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On arrival in Chennai our group of 24 check into the Taj Coromandel. We head out into the chaos of the main street TomTom in hand to find some cash. Noise, Smells and Atmosphere. No chance crossing the road here, but the ATM is where it should be.

Back at the hotel there is a pool. This helps cool off from our travels and exertions. Dinner? OH yes, what fantastic food. It seems we all like Indian food and here it is at it very best. We become reaquainted with the Dohsa, a semi crispy pancake folded in half with a small mashed potato filling. Everyone enjoys it all but having been advised to stop at 75% on the first night we do.

Everything seems to have run together into one day of travelling. It has been wonderful. we "start" tomorrow!


Just nine degrees North of the equator, we are leaving on a full day at 8am today. The coach drive is just under an hour through the busy streets. Our first destination is Mahabalipuram - a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with 7th century rock carvings and famous shore temple on the beach of the Bay of Bengal.

The Butterball is a great place to visit. This is the best butterball I have ever seen.

The main style of carving is to use an existing rock to make the temple.

Abi, our guide, included tomorrows plan in today. A great idea. The sightseeing tour of the city which was India's commercial hub at the height of the British Empire. The tour includes visits to Fort St George, St Mary's, San Thomas Basilica, Mylapore temple and the Victoria Technical Institute. An interesting day of observing and learning about the city.

Chennai - Madurai

Thanks to the change of plans we have a leisurely start, enabling some pre breakfast bloging. Before our flight to Madurai Liz gets pool time and I try shopping for a new mouse (no luck).

We are delayed and Abi suggests as we leave the airport that we postpone the temple visit for today. That was a good decision. We arrive at the Gateway Hotel. This is an open plan hotel that once was a single house in huge grounds high on the hillside overlooking the city.


We spend this morning taking in Madurai.

First the wholesale flower market. This is more like it. Chennai was rather sanitised compared to this.

The old city is a labyrinth of temples, bazaars and narrow bustling streets filled with stalls, rickshaws and livestock roaming freely. Our highlight is the Meenakshi Temple, which is resplendent with stone carvings and columns. It is a busy day for pilgrimages and it is breathtaking to see the temple in action.

It reminds us of an European Cathedral with so many nooks and corners but in fact it is much, much bigger. Smells and sounds, jostling people, shops and workers.

Side story: Inside there are no cameras or shoes and a strict dress code so we were taken to a carpet shop across the road to prepare. We crossed the hot street bare footed and it was a shame not to get any photos. But on the way back the Sun was high and the streets were VERY hot. Some of our party got quite burned on the way back. In fact, mine are still tingling right now.

Getting back to the hotel is quite a relief. With time (and light)to see it we spot exotic plants and wildlife everywhere. I have the best blogging table ever!

We decided to miss the palace evening "sound and light show" . A lucky escape as it became known as the sound and bite show.

Madurai Thekkady

We leave Madurai in Tamil Nadu and drive through stunning mountainous scenery as we head to Thekkady just inside Kerala. We pass many towns and notice the Lottery shops in each. Lottery is sold in Kerala but not Tamil Nadu.

Here we stopped by a brick makers house and met the family.

We stay at the Shalimar Spice Garden. Off the beaten track, we all have different huts and the emphasis is on wildlife, forest conservation and nature. Many of our party avail the spa massage therapies.

Another wonderful buffet served by the chefs themselves in a convivial atmosphere. Possibly the best food yet?


With the Western Ghats in the distance and birdsong all the time, jungle noises all night it does start to feel magical. Today's itinerary starts early with a boat ride on Lake Periyar.

The Periyar National Park is a protected area and wildlife sanctuary, home to numerous mammals, birds, butterflies.

We spot a King Fisher

And another (Stork Billed).

Our next adventure was to learn about the spices of India. Early writings and stone age carvings of neolithic age obtained indicates that India's South West coastal port Muziris, in Kerala, had established itself as a major spice trade centre from as early as 3000 BC, the beginning of the spice trade.

Kerala, referred to as the land of spices or as the "Spice Garden of India", was the place traders and explorers wanted to reach, including Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama and Marco Polo. All the spices we were to see today were available then. Unlike the Silk Road, this route was by sea, hugging the coast between Asia, Africa and Europe.

Firstly, on all occasions, taking the spice from the plant or root so fresh is a remarkable experience which is not equalled even by my own abundant dedicated kitchen drawer. Starting with Pepper we learn about Black, Green, White and Pink varieties. I get to taste the green one from the vine.

Cardamom comes as Black and Green but the Black is not used much here in fact too much can be intoxicating. Because 90% of the seed's weight is lost during drying it is the third most expensive spice (after Saffron and Vanilla).

