Kochi to Munnar and Back again
20.11.2011 - 25.11.2011 26 °C
You can't watch television for more than 12 minutes in India without an advertisement for tourism in Kerala popping up. Lush palm forests, elephants, luxurious boats passing through grids of canals and lakes and diving kingfishers (actual ones this time and not the beer) are all pulled out by the marketing gurus to encourage tourism. Needless to say, it worked and we headed South from Goa totally drawn in by what the Indians call 'God's own country, Kerala'. Now, we have slanged Indian media a little since we have been here... particularly the advert that suggests you become a giant by using Anbuja Cement and the body building shops everywhere that claim that their treadmill can make a body builder of a skinny Indian youth in ten days. However, over the last week in Kerala I can admit that the Indian PR men have got this one spot on! Kerala is beautiful.
We headed out on a night train to Kochi. The city is based on a number of islands and peninsulas linked by bridges and ferry boats. We jumped the ferry to Fort Kochi, the historical peninsula where goats are plentiful and people wander freely down the winding roads with only the occasional rickshaw and truck full of spices to block their path. It didn't really feel much like a major city as we wandered through the eclectic mix of buildings and cultural centres that has developed through the cities time as a major port. It was a nice change for us when, in one day in an Indian city, we visited a Dutch Palace and a Jewish Synagogue as well as hanging out by the Chinese fishing nets.
As Kerala is mainly Christian most people we met were Sebastians or Abrahams which was a massive change from everywhere else in India. It is also the first place we have visited where people have understood Andrew's name without question and can pronounce it. In Kerala it is the name of a Christian disciple and therefore “Very Good Name Sir!”. In the rest of India, Andy is a Hindi word, meaning 'big wind'.... I will let you all make your own conclusions as to whether this is appropriate or not. No fear! It is not only Andrew that became accepted as like a religious icon in Kerala. Kochi is the location of the first, and probably only, time in my life that I have been told that I resemble the main woman, the Virgin Mary. Chatting with six fishermen on their fishing platform they wanted me to stand under their photo of Mother Mary so they could admire the resemblance. I left the platform pretty swiftly unsure as to whether I was upset or flattered... well Grandma Thornton would be proud I suppose! We stayed just long enough to help them haul up the net and admire their catch from earlier in the day, the toothiest fish I have ever seen!
We had heard rumours that Kerala was a popular destination with elephants and when we had the opportunity to visit the elephant sanctuary to see the nellies who had been rescued from the forest as babies be bathed and looked after we were straight on the road. Chilling out by the lake whilst elephants were having a wash next to locals brushing their teeth was a pretty memorable morning. One of the elephants took a liking to Andy and came up for some stroking. Both Andy and Trumpy were pretty pleased with the affection. We then went to visit the elephants at home and saw babies that were 45 and 65 days old that had fallen down holes in the forest and couldn't get out. Their mothers had left them as there was no way for them to survive in the wild if they couldn't escape. The mahouts had found the babies and brought them to the centre to bring them up, feeding them with elephant milk (I am still not sure how they got hold of it to be honest... I don't envy the elephant milking wallah after seeing the big elephants up close).
Now with our elephant fill for the day we headed up to Munnar in the Keralan hills. Munnar is the tea capital of India. Heading up into the amazing scenery of the misty mountains you are suddenly faced with deep green tea fields as far as the eye can see. The blanket of green is punctuated with tropical flowers of every colour and women picking tea like machines moving from one bush to another picking the freshest leaves to take to the factory. It makes you appreciate where your morning brew comes from when you see the speed that these women work at! The journey was amazing; driving past working elephants wandering up the road, then stopping at waterfalls, next to crowds of monkeys and men climbing palm trees to get to bees nest to nick their honey and sell it at the side of the road. Topping off the day was a visit to a spice farm where we took a tour round finding out what plants herbs and spices grew on, their medicinal properties and how to spot them. Andy was in his element dreaming of the past days of his allotment.
After a mad day we got dropped off at a guest house in the middle of a tropical forest, about 10 miles away from civilisation. We took off up the path for a wander so that we could put our new coffee and cardamon spotting skills to the test. We had a vague idea the path led to a waterfall. We were wrong! It actually led to a cow farm where a little old lady met us at the gate and chatted away to us in Malayman as she presented to us her dogs, her rabbits, her chickens, her cows and her prize bull. We chatted back in English and although neither of us had any idea what the other was saying we did manage to come to agreement that one of the dogs was a Corgie. The lady seemed highly amused by my hair and my face and touched both quite a lot. If you wandered uninvited onto a farm in the UK speaking a strange language and started having a look around there is a major possibility that you might get a gun pointed at you... in India you get welcomed in, no questions asked and an impromptu tour. You then get offered chapatti. You have got to love this country.
We headed out the next day to the Tea Museum. Set up by the Tata Tea Company you are guided round the whole tea making process and surrounded by machinery. You are also provided with a healthy bit of propaganda on the social welfare put in place by the company with a compulsory VHS viewing. It is a bit like an Indian version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ( perhaps; Tamwar and the Tea Factory is more fitting) and you are given a cup of Chay and tea at various stages of the process to have a sniff of. A day out that I think the whole Lancashire family would have enjoyed!
On the way back to Kochi we had one more stop off and it was the highlight of the trip... we needed another daily elephant top up and this time decided that washing was not enough. Today we wanted to be on the beasts and go for a meander through the tropical forest. Andy was holding out for a bull with big tusks but we ended up with Maneesha, the most dependable elephant in the world. Maneesha's mahout chatted away to her throughout the trip and at any point he just had to mutter something and she turned or lifted her trunk as he wanted. No worry about mistreated elephants here. Where other places we have seen working elephants being hit by sticks when they misbehaved... our elephant carried her own stick to free the mahout's hands up as he fancied himself as Jans Artur Bertrand when he got his hands on our camera. No worries about our elephant riding not being documented there then! Feeding our nellie a few pineapples and corn on the cob we were back on the road to Kochi and snoozing all the way after our active time in Kerala!
Kochi was a stop over before our next essential Keralan experience.... the Backwaters....