Southern India, 2011

All images and associated pages copyrighted © by Don Chesnut, 2012

Mist over the wetlands in Periyar. 
Mist over the wet lands.

I went to Thailand to attend the Tectonics of Northern Indochina conference in Chiang Mai in February. Before the conference, I spent three weeks touring in southern India. The following is composed of my daily journal entries and photographs taken during the trip (please excuse the tedious and poorly-written nature of the journal). Or you may rather go through my thumbnail catalog (pages A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H). 

31 Jan 2012, Tuesday

Donald stopped by at 2:00 PM to take me to the airport. I got him to take a couple of photographs of my 40-year-old red day-pack and my camera bag. This is all I'm taking. I'm attending the “Tectonics of Northern Indochina 2012” conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I'm giving four presentations there, three posters and one talk. I mailed the three posters earlier this month so that I wouldn't have to carry them around with me for the whole trip.

At the airport, I hugged my son, and then went through security and got to the gate area by 2:45. I'm wearing Teva sandals with black socks, much to the horror of my family, I'm sure. They're easy to take off and put on in airport security. I went to the DeShea's lounge and ordered a Samuel Adams Alpine Spring ale. I filled out my first journal entry while there.

I have never taken a computer with me on any of my trips to Asia, but this time, I'm taking a little blue Toshiba netbook. I've made several adaptations to it though; I took out the original hard drive and replaced it with an 80-Gig solid-state drive and installed the latest Ubuntu operating system on it. I'll use it to backup my photographs, and to send daily e-mail entries whenever I have free or cheap, safe internet access. It has WiFi and I brought a short ethernet cable, in case I need it. The only moving part in the computer now is the cooling fan, which rarely turns on. It also starts very quickly.

The conference is only three days long and it takes three days to get there (Chiang Mai) and three days to come home. The biggest cost is the round-trip fare, so I decided to spend a little extra time traveling in the region. I signed up for a two-week tour in southern India and then a half-week stay in Mumbai where I hope to see the Deccan Traps volcanic field. I still have time on my multi-entry Indian visa. I then go to Chiang Mai for the conference.

After I signed up for the conference, I was sent a notice that Pandaw was discontinuing their riverboat trip up the Rajang River in Borneo. I always wanted to go on this trip ever since they first started it. The logistics were so difficult that Pandaw decided to discontinue the cruise. I was able to sign up for the last cabin in the last riverboat excursion on the river and it was a few days after the conference. I've been on four river trips with Pandaw before (Mekong, Chindwin, Upper Irrawaddy, and lower Ganges (Pandaw website). I really liked the company. So, after the conference, I have half a week to kill. My travel agent booked for me a hotel and a couple of day trips at Phuket, in southern Thailand. After Phuket, I fly to Kuching, Malaysia (in Borneo) and start the riverboat excursion. After that, I fly home in March (when there'll be growth in the spring). Meanwhile, I'm still at the airport waiting for my first flight.

One more comment: today, my mailman (letter carrier) was wearing shorts! This is the warmest January we've had in my memory. It's in the 60's F today. I hope February is not too bad here.

I started reading the book, Holy Cow—An Indian Adventure, by Sarah MacDonald. At 4 PM, I went to the gate for my Atlanta flight at 5. I found that the flight has been delayed an hour. There are no storms anywhere that I can see, so there must be some other reason. It seems that flights from Lexington are delayed or canceled about half the time. They don't have a good track record with me. If I miss my overseas connection, it will have a domino effect. A few minutes later, I learn that my flight is now delayed one hour and twenty minutes. I finally boarded the plane by 6.

It was dark when we landed in Atlanta. I made my way to Concourse E by 7:30 and found my gate for the flight to Dubai. Near the gate, I found the “One Flew South” restaurant. I ordered a lamb Merguez sausage and soybean succotash with okra, and had a Ranger IPA beer. It was an appetizer, so the portion was small and just right. It was very good.

I boarded my plane by 8:30. I boarded earlier than I was supposed to, but I couldn't understand what they were saying on the PA system. It worked out very well. This is going to be one very long flight. The plane took off after a very long wait on the tarmac. I watched the movie “Wyatt Earp's Revenge,” or something like that. Not very good. I was served a dinner of spice-roasted chicken on couscous, plus salad, roll, etc.

1 February 2012, Wednesday

I am in the middle row, all to myself, which is a first. I then watched “The Big Year” with Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson. It was about three birders trying to break the annual bird-count record. I was given a package with small banana, turkey and cheese sandwich, and granola bar which I saved for later in the flight.

I tried stretching out to sleep, more to ease my muscles than to really sleep. According to the animated GPS map, we have flown across the Atlantic and then over France, Bulgaria (over the Danube), over Turkey, Iraq, Iran and then to Dubai. I watched “Johnny English—Reborn” which was entertaining. I hope the other passengers don't mind my laughing. I then watched “Bridesmaids,” which was pretty funny. I was then served pizza, garbanzo-bean salad, cut fruit and soft drink.

The plane landed about 8:10 PM (Dubai time) and I made my way to the transfer desk to get a boarding pass for my next leg, an Air India flight to Goa, India. At the transfer desk, they said that I was not listed in their system. The Air India staff at the airport did not answer the phone. The lady at the transfer desk called Mumbai and the fellow said to call back in half an hour and he would try to resolve the problem from there. I sat down on the floor to wait and to fill out my journal. After an hour and a half, I finally got a boarding pass. I got into the gate waiting area by 10:30 PM. The flight goes to Mumbai first, then I wait on the plane for 45 minutes and then it flies to Goa.

2  February 2012, Thursday

The Air India flight took off about midnight. I sat between a young Indian lady and a young Indian man in the exit-row seats. We were served soft drinks and at about 1:30 AM (Dubai time), we were served dinner. I picked the vegetarian tray which included saffron spice rice, lentils, chopped vegetables, roll, yogurt some dessert thing, and I had tea with milk. I started to eat the chopped vegetables, but remembered that a traveler shouldn't eat uncooked vegetables in this part of the world. I had already eaten two of the chili peppers before I remembered this. They showed a selection of Bollywood movies on the individual screens, but I tried to sleep instead. I do like Bollywood movies though. We landed in Mumbai at about 4:20 AM (Mumbai time). A handful of other passengers and I stayed on board.

After about 45 minutes, the cabin filled up with new passengers and we took off in the dark for Goa. We landed in Goa around 6:30. I went through passport control and customs in just a few minutes (I didn't have to wait for checked luggage).

I exited the control area and found a fellow holding a sign with my name on it. He was Savio and he owned the car and driver company. We walked to the car, I put my two bags in and a different fellow drove for about an hour to my hotel, Sun Village (their website)(Google Maps), by 8:00 AM. It's been a rough three days. I took a few photos and filled out my journal.

Feeling a little grimy, I took a shower and took my first round of anti-malarials. I walked around the hotel, taking photos of exotic flowers and unusual birds. I saw crows (gray headed), lots of swifts, kites, pigeons, but also bee eaters, black drongos, and all sorts of small birds. I got photos of some of the birds (Purple Sunbird), but the little ones were too fast. This resort is out in the country and is built on a hillside. I walked up the hillside and found a smaller, secluded pool where I took a brief dip. There are lots of people around the main, lower pool. A large number of guests here are Iranian and I think they are all here on a tour. I also noticed that there are a fairly large number of Brits and Aussies.

I asked the boy (he was in his mid-teens) at the desk if they had WiFi. He said that they did, but that I'd have to come back later to talk to someone who knew more about it. I think it's pay-WiFi (I found out later that it wasn't working). At 11 AM, I decided to take a 15-minute nap; it turned into a 5-hour nap. Jet lag.

At about 5, I went down to the pool and had a Kingfisher beer. The temperature seems to be about 75 degrees F, very pleasant. I filled out my journal and then went back to my room to type it into my computer. I haven't eaten today and won't; I'm not a bit hungry.

At dark, a band started playing golden oldies. I can hear a large group of people listening to the band. They're pretty wild while the band is playing. They are screaming, clapping and yelling. The band quit at about 10, but the group started clapping and singing their own songs for about an hour. I even hear ululating, they were the Iranians.

I watched CNN, BBC World News and a National Geographic show on the geology of Mercury and Venus. I snacked on two granola bars that I got on the plane. I went to bed about midnight.

3 February 2012, Friday

I woke up wide awake at 3 AM, and stayed wide awake till 7 when I got up. Dawn was around 6:30. I was down at the breakfast room at 7:30 when they opened. I was the first there. I ordered an omelet with everything (chopped ham, tomatoes, chili peppers, onion, and cheese) and also had sourdough(?) toast, fried potato cheese balls, papaya, watermelon and coffee for my first round. For the second round, I had baked beans, stewed tomatoes, aloo paratha bread, mixed pickle (acchar), medu wada (a savory donut), a banana, and another cup of coffee. A few others came in while I was there. One couple was from Oxford; I had met them earlier. The others were non-English speaking, though most everyone said “Good Morning.”

