Kerala Backwaters

After the tea plantations in the hills, we dropped altitude and increased the temperature on the way to Vembanad lake, the location of the “Backwaters”, the top tourist destination in Kerala.

This has been on Al’s bucket list for 20 years, so we booked a couple of trips at our hotel, one a sunset motorboat cruise and the second a full day tour of the lake. The full day tour including lunch cost £84 for two which is a lot of money here and we wouldn’t pay this for a boat trip at home!

So we excitedly waited for 4.30pm and the boat which would pick us up from the quay (gate opening on the back wall) of the hotel. At 4.30, the receptionist told us the lake was too choppy for the pickup, and despite watching boats go up and down we were bundled into a tuk-tuk and driven to the canal. The driver started shouting at various boatmen until one seemed to know what was going on and we boarded and slowly set off, chugging down the meandering canals, passing people washing up or just washing themselves and stared into their houses, taking photos as subtilty as possible. The sun set over the lake and we eventually were dropped of at the hotel, at the choppy quay.

Next day we again were bundled into a tuk-tuk and driven to the canal and the evening before repeated itself with various shouting between the driver and boatmen until we were put onto the right rice barge for our day trip. The trip was beautiful and we travelled around the backwaters and lake at about 5 miles an hour slowly taking in the atmosphere. The trip was serene and relatively uneventful except for our trip back when our peace was shattered with “101 Best Indian Wedding Tunes” blaring out of the barges speakers.

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Munnar sightseeing

So we had a driver booked for a days sightseeing round Munnar, it is basically a tea plantation area that has other ‘attractions’ to see. Our hotel, which was clinging to the side of a tea plantation hill and required a ramshackled old Jeep to take you to and from the main road down a perilously steep and windy barely single track lane, organised the driver for us. I say organised, it seemed more like when we got to the main road any taxi guy there was offered the job, rang our hotel to check what they said we wanted then we set off on a mystery tour of sightseeing in Munnar.  First off we were offered to go and have rides on an elephant, being animal lovers we declined that opportunity. We were then taken to the flower garden, which was full of Indian tourists and English flowers – dahlias, roses, petunias, busy lizzies, hydrangeas, geraniums, marigolds (Guy described it as paying to go in a garden centre). Then it was on to the Maddulpy dam, which is a massive wall of concrete, like all dams, with beautiful lake and views one side, and very little besides concrete the other. Oh, and lots of Indian tourists, pineapple sellers and the usual shooting range where you can pay to shoot at balloons. We were then onto a viewpoint called Echo Point, which seemed to be a beautiful view ruined by tourism, there were hundreds of stores selling local crafts and homemade chocolate – from local cocoa beans, and woolly hats and scarves – always handy for when the temperature drops below 30 degrees!  Our driver then took us to a vegetarian restaurant, at which the waiter suggested we have VIP thali, which we agreed to. Our came a huge metal plate, with no less than 11 different curries in 11 small metal bowls, mini poppadom, 2 chappatis and a huge mound of rice……..so much for the weight loss plan! The waiter then spent the next 5 mins trying to explain to us uneducated foreigners which curries we eat with  chappatis and which with poppadom and how we pile the rice up, mix it with curry and shovel it into our mouths (no cutlery) . As soon as he walked off we had forgotten which curry went with which accompaniment and carried on regardless, until he passed us, caught us doing it wrongly, and explained it all again! Regardless of our dreadful ettiquite the curries, all 11 of them, were delicious, and, somehow Guy managed to fit in seconds of a couple of them!  Not bad for £2.60. After this we thoroughly washed our hands of curry, and carried on our tour, next was the tea plantation museum, 75p entrance fee. This was the best part of the day, apart from the curries, obviously!  You walked in and were welcomed by a gentleman, who was at least 80, who gave us a small cup of chai.  The walls were plastered with green tea propaganda – not needed for us two green tea freaks! Then we saw the processing plant still working from the days of the British, then we saw a video that was supposed to be 28 mins 55 seconds long, but the guy running the film thought it best we didn’t see the last 30 seconds and it was cut abruptly! Still the film was informative, I am not sure all the facts were entirely correct, however it was caveated with ‘not all of the following film is factually correct’ which I thought was refreshingly honest.  As it was only 2pm by this stage, we think our driver was trying to fill time and then took us to another garden, only 10p entrance fee this time. And not much different to the one before, just planted over a larger area.  Still I thought it was lovely, not sure Guy was so chuffed! Then we asked our driver to take us back as we weren’t sure how many other sights we may need to see before he thought we had had our monies worth.
Our advice after today is Munnar is good for tea plantations, but I couldn’t recommend it otherwise.

Road Travel

For some, road travel in India can be seen as a sport and at times is both dangerous and exhilarating. Some Keralan roads are good and some resemble the surface of the moon and none have pavements. Pedestrians are in the mix fighting with everyone else and are bottom of the food chain, followed by bicycles, then tuk-tuks, motorbikes, cars, Jeeps, trucks/buses and finally cows.  Everyone stops or swerves for cows here, missing out on the ultimate in road kill.

Most things seem acceptable such as driving on the wrong side of the road just because the surface is better, or parking in the middle of the single track road to stop for a piss, but there does seem to be one rule, which is used for overtaking. As you approach the object you wish to overtake you honk your horn to let them know you are coming and they are supposed to move over and slow down a bit to try and avoid a head on collision with the bus that’s coming round the bend or over the rise where you are overtaking. This leads to a lot of honking. In a 120km journey, you’ll lose count after 5 mins.

Foodfood – Indian food TV

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Well, in a bored half hour, Guy surfed the channels on our TV and found the Indian equivalent of UK TV food……called Foodfood. The programs were spoken in a mix of English and Hindi (or another universal Indian language) and the recipes are rather unusual.  Prawn cocktail made with prawns, lettuce (so far so good) then cherry tomatoes, olives – both green and black, dressing was tomato puree and lemon juice all topped off with crushed digestive biscuits! YUM! Then, the photo above shows a healthy pizza. This involved tomatoes, olives – both green and black again, sweetcorn, marinated chicken, mozzarella, peppers – both red and green, and, as if that wasn’t enough, a generous helping of baked beans on top. DELICIOUS! I bet you will all be trying that for your tea tonight won’t you? (apart from Mark – my boss – who is allergic to baked beans!!)

Yoga

Contrast brings things into focus. The places we have been staying have offered free yoga which we have been trying out. This morning we realised that the last few days had been rather intense. Possibly a form of super power yoga. Whilst today’s mantra was “relax, relax” while we were lying on the floor, previously we were faced with a teacher shouting “swing, swing” when attempting back bends. Today’s teacher instructed us to do stretches in cycles of three, where before we were told “minimum eleven, maximum twenty one” Yesterday, our abs hurt so much sneezing was painful but today they were just tickled awake.

Still, the locations for the lessons have been beautiful.

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Dewelokam cookery demo

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And here we have our very own Rick Stein taking notes in the kitchen, the chef, in a fetching pink and white spotted apron, showing us how to make fish malabari and paneer maka walla (please note : spellings may not be totally correct!) Best of all we had these for dinner, sat outside on a candle lit terrace with 10 other companions.  Other dishes we had were an auburgine masala, green bean curry, carrot and coconut salad, parathas and rice all washed down with kingfisher beer……or two. Our plan to loose weight is looking foolhardy.