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Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Kerala - 98 to now
It is amazing how the group you are on tour with changes your interpretation of exactly the same things over time. Or is it that things themselves have changed. Could be either - but everytime i have gone to kerala - i have come out with different feelings, opinions and images.
The first time - I didnt know what to expect. I had seen much of karnataka and tamilnadu and had expected kerala to be same. I didnot know the concept of western ghats and back water etc. So I just hired a bus to cochin and wanted to maximize the 4 day long weekend by visiting everywhere possible. The return tickets - which I didnt manage to get was arranged by Ajo from Kottayam ( I didnt know that there was some place called Kumarakom near kottayam). So We went. The first sight of kerala was on the border. 5:30 AM. The bus waiting in queue to pay toll. Misty morning with green mountains in the bacground. A heavenly view enhanced by the intoxication of half sleep. ( 5:30 AM means not even half the sleep). After about an hour or so the driver announced that the bus cant go any further and needs repairs so we have to wait for 4 hrs. We didnt - took a taxi to Cochin which dropped us at KTDC office - which told us about the back water boat ride for some 50 Rs apiece. We jumped on that - not knowing what to expect and what to appreciate. And it turned out to be nice. Good boats, chinese fishing nets who we thought were some kind of dredgers removing silt from the river floor ( I thought we were on a river - and I had read about ports etc). Next stop trivendrum, bus ride to Kovallam. Sack out for two days in a disappointing beach but a nice and cheap resort(Yes I had been to paloleum on goa just before that). Then bus to kottayam and we are in ajo's place enjoying the hospitality and the beauty. We even managed to embarass ajo when one of us decided to pee on the roadside. The takeaway was that kerala is GREEN. People have forests in their backyards and all houses are big ( no slums).
Then a few more trips - kanniyakumari, thekkadi, munnar, allepy , calicut and Babija's marriage .
Calicut had more coconut trees than you would expect in entire world. There were a few things for tourists to do - a beach, ferries etc. The feeling was that its a poor place which suddenly got middle class. Things were falling apart. Mordenization was taking its toll. but outside city was all peaceful.
Kanniyakumari was the most disappointing (Except for the ride to and fro). It was impossible to find good food. Even good accomodation was a challenge in the peak tourist season.
Thekkadi was heaven so were the allepy backwaters - both of them in one trip seems like a monthlong holiday - slow relaxed beautiful.
Munnar first time was "ordinary".
This time things changed. Cochin was just a city. (We took an evening cruise which showed us the shipyard and some navy ships).
Muvattupuzha was a place to stay - and it was so good - that weherever we went to sightsee was not as great. Since we were insistant on covering patel points - we couldnt enjoy it fully. Next time we wont make that mistake. Kumarakom was all hype. Allepy had the cleanest beach we ever saw. Munnar seemed much more beautiful than the first time.
Happy or disppointed - however you feel - you always want to see more of kerala. There are so many shades of green. Plantation which look like forests to our untrained eyes and day to day tasks like extracting rubber, picking shells from bed of backwaters, carrying paddy on boats. shepherd like ppl guiding a heard of "ducks" instead of buffaloes and goats like the rest of the country. You can never have enough of it.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Sunday at MekeDatu
The first thing which I am totally disappointed about are the road maps of karnataka. I dont know whether the same holds good for rest of india. Atleast I found the tamil nadu maps decent. One problem with the road maps is that they are too old and donot have enough roads. An I own both TTK and IMS maps - both are eually worrse just that ttk makes it slightly easier to read. I think the IMS ones were updated in 1947 and TTK sometime in 1970.
But thats not it. It showed mekedatu and sangam to be some 15 KM apart with mekedatu being accessible by road and sangam being off road. Fortunately Ramesh and his wife knew kannada and were able to ask for optimal routes to reach there ( except for some over friendly ones who guided us via longer routes.) and then we realized that the roads lead to Sangam!!! and mekedatu is off road some 5 KM from there - the only way is to cross the river and take one of the two busses which shuttle between the two on a "off road" terrain.
OK now coming to the place. Yes it was crowded. Yes it was over crowded.
@ Sangam probably two tributaries of Cauvery meet. Its about a 100 meter wide, 2-3 feet deep , slow flowing river. Its good fun (If you dont pay heed to the overwhelming signs all around you warning you of crocodiles). Anyway I have watched AXN and Nat Geo and consider crocodiles to be lazy. They are lazy. There is a crocodile conservation park near Chennai. They have so many crocodiles that you cant see ground. sometilmes they live in two stories - one above another - and still you cant see ground. Probably a conservationist will tell that they have been very successful in that environment. Probably an indian will comment - "why force them to live in as overcrowded conditions as humans. What about animal rights you hiporcrite conservationists ?". Anyway the point is that the crocodiles sleep till someone throws food at them. So as long as you make sure that there is atleast one fool in both directions - upstreams and downstreams from you - no hungry crocodile will do an extra effort of passing him and attacking you. Having said that - i am not taking any chances either and read the signs carefully. They have a special warning for rainy season so i am safe.
OK so tile laces of two shoes together, hang them around the neck. Cross the river barefoot. Mind the slippery rocks and go over the sand only. reach the other side. Wait for the shuttle to MekeDatu.
Is there a difference between Bihar and karnataka? Everyone wanted to sit on the roof of the bus - with all space inside being up for grabs. Anyway the 1950 model minibus cant accelerate fast enough to throw you off balance. But the bad terrain compensates for it.
Get down at mekedatu. a rocky george with lots of water gushing thru it. climb down steps. Try to go to the place where the maximum junta is standing hoping that it has the best view. Try rock climbing. Oops the rocks are too slippery with hardly any friction or oinch grips or handles. So only cracks and buckets and really big handles work as grips.
Be adventouros. Try to touch water - I, Ramesh and our wives did it so you can you. You can be a little imaginative and call two rocks leaning over each other as caves. you can see what look like a cave at some distance - but the idea of walk over the rocks is not too exciting...
The roads are not bad. Its drivable. Its rural and its beautiful for most of the way.

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