I went back to my room, caught up in my journal, and then took a shower. I sat on my balcony waiting for my first meeting with the Intrepid tour group at 1 PM. While waiting, I saw a pair of Red-Whiskered Bulbuls tending to their nest in an elephant ear philodendron(?). It's a showy bird with a unicorn-like crest near the front of its head. I may have gotten a photograph. I also saw the usual assortment of pigeons, crows, kites, and fast, small birds.

I went down poolside and had a Kingfisher in the shade. A fellow came up and sat next to me in the shade. We started talking. He asked me where I was from and I said USA. He was shocked. He said, “I'm from Iran!” I told him that people get along very well, but that governments don't always. He agreed. We had a nice conversation. He was an energy physicist. Pretty soon, I was sitting amidst eight or ten Iranians and we were all talking away. They were five retired couples. The men were all scientists or engineers and had worked under the energy authority. They were a very charming group of people. I told them that my PhD professor was half Russian and half Iranian. A fellow walked through our group asking if anyone was from room 1635. I said I was. He said that he was with Intrepid and that our group had started to meet (Intrepid tour, A Taste of South India). I excused myself from my friendly companions and went to the meeting. Our leader was Chandrajeet, but he said to just call him Chandra. There was only one other traveler in the group and she was Vivian or “Viv,” a retired hotel manager from North Wales (Carnarvon). This is the smallest tour group I've ever been on.

At 2:30 we met in the lobby and got into a small car. We drove for about one hour to visit the old churches and cathedral in Old Goa, an early Portuguese colony. Along the way, I saw gulls, cattle egrets, white egrets, gray Pond Herons, Pied Kingfisher, White Ibis, fish eagles, kites, etc. A guide took us through the churches and we saw an old mummified priest. After taking photographs, we returned to the hotel.

We only had a few minutes till we left for dinner, so I went to poolside for a Kingfisher. The Iranian fellows came and sat by me and we said our goodbyes.

At 5:45, Viv, Chandra and I left by taxi to the beach area close by called Calangute Beach (Google Map). It was a very popular place with travelers and locals. We watched the sunset at an outside bar and grill. Chandra told me about the local specialty called the Cashew Feni. It is the distilled spirits made from the cashew fruit. It comes as a clear liquor with a strong chemical smell and tastes like the strong Miao Tai of Guizhou. We then walked to a beach-side seafood restaurant, Souza Lobo. I ordered grilled kingfish. It was a whole fish grilled with a series of butterfly cuts made so that it was easy to grab nice bone-free pieces of meat. It was served with fries, cut vegetables (which I didn't eat) and garlic butter sauce and lime slices. It was very good, but a lot to eat, My cost was 950 rupees. After that, we caught another cab back to the hotel.

At the hotel, I packed and went to bed by 9:30. We have to leave at 5:30 AM tomorrow.

4 February 2012, Saturday

I got up at 4:45 AM, took a cold shower, dressed and finished packing. We also have our breakfast in a plastic bag which the hotel fixed for us last night. We'll eat it on the train.

Viv never received her wake-up call, so Chandra had to call and wake her. We got a bit of a late start. After a crazy 1.5-hour taxi drive to the train station, we got out and waited on the platform. We thought we might be late, but as it turns out, the train is 45 minutes late. I got a small cup of sweet coffee and a nice samosa, and filled out my journal. It is daylight now at about 7, but was dark most of our trip. Our train finally arrived, we boarded and the train started rolling by 8:15. I ate my packed breakfast of cheese sandwich, cake, small banana and a tangerine. We had a pleasant journey in the air-conditioned car.

After about four hours (at noon), we arrived at Udupi (oo-doo-pee) where we got in a cab and drove to our hotel, Paradise Isle Beach Resort (website)(Google Maps), about 12:20, right on the beach. We checked in and then met at 1 PM in the lobby. We walked a short distance to the outdoor restaurant where the chef demonstrated how to make rice-flour dosas. Dosas were invented here. He made dosa masala, one with egg, one with chopped onion, one with curried potatoes, etc. I took several photographs. We then sat down and ate all of these types along with some side chutneys and sauces. It was very nice.

After lunch, we went back to the hotel and I took a short nap. We met again a little later, got in a cab and traveled about 15 minutes to a Hindu Krishna temple compound (Wikipedia entry)(Google Map). This is a famous temple and people make pilgrimages here. I had changed into long pants in order to enter the temple and I had to leave my sandals and camera bag at a depository. There were many shrines throughout the temple and lots to see, but photography was prohibited while inside. On the way out, I stopped by a Hindu elephant. I put a rupee coin on the elephants trunk, it took the coin and then tapped my head with its trunk. We  looked at lots of little shops in the temple area and watched a man cut open a toddy palm fruit (Wikipedia entry). He cut out several pods and put them into a bag, and people were buying them.

We then went back to the hotel and at about 5:45, we walked down the beach watching all the locals. They were having a great time. Even the girls were swimming, but in their saris.

We walked back to the hotel and at 7:15 gathered for dinner at the hotel restaurant. I had chicken chettinad and aloo pasada(?) with garlic naan.

After dinner, I went back to my room, filled out my journal and went to bed by 9:30.

 5 February 2012, Sunday

I woke up throughout the night, but got up at 7 AM. I took a shower and then the power went out, but only for about ten minutes. The battery in my computer was almost drained and so I tried to charge it last night. My “universal” plug adapter didn't have the correct plug to use here. It takes a three-pronged plug, but with the grounding plug larger and longer than the other two. This longer part unlocks the outlet so that the rest of the plug can be inserted. My adapter has the two-pronged round part, but not the grounding/unlocking part. The bath room had a universal outlet, but it said “for electric shavers only.” I  guess the power is erratic and has spikes. I tried that with my surge protector last night. This morning, I started my computer and it had the same level of charge (almost none) as last night, so something is not working. They also do not have WiFi here. It may have been a mistake to bring the computer on this trip.

I got dressed and packed up. This is another travel day. I went to the breakfast buffet and had masala scrambled eggs with cilantro, a masala saffron pasta dish, a savory donut, a sweet saffron rice dish, soup with rice bread dumplings and coffee already sweetened and with milk. After breakfast, we checked out and left in our car by 8:45. I enjoyed listening to the Indian music on the radio. The car is air conditioned as well. Temperatures seem to be a very comfortable 72 degrees F at night and probably 90 degrees in the day. I try to make journal entries in the moving car, but it's difficult. I wish that I had had time to re-learn my Hindi and re-acquainted myself with the Hindi alphabet before I left on this trip. I only remember a few of the letters and so, I can't read the signs anymore. Most of the signs are in the local language plus Hindi. Today, we have a long drive to Chikmagalur.

The rocks of Goa and Udupi are largely red, heavily weathered rocks with numerous voids giving the appearance of a very porous rock. Most all the building stone of this region are these types of rocks. I thought at first that they might have been something like bauxite, a heavily weathered soil rock, or that it might have been a heavily-weathered basalt with numerous gas-relief vesicles or weathered amygdules. I got a closer examination yesterday and found that the voids were actually heavily-weathered, large crystals (phenocrysts) of orthoclase feldspar. The original groundmass crystals did not survive the weathering so I could not tell what the original granitoid rock was, perhaps even an anorthosite. So, I'm making a guess that these are the heavily-weathered remains of Precambrian granitoids of the Deccan Plateau, or Western Ghats, or, less likely, Mesozoic rocks associated with rifting of Gondwana. Today, we did pass a quarry of gray, crystalline rock that could have been un-weathered granite with no large phenocrysts.

We entered a national park that started at the foothills of the Western Ghats, a mountain range on the western edge of the Deccan Plateau. There were few places to take photographs, but I did get some. We saw lots of Rhesus macaque monkeys along the road. There are also tigers here. I saw granitoids and large pieces of vein quartz. The Western Ghats were much larger mountains than I thought. We spent a long time going up them. Near the top there are large areas with no trees, just thick growth of ferns and shrubs. There doesn't seem to be many natural exposures of rock; most of the mountain tops are rounded. The cattle here are different too, they are not Brahma, but have swept-back horns.

We stopped at a tea plantation with a shrine to Ganesha, the elephant-head god. I took photographs and then crossed the road to a tea shop. We all had a cup of hot, sweet milk tea. Then we continued our drive. I saw lots of coconut palms, betel nut palms, betel leaf vines, banana trees, belladonna (Datura), hibiscus, robusta coffee shrubs, poinsettia, black pepper plants, crepe myrtle, plus lots of native trees. There were lots of granite fence posts as well.

We got to the River Woods Resort (website)(Google Map) near Magundi (near Chikmagalur). It is on a coffee plantation. We were served juice and then shown our rooms. There is no air-conditioning, but there are ceiling fans. At 1:30, we went to lunch which was served buffet style. We had steamed rice, chipati, bread, mixed vegetable dahl, another tasty thin vegetable soup (rassam), seevanya (dessert), carrots and beans with other items, a cabbage dish (with masala, black peppers, mustard seeds), and a chicken curry. I also had pickle (acchar). Every item was delicious. 

