Friday 12 March 2010


A Passage To India-the story continues.
Breakfast on holiday can be a thing of beauty and in India the full English is alive and kicking. Whenever I go away I seem to wake up hungry and up in the cool, hill-top air of Coonoor, in Tamil Nadu, it was no exception. We were staying in the amusingly named YWCA Wyoming Guest House, a blue and white colonial style building, resplendent beneath the pink and orange bougainvillea and nestled amongst the deep green tea leaves that grow on every bank and plain in that area. Cooked to perfection by a toothless octogenarian, we ate porridge, poached eggs, tea, toast and mango juice before heading out on day one.

The plan was to just take things easy but of course plans rarely work out. The night before we'd met Sultan, a young man very keen to break into the tourist game he'd started taking groups out for hikes in the extraordinarily beautiful Nilgiris Hills, promising to boldly go where no guides had gone before. His trips had been very popular thus far, judging by the comments from the New Zealanders and the Germans that he proudly showed us in his 'Guest Book'. "7 Kilometers" he proclaimed, "then the tea plantation and the coffee plantation." We explained that we were just arrived, still a little tired, one of us was 72 and none of us in need of unseen sights or rare views of mountain creatures, perhaps we could just go in the rickshaw straight to the plantation and have a cup of tea? "No problem my friend" said Sultan.

And so it was my friend and I found ourselves hacking through the undergrowth, heading to the top of the mountain, barely able to see the sky above such was the density of the Eucalyptus trees, while Sultan ran back down to assist my mother who refused to sit this one out. A situation I believe they both now regretted as he virtually had to carry her to the summit. "If you hear an animal," he said, "make a sound", disappearing back into the trees for the third time on his mountain relay trek. No problem there, making sounds in the countryside whenever I hear anything unexpected is what I do best. I am not for nothing a city girl. Finally, we broke free of the tangled forest and knotty tree roots, and reached the top where perched a tiny painted Hindu Temple. The spectacular view was almost worth it: the mists swirling up from the valley below like cold breath in the hot sunshine, fingers of clammy cloud reaching high up the tree covered mountains. And everywhere tea. We lay down on the rocks, like lizards in the sun, and sucked it in.

Coonoor is a bit of one horse town and I think the horse may have left. But it was a good place to start our journey and we learnt that tea actually grows on trees that are specially 'bonzied' to be bush height for the purposes of picking. You'd be amazed at how much time and energy goes into a cuppa. So, after a couple of nights we headed higher to Ootty, Queen of The Hill Stations as it is known in those parts. This is a place that has definitely seen better days. Once the holiday home of ex-pats, Princes and Maharajahs it is now a popular summer retreat for the rising Indian middle-class. Planning permission is clearly not high on the agenda here and all quaint vestiges of the Raj are more or less obliterated by the indiscriminate over-development of a great many new hotels and the resulting tat that follows a deluge to holiday-makers. But this was where we were destined, to meet the Reverend Stephen and his extended family of orphans at the Happy Home. This was for my Mum the aim of out trip, to make the journey she had intended to do with my late step-father, and so she was very happy to be there. The Reverend's aim is to educate the children and give them a good opportunity for a better life and to earn a living, they have just had their first student accepted overseas. We were greeted with enormous warmth and generosity and the most delicious home-cooked southern Indian delicacies, you'd be hard pushed to find a better Marsala Dosa than the ones Margret made. The young ladies, dressed in their Sunday best, put on a fine show of dance and song before we all tucked into cake and treats. While we were there we also visited some of the projects out in the villages where many of the girls learn how to make clothes and crafts for the tourist industry. The pride with which they showed us their work was palpable and we really had an excellent day out.

Then we were off to Mysore. Little prepares for the vibrancy and frenetic chaos of an Indian city at any time of the day let alone rush-hour and as the light faded and the mosies emerged Mysore was no acception. Our driver swerved to dodge the scooters, top heavy with boxes and bags wedged about the driver, his sari-clad wife riding side-saddle on the back, and played chicken with the black and yellow, buzzing rickshaws and hand-painted trucks. The Green Hotel was an oasis amongst the madness, a 'model of sustainable tourism', with some of the happiest and most helpful staff I've ever encountered, even attempting to fix my mother's mobile after a bottle of hand sanitizer had somehow managed to empty itself in her bag, melting not only the casing but the sim card too........just one of the reasons why I never use the stuff. The city filled our eyes, heads and hearts. We marvelled at the Mysore Palace and sweltered in the dusty forgotten art gallery, a gem of a discovery, wearing our amazing black, floppy summer hats (think Joan Collins goes to the beach) purchased for a snip from a keen entrepreneur outside the Palace, before taking a dip in the pool at the Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel, a sort of cross between St Peter's in Rome and St. Paul's in London, only bigger. We drank G & T's on the lawn and feasted on delicious Tandoori chicken, coconut rice and fragrant dal and were fleeced by the Pirate of Mysore market, a cute Johnny Depp wannabee with a fine line in chat and chai who sells his 'essential oils' essentially to idiots who fall for his charms. See a photo of our smiling faces in one of his many note books depicting his happy customers, now known as 'the book of shame'.

Right now, in the cold light of a less than spring-like day, it's hard to imagine that somewhere else it's too hot to sit out. But trust me, in Hampi, in the state of Kanataka, it was hitting 35C and that's where we were headed next.......

Top tip: Dove Tinted moisturiser will maintain any tan.....indefinately.


  1. I've really enjoyed reading your last two posts on your trip to India. Fascinating! Will pictures follow? Thanks for taking us with you as you remember your experiences.

  2. I agree with the above commenter, that your trip sounds fascinating and I would also like to see pictures. I chuckled at your 'toothless' cook at breakfast. Thanks for the tip, I will remember to try the Dove moisturiser (thats if we ever get any sun in the UK after having 5 months of snow) X