Friday, 22 February 2008


15/1 - Got into Chennai train station about 05:00, loaded up my gear then sat on a bench to make a plan. "Why bother?" you may ask and you would be right. It's busy in the train station at 5.00, but outside it is hectic, buses fleeing in and out, people buzzing around, rickshaws toot-tooting.
"Take 5 Gil and reassess the plan". Dumped the gear on an unused kiosk and got nattering to a Belgian lad who started to give me a run down of his tails of woe from working in Asia for the last 15 years. I think he just wanted a natter and was a good bloke. He made a good point about the people here always smiling, not matter what their situation. People have nowt and still manage to smile and be pleasant. There were a load of people living in a shanti village lining the train tracks from Ooty and they were out waving and smiling at the train, which gave people on the train a big smile, me included. A lad told me that there are people there everyday, as the daily train from Ooty arrives.
After the chat, I decided to stick with my plan, for better or for worse, head of to the Egmore area to the Regent hotel, if it is full, wander around and find another.
So to the Regent. "No room at this in Mary!". Who you calling Mary, I'm a Mackem. (Our Mick will get that). Next, too expensive. Next, full. I'm starting to sweat like a shower head and it's only 6:00, so when a persistent rickshaw driver pesters me the plan went west. He took me to a hotel. "500 metres Bas!" 2 kilometres later it was full. "No worry Bas. No rent no pay." Back we go a kilometre, to another. I lugged my bags upstairs and along to check the room. I took it. Goodness knows why it is a dump. Never mind one night only. I must have been flagging, this is the biggest dump yet. Gave the rickshaw lad Rs 50 and he was happy. 1 out of 2 ain't bad.
Going by his driving, I think he was on speed. It is not the done thing to check before you pull out here, it seems the responsibility of the person you are cutting up to avoid you.
Not a good start to Chennai. My first impression is it's a dump. Shower, shorts and sandals and I'm on the streets heading for Air Deccan to book a flight to Kolkata. It can be done on the web, but they ask for your PIN number. Sack that.
I'm in the Triplicane area and it is really poor. Lots of people sleeping on the streets, which are a mess. Going by the ride from the train station, most of Chennai is this way and it is steaming hot. I am stopping every 100 metres or so, whacking loads of water down my neck, my T-shirt and hanky are moping most of it up as it comes back out. Sat outside a police station to check the map and get my bearings. 4th exit of the roundabout along Mount Rd. What roundabout, it is a dodgem car ride. A school kid said hello, so I asked for Mount Rd. He pointed the way I was going, but it seems a bit too soon, however he is the local. After a while I saw a landmark so checked the map. He was right, it is Mount Road, just the wrong direction. About turn.
It's the rush hour and I would chance a bus, but the young 'uns are hanging on the outside of the bus, one foot on the step and one arm through a window, from the outside in. Not a good idea for me to try, so kept on sweating down the road. This is one of the main drags in Chennai, some bloke stops and walks over to a wall and pees there. He is dressed in office dress. I have only been in Egmore and Triplicane, but I am not impressed with Chennai so far, perhaps it is a bit unfair to say so this early. The traffic is more hectic than Mumbai, there are no spectacular buildings and it is steaming hot. It looks chaotic, the traffic, the buildings, the people, but it is probably not, if I can get a flight today, I'm out of here, unfairly to the city, but I'm off. Grabbed a tea and pineapple juice at a greasy spoon. I have only seen one cafe so far and regret not stopping for breakfast. Plod around the corner and "This is where they keep all the restaurants". I'm in for some snap, vegetable, dosa massala, bloody lovely and huge. Dosa is like a crispy savoury pancake, just for the uninitiated. Got a black coffee, no sugar, but with sugar. I will have to learn Hindi for no sugar, but I think they speak Tamil here, so it wouldn't help.
A bit more miandering towards Air Deccan. Chennai strikes me as an old fashioned working class city. Lots of the blokes still wear lungis/sarongs and peeing anywhere seems to be the done thing. I have spotted more blokes at it.
There is a flight out today and I am Rs500 short, they only take cash. I'll kill that bloody Murphy. Nip off to get the money. 1st ATM wont take my card, trog to another, no joy, another, no joy. Something smells fishy around here, it could be me, but I don't think so. Canara Bank, I know works, trog, trog, trog. It didn't. Phoned Barclaycard. The stupid, no commonsense, no intelligence, immbecilles have blocked my last remaining card, even though Kelly has put it in credit. "People cant think for themselves, if the computer says do it, it is done. There's a distinct lack of initiative, who's working who" said the sweaty grumpy old man. "I guess the computers aren't talking to each other" said the still ranting grumpy old man, but I should not complain too much, as the computers are paying for this holiday, or my ability to bluff it along working on them.
The outcome, I am too late for the flight, so there is no rush to get back to the hotel now. Another plan bites the dust. Time for a aimless wander around town, down some of the backstreets, passed Amir Mahal. I hope the Taj is better. Perhaps missing the flight is a good thing, Chennai is starting to grow on me, especially when I hit the Jam Bazzaar, a local market selling fruit and other foods. These streets have lots of crumbling character, still very poor and working class, but the history can be felt in them. The city doesn't have the British colonial feel Mumbai has, but I believe it was one of the big cities for the Brits. I should stay and see somemore, perhaps sweat off some of my big belly, but I have booked my flight for tomorrow now. Miandered my way back to the street I think the hotel is on, but it looks completely different, so plonked on a high kerb to check the map, but didn't need to when I spotted a shop sign with the address Triplicane high street. This is it, you dosey git, you are coming in from the other end. I wonder if I will ever find my way back to Chorley, so much for the trained killer.
Whilst I was on the kerb, an old fella came over and sat with me. He had a young kid with him, he is a Grandad, so we have plenty to chew the fat about. We had a really good natter. He told me in the next 2 months, Chennai gets too hot to walk on the streets.
Off to the internet cafe, I haven't had an e-fix for about 4 days and I'll miss the afternoon heat. Back pack and shower. I did some tide-me-over dhobi this morning and it is dry, big surprise in this heat, NOT.
I was going to go to the river or beach this evening, but could not stir myself, again unfairly on Chennai, although I have my doubts about the river. It is an early start tomorrow, so didn't want a late night. The early start is because this is a 24hr hotel/dump. Checkout is 24 hrs after checking, which was 07:00. I never checked that.
Went for a bit of snap. I could not find the one in the Lonely Planet,(LP) so went in a nice one I found, which turned out to be the one in the LP. I wonder if I'll ever find my way back to Chorley.
Must confess to hitting the cake shop too, but only for 1 piece. A lady asked me, for the 3rd time today to buy her some rice. I said no, but it makes me wonder and embarrassed because I am eating a bit of cake. It's not the first time in India I have felt like this. You would think all of us eating and getting fat would be able to do something to help. "We are a funny lot us humans." said the guilty grumpy old man. There must be an answer. Starting to try and think too much, not a good quality of mine, so I am off to bed and will ignore it, like most of us.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Valentines day and not a card in sight.