After lunch, we had a nice coffee with milk and sugar (the coffee was local). Then a fellow took us fishing in a pool of the nearby river. Vivian caught a river crab. Chandra identified a bird call for me, it was the Indian Roller.

After that, we went on an uphill hike to see the coffee plantation and a nice view. I took photographs of coffee in bloom and peppers from a pepper plant (not chili peppers). We then walked downhill to the processing operation where they remove the outer fruit of the coffee cherry and send the beans to a drying area. While hiking, I noticed a black and white laminated rock. I cracked it open and saw 1-2 mm laminae of sandstone in what could have been tidal rhythmites. Most of the stones along the track were cobbles of gneiss. I also saw 2-5 cm slabs of muscovite mica.

Back at the house, we washed the mud off our sandals and went in for a nice cup of coffee.

There is no internet here, and many times, no electricity. We have candles and matches on our bedside tables just in case.

At around 7:30, the staff grilled vegetables and chicken for us. I thought that this was dinner. We were served these around a campfire. I heard a strange call that the host identified as a coucal. We sat with a British couple from Dorset. He was a nature photographer and she was a textile artist. So the five of us ate the chicken and vegetables with Kingfisher beer and had lots of good conversation. Then the staff asked us to come in for dinner. I thought we had just had dinner. We went into the dining area and had steamed rice, chipati bread, green beans, rasam, dahl, pickle, chicken dish and a couple of items I don't remember. We talked long after the dinner. When all the lights went off, we took our cue and went to bed at about 10.

6 February 2012, Monday

I woke up several times in the night, but got up for good at 6:45. I took a shower and was surprised that we had hot water. The power went out a couple of times. I dressed and did most of my packing and then went out onto the back patio to listen to all the exotic bird calls. The only ones I recognized were the crow and dove. I then heard the booming, owl-like sound of the coucol. I saw more bulbuls, white egrets, small squirrels, crows, and a heron. The kitchen lady told me there was coffee in the dining room, so I helped myself to several cups. I was up a longtime before any of the other guests. I took photos of the workers spreading black peppers to dry.

At 8, we had breakfast of dosa, semolina with cloves, saffron rice dish, and coconut chutney. It was all very good. I had seconds.

We got in our car and started another four-hour drive over curvy and very bumpy roads. I saw lots of darters (anhingas), grebes, egrets, great heron, coots, black drongos, crows, kites and perhaps moor hens as well as Pied Kingfisher.

At 11, we stopped in the town of Belur and saw a very elaborate Hindu temple called Sri Channakeshava (Wikipedia entry)(Google Maps), built in the 1100's. It took over 100 years to build. There are many intricately carved statues, columns and bas reliefs. I took lots of photographs.

About an hour later we went to a rounded granite hill (typical granite spheroidal weathering). We climbed many steps in our bare feet. There were temples along the way. At the top was a large standing statue of the Jain god, a naked man (Shravana Belgola, Wikipedia entry, Google Maps). A priest blessed me, then put an orange dot on my forehead and sprinkled saffron water on my head. I pulled a smoke blessing over my head with my hands. The priest then gave me a small white flower which I stuck in my hat. I gave a 10-rupee offering. I also took lots of photographs. We climbed back down and continued our journey to Mysore.

I saw black ibises along the way. We got some small bananas and a chiku fruit. I've never had a chiku (Wikipedia entry) before. They're about the size of the green hull of a black walnut, fairly smooth and round. You pull it open and eat the flesh. It has a few almond-shaped seeds. The flesh is sweet and has sort of a caramel taste. They're quite good.

We got to the KVC hotel (their website)(Google Maps) in Mysore (my-sur) by 4 PM. There is no internet. However, I think I can charge my computer, the outlets are not the locking type as at Udupi. They say there is an internet café about a mile or so from here.

Later, we met with a guide and we went to a Catholic church set up by the king of Mysore. Then we went to an incense-making company which tried to sell us essential oils. After the incense visit, we went to the Park Hotel restaurant. I ordered palak paneer (spinach and cheese), and a chicken dish, plus garlic naan. I also had a Kingfisher Blue. We then returned to the hotel. The computer got recharged while I was gone. I re-packed and went to bed by 10.

7 February 2012, Tuesday

I got up at 6, took a shower and did final packing. From my window, I have a view of the park across the street, and I can see mynas, crows, bulbuls and a pack of street dogs.

At 8, we met in the lobby and went to breakfast. I had a soup with rice dumpling, a plain wada (savory donut), a coconut chutney, a dish with something like pasta, cut papaya, watermelon juice, and sweet milk coffee.

We then got in our car at 8:30 and drove up Chamundi Hill where we saw the Chamundeshwary Temple (Wikipedia entry)(Google Maps). This is the goddess that defeated the demon that controlled the region. The hill is composed of granite with quartz veins. Photos were not allowed in the temple, and no shoes either. I saw lots of swallows here. Next we went to see Shiva's main transport, a giant nandi or bull.

We then drove to the Royal Palace (Wikipedia entry)(Google Maps). We are allowed to take photographs outside, but not inside. I had to check my camera. It was a very highly-decorated palace. We saw lots of painting, carved doors, chandeliers, stained glass, etc.

When our tour there ended, we returned to the hotel and checked out of our rooms, except for one, where we stored our luggage. At noon, we left again to take our cooking class.

We went to the home of a biryani chef named Raju Bhai. He demonstrated how to cook rice biryani with chicken. His wife cooked gulab jamun. We also had aubergine curry and a sweet fruit custard. Everything was excellent.

We then went to a two-hour Bollywood movie called “Gali, Gali Mein Chor Hai,” (Wikipedia entry) a comedy about corruption in India, with some singing and dancing, of course. It was a nicely done production. It was in Hindi and there were no subtitles, but I could largely understand what was going on. Chandra explained some of it as well.

Our driver, Shu Das, took us back to the hotel by about 5. We ordered a pot of masala chai. At 6:30, we went to the hotel restaurant. I had Murgh Khasda Curry Chicken, garlic naan, acchar pickle, and a Kingfisher Strong. I asked for extra, extra spicy and it came back as medium. I had to ask for a side order of chili peppers.

At 7:45, we got a couple of tuktuks and we went to the Mysore train station. We're taking a second-class sleeper to Chennai (Madras) and we arrive there about 7:30 AM tomorrow. We talked for a short while, then lowered the bunks and made our own beds. Vivian and I got the two lower bunks because we are in the “elderly” class and Chandra got one of the upper bunks. By rule, only the elderly or women can get the lower berths. One fellow who came on later, got the upper berth above me. We closed the curtain that separated our cabin from the aisle and turned off the lights around 9 or 10.

8 February 2012, Wednesday

We made about 26 stops throughout the night and people were coming and going through the car all night. I only slept in short intervals. I finally got up at early dawn at 6:15 and put up the berth. Vivian got up next, Chandra got up a little later. I feel pretty dirty and we won't get to our hotel till in the afternoon.

We got to Chennai about 7:30 and got our new car and driver, Swami. We went to the Emarald (sic) Hotel for breakfast and restroom. I had two kinds of south Indian soup (don't ask me what was in them) and I put some kind of shredded coconut and rice cake in them as dumplings. I also had a wada (savory donut), and paratha bread. I also got an omelet with lots of chilies and two cups of strong coffee.

We were back on the road by 8:45. Driving through the city, we saw the big cricket field, the new parliament, Madras University, the beach (very wide), the Basilica, etc. Traffic was heavy, which they say is typical of Chennai. I saw the usual assortment of birds, black drongos, mynahs, crows, kites, two kinds of egrets, gray herons, plus white pelicans.

We stopped at Mamallapuram (Google Maps), south of Chennai. Here, at Mahabalipuram (Wikipedia entry) we saw numerous temples carved out of solid granite (it may have actually been granodiorite). They are said to be 1400-years old and were entirely covered by sand until discovered by the British. We had a guide who walked us around the ruins. I took lots of photographs.

Around noon, we went to Moonrakers Restaurant near the beach. I had two large prawns cooked in spicy chili powder sauce and I had a Kingfisher Gold. After lunch we went down to Marina Beach. This area suffered from the large 2004 tsunami that destroyed Banda Acheh in Indonesia. Although many shops were destroyed, only four people died here. At 1 PM, we left Mamallapuram.

While driving to Pondicherry, I saw the usual birds plus blue-green kingfisher, herons, long-billed shorebird (curlew?), terns, etc. Just inland from the beach is a strip of Casuarina pine forest (Wikipedia entry). These are not true pines, they have segmented needles. We stopped at a salt-making place (Google Maps). The people here evaporate briny water in shallow ponds. We saw egrets, great white egret, Indian Pond Herons, Jungle Babblers, etc.

We got to our booked guest house, Aurodahn (website, Google Maps), in Pondicherry by 4 PM, but they didn't seem to know we were coming despite numerous phone calls by Chandra. The only rooms they had left in the main building were not adequate (shared bathrooms, etc.), so we went to  the heritage guest house down the street. I think it's operated by the same company. It seems hotter and much more humid here than the other places we've been.

