering the 3 day bike ride we saw in a brochure. It was hoped that we could ride bikes to Munnar but we can’t so we decide that we’ll take a taxi instead. Ir’s only about 10 times the price of the bus but it’s quicker and we’ll be able to stop along the way where we want. In any case it means we are getting out of this place.
The only thing we can find to do is a night walk through the Periyar Tiger Reserve it starts at 7pm tonight.
Just down the road from where we are staying we find a good place for lunch. The Coconut Garden. The young boys that are running it seem to be keen and enthusiastic. They don’t even mind serving us beer. We idle away the afternoon reading on the terrace.
At the park gates at shortly before 7pm we watch a couple of boys kicking a football around. We hang around for half-an-hour before our Guide turns up and walks us into the park where we wait some more. Finally at 7.45 an armed guard turns up and we can go. Apparently we need the guard in case we come across tigers. We are given sackcloth bootees to put on underneath our boots. This is our protection against what? We don’t really know. As an added protection the guide puts tobacco dust on our boots too.
Eventually we stumble off into the darkness. We are out walking until about 10pm and see quite a few things; Sambar Deer, Barking Deer (Muntjac), some large Flying Fox Fruit Bats (Dog-faced), which are roosting, and a huge Indian Crested Porcupine. It’s a bit creepy shining our torches through the darkness and glimpsing the creatures of the night but it’s fun. We don’t see any tigers.
When we leave the park we make a half-hearted attempt to find somewhere to eat. But hardly a soul stirs in the sleepy town. So we just go to bed.
Taxi to Munnar
India; October 22nd; Day 31; Munnar
To avoid breakfast at the Green View we walk down the street to the Coconut Garden. The young boys had assured that they would be open ay 8. But no one was there. So we strolled back to Chrissie’s and ordered eggs and porridge. The eggs came first!
Our taxi arrives on time and we leave we se the lads from the Coconut Garden. They only laugh when we tell them that they missed our breakfast. The taxi ride takes about four hours as it winds over the hills through tea plantation country. Some of them look very smart with Poinsettia hedges and Tulip trees in flower amongst the tea. The reds and the greens are very striking together.
When the road rises over a pass we stop for a photo opportunity. The views are spectacular if a little hazy. We don’t realise it but we will be back here tomorrow morning for a sunrise hike.
On arriving in town we cross over the bridge and head for the old town which is separated by about a mile from the new town. We find ourselves a place to stay which is also called Green View. After checking in we wander into town and meander around the market. Because we have organised an early morning hike tomorrow and because Keith has no walking shoes (they were ruined after the Himalayas) we potter around and buy some cheap replacements. Our guide book mentions the High Range Club where you can get a drink. The only problem is you need to look smart. We don’t! In any case we decide to give it a go and take an auto-rickshaw out there. It’s a couple of miles out of town.
When we get there we try and get in but the doorman is not convinced and when he gets the manager it becomes clear that we are not welcome. It’s ironic as this used to be a colonial place for the British only. Indian members have been allowed only since independence in 1947. We are sent on our way and walk back into town.
All is not lost however as our hostel is civilised enough to sell beer and we sit upstairs on the terrace reading and drinking the ubiquitous Kingfisher. We meet a couple of Aussies and later, in the evening, stroll down to the corner to a canteen style restaurant and have a good meal.
India; October 23rd; Day 32; Munnar
We are up at 5pm to set off on our early morning hike. It’s just me and Keith and a guide. It’s about a 13km jeep ride back to the pass where we came over yesterday and we are dropped off just as the sun begins to rise. I’m a bit disappointed as I would have liked to have been on the top when the sun began to rise. No matter it’s good to be about.
Trek: 4hrs 5mins starting at 6.10
Low: 1784 at 10.15
High: 2281 at 7.46
It takes about 2 hours to reach the top as the sun comes over the ranges behind us. The path is quite clear though we have to scramble up some bare rock faces at times. They are not too steep. Although it’s hazy the views are good all round.
At the top our guide produces a flask of coffee, some egg sandwiches and some fruit and we sit in the sun having our breakfast. It’s unfortunate that we have to descend the way we had come but now that the sun is up I am diverted by the many butterflies and dragonflies about. There are also plenty of interesting wild flowers about and we are told that this is quite an unusual micro-climate and ecosystem up here. Whilst at the top we are surprised to see a troop of monkeys clambering over the rocks. We are also privileged to see the Nilgiri Tahr which is endemic to this area. It’s a type of mountain goat a bit like the European Ibex.
The descent is very pleasant in the warm sunshine and we take our time. When we reach our starting point our guide telephones for the jeep and whilst we are waiting we walk down the road towards Munnar and enjoy the views over the tea plantations. In retrospect I think we could have walked all the way home through the tea,. But we didn’t and arrived back at the hostel about 11.
We strolled into town to try and get a second breakfast but we didn’t have much luck and ended up having scrambled eggs in a fancy hotel.
As has become customary we spent the afternoon reading and tried not to start on the Kingfishers too early. We would be leaving Kerala tomorrow and entering Tamil Nadu. This meant that our Kerala Lonely Planet was useless. Fortunately Keith was able to lift an old guide book to South India from the hostels library!
We went to the same place for dinner as it didn’t seem worth the effort to try and find somewhere else. The food here is good anyway even if it’s always chicken.
Into Tamil Nadu
India; October 24th; Day 33; Mettupalayam
Yesterday we had managed to figure out how to get to the Nilgiri Mountain Railway which runs from Mettupalayam to Ooty. We were aiming for Coonoor which is the stop before Ooty. It would take us two days.
We learnt that a bus left for Coimbatore at 6.30am from the end of the street so we got up early and waited. Sometimes it’s a bit difficult to figure out where a bus is going. The front sign is normally in Hindi or Malayam (around here) and the English is invariably on the side of the bus only. We waved down a couple of buses first and then waited some more. The locals who were opening up their stalls assured us we were in the right place. Our bus did arrive and we were treated to a five minute ride into the new town where it stopped and waited for half an hour! Time enough to get a cup of tea.
The six hour ride passed by quite quickly helped by intermittent dozing. The first four hours or so was quite picturesque as we again passed through tea country. More Poinsettias and flowering red Tulip Trees. The last two hours were spent driving along a main highway along a dry dusty valley with cactus and strange trees.
At Coimbatore we had to find another bus to Mettupalayam. This took some effort to figure but eventually we were assured that if we jumped on this local cross-town bus it would take us to the correct bus station. It did. We had a short cramped and dizzy run through the town. At the other end we locate the bus we need and an hour later we arrive in Mettupalayam. Outside the bus station we stagger across the street and find a place to stay. It’s a bit decrepit but the rooms are large and we have a TV. I’m convinced that we can watch Man Utd against Liverpool tonight but it turns out that that is tomorrow. We watch Spurs instead.
For lunch we find ourselves a place to eat which looks very much like a fast food place. Amazingly many of the dishes are served on a banana leaf and eaten with the fingers. We get something else and eat with a knife and fork. It’s not bad.
We do get ourselves outside and walk down to the Railway Station. This is a terminus for the mainline but also the starting point for the mountain railway. We manage to buy Reserve Tickets for 240 rupees for the two of us. The train leaves at 7.30 but we are advised to be there at 6. Its a bit confusing as I think these tickets merely allow us to queue up for the real tickets!
In the evening we wander around a bit. We are not so hungry so when we find that the local grocery store makes and sells pizzas we decide to sit down and stay. The pizza is about as big as a tea saucer. the fresh fruit drinks are good though. The local wine shop (which is what the off-license is called even though they don’t sell wine) is just around the corner from the hotel. We get some beers and watch TV.