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Linda on BMW: Start of the Trip in Castellar

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India March-Report

Hi Folks,


I can't believe how the time is flying and so much has happened in the last two weeks so I need to let you all know.

Before leaving Fort Cochin I tried to get a trip on a canoe in the backwaters but they needed at least 2 people and no-one else had booked so I rode down to another backwater place in the hope of getting one there. Same problem and so I just rode around the area on the small lanes alongside some of the canals and looked at some of the larger rush built houseboats which are used for longer trips. Very romantic but you need a few people and lots of money.

I decided to head for the hills instead and aimed for a game park at a place called Thekkady. Nice to get slightly cooler again up the windy road but the vegetation was still lush even at higher altitude. When I arrived at the park entrance it was to find that the prices had just doubled and so I found a front lawn to camp on and spent the next couple of days walking through the plantations  of Coconut, Coffee, Vanilla, cardoman and allspice, and illegally entered the park by way of back entrance . Then, while on a tour of the tribal village with my guide, Sasi, he invited me to attend a festival in another village some 40kms away that weekend.

On finding the village, in a beautiful area amongst the plantations, I was shown off to all the villagers, who were busy setting up the area with tea-shops and a stage for the nights festivities. Sasi's family invited me to stay in their house and I noted that, simple though they are, most of the houses now have electicity and septic tanks and taps that the government have provided. Couldn't help thinking the Mayor of Castellar should know about this! Tribal Indians treated better than Los Castillejos residents!

The festival was in conjunction with an annual meeting of the King with his tribal leaders who come from a variety of villages in the area to discuss various problems. This tribe, the Mannan, is the only remaining one in Kerala to have a King and Queen and a film crew were making a documentary on it.

I shook hands with the King and the Queen asked me why I wasn't wearing a Sari. I must admit I felt very scruffy in my riding gear while everyone else was dressed in their best.

After the meeting and communal meal the entertainment began. First a couple of solos, spoilt by the echoing PA system, then the singing continued with a mens chorus that was somewhat repetative. I was told it was telling stories of great legends though and everyone was enjoying singing the aaaah-aaaah chorus.

Three men dressed in palm leaves, like Green men came out and did circular stomping dances to the sound of drums and cymbals Then a more traditional sari clad woman swayed alone to similar rythms.

As the night wore on they turned up the PA and by midnight, my ears could take no more and I retired to my rush mat bed. The revelling went on all night though. I am told there is a local coconut brew that keeps them going.

The following morning, before my departure Sasi and two friends walked with me to the lake where I gave a whistle lesson to one who was really interested.

Tearing myself away from this native paradise I went back to Thekkady in the hope of remeeting some Dutch overlanders , Maarten and Ilse, on an Africa Twin that I saw on the road out, but they had already left. A very kind shop owner, Deepack, and his wife, Jasu, let me stay at their house overnight and dry out my wet clothes. Quite a lot of rain had fallen in the past few days and, the Indian waterproofs I had bought in Ooty were useless.

Deciding to give the coast a miss, I continued to another high point, Ponmudi. During the ride I passed through Rubber plantations and was thrilled to see the tall, shady trees being bled of their latex into little coconut cups. Just as some of my first geography lessons in primary school had taught me. Unfortunately, another really heavy storm drenched me and I lamented the loss of all my good waterproofs in Jodphur, as now I really need them. My German jacket is no longer waterproof, or the boots either and I get soaked to the skin with wrinkly fingers and toes, not to mention bottom!. Larry holds the water well and has to be relegated to the back luggage rack on rainy days. However, the water is warm, so that is one consolation.

The next day found me finally (wet again) at the very tip of India, Kanyakumari, and it was delightful.

Finistere in any country holds a certain magic and this was charming. A small fishing village with brightly coloured houses, boats and fishing nets lies in a little bay and offshore is a temple to the guru, Vivekananda, and a huge statue of him. These are on two small islands and a boat takes pilgrims, and me, to see them. Looking back toward the mainland some high points of this southern state of Tamil Nadu are topped with clouds and riding by on the choppy waves are wooden dhows with violet sails. Here the Indian ocean, Bay of Bengal and Arabian sea all meet.

In the afternoon I was amazed to see a huge procession of chanting women, in different groups of matching saris. On asking a policeman what was happening he said it was International Womens day. Of Course! I marched with them and, at the park where the march terminated, sat through a few speeches while photgraphing this amazing sea of colour and women hood. I felt proud to be part of their celebration (another time I should have worn a sari)

Having wandered around all day taking photos I finished at Sunset Point, on the Arabian sea side for the glowing finale and was enchanted. To top it all lightning flashes lit the sky behind the floodlit statue offshore. Magic.

Now the only way is up.

I took the coastal route north east to Rameswaram, another pilgimage point on an island which is the last part of India before Sri Lanka. There used to be a ferry but alas, is no more. Riding in the open flat lands of Tamil Nadu by salt pans, windmills, and a Nuclear power plant, it was somewhat of a relief to be out of the jungle of Kerala and be able to see how the land lay. Pity about the broken bumpy road but at least it didn't rain that day.

In town there is a huge temple with several holy wells and pilgrims walk to them all and are doused with bucketfuls of the holy liqued by a temple attendant. About 12 wells in all. If that isn't enough you can get up at dawn and walk fully clothed into the sea. I watched the pilgrims do both but, having been soaked enough in the past few days, declined the blessing.

The National Highway 7 which comes up through the spine of south India is indeed a joy to ride on. Mostly smooth asphalt and relatively little traffic. I could even sustain top gear for more than just a few kilometers at a time. Looking at the map and guide book I headed for the American founded hill station of Kodaikanal. 40kms of uphill bends later, after just drying out from an earlier drenching, I camped in a church ministers garden and was swamped again by another storm. My tent was moved into the house and Larry and everything else hung on a line.

The views from this hill station are spectacular, when the clouds clear, and the buildings, many of stone, are very colonial. Another lovely place but I could only stay one day and then somewhat still damp, left for the last 500 kms back to Bangalore on the wonderful NH7.

I am now back with kindly Sanju, who has a new flat, and the bike has had its front pads changed, brake fluid topped up and crash bars straightened yet again. It is ready for its train trip to Delhi. Yes, I have decided to go to Nepal.

While reclining on the YH bed in Kanyakumari looking at the assortment of bruises on my body and considering the state of my crash bars, I wondered if I ought to be worried about the number of times I have been falling off lately. I know I am getting thinner and the bike seems to be getting heavier. Has my centre of gravity disapeared with my bottom? Ah well, I decided to write a song about it.

The Bent Crash Bar Song or "Oops, and I've fallen off Again" .



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