Tegwin Roberts and Get Over It

It was a night of contrasting events yesterday when I firstly went down to the Showroom cinema to see a documentary made locally in Sheffield called “Get Over It”. The blurb said it was about the decline of the mines in South Yorkshire and what is happening now, and whether the local residents should get over it and get on with their lives… It was possibly the worst documentary I have ever seen screened. It was a combination of non-existant script, terrible camera work, awful sound (but the band who performed over some tracks were good). Some scenes you couldn’t hear people being interviewed for the noise of doors slamming and kids screaming. The footage went from one subject to another. Sometimes there was not enough information (about the miners strike) then there was too much (Do we really need a 10 minute interview with a woman who was in debt?)… It was tedious and I kept closing my eyes hoping it would end sooner.. But it didn’t.. It was like they’d just decided to film it one day, wrote the script in the afternoon (or over lunch) and filmed it later that day..

Luckily, I then headed up to the Grapes to see the delightful Tegwen Roberts performing with Hazel Leigh. These two are incredibly talented singer/musicians and for (possibly?) one time only were performing in the small intimate upstairs room in the pub. The two of them performed each other’s songs with just guitars and the occasional Saxaphone (Tegwen) and Trumpet (Hazel). It was just great. They had the small audience in the palm of their hands. The sound was just perfect too. I could hear the fan spinning above me and my own breathing but then their incredible voices just blew me away! If you get a chance to see them you should…

the end is nigh! (again!)

So we staying up in the mountains until late Thursday morning. Wednesday was spent hiring a couple of (ridiculously heavy and one-geared) bikes, which we cycled along the park road to the lake. Amazingly the cars and auto-rickshaws still seem to think they have to beep every 10 seconds even when driving along a quiet road in a wildlife reserve. I have just about got to the end of my tether with the ridiculous driving in the country… anyway!…

After cycling only a few kilometers we were knackered. Had another amazing thali – served on plantain leaves, with free top-ups of the food and sauces as you like, and only about 40p. The food has been great – I’ve not had anything too spicy (it doesn’t agree with me) – but definitely a lot less creamy and spicy than in England which is good.

We had an aryudevic (which I can’t spell and google doesn’t know) massage which was an experience. I won’t go into too much detail. Suffice to say I have never been so oily in all my life and I can still smell the oil 3 days (and about 6 showers) later. Was very relaxing though and really relaxed the old muscles. Not like a Thai massage where they pull your muscles around more, this is more about improving the circulation in your veins etc… He also read my palm which was a bit mad…. Lucky life? Bet they say that to everyone!

Before leaving we got a 7am boat ride to see the sunrise and try to spot more animals. Wasn’t much happening until we saw 3 elephants in the hillside, an otter eating a fish manically and some nice kingfishers. Bought a few spices and we took the (relatively) relaxing car journey back.

Well it was mainly relaxing, but despite being a pretty good driver, there were a few hairy moments. Firstly his wing mirror (there is only a drivers one) was non-existant. No seatbelts in the back and he chose not to wear his anyway. Overtaking has to be experienced to be believed – especially when there are random cows and bulls in the road. Unfortunately for us when we saw 3(!) petrol tankers in front of us we knew it wasn’t going to be a simple manoeuvre. After one near-crash (when 2 tankers broke and we were less than a metre from the back of the tanker) we took a “short cut” which got us ahead of them but of course the gas tanker van then loomed ahead. To cut a story short – no car journey is safe….. But it was 2 hours quicker than the bus.

Today is the last day. We got up early to see an elephant procession taking place in a hindu temple (I forget the festival name)… 6 elephants, at least 100 drummers and trumpeters and people standing on the elephants’ backs with fans. It was crazily loud and very impressive. Another important lesson – people can set unbelivably loud firecrackers off at these things and they really shock you as you’re not expecting em!

I had a turn for the worst this afternoon due to a combination of malaria tablets, heatstroke (34c today – the hottest of the holiday) and dehydration…. Luckily its all gone now!

So India. An amazing place – a lifetime’s stuff to do and see, and so cheap (50 quid a week is feasible possible – we spent about 100 quid living it up a little)… Amazing beaches, diversity of people and religions… You can get around pretty easily… (if you like roller coasters).

Only negatives. The constant staring (like Morocco all over again), touts everywhere – you basically can’t trust anyone, the whole caste thing (another story entirely), the traffic and beeping, incredibly badly designed cities (so many ugly buildings it’s unreal)…. Oh and the newspapers are basically a selection of press releases – can’t wait to read my Guardian tomorrow!

