India

The Fifth Tale from Tamil Nadu – Kodaikanal II

By Nick Goslett
The Young Ones
The Young Ones

The day starts with a stroll up the hill to buy a coconut (the largest) from a toothless smiley man who never has any change. I return to my patio overlooking the valley and order up omelette and coffee. A good way to start the day! By 8am its hot enough to sunbathe.

I was due to have lunch with Aftab so spent the morning sun – bathing, chatting and wrestling with the Card Trick book. I am getting better at the shuffling and the part where you get a card to stick out a bit from the deck but I am not finding it easy. But I have always wanted to be able to astonish people with card tricks, as I always am, so “Never give up” it is and may help to stave off dementia for a few more years!

We walked round that corner


Aftab is charming though somewhat despondent at the changes in Kodai. When his father built the house in the 80s the view from the main room was of the mountain: forest and bare rock. With the total lack of Indian building control he now looks at awful blocks of houses. It is not a case of bribery, more of lack of interest. Most of the houses he can see are there illegally. He complains bitterly about the mad driving of the locals, especially the young on motorbikes and as a result drives very slowly with a look of apprehension. We all sat down cross-legged for lunch together: his wife, two delightful children and a friend of Aftab’s. Mutton, chicken, beef and rice. Delicious. And nowadays many Hindus eat beef. When i got up they laughed to see me in agony, bent double with knees and hips hardly functioning. I was hoping that he might take me for a spin somewhere interesting after lunch but a friend had died and he needed to be elsewhere. Unfortunately a visit to his farm will not happen since its a half day and he’s too busy.

They called me Grandpa


I tried to hire a boat for a spin on this lovely lake but pedalos were out because you need one on each side (reasonable) and if I hired a rowing boat one of the boat people would have to row me! But I saw lots of young Indian tourists cycling round the lake so found a hire place – and judged by the number available this is big business – spent a happy hour peddling.Had a natter with an Indian ex-male-model and now young fashion designer (who may take me to a Tribal Village tomorrow if I can find him), strolled into town with Bill, a film lighting person, had a curry and returned to read since the gathering area had been taken over by a private Indian party.

The Zen Garden


I was up in time for the sunrise. Just a few birds calling and three other people. Cold but such beauty with the clouds filling the valley. The sun crept out of the mist. A beautiful way to start a day.I continued with the cards and have managed to do the first three tricks. I am stuck on trick four but I will be patient!

I was wondering what to do with the rest of the day and wandered up to the grass raised platform where several young things were talking about a trek. “Can I join you?” “Sure”. and so a very happy day. We strolled (trek is the word they use here but really it’s a gentle ramble). There were eight of us: 2 Englishmen, a Latvian brother and sister, an Israeli couple, a Chilean girl and a French girl all in their mid-twenties. They all spoke to me as though I was one of them which was so sweet, and all loved the story about the Venkat Trust. We visited spectacular viewing points where the Indian boys could be seen posing for their Facebook entries. Five young Indians from Bangalore joined us for lunch: the boys said that arranged marriages were on the way out; the girl, to whom i talked, said they weren’t and she was probably going to have one against her will being an only child with tremendous pressures on her. All the boys were in IT and when Deepak learnt that I was an Assembler programmer back in 1969 he thought I was on a par with God! (I forgot to tell you that Aftab and Shams are Tolkien nuts and when they heard about changing the ending after a letter I wrote him they were bowled over! )

The view from Perumal Peak


The Young Ones


We are all about to light a fire, drink beer, and talk till Lord knows when … except that a taxi will be waiting for me at six tomorrow morning to take me to breakfast at the Zen monastery and a walk up a mountain.A wonderful thing about travelling is that sometimes you make good friends so easily. The downside is when they all leave for Munnar the next day.

Sunrise at the Youth Hostel


At six sharp I climbed into the taxi and we arrived half an hour early. The Bodhi Zendo Meditation Centre was built by a Jesuit who had also been trained in Zen. Ritesh was sent for, we met, he went back to his early morning meditation and I strolled round the lovely, beautifully maintained, peaceful gardens. At seven we all stood in line for breakfast in silence and then after about ten minutes they all burst into chatter. They can take about 45 and are full most of the time.We set off at about 8.30am. Ritesh and I seemed to hit it off straight away and were into intimate details of our lives in no time. I reckon he is about 40, charming, intelligent, very good looking, perfect English and fit as hell (see below). We were joined by Dr Roa, a very intelligent endocrinologist who worked in New Jersey and now splits his time between Perumal Malai and NJ. Another charmer. Finally Barbara who is apparently a yoga teacher but to me looked quite ill and very much in need of peaceful mediation. We climbed for two hours up to the Fire Lookout where we had a hilarious and politically interesting conversation. I had asked how old people with wonky knees like me manage the squat loos; since they always sit cross – legged they don’t seem to have that problem. Raj then told us that when he first went to the US, his bowel muscles expected him to be squatting to do what they should do so he had to hold his knees up in the air!

The temple in Perumal Malai


Ritesh is very worried about what Modi is doing to the country: he is placing all his Hindu people in positions of responsibility in the judicial system, universities and other such places. He is clamping down on the press and free speech is in danger. However, he is giving Indians, especially the young ones, pride in their country. They both agreed that he and his party are not corrupt, unlike the Congress Party. Both were very suspicious of the official GPD increases.They left me to scale Perumal Peak (8,000 ft) on my own which was a test but worth every minute of the uphill struggle. In every direction the view was magnificent. I wandered around and sat and thought about life for an hour or so….and posted a panoramic view on Facebook (using wifi I can transmit photos from my camera to my mobile). A blissful time.

Sunrise at the YH


The mountains are covered with eucalyptus. It is hard to believe that the first in India was planted by Tipu Sultan in 1790. They have their plus side which is that they have few leaves so you can see the views, and individually they are beautiful. However, their leaves, which fall endlessly, do not rot easily and prevent shrubs and other trees growing. As a result there is scant undergrowth and no birds nor animals. On the walk it was so striking to hear the birds chattering away and the butterflies flitting when we went through a forested part.I got lost on the way back and just as I realised, Ritesh called to see how I was getting on and sorted me out immediately. I eventually got back about 2pm where we had lunch together and asked me about English politics. He also reads the Guardian; no wonder we hit it off!

Dr Roa, Barbara and Ritesh


Could this be a hideous troll


Another view from Mt Perumal


A view on the ‘trek’


A Fritillary


I walked another three km through the Jesuit coffee plantation to the little village of Perumal Malai. After 2km I was passed by Ritesh bounding down the road, shoeless … then a few minutes later bounding past me on his way back. We high-fived as he passed. I spotted a temple and felt candles coming on; in the end I had to make do with household ones but I’m sure dear Ganesh would not mind! The junior boys’ school had just finished and the immaculate little things came out, all with satchels large enough to hold camping gear as well as books. I did not feel it wise to accost one and ask what the hell he had inside it.I got on the bus, jumped into the front seat and was severely reprimanded by the driver, for what I have no idea.

I am now waiting for a pork vindaloo and jeera rice … knackered! Tonight I will read (Ninja Turtles is the film on HBO). Early rise again tomorrow for another round of golf with Srikant.

It is not only the English who shout louder at foreigners who don’t understand us; Tamils do it to me!
Many hugs to one and all.
Nick

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