Our guide digs up some Ginger and Tumerec roots for us to smell, Both are related to Bamboo. Then we see a Cinnamon Tree and examine the bark. Next are Green Cloves and we bite into them, numbing our mouths and tongues. Next is a mass of Curry Leaves, crushed in the palm they smell so strong. Lastly All Spice, so unusual, so amazing.

Great dance show after dinner with two students and some electro funk fusion music.

Thekkady - Cochin

Those of us who are able traipse the 300 yards from the hotel to the bus. We have a mammoth drive to Alleppey through the Western Ghats. The winding road takes us past many Tea plantations, we will see more of that later.

On the backwaters of the Vembanad Lake we board a very well appointed house boat. This is one on many hundreds sailing the channels and Lake here. The boats are all shapes and sizes with comfortable bed rooms, tourists hire them for a day or two.

Our boat has a big main deck seating all of us easily. It is Jennifer's birthday and the drinks are on George! The delicious lunch and three hour trip bring us all closer together. Fellow traveller David describes the scene as "Floridian". I was not sure but I think he was relating to the Florida Keys?

We leave the boat and drive towards the hotel but encounter a massive traffic jam. We are stuck for twenty minutes at least and all thinking this is probably normal. But actually there was a wedding procession ahead which included four of the biggest Elephants I have ever seen. We only learned of this as the jam eased because they turned off.

Abi used the time to explain about the 2016 demonetisation of the R500 and larger note that the Prime Minister sprang on the country in an effort to recoup some of the 'black' money stashed under the mattresses of India. It is a fascinating story to hear first hand, with several unexpected twists.

Read More.

The Taj at Cochin is a magnificent hotel and worth waiting for. Although bizarrely situated at the very far end of the oil terminal. Once again there is no chance to simply wander out to follow our noses. Cochin is one of India's largest ports and an important naval base. We have a three night stay here. Another great dinner!


With the heat of the Winter Sun baking my head I am now becoming transfixed by simply being here in the wake of the explorers and spice traders of the past. Childhood stories of Vasco De Gama come flooding back. Facts and feelings melt into one. Cochin is a melting pot of religions and people co existing in their affluent spice trade.

We visit the church of St Francis here in Cochin, I hover around the entrance not paying much attention. Then John came over and said that he found "that" interesting. Turns out this is the very burial place of Vasco De Gama.

Blow me down: Respect due.

There are seventeen natural islands in Cochin, plus one man made job. At the harbour side, "Hi Viz Liz" as she has become known and Patricia, heave away haul away at the Chinese net of bamboo and wood construction, with stone counter weight to retrieve a bountiful catch from the Arabian Sea.

This style of fishing has been practised here and in many other areas of Kerala, since their introduction by 14th century Chinese traders.

This day is not over, we have a Sunset cruise around the islands.


We visit Kumbalangi Island, a model fishing village where we can see the caste system happily at work. Although when we arrive we do not know it, this will be the story of the coconut.

Start with a very sharp knife and someone who has done it before. It is about the only excuse these days for using a straw.

Now wear your tool belt holding knife, Buffalo bone hammer, oil and container to climb to the tree top to extract some intoxicating liquor.

Using lethally sharp impaling spikes take away the outside of the coconut and then without loosing any fingers scrape it into a 'dessicated' (and delicious) state, before adding water and squeezing to make Coconut milk.

Pass the husks to the expert who smashes it with a club to make a ball of matty stuff.

These ladies take the matty stuff and using a winder mechanism walk backwards to form ropes. They then wind the six ropes into three and then into one.

After a Pineapple centered lunch a fourteen strong TucTuc convoy, Like the opening sequence from a Bond movie, we fly through the twisting alley ways to emerge into the main road back to the bus.

What a story to see the Coconut used so fully before our eyes by skilled craftsmen.

Cochin - Ooty

This is a 270Km road trip in the comfort of our coach. After an hour we leave Cochin and then we travel on a dual carriageway. This road has shops and villages on both sides. When a town is reached there is a flyover. The road is smooth and fast until the moment I decide to open the laptop and write this. No sooner than I do so, we encounter road works and non mettled road for several miles.

After a brilliant lunch stop using banana leaves as plates, with a dozen small veg dishes, rice sauce and bread. We start the 2000m climb lasting 40km and over 2 hours.

Each hairpin bend is like the Monaco Grand Prix hairpin on the first lap. The drivers fill both sides of the road desperately trying to overtake each other and us. At these hairpins they have the luxury of being able to see around the corner, but on the blind turns they are still at it.

youtube fun.

youtube fun.

There are some great views as we climb. Some exciting moments in towns and so much to see as we wind upwards. But we all get overloaded by the sheer distance and the rocking coach stopping and starting and the beeping horns. The single track road is occupied by houses and shops on both sides. What a place to live. We ask ourselves why? And of course it is because it is much cooler here and the air quality would be much better as well if they were to stop burning stuff everywhere.

Night night.