And the tsunami – we didn’t really go to any affected areas. Cochin (where we are) saw the water level rise lots. I was speaking to a fisherman yesterday who said the fish have gone far out to see so they are basically struggling at the moment. Of course, the east is far worse – and the consequences are going to have an affect for decades to come….

Well back to work Monday – going to be a huge shock….!


So the geezer who took us to the house we are staying in also had a selection of trips to the Wildlife Sanctuary on offer. As it was Sunday the following day we had to decide quickly so he could organise them… So we opted for the Spice/Tea Plantation trip and a morning trek.

After (one of many) leisurely breakfasts next door, our autorickshaw turned up for the first of our “programmes” (as he put it).. We headed to Abraham’s Spice Garden a few miles out of town and we were shown all the spices grown in the area. Lots! Cardamon (the queen of spices), Nutmeg, Ginger, Cinnammon, Pepper, Turmeric, Vanilla, Clove, Allspice. Very impressive and we learnt lots about these spices (and saw a huge spider)….

Then we headed even further (everywhere seems far at 10mph) to a tea plantation. Unfortunately our guide forgot it was Sunday and was closed. Had a look thru the fields but would have to wait til Monday for the factory tour. So that was that.

We went back the next day. The factory is so old fashioned. The equipment must have come from colonial times. So did the owner. He shouted like a teacher to a naughty pupil at our guide because John was being a little trigger happy (no photos!)… Was fascinating seeing the leaves drying, heating, dividing up and finally divided into the grades of tea. We bought some freshly made stuff for a nice morning brew when back in Sheffield.

The next morning we were woken at 5am for our 6am trek into the forest. We picked two of his friends up and headed into the jungle. It was a bit strange cos we walked from the town and over a wall.. But we didn’t think much of it. We trekked a fair distance and saw the mist and sun rising across the valley. Spotted a few small animals – some black monkeys and a giant squirrel (only the male – the female is even bigger).. and a leopard print (from the last 24 hours as the ground is dry and it was fresh).. and lots and lots of elephant droppings… fresh. So we went on an elephant hunt. A couple of (exhausting) hours later we didn’t have any luck. Then suddenly we were told to get on the ground. We may have been spotted by a park ranger and it was apparantly illegal to be in the area we were in… Not that they told us. A 2000rupee fine if we were caught. The next couple of hours basically consisted of us running down mountain sides, slipping and sliding in the dry dirt and climbing pretty steep forest sides. We didn’t see any more animals!! When we left we realised they hadn’t even paid the entry fee to the legal park of the park – basically we shouldn’t have been there. A slight feeling of being had – we assumed we’d be doing the official trip..

We gave him one more chance, letting him organise the boat trip. This time we paid the entry fee. But then he said it was his friends boat and not the official one. However ths time luck was on our side – our boat (although listing to the left due to an excess of obese americans on one side of the boat) was not that busy. We’d hardly set off when we saw a group of elephants near to the water…. There were 7 of then including two babies. They were playing and chasing other animals off and rubbing themselves down with grass.

Saw an otter and some antelopes and lots of incredible birds. Then we saw another set of elephants. We got even closer to these (maybe within 100m).. The same again 7 and 2 babies. Then further on we saw a lone elephant. Was a very nice trip and it’s quite lucky to see one set of elephants (they normally only come out at dusk – when the park is closed) so it was a bonus to see 15!

The God of Crazy Bus Journeys

The Backwaters of Kerala are a series of rivers and canals that link hundreds of little villages and towns south of Cochin. A bit like the Norfolk broads I suppose (but hotter and more banana trees and kingfishers flying around)… We decided to do an organised tour. So we headed off in a dilapidated minibus on another scary road where cars overtake on blind bends and buses play chicken with oil tankers. One positive is the cars aren’t exactly high powered (the main brand is Tata?) so everyone has the ability to brake if something is approaching them on the wrong (if is there a wrong?) side of the road..