14/2 - Breakfast and into the jeep for Masinagudi and the bus to Ooty. Guess what? OK I'll tell you. In the jeep on the way there were 5 elephants grazing by the side of the road. Wasted my time sitting in that tower. Jesting, I loved it. 2 lads on a motorbike flagged Ravi over. He told me they were frightened to go past the elephants on the bike, so could they tail the jeep. Apparently the bikes are a target for the elephants. The lads sped away, quick time, as soon as we were passed. Ravi also told me the people I saw coming out of the woods last night were a local tribe, living near the resort.
Into Masinagudi, which is only a village lining the road through. It does not seem too interesting, but is busy, as are most Indian places. Ravi dropped me off in the plaza and so into Indian mode to sit around and wait for the bus. Travelling in India requires a relaxed, patient manner.
I got offered a share of a taxi to Ooty for Rs300. Being tight, I refused.
The bus turns up and the crush is on. I waited at the back and clambered on. No chance of a seat. It was good exercise the trip upto Ooty I was clinging on trying not to put my head through the roof.
It is a beautiful day in Ooty, sunny and cool. Got my 2 reserved tickets for Mettapulaiam and Chennai, I'm on a roll, all I have to do now is make the connection. There's no left luggage here and there's now way I am hacking into town with my gear, so had a brew from the station cafe. I gave the food a miss when a mouse came up to serve me.
It is a strange station, Ooty. It has waiting rooms, containing toilets, which are locked, no left luggage, a run down cafe and I bet the bookstall doesn't open. Due to the locked waiting rooms, I did the local thing and wandered down the tracks for a pee after chaining my rucksack to a bench. I had a spit too, you'll be pleased to hear. I said SPIT. Another local custom.
I thought about not coming back to Ooty for the train ride, which is much lauded, but I am glad I did. The scenery on the way down is fantastic. There must be better train rides and they must be out of this world. This one is special. Even the old locomotive and carriages are special. I thought the scenery would stop at each station, but it just kept coming and coming.
Ooty is a bit of a hill holiday resort, so the atmosphere on the way down was party like. Everytime we entered a tunnel the whooping and hollering began. When we reached Mettapulaiam, all the way in from the outskirts there were people alongside the track with kids waving and smiling. A lot of them from shanty areas next to the track. A bloke on the train who live here told me there are people there everyday to greet the daily train. They made the journey even happier.
I have been in the hills about a week now. I had forgotten how hot it gets down here. I am going into meltdown and Chennai is supposed to be even hotter. I'll let you know tomorrow.
I got nattering to some lads on the way down and they are from Chennai. They kept an eye on me and helped me out with my luggage and when I was chilled about getting on the train, one came over to make sure I knew this was it.
So off I go to Chennai. I got a bottom bunk and one of the longer ones. Someone is looking after me. I thought it was going to be a restless night as I was in with a family with a young baby, she was good fun and not surprisingly, slept like a babe.

