A Travellerspoint blog

Exploring Kodaikanal

March 3, 2016

sunny 25 °C
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After a nice breakfast on the rooftop of our hotel, we set out to do some exploring. This town is high in the mountains and most of the streets are up and down. There are a few level areas, one of which is around the lake in the middle of town. So we set off to do the walk around the lake. On our way down to the lake, we checked out another hotel, the Hilltop Towers, and found they do have WIFI in the rooms and the room passed our inspection. So we made a reservation for two nights there.
Once we got down to the lake, there is a lovely paved walk all the way around the lake. It is a 5 km walk and early in the morning, there was not a lot of people on it. The forest department has put up signs identifying some of the kinds of trees, which we find interesting. We had thought there might be a lot of birds around, but there were not very many birds at all.
The lake

The lake

Fishermen on the lake in their round boat

Fishermen on the lake in their round boat


After that pleasant walk, we went looking for a tailor. Don has ripped one of his favourite pairs of shorts and he wants a new pair. These are shorts with multiple pockets of many sizes, I think 9 or 10 pockets. The first spot we went, the woman said she only did women's stitching, so she couldn't do it. But we got directions to a another tailor for men. So we found P.K. Raja, a very nice man who said he could make the exact pair in a good quality cotton poplin. He will have them done by Saturday night, because we will be leaving on Sunday morning.
We also visited the Tourist Information Office and got some more information. We had heard about an organic farm here from another traveller and wanted to find out where it was and how we could visit it.
Construction site - the women carry the mixed cement on their heads

Construction site - the women carry the mixed cement on their heads

The men make the cement and smooth it after the women dump it

The men make the cement and smooth it after the women dump it


We had lunch at the Cloud Restaurant, which has a wood fired oven and makes delicious pizza. That was quite a treat for me and they also had WIFI there. All this walking around town is quite strenuous for me, although Don just walks up the steep streets like there are flat ground. We went back over to the hotel to rest for awhile.
A new fruit we tried, delicious and now we know its name is sapota

A new fruit we tried, delicious and now we know its name is sapota


Later in the afternoon, we had another walk which took us around the edge of Bryant Park, which has lovely trees. We didn't go into the flower garden area because they were closing up for the day. We had supper at the Astoria Veg Restaurant, which was also good and then back to the hotel to watch movies on TV - the first TV watching we have done on this whole trip!

Posted by katdill 17:46 Archived in India Comments (0)

On to Kodaikanal

March 2, 2016

sunny 36 °C
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Although I was so tired from all the walking and standing yesterday, I still woke up and heard fireworks at 4:30 am, as well as the Muslim call to prayer at 5:00 and then more fireworks at 5:30 am. These fireworks sounded almost as loud as at the site 3 km away. The windows rattled in the hotel. Soon it was time to get up and packed up to leave. We went out to the main road, hoping to catch a bus into Thrissur, but all the buses were jammed with festival attendees returning home and there was not room for us and our luggage. While we were standing at the side of the road, we saw Arjuna, my elephant, leaving town riding in a truck. They use big trucks like dump trucks to carry elephants around. We were told it costs 10,000 rupees to rent a elephant for a day or $2000 CAD. The elephants are kept by temples or private people year round and used in different temple festivals.
We got a tuk tuk (although they call them auto rickshaws here) to take us into the bus station in Thrissur. There we caught a bus to Palachi. 2 hours later we were in Palachi and had to cross a busy street to a different bus terminal to get the bus we wanted. This involved going down steps to a subway tunnel and then up the steps on the other side. Not a lot of fun with a suitcase that has been getting heavier for the whole trip, but we made it!
Wind turbines outside Thrissur