We had a chai and then at 5:30, we started our walk. We walked along the oceanfront. There is no beach, only large boulders were placed there to prevent shore erosion. Pondicherry was a French colony till the 1950's. Many of the old houses, including our heritage guest house, were French in style. Many French still vacation here. Most of the old French buildings along the ocean front were taken over by government offices. The place has a certain charm to it, if you can overlook the stench of open sewers draining into the ocean and the street trash. We walked to the end of the promenade and went to the Sea Gull restaurant. We sat along the second-story overlook and had a Kingfisher and papad, the crispy, cracker-like bread. At dusk, the mosquitoes started eating up my legs, my repellent was back in my room.

We left and went inland several blocks and then walked down a street parallel to the ocean front. Chandra found the French restaurant he was looking for. We ate on the second floor. I had a southern Indian spicy okra dish with spinach poori bread.

After the dinner, we walked back to the guest house and I went directly to bed about 9:30.

9 February 2012, Thursday

I left the ceiling fan on all night and was comfortable. I slept off and on till 6:30. I turned the hot water heater on, and while waiting for it to heat up, I filled out my journal. Last night, we passed an internet café just as it was closing (about 6 PM). I don't remember exactly where it was, but it was about a mile or so away.

I went down to the breakfast area and started typing more journal entries. Eventually, the caretaker came and made me some coffee. We talked a while. He said that they had had WiFi, but that the router had broken. He showed me, apparently it had fallen. I had a very nice, real croissant with butter, plus an omelet and toast, banana, orange juice, and sweet, milk coffee.

At 9, we went to our car. First, we went to the Aurobinda Ashram (website)(Google Maps) and saw the tomb of the founder. He has many followers in France. Then we went to a Ganesha-Krishna temple (Google Maps) where we saw several wedding parties. We were not allowed to take photographs inside.

The we traveled 10 km to a utopian village called Auroville (website)(Google Maps). It was set up and named after Aurobinda by the Aurobinda Ashram. There were many modern houses and most of the people there were French. We watched a short video and then walked about two kilometers to a viewing area where we saw a large spherical structure that was a meditation-concentration building. According to the video, there is a large glass “crystal” sphere inside and sunlight is channeled through a device that follows the sun and shines the light onto the top of the sphere. I took a couple of photographs of the spherical building. Plans have been made to build several other spheres and other structures as well. We walked back to the car and drove back into town.

Back at the hotel, I took a nap till 1:30. We met in the lobby and walked to a nearby restaurant suggested by the caretaker of out guest house. I had something like stir-fried noodles and masala tea and poori bread. It was nothing worth mentioning. Chandra's pizza looked to be a frozen pizza. I wouldn't go back. We walked back to the guest house. I filled out my journal.

Before I forget, yesterday, while we were walking, I saw a lady carrying a big bucket full of human waste, kitchen waste and garbage. She dumped the contents onto the edge of the sidewalk. Not even in the gutter. Presumably, this was not directly in front of her own house. Multiply this by the whole population and you can see the magnitude of the problem here.

I got my washed clothes back. It came to 100 rupees, 25 rupees per piece. I'll have to pack again tonight. We don't have anything scheduled till 7:30 tonight. There's not much to do here and there's no place I'd particularly like to go. I can't really read much because most of the lamps don't work. I took a short nap, but I can't sleep for hours on end in the day time. I've typed up most of my daily entries by a small window. I hate to say it, but this is pretty boring, a waste of a day. If we were staying somewhere else, perhaps there would be more to do.

At 7:30, we met and our driver drove us to the Atithi Hotel, a very fancy place. We went to the bar area and had a beer. Next to me was a group of people about my age. We started talking and I found that they were from England and they were on a motorcycle tour of southern India. They were all riding 350cc Enfields. They had a van plus a car with two mechanics. The group were men and women, but I'm not sure if the women had their own bikes or rode with their husbands. They were interested to hear about my brother-in-law, Darrell, who races vintage bikes. Anyway, they were very interesting and friendly. We then went to the Rooftop restaurant at the hotel. We ordered a vegetarian sampler platter and shared it. We were not very hungry. Then we went back to the guest house and went to bed.

 10 February 2012, Friday

Electrical power went out shortly after we went to bed. There was no power for the ceiling fan and no lights for the dark rooms. I woke up at 6, but there were no lights. I stayed in bed till there was enough light to see around. I took a cold-water shower and packed my bags. I went downstairs and sat next to the window to fill out my journal. The caretaker sat down next to me, fixed me a cup of coffee and we talked a bit. He is from northeastern India. He has a wife and two children that he sees for one month every year. He has been here ten years, but he is moving back home in 80 days. He asked me why my legs and feet were covered in bumps. I looked and saw all of the mosquito bites that I had, there must be seventy or eighty. They were all from the first night here, I think. Not having a ceiling fan may have contributed some too. There are mosquitoes at my legs now, as I write this. I wore long pants and socks last night and used repellent before we went out to eat. I'm taking my anti-malarials daily.

We have noticed lots of downed trees all over the region and some damaged structures. The caretaker told me that there had been a powerful cyclone (hurricane) this last December and that our building suffered some damage. Only one person was killed in the storm.

We had breakfast the same as yesterday, croissant, butter, omelet, toast, banana, juice and coffee. I gave the lady at the house a tip and then we left. We were on the road by 9:30.

I saw crows, kites, egrets, black drongos, variety of kingfishers, a falcon or hawk (size of small Coopers).

We stopped in Chidambaram to see another temple complex (Wikipedia entry)(Google Maps). Photographs were not allowed. Natrajan temple was its name. I took my shoes off and walked around. I got blessed several times and had yellow powder rubbed on my forehead. We tried a sample of the temple food, a spicy saffron rice. Outside, we bought some lada (temple offering sweets) and a crispy, orange, fried thing. We also tried some hot chai, cooled by pouring it from a height of several feet. We got back in the car and continued our journey.

I saw kestrels, openbill stork, kites, egrets, white-breasted kingfisher, swifts, Brahminy kite, Pariah kite, night heron, dove, mynahs, drongos, etc.

For lunch we stopped at the Paradise Resort. I ordered Paneer-do-Piazzo, garlic naan and a Kingfisher Gold. The dish had cheese, bell pepper, onion, tomato and a very nice gravy. My cost was 626 rupees. We got back in the car and headed for Thanjavur.

In Thanjavur (Wikipedia entry), we went to the old Royal Palace (Wikipedia entry)(Google Maps) and museum where we saw lots of old Hindu statues. I also saw several parakeets in the courtyard. Then we went to the royal library museum where we saw lots of old manuscripts. 

After that, we went to the ancient Brahadeswara Temple (Wikipedia entry)(Google Maps) which is about a thousand years old. The light was low in the sky and gave a very pleasing illumination for all the temple structures. It is said that Marco Polo visited this temple. It is one of the most striking I have seen.

We then drove to our hotel, Oriental Towers (website)(Google Maps) and got there by dark (6:30). I went to my room. There are two small twin beds. There may be air conditioning, but I turned on the ceiling fan instead. There is no WiFi or internet at the hotel. I changed the batteries in my camera, the first time for this trip. The new camera, a Canon SX150 IS, seems to be working just fine, much better than my old one. It takes better pictures in low light.

One of the elevators quit working so I walked down the steps from the eighth floor to the ground floor. I waited in the lobby for the others. The front doors were wide open and the mosquitoes were at my legs again. Then the power went out just before a French couple were about to get on the one remaining operating elevator. The power came back on after a few seconds, but the couple were unsure about the elevator. They asked me to monitor the elevator in case it went out while they were on it. There was no problem though. Then Viv and Chandra arrived and we went to the hotel restaurant. We were the first there. The table clothes were filthy from the previous meals that day, or maybe for several days. I ordered goat vindaloo, garlic naan and a Kingfisher. Mosquitoes were working on us in the restaurant while we ate dinner.

After dinner, I bought a bottle of water and walked up the steps to my room on the eighth floor (our ninth). I filled out my journal and prepared for bed. I hope there are not too many mosquitoes in my room.

11 February 2012, Saturday

I woke up for good at 5, but didn't get up till 6. Power went out several times last night. There were a couple of mosquitoes in the room but the ceiling fan may have helped keep them away. Plus, I kept myself covered by the sheet. I packed and put electrolyte powders in my new bottle of water. I took a shower and was surprised that there was warm water. The bathtub was slick with  scum. I don't think it was ever cleaned. There was no soap, only two packets of shampoo that you can never really get opened. Most of the hotels will have either a small bar of soap, or a thing of shampoo, or thing of liquid soap. Only once have I had shampoo and soap (Goa).

I went down to breakfast at 7, when they opened. I sat at the same table as last night, same table cloth. I ordered the Thanjur Breakfast which came with a savory coconut chutney, dahl (I used with soft rice cake dumplings), potato lentil dish, another chutney, poori, wada, and a large dosa, plus a pot of sweet milk coffee. Everything was good.

