India

The Fourth Tale from Tamil Nadu – Kodaikanal

By Nick Goslett
Me by the waterfall
Me by the waterfall

The bus station was heaving at 8.30 but the very first driver I engaged in conversation to find the Kodaikanal bus just waved his hand in the manner that I now know means “this is the one”. I sat right by the open door knowing full well that I would be looking out over vertiginous drops and scared out if my wits but reckoned the views would be worth it. And they were. We climbed 2000m once we turned off, the roadside no longer bazaars, motorbikes and dust but trees and flowers, peppercorns drying on rooftops and what looked to me to be very small walls to protect us from death. This time I was all in favour of the horn!

The French Girls


I really had no idea what to expect. For a start it is not flat like the last three weeks: walking is up hill and down dale. Thus no tuk-tuks buzzing around which is a relief. I walked down to the lake …. scruffy little stalls with few tourists and dejected shop-keepers and the Lake not really apparent. Through the mist you can see villages nestling in the mountains a few more hundred feet up coming in and out of the clouds.

At that point I got an email from my cousin, D-W, who spends a lot of time in India, giving me the name and contact details of Aftab with whom he has done business here for twenty years (kashmir shawls). I perked up no end! I found myself at Coaker’s Walk, a mere ten minute stroll with stunning views of the valley 2000m down … so they say …. not if the cloud comes in! I will return one morning.

I made contact with Aftab who would meet me at his shop at 4.30pm so with a couple of hours to spare I went in search of a spa which purported to do massages. Well, I found the hotel but ‘spa’ was an epithet I would not have chosen. But as luck (which sort?) would have it I passed an Ayurveda massage hut on the way back. I went in feeling quite well; I came out having been told that my circulation was not good, I had a blood clot in my arm and I looked 75 (but his English was sparse and I am hoping that that was the explanation for this last terrible comment! ) After half an hour he suggested I needed two more sessions; after 45 minutes I needed six more. As Dave will attest after his recent adventures, these Ayurveda massages includes several pints of unguents. It was not as bad as the one I had in Munnar where I almost needed water wings to keep afloat, but I shall not be returning! [Ed: I may, since my neck really does feel a lot better even after hardly any sleep – see below.]

Aftab is an absolute delight. He went to the local school here which is the Eton of India, and speaks perfect English. He would have liked to have gone to college and had the grades but he was an only child and had to take over the family business. He has already been a help. My hotel tonight is the Snooze right in the middle of town with a nice room but no community area, no view and no character. From tomorrow I will be in the Youth Hostel with a fantastic view (if the cloud clears) and a communal seating area and some English (the ones I have seen are all in their 30s and distinctly hippyish but I can cope with that).

The view from my room


The Guide who held my hand


I am about to eat a beef curry in a restaurant that “the whole town is raving about”. I think there may be enough in Kodai for the rest of the Journey. We shall see. I am free as a bird and can spread my wings…..

Free as a bird but bloody tired after a terrible night on two mattresses which still felt like a block of wood. The shower didn’t work and the water ran out. I shall try the Youth Hostel mattress this morning before committing! Thank God for wifi and being able to listen to The Archers, The Moral Maze, Ed Reardon’s Week (love it) and more …. and up here it is cold! I have been wondering why I was a bit short of breath struggling up the hill and the answer is 2,133m. But the beef curry was excellent with no downside this morning.

I strolled to the YH (15 minutes) and it did look most appealing and the night before the guests had lit a fire so I tried the mattress but just a bit too hard. Just as I was leaving the reception I spotted two spare fold-up mattresses and found that they were for rent. I bargained successfully and am booked in for three nights. I have sufficient sleeping pills!

As soon as I had unpacked I was offered a five hour trek with a couple of French girls which I jumped at. We strolled very slowly which was quite sensible with the shale and a few vertiginous drops which scared me witless. At one point I asked if there was more terror and he said just ten minutes of very steep and he would hold my hand. You may imagine the state I began to get in. It turned out to be ten metres (but I did hold his hand!). Really lovely walk: great views down to the valley, a few birds, interesting trees, nice waterfalls, but no wild buffalo though I should see one in the YH tonight.

Having strolled round the lake and walked around a compound/temple (no candles to be found, nor people) run by the Sri Sathya Sai Baba Foundation (google him and be very surprised that you either love him or love him!) I dropped into a tea room for a delicious spaghetti carbonara without spaghetti and without bacon (penne and salami) then back to the YH where I was actually able to talk to English people, and will talk more after I’ve eaten but not for long because I need to sleep and am due on the golf course tomorrow at 8.30! Supposed to be beautiful and founded in 1895.

I have just bought a fleece with a hood; it’s that cold!

My room in the YH


The room I have is very basic: hot water only between 7-10am and no shower, just a big bucket to fill with water and a little bucket to pour the water over you. But, the double mattress worked a treat, I had lots of blankets. The view in the early morning is to die for and there are lots of interesting people to just hang out with. I really love my little room. My neighbours told me that Enter the Dragon (I adore Bruce Lee) was on the TV last night (she has seen it 14 times in India) but I was well off in the Land of Nod by then.

At 8 this morning John and his taxi were ready to take me to the golf course. I rented clubs, hired a caddy (mandatory for a foreigner) bought some balls, paid the green fee and was ready to tackle what looked like a beautiful course. There was no one around and my caddy was eager to get me started and earn his crust but I wanted to wait and see if I could find a playing partner and lo and behold a charming local couple drove up, I looked wistfully at them and explained that I was hoping to share a game and they invited me to join them. The first shot was classic: I really did hit a terrific drive straight down the middle but it was followed for at least a hundred yards by the head of the driver! Srikant had made a lot of money working with HP all round the world, his wife Menakshee had only been playing for two months and was amazingly good and he was only going to play with a couple of clubs but seeing that I could actually play, after omelettes mid-round, he got out his full set, which we shared, and played for Kingfishers (he won). We were joined by an Indian surgeon who had worked for three weeks in Brighton! A really beautiful course in good condition. I have been invited back on Tuesday to partner him in a four-ball. I have had to go back to the local store where I bought the hoody to buy a T-shirt for ordinary short-sleeved shirts are outside the dress code. I have been wondering why and perhaps it is because they are more flattering to men and women who have had too much rice of which there are very many!

Madame Tussauds in the middle of nowhere


I decided to walk back, about 5 kms, and went via the little village of Vattankanal which is full of Israelis smoking a lot of ganga. From Vattankanal I could see where we had trekked and felt some sympathy for my feelings of terror rounding that corner with a drop od substantial proportions. I also walked past a Wax Museum in the middle of nowhere and a chocolate factory which was open but not running. Here they have substantial shops which are given over just to chocolate and others which are for oils and unguents, and the rest are for trinkets. The villages are really sweet with little streams running through them with lush grassy banks, goats and cows strolling about, the smell of burning wood, and people all keen to smile and say Hello.

It’s Friday evening at 6.40 and in the road I am walking the Catholics and Pentecostalists are battling it out over the loud loud-speaker systems. It seems that here as well the latter are gaining ground, usually with substantial bribery … income from the naive villagers will follow later.

If am off out to dinner with some guys and gals. I have just been invited to poker when I get back. Aftab has invited me to lunch tomorrow so in the morning I will continue with Card Magic.

A wild buffalo has just galloped through the YH causing much consternation!

Many hugs to you all.
Nick

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