Wind turbines outside Thrissur

Rice combine

Rice combine

Shop as we passed thru a town

Shop as we passed thru a town


We made it just in time to catch a bus on to Palani. After another 2 hours or so, we arrived and changed stations again, although this time it was an easy walk across a parking lot. We were told there wouldn't be a bus to Kodaikanal until 6:30 pm. We didn't know whether to actually believe this or not, because our experience has shown that there are buses to everywhere almost all the time. But we didn't want to ride and arrive in the dark. So when a fixer offered us a ride in a taxi with another couple we took it. This was a lot more expensive, 800 rupees for both of us, but well worth it. We had a more comfortable ride up the hairpin turns of the mountain and got to our hotel before it was dark.
View as we climbed the mountain

View as we climbed the mountain


Unfortunately, our hotel had no WIFI for guests. And on doing more research that evening, it seems to be the norm here. A few hotels have WIFI in the lobby and there are internet cafes, where you can sit and use the internet for a price, but there is no food available.
We went out for supper and found a restaurant across the street from an internet cafe. So Don went over and got a password and then could search hotels with WIFI while we were at the restaurant. We found a couple of possibilities in our price range and will check them out tomorrow. On our way back to our hotel, we stopped in at a couple - one very expensive one and one cheaper one which only had WIFI in the lobby - and were told something about they use to have it in the rooms until people misused it.?? We don't know what that means - pornography?, terrorism? what? Anyway we gave it up for the day and went to bed.

Posted by katdill 04:50 Archived in India Comments (0)

Elephant Festival or Utharikkavu Pooram

March 1, 2016

sunny 33 °C
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Today was the elephant festival or Utharikkavu Pooram, which means festival to the gods.

We set out for the temple in town after breakfast to see what was happening. Just as we got there, a big elephant came walking along with his handlers or mahouts. They took him on a circle walk around the temple, which we were told later was to bless the elephant. As I stood watching, the elephant hesitated as he passed me and started to put his trunk out toward me. His handler called him off right away – I think he just wondered what such a white person was doing there. I promptly claimed him as “my elephant” and we decided to follow him around and see all the steps in getting ready for the festival.
Arjuna at the temple

Arjuna at the temple

Showing how large Arjuna is compared to the big truck

Showing how large Arjuna is compared to the big truck


We followed this elephant along the street to an area where they were washing the elephants, watering them – by sticking a running hose in their mouths, and feeding them prior to getting them decorated for the festival. While we were watching this, a couple approached me and told me “my elephant” was the largest elephant of the 9 from Wadakkanchery and would be carrying the “god”. This gold plaque was given to the temple by this woman’s grandfather, 90 years ago, and her family takes care of it at their home when it is not in use at a festival. They had seen me walk down the street and I had the impression that they came over specifically to talk to me and tell me this information. I also found out “my elephant” was named Arjuna and is anywhere from 34 to 65 years old, depending on who you ask.
Arjuna with the hose stuck in his mouth

Arjuna with the hose stuck in his mouth


When it was time to go, they lined up the elephants on the street and paraded them around a couple of blocks over to the temple.

It was now time to put on all the fancy decorations. Arjuna got decorated right in the temple courtyard and then the other 8 elephants joined him. They formed a line and the horn players and drummers started up. The ritual of music, called panjandrum, and whatever ritual the Hindu priests were doing was to transfer the god, Shiva, from the temple to this plaque that Arjuna would carry to the other temple out of town.

This “music” is quite a cacophony and after listening for awhile, we went out the side of the temple. There we were asked if we had eaten yet, we said no and then were taken to the head of the food line. Rice and curry and drinks for 10,000 people free of charge!! Amazing and delicious as well. It wasn’t very spicy, so I think I got off pretty lightly. They use metal plates, which are washed by a team of people to keep clean ones coming and everyone eats with their hands, so paper cups are the only garbage.
Eventually the rituals were over and it was time to start the procession. This procession passes down the main street and along the road to the temple of Utharikkavu, which is 3 km away. As they traveled down the road, 4 elephants across, there were places where they stopped and the horns and drums started up again for awhile. Although we had thought we would stay with the elephants the whole way, it was too slow and too hot in the sun, so we went on with the thousands of other people and made it to the festival grounds well ahead of the elephants. We found a fairly shady place to sit on some concrete steps with a view of the festival grounds. Large areas are blocked off so they can set off the fireworks safely.
Start of the procession

