Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Coorg, Mysore, Ooti, Kochi, Fort Cochin. Sodden and Broken, delicious food and good good company

The thing about reading a good book is that it fills one's head with pictures of somewhere. Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna is just such a book and as opportunity allowed me, I left Goa for the Coorg Hills a couple of days south. The book is set over a hundred years ago and is a sort of a 'Thornbirds' of India and runs over 3 generations. The depiction of amazing landscape, lovely climate and beautiful people did get to me and I couldn't wait to see it.

It was not everything that my imagination had conjured up, but very beautiful and lush. Unfortunately the rains got me both days that I was there which tampered my feelings a bit.

I didn't take that many shots around Coorg, but this hints at this lovely place. There are loads of tea, rubber and spice plantations

I loved Mysore and the Palace there is worthy of any journey. Made from materials and fittings from around the world and the paintings of all the State occasions, depicting thousands of actual soldiers, local ministers and Royalty, as well as all the Colonial officers from England,  were just amazing. It was rebuilt after a fire at the beginning of the last century and must have been a wonder of the 'palace' world at the time.
Couldn't resist a carriage to the Palace

One of the Palace Gates

The front of the Palace 

There is a lot about Tigers here and these are by British sculptor Robert Williams Colton

I was trying to leave by the wrong gates apparently, and the guard said that if I wanted to see the Princes' private Elephants I could do that and then leave by the 'wrong' gate. So I did, and they were lovely elephants that made me a little nervous. It was a way that the Guards and the keepers made extra money on the side. My 200 rupees, had them grumbling I am afraid.

Ooty, isn't that a fantastic name for a town. It is about a day's Batty ride south east of Mysore and halfway to Cochin.

The road there starts through the great plains around for Mysore and the rises sharply as one enters the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in the Blue Mountains National Park,  Western Ghats.  I stopped to get a few snaps at one point and got back on Batty when she just felt weird, sort of floppy as I took her off the stand and took hold of the handle bars. Flat tyre I thought, nope, nothing to see. Must be my imagination I thought, so I moved off. But there was something very wrong and I pulled up after a few yards. Off I got and went around the bike wobbling the handlebars as I went, and at last I saw the problem. The 2 frame bars that come down from under the tank and then under engine had completely sheared apart and the only thing holding the engine in place was the added on crash bars.

I asked the inevitably gathered throng where there was a welder locally. A walking pace ride to the next village 5 miles on found one and he did a great job. I asked for some extra strips of steel to be welded on to strengthen it all the more. I doubt and assume this break will not happen anywhere else again. The roads for the last 3 months have been very hard and the non stop banging and vibrating have taken their toll. I guess luck played it's part by the final failure happening at a very slow speed and the proximity of ever ready welders, who have now helped me 4 times. Each time the charge is £2-3, which immediately redeems any feelings of frustration etc.

This happening also brought happy circumstance as it forced me along a quieter and less direct road to Ooty, which turned out to be the one I had heard tell of for it's beauty and with a climb to 2000m through what must be a near world record of 36 switch back corners. A great ride up through tea gardens and the like,  but half way up the heavens opened and I got my now customary afternoon soaking.

I think he realized there was no room for him on the back...nor any snacks.

Ooty was rather like Shimla, and had many echos of colonial planters in the town buildings. I found a nice but damp hotel and rather went to earth trying to warmed up under the extra blankets that I had requested. I really have not got the timing completely right for biking here, not that I can do anything about it now, and the guides do say October should be a good time. On the up side it has meant that I have not had to compete with thousands of other tourists, and it also means I will be in SE Asia for prime season, so I hope it all balances out. On the down side I have got wet quite a lot.

Our next quarterly meeting for work was coming  up so I set off for Cochin where I had booked a supposed good hotel with a strong Internet connection. A few days of catching up and then a very good meeting had me back into work mode and all the exciting things going on are quite a pull, but it is amazing not only having great colleagues, but also what you can do sitting in a beach hut miles from home and still hopefully be useful.

