It was wonderful and scary and breathtaking to climb by coach up the often perilous roads high into the mountains to Munnar. The roads are not tarmac`d and there are frequent rockfalls and mudslides but it was exciting! In Munnar there are many tea plantations and of course lots of British influence from when we colonised India in the early part of the nineteenth century. As you gaze up the mountainsides, your eyes fall upon beautiful white mansions surrounded by stunning views and set in a most temperate part of the country, so it is always a pleasant climate. It was so refreshing to be out of the heat!
We took the opportunity to hire a guide who was lovely and spoke fluent English, he drove us to lots of great vantage points where we could drink in the fabulous scenery and witness amazing sights, such as a bull elephant (huge, with massive tusks) strolling through some fields with his wife and baby walking alongside of him. Absolutely magic. We had already visited an elephant sanctuary while in Kerala and scrubbed the elephants in the river with coconut shells, and ridden one without a cushion which I wouldn`t recommend! Elephants have hairy necks and the hair is like sitting on needles and extremely uncomfortable, but they are so lovely and some of them are bonkers and have been driven mad by having been made to stand day after day, outside temples, doing nothing and slowly losing their mind. Their keepers, who are called mahouts told us that every year at least one of them is killed by the animal they are caring for. Nevertheless, the elephants are loved and revered and I loved them too.
Our guide took us to see some pretty spectacular waterfalls and while we were there, he picked me a bunch of flowers which I pressed and still have. I had no idea how important and valuable this plant is until he explained to me that it only flowers once every twelve years. I was mortified that he had picked it but then he picked a whole load more as he said he could sell it in the town for quite a profit. It`s called the Neelakurinji and it has very pretty, small purple flowers and I guess you have to make a living somehow. When we said goodbye to him I gave him my silver Buddhist Om ring which he particularly liked. He asked us to take him back with us to England as he wanted to work there and support his family and send money back home to them but of course we couldn`t.
We also visited one of the tea plantations which was really interesting, I hadn`t realised that the tea bush is from the Camellia family and so tea blossom is heavily scented, I love it and picked some and crushed it to perfume my rucksack.
We stayed for five days in Munnar and then bused it to Mysore, which is famous for its Sandalwood soap. We went to see a hotel room where the bed was so filthy it was almost walking away on its own and hastily found somewhere else. I met the tallest man in India while I was stopping at Mysore, I am 5` 2” and he is 7`6”. He has his picture taken with visitors and you pay him, I understand he is comfortably off and good for him, he was awfully nice. I also remember lots of cows wandering around the streets not only in Mysore but in all the towns and cities I visited. They lie sunning themselves in the roads, sometimes blocking them but no-one minds as they are after all sacred animals and are fed and nurtured by the public. I bought sandalwood soap for all my friends in Mysore and my travelling companion bought me a beautiful mauve Salwarkameez which in fact I never wore as in the end it was too small, but it was a chiffon tunic and trousers and it went to Oxfam.
On the last part of our trip, we stayed at Bangalore which is famous for its scenic gardens. I didn`t much like Bangalore, the streets were rammed with mostly men which is unusual and for the first time in India I felt out of place and not very safe. A taxi driver told us horrible tales of women being duped by bogus drivers and then assaulted, we passed by a man lying bleeding from a head wound on a street corner, no-one seemed to be helping him, it was too much for me and after three days I was glad to leave Bangalore to make our way back to Chennai and catch a flight home. I didn`t want to go home but I knew that I had to and my companion boarded a separate flight back to his home in Australia. Our trip to India was the last time we were to travel together but that as they say, is another story.
My son had spent a long time in India and Pakistan prior to my going and he told me that India weaves a sort of magic around you that makes you want to go back. He is right and I do! When I got home I burst into tears. I had no words then to describe all of the sights, the vibrant colours, the poverty, the extreme wealth, the sounds and the assaults that India makes upon all of your senses. Now I have been able to write about it and I have very much enjoyed my recollections. I have wanted to go back from the moment I came home and my son also told me that I would! Next time, I shall do the north………..