I went to my room and typed out more entries in my netbook. At 9, I checked out and got into the car. We are headed for Karaikudi. I saw black drongos, egrets, Pied Kingfisher, Pariah kites, swifts, crows, Pied Mynahs, large heron, bee eaters, monkeys, Brahminy Kites, night heron, coots, etc. We stopped at a farmer's cashew-roasting stand. We sampled some of the freshly roasted ones. Very good.

We stopped at Thirumayam Temple (Wikipedia entry)(Google Map). It was situated on and in the large rock exposure there. The rocks are spherically weathered and I'm guessing that they are granites. There are fortified walls around the entire outcrop. There are numerous Hindu temples on and carved into, and in some cases, under the rock. We went through some of the temples and were blessed by the priests. I had a vermilion mark put on my forehead, was given holy water, and was tapped on the head with a metal cap-like lid. This is Chandra's religion and it is interesting to see him doing his rituals. He has explained a lot about Hinduism to us. After the temple visit, we had a nice cup of chai and then hit the road again.

I saw an openbill stork, Brahminy kite, egrets, large heron, and coots.

We arrived at out hotel, the Chettinadu Mansion (website)(Google Maps) by noon. This is a very nice heritage hotel close to the Royal Palace of this region. When we entered the lobby, we were given a garland of flowers, a cold, aromatic towel, and a fruit drink. I was sown my room and couldn't believe it. It reminded me of the quality of rooms on the Rajasthan Experience comfort trip. Too bad we're only here one night. Charming place. I was very pleased to find that there was WiFi here, and it's free. I'll send out my e-mails for the first time on this trip.

We met in the lobby for lunch and walked about a half kilometer to the Chettinadu Court café. On the way there, I saw the bizarre hoopoe bird, a black wagtail, and something like a magpie lark. At the restaurant I ordered a chili chicken (“chilly chicken”), rice and a lime soda. After that, we walked back to the hotel. It's getting pretty hot.

I got my laptop and journal, went down to the lobby and started sending out e-mails. I don't know when I'll ever get internet again, so I'll as many as possible.

At three, I put my laptop and journal back in my room, went down to the inner courtyard and started our cooking class, a demonstration. The lady prepared coriander chutney and Chettinadu Chicken. We got copies of the recipes. There were lots of ingredients and spicy herbs for both recipes. We got to eat the food after it was prepared and it was delicious. The chilies they used were round, red chilies a little larger than a marble.

We went into the lobby to wait for our ox-cart tour and I sat down next to an older fellow. He was the owner and he grew up in this mansion. He has visited the U.S. When his granddaughter graduated from Virginia Tech.

The ox cart arrived and we boarded it and toured the merchant-class houses in the area. We toured one of the houses. The homes reminded me of the merchant-class havellis in Rajasthan. These homes had seen better days (200-300 years ago) and the current families live in the bigger cities. They come back for special occasions. Then we visited a temple next to a drinking-water reservoir. We didn't tour the Royal Palace because there was a wedding going on with one of the royal members.

Back at the hotel, I repacked, got out my bluejeans, and took a short nap. At 7, I went to the lobby and the staff took us to an audio-visual room and we watched a 9-minute video about Chettinadu culture and history. It was quite entertaining. At 7:30, we went to the inner courtyard and had a Chettinadu dinner consisting of... idiyappam, kosamalli, chappathi (bread), prawn masala, kuruma, uthappam, Chettinadu chicken curry, vathakku chutney, kesari (dessert), and I had a thermos of Indian chai. Everything was excellent. I ate in Indian fashion, with my fingers. Chandra has been showing me the technique.

At 8:45, I went to my room, filled out my journal, and went to bed.

12 February 2012, Sunday

 I woke up at 5, but got up at 6:30 at daylight. I turned on the hot water heater and took a shower. I started packing up as well.

I went for a short walk and saw crows and a parakeet. Back at the hotel, I tried to send e-mails, but the internet was not working. Good thing I sent most of them out last night. I went for breakfast in the main lobby. I had cut papaya and pineapple, freshly-squeezed orange juice, about six Chettinadu dishes including coconut chutney, a rice and cashew dish, mixed vegetable dish and other I couldn't identify. They were all good though. I also ordered a masala omelet with lots of chilies. I had Indian coffee and some hard sweets made from sesame seeds and molasses.

After breakfast, we loaded into the car and headed for Madurai. I saw all sizes of egrets, pond herons (paddybirds), crows, black drongos, swifts, mynahs, openbill storks, etc.

We are entering a region where there are isolated, rounded hills dotting the plain here and there. I am assuming they are granites. Some are pretty big. And now it is becoming a very extensive area of granite(?) quarries. The fresh granite is very light in color. The color, even texture and massive nature make this rock a desirable dimension stone and statuary stone. Off in the distance, I see a mountain range, these are the Western Ghats again.

In Madurai, we went to the Meenakshi Temple (Wikipedia entry)(Google Maps), a huge temple complex built in the 13th century. It is more extensive than the others and has many more carvings. We removed our shoes and I had to wear long pants. I took lots of photographs. After we exited the temple, we walked around the outside walls. There are four main gates, each with a tower. Each tower has many carvings and each carving is hand painted every 12 years. The temperature is getting pretty warm, Chandra said about 34 degrees C.

We drove to a south Indian thali restaurant and we each had a south Indian thali (a sampler platter). Each one had twelve dishes, plus rice, two kinds of bread, banana, lime pickle, and a betel nut packet (mine is in my cheek now). My cost for the thali was 70 rupees.

We left the restaurant and drove to our hotel, Hotel Germanus. I was in my room by 1:30. I took a shower, filled out my journal and typed it up. This is the first room I've had that had a safe. There were also plenty of toiletries. The hotel has WiFi, three hours for 50 rupees, so I should be able to send e-mails.

None of us were hungry after the thalis so at 7, we went to the bar for snacks and a Kingfisher. I talked with the staff. The fellow in charge worked in Bangkok for three years till he had enough money to get married. Then he came back to Madurai, got married and now has two children. The fellow who waited on me was younger. He was married and also had two kids. He was learning yoga. He showed me a pose that I used to do. He said he slept only 3 hours per night so that he could work for his family. They asked me how old I was and I told them. They were amazed. They said that most people my age couldn't walk or get around.

I went back to my room, filled out my journal, and went to bed.

13 February 2012, Monday

I got up at 6:30 and took a shower. I sent out an e-mail and then packed up. Today, we go to Periyar.

At 8, we met in the lobby and crossed the driveway to the breakfast room. I had cut papaya, rice pongol with cloves, several vegetable dishes, a spicy dahl chutney, a dish with flour dumplings and with sweet cardamon milk, toast with honey, masala omelet with lots of chilies, and a good strong coffee with milk.

After breakfast we loaded into our car for Periyar. During the trip, I saw crows, Indian Roller, White-breasted Kingfishers Pied Mynah, sifts, Paddybirds, white egrets, black drongos, Great Heron, White Pelican, Darter, Coots, terns, ducks, Cattle Egrets, Brahminy Kites, Pariah Kites, other Kingfishers, Pied Wagtail.

We stopped briefly at a brick-making place and I took photographs. We then drove into the valleys of the Western Ghats. I saw lots of rock outcrops that were typical of granitic terranes (spherical weathering). It started out with isolated hills, but as we traveled further into the valleys, the hills consolidated and became large mountains. In the distance, we can see the Nilgiri Mountains in the haze (to our right). These are also large mountains. I can see rocky peaks above the clouds.

We left Tamil Nadu state and entered Kerala state and ascended the Nilgiri Mountains by a very curvy road. The rocks that I could see were granitic or gneissic. We stopped halfway up and I took photographs of the landscape, rhesus monkeys, and lots of swifts.

We got to a very nice hotel in Periyar at about 12:30. It's called Ranger Wood Nature Castle (website)(Google Maps). It has lots of stump furniture, a swimming pool, dining room and an Auyurvedic Center, but no internet. My room is large and has its own balcony overlooking a wetland. I saw Paddybirds and white egrets. We are right next to a tiger preserve. I took some photographs, but I noticed a paint-like speck on my camera lens. I used some lens cleaner on it and really had to rub awhile before the speck disappeared. I don't know what it was and I hope it doesn't show up on many of my pictures.

We are in the town of Thekkady (TEK-a-dee, like Chickadee) in the Periyar region. At 1:30, we walked about one-half mile to a restaurant. I had a mixed vegetable kolarhi(?) with parathi bread, pickle and a Kingfisher. We walked back to the hotel by 3:15. We heard an Indian Roller bird call and another that sounded like laughter. Chandra didn't know what it was. We also saw several rhesus monkeys. Back at my room, I took a nap.

We met up again at 5:40 and walked about one-half mile to an Indian martial arts demonstration. The technique is called Kalari Payattu (Wikipedia entry), and they use everything from bare hands, to swords, sticks, flexible sword (urumi), and even cloth. It was all choreographed, of course, but still interesting. I had never seen the flexible sword before. Photography was difficult due to low light and fast action.