The other big draw to Cochin (Kochi) was my favorite Tea trader was there on business and we managed to have a dinner or 2 and spent the weekend catching up. She also replenished me with a replacement iphone, sim cards,  and maps etc the list is long but invaluable.

A bit of Kayaking on the back waters
Fisherman standing up sorting out their catch in these tiny unstable boats...years of just doing it I suppose.

It is a great city and the Fort Cochin area is a heady step away from the norms of India and combines a lovely cocktail of multiple European architecture harking back 400 years, lovely shopping, fab
restaurants and great boutique hotels.
Well it was just one day, and I was seeing if the camera on my replaced iphone still worked

The lovely Old Harbour Hotel that Sophie was staying in

I have been to Cochin before with Caro over Xmas 2006, it started off as a brilliant holiday which we were both enjoying immensely, but suddenly it turned and all the horrors of the Tsunami on the Boxing Day ruined so much for so many. The local damage was significant with 100s of local fishermen killed, but nothing like what Sri Lanka etc (where we had planned to go on to) had suffered. Anyway, not that anything seemed important to us by comparison to the scale of things that others had to deal with, we saw a lot less of the town or the back waters than we had intended.
I seem to have a number of friends in the travel business and that holiday was put together by Fiona Brijnath, who I went to six form college with in Exeter. We were both doing a business studies course, after which we shared a flat together in London. She took the traveling route and I the illustration agent one. Her excellent firm, Far Frontiers, is the sum of her own extensive travels, a few years at Abacrombie and Kent, and then Steppes East. Much recommended for the discerning traveler, it is her quality and friendliness of service, which is only surpassed by the glorious places she sends you.

I write from the El Paradiso guest house in Thekkady. I was recommended to it by Antony the tourist driver at the hotel I was staying in Cochin. I had 3 days to get 180 miles so it was great idea to come to the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. My plan to spend a night, go off on a 1/2 day trek and then head on collapsed as the morning trek was in the clouds and rains, so there was nothing to see really and returning to the GH soaked and covered in leaches persuade me spend the rest of the day here and catch up.

Some shots on the way to Periyar

There I was sheltering under a tree taking pictures of Batty out in the Rain

On leech patrol

Soggy at the top

My guide, Augustus,  praying at the top of the hill he had taken me too. There was so little to see that he and I talked about arranged marriages, church, politics and how little he earns...a regular guide topic and a way of reminding you to tip them, I guess

I had only met a leech once before and that was about 10 days ago when in a down pour on the bike I felt something moving about on my lip. I thought it was a bit of material from the helmet strap, and kept trying blow it away. Eventually I had had enough and stopped to re adjust things. That is when I saw what it was....luckily I had bitten it in half so it was sort of dying, and I never found the other half.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Work, Prostitutes, Work and Play. Mumbai and Goa

  • Two 10 hour long days from Rajasthan to Thane, which is just north of Mumbai. It is Mumbai's St Albans, or something like that. It was not particularly a place of required visitation, but it is a place of importance as far as I am concerned in that it is where some of the growing team of colleagues who work for Bikini Lists Ltd operate from. Bikini Lists is a firm started 10 years ago that provides mailing lists of all the international creative/media commissioners. It was something the our industry desperately needed then and with some help we started it. My involvement is not that great nowadays on a day to day level, although I am on the board. It was good to meet Vaibav again after 6 years and the team that he has built. They are so friendly and enthusiastic for what they do. The very idea that any of their data on Bikini is not right they find a personal insult…thus it is way over 99% accurate and never the cause of complaint.
VB and some of his team

Durga Festival Temple. It was all going on as I was in Thane
A snap VB took of Batty and I from his bike as I left for Mumbai

I had a great dinner with VB, as he is known, and his Parents. A lovely evening that tested VB's translation skills to the limit, but I got a clear sense of pride and delight at the deserved success that he is now having.