Monday, 18 February 2008

A day in the tower, more or less.

13/1 - I am very tempted to wander into the woods, but 3 people so far have warned me off. Ravi was telling me of a bloke, albeit 10 years ago, who was on his honeymoon at Forest Hills and wandered into the woods. He was killed by an elephant. I pumped Ravi for some safety tips when trekking, but didn't venture in. Coward or clever? I'll never know.
Except for meals and a bit of packing I sat and snoozed in the tower all day. It is a good Gil place. The langar monkeys, I found out they are called, were in a different set of trees this time. There was a lack of boars, but the deer foraged their way through on a few occasions. There is something good about being quiet and watching them pass through. There were some different birds, including about 10 grey hornbills and smashing white breasted kingfisher, another good day at the office. That is it for the day, unless anything unusual comes through in the twilight.
AND the unusual thing was about 30 people, who had gone through in smaller groups earlier, coming back through together, quite a few of them with tree trunks balanced on their heads. They were all ages and included a couple of women. I had heard them hacking away all day and wondered what was going on. Now I know.

The next chill day in Bokkapuram

12/2 - Was woke at 2 a.m. by something on the roof. It sounded like it was trying to eat its way through the roof. It stopped when I put the light on, but started scampering around when I put it off. I reckon a monkey, but I never found out. I was expecting a good nights kip, but not to worry it was a fantastic day.
Decided to get up and watch the dawn in the tower, so was up there for 6:15. A couple of deer wander into the clearing, then a big tusker boar. A few more deer graze their way to below the tower and back into the woods. There are loads of birds starting to sing. The light is slowly coming and about 13 deer make their way into the clearing and then bound off into the woods as a couple of trekkers and their guide appear.
The dawn and dusk are great soothing times of the day. The dawn has broken now and the trekkers are long gone. I thought I may follow them when a family of white cheeked barbets appear in the tower preening themselves. They look like fluffy thrushes. A chipmunk joins us and has a scurry around and tries to jump up next to me. I went to check the woods, although I'm seeing enough from up here. There's not much there at first glance, but I may have a wander down tomorrow. It's breakfast time.
Sebastian must think I look skinny, it is a bowl of cornflakes, toast and tea and then he wants me to have eggs.
Took a wander back to the hut. The dogs have spotted me. I stayed inside hoping they'd go. Kaiser did, but the lab followed me to the tower. I locked him out and he wandered off. Had a scan around and spotted a group of what I would call black faced gibbons. They are jumping about in a tree 150 m away. I decided to have a nod and they were gone when I woke up.
It's getting to midday and the sun has finally burned off the low clouds, they are just hanging over the tops of the hills now. It rained in the night, but is fairly dry now.
Kaiser and the lab turn up barking trying to chase some bullocks out of the clearing, but it ends up the other way around. I think they are well known because none of the animals take any notice of them, except the peacocks.
The resort have arranged for me to go to Mudamalai National park after lunch. It is really an expensive taxi ride, said the grumpy old man. A trip around the park in the park vehicles. There were deer and a bison, but I could not see the bison. There's always a chance though, so I had to go. Then a trip to the elephant farm. There was not much to see here, with regards to elephants, they were still working. There was a baby one and a museum. I went in with Ravi, the jeep driver. There were stuffed animals. Ravi told me had seen them all and often sees tigers and leopards wandering across the road. There were black panther, leopard, tiger, sloth bear, bison, all sorts. Ravi mentioned that it was possible to see them all at Forest Hills, it is all down to luck. He pointed out a fallen tree on the way back where he often sees a leopard perched. That would be cool to see, but not this trip. He did work in the reserve for 14 years, so I suppose it is no wonder he has seen the lot. He was telling me the resort owner had been bitten by a sloth bear on the resort.