Our first trip was on a large boat with roof made of bamboo and leaves. We sailed around for a couple of hours watching the fisherman and people waving at us from the riverside (“Another bunch of tourists taking photos of us” they were probably muttering quite rightly!) and then we had a great thali lunch on the boat before taking a small 10-man narrow boat along a small canal. We stopped off along the way to watch someone scaling a coconut tree then opening them with ridiculous precision using a scary looking blade. We also saw people making ropes (they earn a dollar a day for making ropes for 9 hours – a very boring job). All in all a very nice relaxing day and we met a few nice people. Of course the relaxation couldn’t last – the 20km minibus journey back sorted that out…

This journey however was nothing compared to the 6 hour marathon journey up to the town of Kumily, slap bang in the middle of the Cardamon hills. We got to the bus stop early to get the “best seats”. Luckily for us we did get some with leg-room – the rest of the seats are designed for 3 foot midgets. At first driving throught the suburbs the journey was ok – beeping every 10 seconds, accelerating and braking in quick succession etc… It was not until we starting climbing into the mountains that we realised the people we met who described the trip as “an Alton Towers ride without being strapped in” were probably right. We were at the back and the front swung left and right ridiculously, the driver having not a care if he overtook 2 cars on a bend or narrowly missing an autorickshaw while driving through a village at 70mph (well it felt like that)… At regular intervals everyone put the blinds down on the right hand side (there is no glass in the windows of course) which we couldn’t understand – was it so they didn’t have to see just how close we were to that bus, or maybe the dust, or the sun. Very strange…. The last hour was the worst and when we got off – accosted by half-a-dozen hawkers wanting us to stay in their hotel – we were pretty stressed and shaken!!! (We are obviously not hard-core travellers, I’m sure there are plenty of journeys worse than this – but it felt pretty bad)…

Luckily we found a great little place with a balcony and hot water! And next door a great little resturant called Chrissie’s – run by an English woman and Egyptian man…. There is also a shady little bar in town which is like the dodgy bars in Star Wars films; low light, people staring at you, and dodgy dealings going on in the corner. Well they do take out so we de-stressed by enjoying a few beers on the balcony…

The next few days would involve a search for elephants and tigers in the nearby Periyar wildlife park…

Down South

So after the bliss of the beaches which we stayed on until Thursday we decided it was time to head South. So we took a (sort of) overnight train down to Cannanore which is a famous town for therum dancing. Basically when the dancers body appears possessed and it’s supposed to be an amazing sight. So the train left at 1.30am (only 1.5 hours late) – this time we were in 2nd class sleeper and when we got on the train people where asleep on our berths. Luckily the train was just in the wrong order, so we moved the grumpy Germans from our beds and got a few hours sleep. One thing that amazes us is nobody ever tells anybody what station you are at. Its a problem cos the trains can be running an hour late at one point and an hour early all of a sudden. So you just have to guess when you’re stop might come, and in the dark when the station isn’t lit up thats a problem. Anyway we got to Cannanore and didn’t get a vibe from the place at all. We checked into a hotel at 8am and by about 10am we had found nothing to do at all. We decided to get out and get to Cochin the same night. It was John’s birthday and not the place to be on your birthday. Unfortunately we’d put laundry in so we had to try to get that back before the 4pm train – lots of confusion later and we did. We also had someone following us around from 20m back and another bloke who befriended us in a restaurant – said about 50 words to, but somehow he got wind of our train. We arrive at the station at 3.45 and he was stood there with his friend. We were slightly spooked and walked quickly to our carriage – luckily he didn’t follow us. Not sure what that was all about – sometimes I think they just want to practise their english, but it’s a strange way of going about it!

So we arrived at 10pm in Cochin – most of John’s birthday spent on the train, and into the driest state (alchoholically) in India, so there wasn’t time to find an illicit drinking den for a birthday pint. We found a decent hotel and settled down for a couple of days in Ernakulum.

The next day we decided to have a proper day’s sightseeing in Fort Cochin, which is the area across the river from where we were staying. It’s really chilled out and not like the rest of India. Not many cars, low rise portuguese buildings etc. We found a nice little whitewashed cafe which had an art exhibition on and lots of great food. Proper nice breakfasts and drinks. After that we hit the Jewish Town, the first Church in India, just wondering around and taking photos and watching the fisherman catch fish to cook straight away using Chinese fishing nets (hard to describe but they lower a net just off shore into the water and lift using huge boulders – normally get a few fish each time – you’ll have to see the photos). We got a beer, but they brought it too us in a shopping bag and we had to drink out of mugs. It was going down quite nicely until a seagull got a perfect shot into my just poured mug of beer 🙁

Then we went to see a Kathakali dance – this has been performed in Kerla for hundreds of years. They can last all night but the “tourist” version lasts a couple of hours and they give a demonstation of all the moves. It takes years to learn (there is no speaking – everything is performed by hand gestures) and the music, performance and costumes were exceptional. Definitely worth seeing.

After that we bought a couple of tabla drums in our slightly drunken stupour and took a tuk-tuk back to the pier where the penultimate boat was leaving for the day. Tomorrow would be the backwaters of Kerla….