Start of the procession

One of the stops in the procession

One of the stops in the procession

Arjuna with all the decorations

Arjuna with all the decorations


There were nine elephants representing Wadakkanchery, and two other villages each brought 15 and 9 elephants respectively. Each elephant has three men on his back and the lead elephant from each village has four men. One man holds the tall umbrella, one the fly whisks, and one holds the large round fans. The fourth man on the lead elephants has to hold up the “god plaque” on the elephant’s neck – a very tough job to do for hours at a time. When the elephants arrived, they got to go off and get watered and fed again.
Some of the throngs of people on the road

Some of the throngs of people on the road


We think there was a lot of ritual going on that we had no idea about. We were quite a distance from the little temple and of course, as non-Hindus, we would not be allowed in (not that it was big enough, anyway). There were three sets of fireworks set off. The first one was about 4:30 – no colour, just smoke and noise. They were so loud, I could feel the explosion right thru my body. Incredible!! Then a long pause, then another set around 6:00. Each village does a set. Then they brought all the elephants down to the festival field and lined them up. They did some drumming and horns while the men on the backs of the elephants switched off the umbrellas they were carrying for many different colours of umbrellas. We have no idea of the meaning of this. But once it was done, the lead elephants from each village had to go to the temple and have the god transferred from the plaque to the temple for the night. This seemed to take ages, as we were standing in a large field of people in the dark waiting for whatever was next. They finally had all the elephants lined up in one line for a round of drumming and then the elephants left. We went up to the street to wait for the final fireworks. They had some colourful ones this time and lots of noise again. Even plugging your ears doesn’t help very much.

The festival grounds as it was getting dark

The festival grounds as it was getting dark


After those fireworks were done, we started walking back to our hotel, along with several thousand other people on the road with us. We heard there would be 40,000 people there at the festival site. We have no way to confirm this, but I think I have never been at any site with so many people before.
We picked up some food on our way back and ate in our hotel room after showering off all the grime of the day. Then we hit the bed.

Posted by katdill 20:58 Archived in India Comments (0)

Thrissur to Wadakkanchery

February 29, 2016

semi-overcast 38 °C
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Don spent quite a bit of time trying to change our hotel reservation in Madurai. We decided we didn't want to spend so much time in the big city and more time up in the hills. It was quite frustrating for him and finally we went out to look around the area and try to make a phone call to Agoda, the travel company. We visited a nearby mall, which was six stories built around a fountain courtyard. Very nice fountain going from the ceiling to the bottom. The mall is open air and you don't get any air conditioning until you go into a store. The stores all seemed very over staffed to me. The mall was not busy and some of the shops had four or five people working or rather standing around waiting. We both got our hair cut - for 170 rupees - 3.50 CAD.
Looking down from the top floor

Looking down from the top floor


I thought it seemed so hot because we had been up in the hills and now we were back in the lowlands. But Don checked the weather and the temperature was 38!!!
We wandered on trying to find some way to make a phone call. The phone we got in Sri Lanka doesn't seem to work here - or else it's so expensive to use here that I've used up all my balance and don't know how to get more time on it. After asking in many different mobile stores, finally a young man on the street told us we needed to go to the train station to use a phone booth. So we got a tuk tuk and at the train station managed to successfully make the call.
We returned to our hotel and got our taxi to take us to Wadakkanchery. I had thought this would be a luxurious ride in comparison to the bus, but we were jammed with our luggage into a tiny little car about the size of a smart car! At least it had air conditioning. In 1/2 hour or so, we were at our hotel in Wadakkanchery.
After resting for awhile, letting the heat of the day cool down a little, we went out exploring. Don wanted to find a short-cut so we walked down a back lane, which dead-ended. A man spoke to us from his yard about where we wanted to go and he and his wife invited us into their house. We met his mother and their two sons. The eldest son, Francis, did a lot of the talking because he seemed to have the best English and could understand us. They gave us lemonade to drink and a little taste of some dahl for Don and papaya for me. Very friendly folk! The parents, whose names we did not get, are taking a tour to the USA in July. When we left, they sent the eldest son with us to make sure we made it back to the main road safely.
The family in their lovely home