I was offered a safari, which is actually along the main roads, for Rs500 but declined. Call me a cynical, grumpy old man, but I reckon I'd have the same chance to see as much in the tower and I enjoy sitting there too. He's a good lad Ravi too, very informative and smiley.
Back at the resort and I went back to the tower until after dark. It is just a good place to sit. I heard some crunching in the trees and was hoping elephant, but it turned out to be a family of boars, not the Brooks'.
Back for a banquet, even though I'd asked for less. There was some smashing fish steaks and then for a read and bed.

Ooty to Masinagudi and eventually Bokkapuram.

11/2 = Not sure how today will pan out, surprise, surprise. The hotel bloke has told me he'll sort the minibus out for 8:30, 8:45. He asked if I wanted breakfast, so I went for the staple tea and toast. It is a beautiful day, so sat outside for a while, one of the lads came past me and headed into town, "I bet he's gone for the bread".
15 minutes later, back he came, loaf in hand. I am the only one staying here. I think this is another place trying to hang onto its existence. I hope it survives.
Astonishingly the bus turns up on time, then pottered around Ooty for an hour picking up others. My bag got its first ride on top of a bus. 9.45 and we're off to Masinagudi. There are 36 hairping bends on the way down, each one numbered, just like Alp D'Huez. Ooty is at 2240m and Masinagudi at 960m, so quite a drop, it would fit well into the Tour de France, except the roads aren't up to it.
We miandered down to Masinagudi by 11:00 and the driver stopped in the village, said something to a bloke stood by the road and carried on. When we left the village I thought I had better tell him I'm getting off here.
He pulled over and my bag came off the roof and they said goodbye. Left me in the road with my gear. It was only a few hundred meters and a nice day. I was back in town for 11:15. Phoned up a few places and this place is expensive, so I phoned the 1400 place I spoke to yesterday.
"Do you have a room?"
"Yes, special price, 1700"
"Hang on, she said 1400 yesterday"
"She forgot the tax."
"That's a lot of tax."
"OK, 1200."
I lost the logic in that one too, but I got a good deal.
A lad in Masinagudi approached me to go to his place. A lot cheaper. I asked why is it cheaper and he told me Bokkapuram is quiet and peaceful. Bad sales pitch, Bokkapuram it is.
Got a jeep out the Forest Hills Resort. It is just what the doctor ordered. All I can hear is the birds singing and the flies buzzing. It is located at the foot of some hills, it's smashing. I was shown to my bamboo hut, which did not seem to have much bamboo, mostly plywood, but it is just the job. The staff are very friendly. There seems to be more chiefs than indians, but I am the only one here, so that wont matter. I don't think this place is hanging onto existence though. I don't think I have enough cash for 3 days, but if I do, I reckon I will stay.
Took a wander down to the lookout tower and was joined by a boxer and a labrador, who ran on ahead just to make sure any birds and wildlife were scared away.
I saw some spotted deer, luckily before Kaiser the boxer did and there are loads of colourful birds. I nodded off on the couch in the tower until I was buzzed by a mozzy. Nodded off again, this time to be awakened by Kaiser barking at a family of wild boar. They weren't taking a blind bit of notice of him, so he legged it down to so them who was boss until one of the younger ones took an interest in him. He beat a hasty retreat to a safe distance.
An elephant has been through here recently. How do I know? Elementary my dear Watson, great piles of dung everywhere. Apparently it came in the last couple of days. It has trashed some of the fencing.
Time for a bit of tea. I think they believe I have my family with me, there are 5 dishes, 2 bowls of rice and some chipatis. No way I can eat this lot. I've lost a couple of kilos, but that wont last if I stay here much longer. Just been told they take creditcard, so if mine works, I'll have another day here.
Of for a read on the verandah. I was hoping the lights would be put out, so I could check out the stars, but no way. There are still plenty twinkling up there.