On to Mumbai. Again it was work related as we (Illustration Ltd) want to try and find an agent there to represent our interests in India. Next year it will be the world's third largest economy and in a few decades probably the largest, so it is important to start learning their ways and to start educating them about our service etc. We have the honour and delight to represent India's foremost illustrator, Shailesh Khandeparkar, and we had a very enjoyable lunch discussing many matters.
An amazing bridge they have just build going around the out side of the city in the sea

This is the house you build for your family when you make it big in India...worth billions

The Prostitutes in the header was just to get you to read this far…it was nothing that juicy, but an observation that the 3 taxi's I took, all drivers asked me if I wanted a woman. I am sure it will happen in Thailand as well, but I had not ever had it offered quite so blatantly before. My single bed in the humble hotel was a very peaceful and comfortable place…no such complications I assure you.

I enjoyed leaving Mumbai as much as I enjoyed being there. A great city, but I was really looking forward to Goa.

The road to take is the old road, the N17, which is beautiful from only a few miles outside Mumbai. I was not necessarily expecting this, but it was a delightful 2 days drive to Goa.

Early morning valley view on the road south
Had to have the top box rack welded for the 4th time...now with great struts supporting it.

More Lushness

And More Nh17 delights 

One night in Palolem, the capital, before heading on to Agonda. A small peaceful resort in the south. The season had only just begun and the resort I found was the only one open. That was fine and they were great people running it.

My hut was on stilts nearest the sea and gave a perfect home for 4 nights. The bar was a stumble away, the food delicious and the sea a lazy 1 minute walk across the beach.

View from the little balcony

The Catch, I lent a bit of a hand as they hauled the nets into the beach.

I was tinkering with Batty on the first morning there, tappets, clutch sort of things, then I was bid good morning by Susana, as it turned out to be. A short chat and a suggestion to join for a beer when I was finished was made. About 1/2 an hour later I took my oily black hands to the bar and joined Susana.

It was a great meeting as for the next couple of days she became my local guide and companion, all innocent you understand, but it was great to have the good company of someone who has been here for 6 years and knows all the best local sites and places to eat, to say nothing of local gossip etc.

She is a fabulous clothes designer and sells them in her shop in Agonda. There are 3 rules for her clothes, you have to be wealthy, slim and sexy, otherwise she wont sell them to you…nothing discriminatory about that. http://www.missmonkey-fashion-india.com

The shop is not open yet for the season, so lucky H had her trailing me around her favourite bike rides (she has a scooter), up in the hills, game parks and beaches…It was really living the life for a couple of days.

Susana on Batty

Friday, September 30, 2011

Dalai Lama, Amritsar Golden Temple, Rajasthan,

When I hear about the heat wave in good old Blighty and you are enjoying the same weather has we are in Rajasthan, I know there is justice in this world. I feel a lot less guilty as I sit on the veranda outside my room at Castle Bijaipur, accompanied by the early morning birds' friendly tweets and chirps.

It must be over 10 days since I last updated. In all I was over a month in the Ladakh,  Kashmir Himalayan region and I suppose like everybody who goes there, it will remain with me forever.

After Manali I went to Mcleod Ganj which is where the Dalai Llama lives, along with the government in exile of Tibet. This is a subject I don't know enough about, but in the day that I was there and after various visits to museums and the Temple, I think I know enough now to say that whatever the achievements, successes and opportunities that China makes and offers the world, they will never ever be forgiven for their brutal and heartless occupation and decimation of the Tibetan people. I am sure there is another side to the argument, but I haven't been able to find one.  It seems that the Chinese have a bully instinct that led them to pick on a weak and peace-loving neighbouring  nation so that they could exploit not only the huge mineral reserves in Tibet, but also gain geopolitical territory.
A shot of the main Temple...very quickly erected after the flight from Tibet

Prayer wheels full of thousands of the 'Om Mani Padme Hum' chant

The Dalai Llama's rather humble house

Karma, who sang his ancient Tibeten songs at a concert he organised that day. His Mother and Father were sent to prison when he was 12, and he has heard no more from them. He fled over the Himalayas to India with his saviors. He is 40 now.