The family in their lovely home


We had heard there was some program happening down at the temple in town. So away we go to see what's up. The main road thru town has a bamboo construction by the temple entrance. This is put up just for the festival. Amazing! It spans the road so vehicles pass under it.
One side

One side

The other side

The other side


The paraphernalia the elephants wear tomorrow

The paraphernalia the elephants wear tomorrow


We found a bunch of speech making men in the temple courtyard when we arrived so we moved on. There was some kind of exhibition going on, which we had to buy tickets for. After standing in line for the tickets, we went in and found the crowd was very controlled. You could only walk thru a tunnel with vendors booths on one side until you had walked around the perimeter of the grounds. It was packed with people - no question of stopping to look at anything - just get thru it and get out! Claustrophobics beware!
Looking back at Don in the tunnel

Looking back at Don in the tunnel

Finally, we ducked out under a side wall and ended up in the amusement park part. Rides for the kids with parent watching and of course a food booth. Watched them make sugar cane juice to sell.
Making cane juice

Making cane juice


Finally, we found a way out and went back past the temple again. Now there was a dance performance on, with kids doing their dance numbers. Cute, but not enough to persuade my stomach that it didn't need to eat!
Dancers on stage

Dancers on stage


So we hustled back to our hotel and tried out the hotel restaurant - not very good, but at least close to bed!

Posted by katdill 18:44 Archived in India Comments (0)

Dancing in Thrissur

February 28, 2016

sunny 32 °C
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This morning we got a car to take us and our luggage up to the main road to catch a bus. This is much easier than going into Munnar to the bus stand. It takes about 1/2 hour to get in there and then you ride the same way back again to leave town. The buses stop for anyone who sticks their hand out in the appropriate way. So we got on a bus. We thought we needed to go to Ernakulam and then on to Thrissur, but this bus was going to Aluva. A kind English speaking man on the bus explained we could go to Aluva and catch a bus to Thrissur from there, and it would be much shorter and quicker. So away we went. It took about 3 hours to get to Aluva (we'd been told 4 to Ernakulam) and then after about a 15 minute wait, we got on a bus to Thrissur. This bus was almost empty, which was quite a treat for us. It didn't stop very often and got to Thrissur after about 1 1/2 hours. So we saved time and money.
After arriving at our hotel, we were offered a cup of tea, (yes please) and then a little while later, a snack of a rice flour crepe (think lefse) with a filling of shredded fresh coconut with cardamon and sugar. Delicious. We may have to try making these at home. We had them in Sri Lanka (or something very similar) and have had them several times here in Kerala.
The owner of the hotel told us there was a dance performance at the nearby temple tonight. He also suggested a restaurant for us to have supper in - he was assuming after the performance. We hadn't really had much lunch - food we consider edible is pretty hard to come by on the bus - so we went out early and found the restaurant and ate before the performance.
A place for women who are out to eat without being bothered by men

A place for women who are out to eat without being bothered by men

One of the many curious English uses we have seen

One of the many curious English uses we have seen


We did not have any idea what kind of dance performance this would be - would it be like the school celebration with little kids? or would it be a competition? It turned out to be two professional dancers, male and female, dancing 6 different dances which interpreted different stories from Hindi scriptures. It was amazing, they danced for 1 1/2 hours with very little interval between dances and expressed so much emotion with such economical hand, head and face movements.
Oddissi dance

Oddissi dance

Just beautiful

Just beautiful

Posted by katdill 08:15 Archived in India Comments (0)

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