Getting warm again in Ooty.

10/2 - The room wasn't cold, it was chuffing freezing, well cold enough for me to keep my socks on and throw my fleece over me in the night, but the shower was red hot, so I soon thawed out. I am off to Mudamalai National Park I reckon tomorrow for a few days break. It is a bit expensive, relatively, Rs1400 a night and meals on top, which are expensive too, as you are trapped at the resort, but it is still only 150 quid for 3 nights, so what am I griping about.

I was going to get the train tickets sorted for the days after that to Chennai, but I forgot it was Sunday and the office shuts at 14:00. THat would have been too organised anyway.
Thought I'd have a wander to the lake and sit and read my book, as I'm getting a bit weary, so wandered off, past the young kids amusement park and onto the lake, which is really Indian for rubbish dump. There is all sorts floating in it, unusual for this part of Tamil Nadu, as they are trying to make it tidy. I have seen a few rubbish bins here. It was not quite how I imagined, there was a bit of a theme park and pedalos and lots of teenagers screaming, so I did an about turn and headed back to town.
Ooty is a bit of a hill station Blackpool, it attracts the younger adults. Nicolas Cage is on at the pictures too.
Off to the botanical gardens instead. Rs 10 to get in and an extra 30 if you want to use your camera. Work that out. I don't understand the logic there.
It is nice in there. Huge trees and lots of lawn space, it is well kept up. I wandered around a bit then found a quiet spot on one of the lawns to read my book. I got about 2 paragraphs read and a shadow appeared. About 8 kids were hovering over me. I had said hello to a couple of them earlier and they returned with their mates. It was photo time again, as more kids turned up. The gist of the first group was a couple of the lads told the girls they could speak English, trying to impress I guess. The girls burst into laughter when it turned out the lads only knew Hello and Where you come from?
One young girl asked my name so I told her and asked hers and then went to shake her hand. That seems to be the routine. She nearly wet herself when I went to shake her hand. Some people look at me as if they have never seen a Westerner. I don't know if it is a religious thing or what, so I take it easy. She stayed to natter, so I don't think I offended her.
The fuss died down, so back to my book.
It gets chilly up here in the evening, so on with the fleece and off for a wander around the Tibetan market. I am glad I visited the gardens.
The market has about 20 stalls and sell pretty much the same nice clothes, mostly for kids. Some of the Tibetan ladies are stunning.

Set off for some snap and bumped into Rose and Nathan from Hampi and Mysore, the 2 Californians. They are a smashing pair, not a couple though. They are always laughing and joking.
Phone the kids, snap, blog bed.
Another day bites the dust.