Nestled in the Nilgiri Hills, this agricultural town is dependent upon its surrounding tea gardens, eucalyptus trees and forest. Doddabeth Peak, the highest of the mountains in Tamil Nadu is an interesting rough ride up the broken track. Very good views of Ooty far below from this vantage point.

Moving onto the Botanical Gardens our group attracts the attention of TNTV. Liz and David do a piece to camera. In this photo I am resisting the temptation to put bunny ears up behind D's hat, opting for nodding sagely in agreement with all he says.

Charing Cross Market and Bazaar gives a greater insight into the town's various cultures, traditions and ATMs.

Apart from a dreary colonial legacy decaying roundabout for which I feel all Brits should apologise for, there is a Supermarket full of wonderful stuff. Including this Pot Noodle shelf.

Question: As they are so keen to move on the roads through spaces that are not there, overtake all all costs and otherwise push and shove their way through the streets of traffic, why are they so laid back when it comes to bringing you a cup of tea?


Our itinerary stays on track today as we use the famous Toy Train for a journey down to Coonoor. Opened in 1908 under the period of British rule HUZZAR!, it is one of India's oldest mountain railways although a bit Shimla to some others in the country. It would have improved communications by a great amount. The only other way was the single trunk road with Horse or Elephant power.

We are all chuffed to bits to see the famous "Elbow Junction", a much photographed part of the upper line. Safe arrival in Coonoor, with only the car park to negotiate before going back up the, now familiar, winding road for an hour.

The Rose Garden is a short walk from the hotel where there are rows of Roses although many empty beds as well , it is Winter.

Liz is welcome and encouraged to photobomb the group, so much joy and laughter here to find.

Ooty - Mysore

After breakfast we drive to Mysore in Karnatka State. The road takes us through the Tiger reserve which does have other beasts roaming around. Here is the rarely seen Chameleoid Elephant. Having seen Abi's shirt it immediately tries to blend into the pattern, in this case with complete success.

As we approach Mysore the 'I saw Mysore' T-Shirts are on every corner. This looks like a promising place to wander around.

In the middle distance a random simple banana transaction is captured forever.

These bikes look new. Seeing new things is very unusual on our trip. Perhaps as a group we should hire the lot and see how many of us survive more than a few moments?

The Grand Mercure seems civilised, internet sharp and simple. Change rooms due to wasp nest outside window. (No problem, window does not open however it is a bit of an eyesore).

Every Sunday at 19:00 for one hour the palace is illuminated by 87,000 bulbs. We just happen to be here. it is a wonderful experience mingling with the locals and enjoying the music from the military band.

As with Blackpool's illuminations, no photographs can do it justice.


The city is steeped in a thousand years of history with a mythical past to match. It became a capital city in the 16th century, before the power was shifted to Bangalore first in 1831 and again until 1947. The city's grandeur reflects the power it had during this first period of supremacy.

A visit to the Sri Chamundeshwari Temple sums up one of the magical things about India. Everyone wants group photos here but we all mix and mingle laugh and smile as we share with each other.

A visit inside the palace is even more illuminating than from outside. So much of the metalworking made in Glasgow. Tiles from England. The British military influence. HUZZZAH!.

Ceremonial Elephants become well known, celebrated and loved. Here is a memorial in the palace to one Elephant that passed away in about 1945.


Today we visit a vibrant flower and vegetable market which is just for the locals and we are unusual shoppers.

The city feels more organised than any of our previous locations.

But there are always surprises in India.

A niche in the Summer Palace. Here is more evidence of the Brits military force used against the locals. Here the Indian ruler wounds a Brit in the Knee before being shot in the head from short range. HUZZZARRR!

In the middle of nowhere, on a cool and quiet night, the silence deepened by the sound of crickets singing just for me. I am breathing in the inexplicable and silent mysteries of Mother India, drinking the nectar from the waning crescent Moon's equatorial bowl as it floats among a million Stars. Touching my Heart with 10000 Gods and blinding me with vibrant colours. 1 week later, I am cooking Thoran and Butter Chicken while listening to a CD purchased R50 outside Sri Chamundeshwari Temple. What a trip! Goodbye India, we love you.

bonus section

As David pointed out, this is a win win situation.

Cochin: This gentleman had been bathing and washing. He had meticulously laid out his shirt on the grass (just behind him in the picture) to dry without ironing. Stretching it this way, walking around, folding, stretch again, folding, walk around again adjust collar, until it was (almost) as shown in the picture. (Albeit surrounded by rubbish). Suddenly with a roar, as he watched, the motorbike turned in and drove right across the middle of his shirt. The two riders noisily dismounted and went down to the water, retrieving an old water soaked cloth, they proceeded to clean the passenger foot rest.

Pick a God, any God.

The search for new Croquet lawns is over in the Summer Palace, Mysore.

Thanks to Abi for getting us all around such a long way safely.