Dancing Elephants Sipping Beer on the Backwaters

Trip Start Oct 04, 2005
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Trip End Mar 13, 2006


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Monday, February 13, 2006

Again it seems like ages since we last updated the site... and there is so much news to tell. Prepare yourself for a loooong drawn out story of our most recent escapades.

We departed from Arambol and caught an auto-rickshaw to the nearest railway station. In true 'Indian time' our connecting train turned out to be 3 hours late. Though whilst idly sitting, waiting for the blasted train we met a couple from London, Neil and Liz - who we would end up traveling with for the next 2 weeks.

Right, so the train finally arrived and we were on our way to our next destination, Udupi - one of the most revered pilgrimage sites in Karnataka and home to the masala dosa (kind of a crispy pancake filled with curry potatoes). Our reason for visiting Udupi was to visit a Krishna temple and to hopefully watch chariot racing... we didn't get to see the latter, but our time in Udupi was like no other.

We visited the Krishna temple and were lucky enough to be guided around by a wonderful Brahmin priest, who enlightened us on some history about Hinduism. The same evening the priest had invited us to attend a special puja (a kind of worship) at the temple, where 1,000 candles would be lit... what a truly magical event. We were welcomed into the temple by the local people, and watched in amazement as they performed the puja - first the lighting sandalwood incense, then the ringing of many bells, people chanting. Though we didn't understand exactly what was being said, to be a part of such a ceremony, so powerfully spiritual was very moving.

Our next day in Udupi was just as wonderful and exhilarating. We'd been told that in the afternoon we should visit a temple just out of town where a weekly ritual was held. Now this was like nothing I've seen (or will probably ever see again) in my life. All the local people gathered around this particular temple, to pray to a 'chosen' man for their health, and the health of others. This 'chosen' man would become possessed (note: only on this particular day, every other day he was normal) with the god of the temple and he would carry out a ritualistic ceremony. It's so hard to explain what we saw, but I'll try. This man (who was definitely possessed with something, or at least thought he was) chanted and walked around the shrine of the god, whilst hitting himself with kilos of flowers dipped in holy water. The local people gathered either side of the man, whilst all this happened. The ritual went on for around 40 minutes, and even for us being non-Hindus it was an emotional event. The most wonderful part was that there were only us 4 westerners that were there to experience it... making it even more magical. Once the ritual was over, this wonderful elderly man told took us to be blessed (in doing this we were given some red powder and told to put it on our foreheads), and gave us this little package of red powder - which he told us is powerful and will protect us... this we should keep with us forever.

Now you'd think that this would be enough excitement for a while, but the same evening we returned to the Krishna temple to watch yet another ritual. After the evening puja, the local people would come out of the temple and place 3 shrines of gods (sorry can't be more specific) onto an enormous golden chariot (probably weighing around 2 tonne), the local people would then pull this around the whole exterior of the temple. An elephant led the procession, he had been made up in colourful materials, and when the music played looked as though he was dancing - this is true, honest. Ant and Neil got in on the act and helped to pull the chariot... the local people were so welcoming and were more than happy for them to get involved. As the procession finished there were fireworks and more music.... simply an amazing experience, a must if anyone comes to India.

So... after our totally spiritual time in Udupi, we thought we'd pick up the pace a bit and do a bit of trekking in the deep jungles of India.

We met up again with Nick and Lindsey in the town of Madekeri, and 6 of us booked ourselves a guide for 4 days of jungle trekking. So... we set off into the wilderness of India with our guide Yashew. Firstly he gave us a briefing on what was to come over the next 4 days - a leisurely stroll through coffee, pepper, banana plantations; swimming in fresh water streams; climbing a small mountain to look out over the surrounding valleys; staying in local family homes with no electricity, running water and nowhere near any other villages - all sounded pretty darn good to us... so far. Yashew had one last piece of advice to give us... just a small mention of the 1,000 elephants that roamed the jungles we were about to walk through, his words "If you come across an elephant (not unusual at this time of year) run for your lives".... at about this time all, and in fact for most of the trip I could visualize my body being flattened by an elephant foot.