On the way back, we stopped at a hotel restaurant (not ours). Vivian had arranged to meet a friend there. I ordered mushroom masala, white rice, pickle and a Kingfisher. After dinner, Chandra and I went back to our hotel and left Vivian to socialize with her friend. I went back to my room, filled out my journal, and went to bed by 9:30.

14 February 2012, Tuesday

Happy Valentines Day! I got up at 6:30 and took a shower. I went to the balcony and watched the mist over the marsh. There were numerous bird and animal calls that I didn't recognize. One was the hooting sound of the langur. I saw several White-breasted Waterhens, a dove, and several swifts, Red-Whiskered Bulbuls, White Egret, large Grey Heron, mynahs, Large White Egret and heard a crow.

I went to breakfast a little before 8. I had watermelon, pineapple, vegetable soup, onion bread, chutney of some sort, little thin pancake with honey, and four cups of sweet, milk coffee. I could have ordered an omelet, but what I already had was enough. I am gaining weight from all the eating.

At 9, Chandra and I met and our driver took us into the Periyar Nature Preserve (Wikipedia entry), a tiger preserve. Earlier, Chandra had bought tickets for us to go on a guided hike in the preserve. I had to fill out a form in the check-in hut. They asked me if I wanted to rent leech socks to keep leeches off my feet and legs. I declined. Chandra and I met our guide, Raj. We went to the head of the trail (Google Maps) and suddenly there was great excitement. There was a herd of elephants emerging from the jungle across a narrow inlet of the lake. The elephants bugled and the local fishermen scattered madly away from the herd. This is the elephants' mating season, plus they had young ones with them, and they can be very dangerous at this time. The fishermen and a group of hikers boarded a hand-pulled bamboo ferry to get across the inlet before the elephants got there. Our original hiking plan was to cross the inlet and begin our trek from there, but due to the wild elephants, we hiked only on our side of the inlet.

There are also tigers in this preserve. But, not to worry, our guide Raj had a stick, plus, I could outrun Chandra. We hiked for several hours and saw and heard lots of wild life. In addition to the elephants, we saw six wild boars, a black Nilgiri Langur jumping from one tree to another (and making its haunting, hooting sounds), porcupine diggings and spoor, bear marks on termite mound, tiger spoor and scratch marks, large rat snakes mating, Giant Malabar Squirrel (Wikipedia entry) and many birds. I also found a leech on my foot which I immediately flicked off, it had not bitten me yet.

The guide was very knowledgeable and helped identify the wildlife. I saw and heard White Egret, Intermediate White Egret, Paddybird (Grey Pond Heron), several White-breasted Wagtails, mynahs, a Grey Jungle Fowl rooster (same genus as our chicken, different species), Common Sand Piper, Spotted Dove, female Blossom Headed Parakeet, House Swift, White-breasted Kingfisher, Green Bee Eater, Green Barbet, three  male and one female Scarlet Minivet (photographs), Gold-Fronted Leafbird, Tickell's Flycatcher, Magpie Robin(?), Chestnut Bellied Nuthatch, Racket-Tailed Drongo, Brown Drongo, and some others I can't remember.

We finished the round trip hike, walked to our car and the driver took us to an Indian restaurant used by locals. I had a vegetable dish, extra spicy (and it was), three pieces of paratha bread, and I drank my electrolyte water. My cost was 60 rupees. Vivian walked by and we flagged her in and she ate with us as well. We walked back to the hotel in the hot sun.

At the hotel, I took a shower and checked for more leeches. There were none. I filled out my journal, typed it up and tried to take a nap.

At 5:45, we met and got into our car. The driver took us to a spice plantation several miles out of town. We went on a short tour given by the owner, Abraham. He and his family are Suria (?) Roman Catholics. He showed us many different spices and we got to taste and smell many of them. After the tour, we went into the family home. We sat at a table and they set the banana leaves at our places. Then the lady of the house brought out dish after dish. We had Kerala rice (fatter then others), cassava dish, mixed vegetable dish, chicken curry, fish curry, green beans (excellent), lime pickle, paratha bread, and a couple of dishes that I can't remember. For dessert, we mixed Kerala rice, home-made yogurt, small banana and sugar. We each mixed these together into a paste and then ate it. Everything was very good. After the meal, we went back to the hotel and had a Kingfisher. I went back to my room and packed for our travels tomorrow. I filled out my journal and went to bed at 9.

15 February 2012, Wednesday

I woke up at 6, but got up at 6:30 along with all the birds. I took a shower, anti-malarials, etc., and then went on my balcony. There was a mist again and I could hear far more bird and animal calls than I could see. I also heard the hooting of the langur. I did see the waterhen and swifts, crow, etc.

At 7:30, I went to breakfast. I had a masala omelet, watermelon, pineapple, mashed potatoes with lots of herbs and spiced, four cups of sweet, milk coffee and local grape juice. I sat with a group of people who were on another Intrepid tour. They were from England, Switzerland, and Australia.

At 8:30, we loaded into the car and headed towards the Kerala backwaters. We passed extensive tea plantations in the mountains. Pepper vines climbed thin shade trees over the tea shrubs. We stopped at the Connemara Tea Factory and took a tour. The guide explained about tea processing. We were not allowed to take photographs inside the factory, however. At the end of the tour, we sampled strong (powder) and weak (granule) black tea. Tea plants can live to be over 100 years old, but they are replaced after 50 years because the older plants produce less polyphenols. We got back in the car and drove further through the mountains. In the mountains, I saw Paddybird (Grey Heron, photograph), bulbul, falcon, crows, Pariah Kite, and an eagle of some sort. We made a chai stop after starting our descent. We had a magnificent, but hazy view of the Nilgiri range we were in. I took a series of photographs, but the air was very hazy and they may not turn out. We stopped briefly at a rubber plantation and I took photographs of the trees and latex bowls. We also stopped at a pineapple farm.

When we finally got to the lowlands and marshes, I saw darters, different terns, lots of domestic ducks, egrets, kingfishers, drongos, cormorants, crows, Pond Herons (paddybirds), brown duck, etc. There are extensive, wide canals in this region known as the Kerala Backwaters (Wikipedia entry). Some areas are filled with water hyacinth and some with lotus. There are also lots of rental houseboats, a sort of hotel on water and many of them are very attractive. The name of this region is Alappuzha (also Alleppey). We drove through lots of windy, very narrow roads till we got to our Kayaloram Heritage Resort (website)(Google Maps). It was right on the waterfront, no beach, just a landing. My room was about 1/3 meter above sea level. We are on the edge of a large lake with many canals crisscrossing the land. The Arabian Sea is just on the other side of the lake. The land is a series of rice paddies. This is reclaimed land, much like the Netherlands.

My room is in a cottage about 10 meters from the water. I have a large mosquito net canopy hanging  over my bed, which I assume means lots of mosquitoes here. I do not have a key to my room, the previous guest absconded with it. There is no electricity during the daytime. They turn it on at night for lights and ceiling fans.

We went to lunch buffet where I had chipatti bread, papad, cucumbers, several mixed vegetable dishes, Kerala rice and a nice fish curry. Dessert was a rice vermicelli in sweet milk, spiced broth. I had a Kingfisher, as well. The other Intrepid group had lunch there as well.

It was pretty hot in the afternoon, so I took a swim in the small pool. The water was bathtub warm, but better than the air. I talked to several of the other travelers, and mentioned the Pandaw boat trips I've been on. I think several of them may try the trips in the future.

At 5:30, the three of us got on a boat and spent two hours traveling slowly along the canals. There are many, very nice houseboats here and they make them along this area. We stopped at a rice paddy and walked along the irrigation ditches. This is where Kerala rice is grown. We ended up at the far end of the lake at sunset and I took several photographs. We then pulled back into the landing just a few minutes before the other Intrepid group pulled up.

Chandra is staying on a two-room houseboat tied up along the landing and he is sharing the boat with a German couple from Heidelberg. Chandra, Viv, the German couple and I had chai on the boat and I spricht a little Deutsch about my family.

Dinner was called and we all went to the dining hut and had our dinner buffet. We all sat according to our groups. I had rice, several vegetable dishes, and my favorite of the meal, Gobi Manchurian, which was spicy, stir-fried cauliflower.

After dinner, the entire group dragged chairs and made a circle in front of the cabins and talked a long time. There were several from Switzerland, one from Italy, but most were from England and Australia. I was the only American. I went to bed at ten after deploying the mosquito net.

16 February 2012, Thursday

I woke up at 6 and got up with the birds at 6:30. I took a cold-water shower, packed up and then went to the water's edge. I took a couple of photographs and filled out my journal. Electricity had already been cut. At 8, I went to breakfast and had masala omelet, toast, yogurt with pineapple and banana, and an upmaa, a semolina-based dish with spices, cashews, curry leaves, etc. I had a small pot or milk coffee. The other Intrepid group asked me to sit with them, so I did. After breakfast, we checked out and hit the road by 9. We are headed to Kochin.