I met a lot of Israelis in this area, and enjoyed a very pleasant ride to Mcleod Ganj with Yoav, who I had met on the road from Manali on his Royal Enfield. During this ride, which involved a few stops for sustenance, because of the huge rain downpours and a naughty smoke (my one and only weakening, and only a puff or 2), I started understanding little more as to why there are so many Israelis here.

On the road between and Manali and Daramasala 


On the road between and Manali and Daramasala  

Just before the down pour on the road between and Manali and Daramasala 

In fact there are so many that the local Indians think that Israel is a huge country. After three years for men, and two years for women, of national military service, the youth of Israel explodes around the world and takes as much drugs as they can possibly consume, and just go wild as a huge reaction to the incarceration and much hated restrictions of the military. An estimated 60% on leaving the military will take this route, and you have to really question how this can be good for a nation. Maybe this is just one of the costs they have to bear of being surrounded by other nations who hate them.

I seem to keep loosing things in Mcleod Ganj, first it was my toolkit off the front of the bike which came off just before getting there, and then I lost my helmet. I had a bit of a row with the hotelier about how on earth it could have disappeared from my room. It was rather futile and just had to lump it, driving down to Dharamsala helmet-less to get a new one on my way to Amritsar.

I don't know whether it was coming down from several thousand metres to just a few hundred but I did feel energised as the twisting roads gave way to the dead straight roads of the plains. Batty also enjoyed the lighter challenge.

I was looking forward to a change of scene and the Golden Temple in Amritsar was fantastic to behold. It is the religious and cultural capital/heart of the Sikhism and when I went there at nine o'clock in the morning it was teaming already. The Indians have such faith, and it runs through all that they do.

                            All had to wear these head scarfs, but not the gormless expression...

The surrounding pool was full of these very charmed carp

The lush lush plains of the Punjab slowly gave way to the sands of the Rajasthan desert. My water consumption went up and the fantasy of a crisp cold beer at the end of the days riding returned. I had heard about the golden city from previous trips to Rajasthan so a visit to Jaiselmer was long booked in.

                                             A water hole on the road to Jaiselmer

  A large Havali build by some of the immensely rich Jain merchants, who traded in precious metals and stones, opium and cloth

The Maharajah's bed chamber in the fort

View from Palace in the fort

View from Palace in the fort

View from Palace in the fort

I spent three days there and really enjoyed the beautiful city. I believe it is one of the few castles in the world where much of the population still lives within the castles walls, which gives it a time capture of many long gone centuries. I should have got a hotel in the castle in retrospect, but I was seduced by an early pitch from a guy's hotel just outside the walls.

The tourist season is just beginning and there were a few more people about to meet, which makes for more chats...all be they fleeting. On the second day and went off on a camel safari. A massively ambitious description for was a ride on a camel for two hours, which eventually emerged out of the  green (rains had just stopped) desert shrub onto a small area of sand dunes. Jonny Walker, as my camel was named, hated me and giggled nervously for the whole trip. I was 30 hands high, astride this fidgeting and newly broken camel and expected to enjoy it. I have not lost my temper much on this trip, but the next day I gave my host who had introduced the 'Safari', piece of my mind. The only pleasure was being accompanied by lovely Fabiana from Argentina. She was riding the altogether lower, calmer and nicer natured Mr Rocket.

I tried to kiss and make up with Johnny Walker, but no joy...he gave me a look with a clear meaning.

Three nights at Bijaipur (I have been here 3 times now over 10 years and it feels like a home in Rajasthan...introduced by WF) has meant some peace and quiet in amongst the tranquility and very good management of the castle. I have done a lot of work and caught up on a fair amount of admin before heading to Mumbai on Saturday.

I met a group  of delightful ladies at Bijaipur who had joined Debbie Kindness of
www.incredibleindiantours.com on one of her amazing sounding trips. She was certainly getting 10 out of 10 from her group.
Debbie very kindly has given me a great contact for Nepal, which I appreciate a grt deal.