So... off we went, whistling a merry tune and me praying that we'd not come to see an elephant. The trekking was awesome, and our guide top-notch. We walked through plantations, along riverbeds, up and over small mountains, through dense jungle. We swam in crystal clear streams that were icy cold, and had little tadpoles sucking on our toes below. We slept on hay-made mattresses, on mud floors in homes that had no light other than the sun during the day. The trek itself wasn't too strenuous, though some days it was extremely hot - it was truly an amazing little adventure.

Now the whole seeing an elephant thing didn't pan out in the end - thank the man above, she says quietly. We did however see elephant tracks (man they have large feet), and our guide told us that at one point we'd only missed running into elephant by a couple of hours... again thank the man above we didn't see one!

After 4 days of walking we decided it was time for some relaxation and headed for the backwaters of Kerala - an intricate network of innumerable lagoons, lakes, canals, estuaries and the deltas of forty-four rivers that drain into the Arabian Sea. We arrived in the not so flash town of Alleppey, the town is renowned for arranging houseboat trips on traditional rice boats called Ketuvallam's. So... off went some of our little crew of 6 in search of a killer deal - our plan to spend 2 nights on one of these Ketuvallam things. After a few hours of walking around it was all set, we'd booked ourselves on to a 2-bedroom Ketuvallam with a Captain, First Mate and Cook. Including food the whole trip was to cost the 6 of us 100GBP - now that's a bargain. All that we needed now was purchase to alcohol, and lots of it.

The next day we set off on our next little adventure. We jumped aboard and were sailed through the tranquil backwaters for the next 2 days - all that we were required to do was eat, drink, sleep, swim and relax... and that is just what we did. The food was fantastic, though our Cook did try to charge us 600rs for extra fish that we didn't ask for... and it turned out that our Captain and Co. would drink (a bit slyly I might add) most of a bottle of OUR Gin, Vodka and Coconut Beer. When confronted they went out and bought another bottle of Gin, only to drink its contents the next night. Aside from this little problem the trip was great we just relaxed and drank, and idly watched the world go by.

Sadly we could only afford 2 days, so in the blink of an eye we were thrown back into the hectic life of India. We said a very sad goodbye to Nick and Linds, who are heading for South East Asia (see you guys in Oz or Canada) and headed for our next destination, Ooty (Ootacamund).

The main reason for coming to Ooty is to ride one of the only steam trains still in operating in Asia - the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. The whole route is only 45km long, though it takes 6 hours to reach Ooty. Not that I'm complaining though, the views were breathtaking - we passed through tea plantations; crossed tall girder bridges; smelt the sweet aroma of the eucalyptus forests; watched and giggled at how excited the Indian tourists would get when we'd go through a tunnel (people would be screaming with joy - literally). Our conclusion (in Ant's words) steam trains are cool! This is yet another India must see!

Not long after arriving in Ooty I became quite ill - and this would last for the next 3 days. Nausea, vomiting and ... poos ... I spent the next few days feeling quite sorry for myself and dosing up on lots of medication, trying to get rid of whatever bug had decided to enter my body - horrible little gremlin!
During my brief hypochondriac episode, we went to the town of Mysore - famous for their sandalwood incense. We didn't think much of Mysore... I was sick for most of the stay so maybe that had an impact on my judgement? We did however manage to buy a heap of incense (all different varieties) - 1kg to be exact, and I was duped into buying some 'essential' oils... which is probably paint remover. We visited the Mysore's Palace and watched it be lit up with 97,000 white lights... a pretty spectacular site.

From Mysore we then bid farewell to Neil and Liz, and now it's just Ant and me again seeking adventures new.

We are now in Bangalore, and we have spent the entire day shopping... yes Ant managed to shop for 5 hours - without a break. For the first time ever Ant purchases more clothes than me (Levis, Lee, Cooper... all designer wear), and all a of their normal retail value.

Tonight we will catch a 24 hour train to Mumbai, from there we will then start to tackle parts of North west India... can't wait!

Our trip is almost at an end, and we have booked tickets (sob, sniffle, sob) back to London for 13 March. So... it's not going to be too long before we are begging for a bed to rest our weary travelling heads, and knocking on doors for employment - hint, hint, wink, wink.

Sorry that this has been a total epic encounter... I'll try to keep our next e-mail a bit shorter.

Until then....
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