After a couple of hours, we arrived in Kochin (Cochin) and went to the Jewish Synagogue (no photos), the Dutch Palace Museum (no photos), St. Francis Church, Chinese fishing nets, and then Santa Cruz Basilica. The fishing nets are called Chinese because they were made in China. The net apparatus is a large cantilevered dip net. There are a number of them along the shore.

I found through Chandra that my flight to Mumbai tomorrow has been canceled (for the second time). My travel agent, Frances, has booked another flight for me, but it is one hundred dollars more. I'm not sure what is going on.

We got to our hotel, the Hotel Fort Queen (Google Map) by 12:30. I tipped the driver, Swami, and he returned to his home in Madurai. I used the lobby computer to find out about my flight tomorrow. They didn't have WiFi, so I couldn't send out my already-typed e-mail entries.

At 1:30, we went to the hotel restaurant and I had Mulligathwani (Mool-ge-twani) soup, chipati bread and a Kingfisher. Service was very slow, but the soup was fine. I returned to my room to fill out my journal and type it up.

At 6:45, we met in the lobby and caught a tuktuk to a Leelu cooking class (website) near St. Francis Church. The very nice lady taught us south Indian-style dishes including okra curry, fish curry, mixed vegetable dish, chipati, and a dahl curry. There was a Brazilian, a Spaniard, a German and three Swiss also taking the class. After the dinner was prepared, we went to the dining room and had the dinner. My favorite was the okra curry. We all talked about our travels and where we were going next. It was a very nice group of people and we had a good time.

We caught a tuktuk back to the hotel and went to the restaurant for a last Kingfisher. I went to my room by 9:30, filled out my journal, and watched a little TV before I went to bed.

17 February 2012, Friday

I got up at 6:30 and did my final packing. I went down to breakfast at 7:45 and had cheese omelet (pre-prepared), chutney, french toast (no syrup), lime pickle, and three cups of sweet milk coffee. Vivian and I gave Chandra his tip and we talked awhile. After breakfast, I went to my room and took a shower. I read “The Hindu” newspaper, it's in English.

I went down to the lobby at 10:30 where Viv and I said goodbye to Chandra. I went back to my room and copied the photographs from my camera SD card to my netbook (as a backup). The power has gone out repeatedly throughout the morning. I hope the power surges have not damaged my computer over the past two weeks.

At 12:15, my cab arrived. I had pre-paid a cab-ride to the airport. The cab arrived at the domestic terminal at 1:30, but it seemed like a much longer ride. I got to the waiting area where I will wait until the counter opens at 2:00. It's hot outside, but this terminal has air conditioning and fans, so it's comfortable. At about 2, I got my boarding pass and went through security. I went to a waiting area near the gate and sat in one of the big cushioned chairs. I ordered a sweet milk chai and filled out my journal. I have about a two-hour wait. According to my computer, there is free WiFi here, so I connected. The screen said, for free WiFi, type in your home phone number and country code. I did. It then said that a message would be sent to my home phone with my access code for the free WiFi. So, how's that supposed to work? If I were home to receive the message, then I wouldn't need WiFi. I have a wired phone at home. I guess they received a mysterious phone call at home. Oh well. Maybe my hotel in Mumbai will have WiFi.

I eventually boarded the plane. During the flight, I was served a snack consisting of a small cream-of-chicken-type pie, two fried, green vegetable patties, spicy mint chutney, and a dish of cut papaya, pineapple and watermelon. I had sweet, milk chai to drink.

We flew over some big mountains and canyons close to Mumbai, some of it was canyon-land that would rival the Grand Canyon. Some of the shear cliffs were very high, well over a thousand feet. These must be part of the Deccan Traps. I hope I can arrange a trip to see them while I'm here. Closer to Mumbai, I saw lots of estuarine environments. The plane windows were not clear enough for photographs.

We landed in Mumbai about 6 PM. I exited the airport and saw a fellow holding a sign with my name on it. He and the driver were with Travel Bound and they are handling my stay in Mumbai. We were in the car by 6:20 as the sun was setting. We got to my hotel, the Krishna Palace (website), at 7:20 after lots of horn honking and stop and go traffic. My room is on the 12th (13th) floor. It seems very nice and they saw they have WiFi and that it might be working. Hope so.

I went down to the restaurant on the first (our 2nd) floor. I had just eaten on the plane, so I wasn't very hungry. I ordered a Kingfisher and with it came a plate full of papad, bowl of mint chutney, small bowl of roasted masala powder, bowl of roasted peanuts, and plate of cut cucumber and carrots. Before these items appeared, I ordered a kachiya, a plate-size unleavened rice bread, thicker than a papad, but crispy and topped with mixed veggies, like tomatoes, bell pepper, cilantro, and herbs. It was good, but I couldn't finish all of it. I was the only westerner in the room. I signed the bill to my room and then went back to my room. I filled out my journal and went to bed at 10:30.

18 February 2012, Saturday

I woke up at 6:15 and got up at 6:30. I took a shower and my anti-malarials. I had a few minutes before breakfast opened, so I typed up some of my journal entries. At 7:30, I went down to breakfast buffet. The only other people there was a very friendly couple. He was a retired Lieutenant Colonel with the Indian military, and at one time was in charge of 7,000 UN troops. He and his wife were having dosas with potato dish stuffed inside. They showed me how it was made and explained how it was eaten. I told them where I was from and he started talking about the life of Colonel Sanders. He had read Sanders' biography. He also told me that he had been held captive in East Timor for six months, several years ago. He had been trying to negotiate the release of several Australians and New Zealanders, but then he was captured as well. I had a nice conversation with them. They were going to Chennai. He gave me his contact information and said for me to call him and that he would send a car for me; they invited me to stay at their guest house. They were a very nice couple.

For breakfast, I had masala dosa with potato dish inside, a coconut chutney and sambar. Then I had two fried eggs and toast. I had two cups of masala chai. After breakfast, I went to my room to get ready for the day.

At 8:45, I met Hema (hem-a, not hee-ma), my guide for the day. I also have a private car and driver. I thought I'd be on a bus tour. We stopped at the Hanging Gardens park and walked around it. Temperature was about 72 degrees F, but getting warmer. Next we stopped at the clothes-washing slums. These are illiterate people, but each one collects dirty clothing from about 100 people, then they sort and wash them by color, and then they re-sort them by owner and deliver them back accurately. I can't imagine how that is done.

Hema was a university lecturer for 8 years, but she retired when her daughters became tennis pros, so that she could manage them. Now she does contract tour guiding during the tourist season.

We saw the skyscraper designed as a home for a billionaire, one floor is his personal hospital, one floor is his swimming pool, top floor is his helipad. The entire building is just for him and his family, four people. Then we stopped at the railway station, designed and built by the “Britishes” in the 1880's. It's a UNESCO heritage site now, but still operating as a train station. The guide thinks that she can arrange a tour for me to the Matheran highlands (Deccan Traps, I hope).

We stopped at a cottage industry store and I bought four Peshwari? shawls and a hand-knotted silk rug for my family. It will be shipped home.

We then went to the Prince of Wales Museum, built for the Prince of Wales for his visit. I walked around with an audio guide. I went through the sculpture gallery, the Proto- and Pre- History gallery, and the Natural History gallery. I spent about 45 minutes there.

We then stopped by the Bombay University buildings where Hema got her diploma. These buildings were also built during the same time period as the others. I am amazed at all the fine stone buildings that line the major streets. Most of these were built by the British from the 1880's to the 1910's.

Our last stop was the Gandhi Museum. Gandhi, when he was in Bombay, lived in this house, owned by his friend. After Gandhi's death in 1948, the friend donated the house as a museum. I have been to several Gandhi museums in New Delhi.

After that, I was taken back to my hotel. I tipped the guide and driver. The guide has arranged for me the trip to Materhan, but with another guide on Monday. She will contact me today or tomorrow after five with more details.

At the hotel, I bought one-hour WiFi access for 80 rupees. I should be able to send out e-mail entries this afternoon.

Bad Luck. When I logged on, I got a warning message from my browser (false security credentials) that the server may be trying to hack into my computer. I was attempting to go to the hotmail site, but another server was trying to do something else (perhaps spoofing the site). I can't use this internet access. I'll have to try something else or wait till I get to Chiang Mai.

I took a walk around the neighborhood to see what is here. One block seems to be the hardware-store block. The next block is a fruit and vegetable open market. I didn't see any internet café. I ended up at the Sudama Pure Vegetarian restaurant next to my hotel (it is associated with the hotel). I had a Paneer Jaipuri (Indian cheese in a spicy curry), Aloo Parathi (bread with potato), and masala chai. I also had some mango pickle. The curry was very good.

After the late lunch, I went to my room to wait for a call from Hema about Monday's tour. I typed out my journal, watched TV, and took a nap. I waited for the call till 8 and decided to go to the main hotel restaurant for a Kingfisher. I had a Kingfisher Strong and was also served the usual papad, mint chutney, peanuts, charred masala, and cut carrots and cucumber. Not a bad deal.

I went to bed at 9 while watching TV.

19 February 2012, Sunday

I woke up at 6:30 and got up at 7. I took my anti-malarials and then went down to breakfast. I had masala omelet with lots of chilies, two small bowls of cut fruit (papaya and watermelon), masala chai and milk coffee. I went back to the room, took a shower and got ready for my next tour.

I went down to the lobby by 8:40. My guide, Polly (a man), met me and we got into a car and drove to a landing near the big welcome arch. We boarded one of the passenger boats and headed out into the bay. The air is very hazy due to the thick smog. One cannot see across the bay. During monsoon, the smog is cleared out. We are headed to Elephanta Island and even halfway there, one could not see it. I was on the top deck (10 rupees extra) and took photographs of the trip. Some of the Indian passengers started throwing bits of snacks into the air and sea gulls would snatch them in the air or on the water. I took photographs of some of the gulls. Polly tells me that they are migratory birds, some coming all the  way from Siberia and some have leg bands for identification. Closer to shore I also saw lots of terns and some crows.

We got off at Elephanta, so named by the Portuguese when they found a stone elephant here. The island is all basalt (part of the Deccan Traps?) and the Elephanta Caves (Wikipedia entry) are carved into the basalt. Inside are pillars and panels, all from the solid rock. There are many panels in large relief and they are all about Shiva. The Portuguese wanted to use the caves to store weapons and ammunition, they didn't want worshipers, so they damaged many of the sculptures. They knew that worshipers wouldn't come to damaged temples. What a shame.

Anyway, we caught a small train from the boat pier to the base of the hill. I climbed the many steps to get to the top. Most of the people seemed to be very out of shape. There were even palanquins if people wanted to be carried to the top. I saw one large German lady do this, poor porters. I took lots of photographs. After we finished the archaeological sites, we descended the hill and had a salt and sweet lime soda, made on the spot. Instead of taking the train back, we walked. It is starting to get pretty hot.

The boat ride back was an hour. We got off at the landing and Polly called the driver to pick us up. They took me back to the hotel where I tipped both of them. Polly confirmed what I thought, the hotel is expensive and situated in a working-class residential area. There is nothing in this area to see and no good restaurants, shopping or entertainment. To do anything, one has to take a cab or a tuktuk. A bottle of beer here, is two or three times what it is anywhere else. Although the hotel is fine and the food and service is good, I would not come back here. I'm a captured market.

I was back at my room by 1:30. It was pretty hot outside, so I filled out my journal and typed it out.

I went next door, to the vegetarian restaurant again. This time I asked for something and then asked what it was. They said it was a little bit spicy. I asked what was the spiciest and the waiter pointed to Subzi L-something. I said that I wanted that, but make it very spicy. I also ordered a mango lassi and paratha bread. The dish came out with a nice, heavy curry or gravy. I don't know what was in it (mixed vegetables, I think), but it was delicious. It had lots of different flavors. I know it had star anise because I crunched down on it. The lassi and bread were good too. The entire lunch was 340 rupees.

I went back to my room and took a short nap. I then went out walking, striking in a different different direction. I walked a mile or so and then turned around and walked back. I got back to my room by 5. I thought that Hema might call me after 5 about the tour to Matheran. While I was out, I passed a wine shop, more of a hooch shop for street alcoholics. I bought a bottle of Kingfisher for 80 rupees. I could buy five or six bottles for what I pay for one bottle at the hotel. It is 94 degrees F or 34 degrees C outside, not bad for their winter.

I watched TV while waiting. By 9:30, I got no phone call, so I guess tomorrow is a no-go. I went to bed at 9:30.

20 February 2012, Monday

I woke up a little before 6, but didn't get up till 7:30 when the dining room opens. I went down to breakfast and had masala omelet, toast, cut fruit (same as yesterday), and sweet, milk coffee. I went back to my room and took a shower. I also took my anti-malarials.

I went down to the lobby at 9 and talked to the fellow at the reception desk. I asked for a map so that I could walk to find something interesting. He gave me a map of the Colaba beach area, many miles away from here. He said I would have to take a cab. I asked for a map for the area around the hotel. He said that they didn't have one and recommended that I not walk in this area. I'm wondering why a tour company would put a tourist here. I can say that it's not for the benefit of the tourist. Anyway, I got a hotel card to show a cabby on my way back. When I took a closer look at the map, I saw that it was in a language with letters I didn't recognize. I couldn't read any of the street names. It was in Hungarian, I recognized some Hungarian words. Although the letters photocopied well, the actual streets did not show up (the original must have been in color). I don't think this map of Colaba is going to be usable.

Today is Shiva's birthday and it's a big holiday. Thousands and thousands of people will be going to the Shiva temple on Elephanta Island and the ferries will be free. There could be a million people in the Colaba area where the ferry landings are (I was there yesterday). According to the BBC, the temperature in Mumbai is supposed to be 41 degrees C (about 106 degrees F) today.

I went down to the lobby and caught a cab to the tourist area. The ride was 70 rupees after I rounded it up. I got out and walked around. What a difference, sidewalks, shops, restaurants, and souvenir kiosks. I just wandered around for a long time. I went past the Taj Hotel (Wikipedia entry) that was shot up during the 2008 Mumbai terrorist massacre (Wikipedia entry) a few years ago. I also went to Leopold's Café (Wikipedia entry), just a regular café, but popular with westerners, and this is the reason it was shot up as well. Ten people were killed here. I ordered a beer here and took a few photographs. There was a slight breeze today and it didn't seem to be as hot as predicted. Just being in a place where you can walk around really lifted my spirits. I walked past a Shiva lingam temple with a long line of people waiting to get in. The temple was heavily decorated with flowers and people were bringing all sorts of offerings, usually flowers. The tourist area was crowded, but not as crowded as I was led to believe.

I passed a sign that said “foot massage.” I thought this might be a good opportunity to get an ayurvedic massage. I went in and found that it was a Thai foot massage place. I signed up for an hour foot massage anyway. I spoke some Thai to them but they didn't respond. It was a very relaxing massage. When done, I paid them and asked where they were from. They said, from the northeast. I asked if it were Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai and they said, no, the northeast of India, Nagaland. People from Nagaland look very oriental. Now I understand why they didn't respond to Thai.

I walked around a bit more, but at 4:30, I thought I'd better get ahead of rush-hour traffic. I hailed a cab and showed the driver the hotel card. He studied it awhile and then said he would do it. After I got in, I noticed that there was no meter. He drove through heavy traffic and arrived at the hotel by 5. He said, one hundred rupees, and immediately said two hundred rupees. I gave him 100 and thanked him in Hindi, and he seemed happy.

I went to my room, filled out my journal, and took a shower. I have to pack tonight, I leave very early in the morning for my travel day to Chiang Mai, Thailand.

At 7, I went down to the dining room. I ordered a paneer dish with a long name. It had Indian paneer cheese and mixed vegetables. It was green in color, perhaps from spinach. It was very tasty. I also had paratha bread and a Kingfisher.

I went back to my room, set my alarm and called for my wake-up call in the morning. I went to bed by 8:30.

21 February 2012, Tuesday

I woke up at 2:30, but got up at 2:50. I took my anti-malarials and finished packing. I canceled my wake-up call. I went down to the lobby to check out. I paid my restaurant tab. My driver was waiting for me there. We left about 3:15. The streets were almost empty, stark contrast to the daytime. He asked for feedback about the hotel. I told him that the hotel was very nice, the staff was excellent, and the food was excellent. I said that the location was terrible. He laughed and said that the hotel was a marriage hotel, for marriage parties. It wasn't a tourist or business hotel at all. Now I understand.

On the way to the airport, we passed a large, lit up Ganesh temple. We also passed crowds of people walking in the street. He said that people started walking, in their bare feet, from 30 miles away and were headed toward the temple. They started at 4 yesterday afternoon. That's a long way to walk, barefooted in the street. We also passed several security check points, set up since the Mumbai terrorist massacre. We got to the airport about 3:50.

I went through the initial security check (passport and ticket) just to get into the airport building. The counter for my flight wasn't open yet, so I went to a waiting area and filled out my journal. When the counter opened, I showed my documents and got a cheap upgrade to business. I went through Immigration control and security and was in the gate area by 5, tired of course. My business ticket got me entrance to the priority lounge. This is nice. Food and drinks were available and there was free WiFi. I had several cups of coffee, some cut fruit and I sent out a backlog of e-mail entries. This is the first time I've upgraded to business.

I got on the plane and sat in the very first row. Nice comfy seats. The plane took off at 7:30. They gave me a menu for breakfast, I chose smoked Gouda omelet with croissant, cut fruit, roasted veggies and masala chai. There was a movie on, but I didn't watch it, I didn't realize it was on. Instead, I read the latest Time Magazine. We flew across India, Bay of Bengal, southern Myanmar and part of Thailand, of course.

The next part of my trip, Thailand