Dambulla – day 116

Woke up around the same time as yesterday and headed up to the terrace for breakfast. Had another traditional Sri Lankan breakfast of string hoppers, potato curry and coconut sambol. Feeling really spoilt by the local food especially as it is so different from our previous Indian breakfasts – just as tasty, not as spicy but very different – could eat it all day!  Fortunately (mainly for my waistline!) we finished what we’d been given and headed back to our room to pack up our stuff. Asked Shauna if she wanted to join us in our walk to the bus station as she was getting the train to Ella. She agreed but clearly struggled with her 12kg bag… She kept asking us if we were nearly there! Felt really bad that we were ‘forcing’ her to walk but she kept saying she wanted to stick with us. Got her down to the train station and she was delighted. Turned out she had never walked more than a few hundred meters with her bag so the 3km was definitely something she was proud of! Felt incredibly guilty that we might have broken a second tourist during our stay in Sri Lanka, said our goodbyes and headed off in opposite directions. We had only got about 100m further down the road when a mini-bus pulled up next to us and said ‘Dambulla?’. Now, we had honestly planned on getting the local bus for 100LKR each but at that moment in time, the luxury air conditioned bus literally called out to us!!! So, for 330LKR each, we travelled in space, cool air and luxury the two hours to Dambulla. I spent some time catching up on blogs whilst Jayne tried not to be sick – something at breakfast hadn’t quite agreed with her so we were definitely glad we had the AC bus!! Jumped off the bus with some other tourists about 2km outside of town to visit our second Sri Lankan UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Golden Temple and Dambulla Cave Temples. Sitting atop 160m above the road are five separate caves which contain approximately 150 Buddha statues and paintings. We left our bags at the (un)official luggage store in the gift shop – have a feeling that the lady kept the 200LKR herself but she looked after our bags so we didn’t mind!! We started off at the ‘World’s Largest Buddha’ statue in the Dhamma Chakka Posture which is located at the bottom of the Cave Temples. A slightly kitsch looking 30m high Buddha that was built using donations from Japan, it was revealed in 2001 and currently undergoing renovations.   It was fascinating to watch the men work on three different levels. The bottom level were sanding off the old paint, the next level were applying a white base colour whilst the third level were repainting it gold. Clearly in the Sri Lankan heat, you don’t need to wait 6 to 12 hours between each coat of paint like you do in the UK!! Started walking up the endless amount of steps towards the caves which had superb views over the surrounding countryside – we even caught glimpses of the Lion Rock in Sigiriya (which we have the ‘joy’ of climbing tomorrow!!).  Thought to be the place where King Valagamba took refuge after being driven out of Anuradhapura in the 1st century BC. When he regained his throne, he had the interior of the cave carved into the Rock temples to become a place of worship. Subsequent kings, including King Nissanka , who had the caves interiors gilded, which earned it the name Ran Giri (Golden Rock). Having left our shoes with the shoe storage man, we literally had to hop, jump and skip our way across the burning hot floor stones. Made our way to the first cave which has a 15m long reclining Buddha. The second cave was 52m wide, 23m deep and 7m tall at its highest point. It was full of Buddha statues in different positions.  There was also a vessel (safely hidden behind a metal grill) that collects water that constantly drips from the ceiling of the temple – even during droughts – which is then used during sacred rituals. The third cave was equally as impressive as the second cave, housing a reclining Buddha as well as other Buddha statues in the cave that used to be used as the Kings storeroom! The forth cave was quite small in comparison to the others and contains a sculpture of Buddha surrounded by Sri Lankan Dragons. The dagoba in here is broken as thieves thought it contained jewellery from the queen and broke into it. The final cave also housed a reclining Buddha.  Visited the caves again in reverse (not only to avoid the baking hot sun but also the roasting floor stones!), picked up our shoes and headed back down the rock. Grabbed our bags and, after waiting for 20 minutes with no luck at the nearby bus stop, walked the 2km to the bus stand in town to catch a bus to Sigirya. Found one easily once at the station although three helpful police officers were determined to point us in the right direction. Managed to explain to the conductor that we wanted to get off before the town and, with a bit of visual support from ‘maps.me’, we got off at the right stop and only had to walk 300m to our guesthouse. Found it easily, checked in and ‘enjoyed’ a rather salty watermelon juice welcome drink – despite its taste, it probably did us the world of good replacing all our lost salts from sweating!   Sat on our little terrace, enjoying the quiet sounds of the jungle and reading books. Had dinner at the guesthouse – it was amazing! Five types of Sri Lankan curry, devilled chicken, poppadoms, cucumber salad, vegetable soup and pudding for less than £10 – we were stuffed!  Luckily, it was only a short stumble back to our room to sleep off our food babies!!

Sunday 31st January 2016

Kandy – day 115

Had ordered an early-ish breakfast so we could spend the day walking. Around the UNESCO town of Kandy. Ate a traditional Sri Lankan meal of Roti, daal and coconut sambol (crushed coconut and chilli). Clearly, the last few night of not sleeping properly had caught up on me as I also downed three cups of coffee! Invited Caroline and Shauna to walk down to town with us and along the way we saw a giant Buddha in the hills – something we would never have seen had we gotten a TukTuk.  Arrived in town and went our separate ways – Caroline was meeting a friend for brunch, Shauna went to the train station to get her ticket to Ella and we headed to the bus station to work out how to get to Sigiriya tomorrow. The enquiry desk man was so lovely as he explained that it was far easier to go to Dambulla first and then get a second bus to Sigiriya. As we left the bus station, we bought some oranges and lychees. Started walking towards the lake which was artificially created in 1807 by Sri Wickrama Rajasinha, the last ruler of the kingdom of Kandy. Apparently, a few people objected to it being made to work on the project so he ordered them to be put to death on stakes in the lake bed… A short walk around the lake and we entered the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic – a golden roofed temple that houses the tooth of Lord Buddha that had been recovered from his funeral pyre in 483BC and brought to Sri Lanka in the hair of a princess for safe keeping. Constructed mainly under Kandyan Kings, the temple was constructed in two parts from 1687 to 1707 and from 1747 to 1782. Heavily guarded for most of the day, we were fortunate enough to be in time to see the gold casket shaped like a dagoba (stupa) which contains a series of six dagoba caskets of diminishing size. The hallway that the gold casket is in was jammed packed with tourists and locals trying to get a glimpse of the gold casket before it was shut away again for the day. There was a table lined with flower offerings from Buddhists and they were swarming with bees – that’s how fresh they were!!!   Headed down the staircase and went back up the other side to try and get another chance at seeing ‘the tooth’ but it had already been sealed off by the time we got upstairs. Sat to one side of the hall, watched the offerings being given and listened to a family chant for about 10 minutes in prayer. Left the temple and entered the newer and larger three-storey – Alut Maligawa. Containing dozens of sitting Buddhas, it also told the story via about 21 paintings of why the tooth was so important and how many people had revered it whilst others also tried to destroy it. Walked through to the other side, missing out on the two museums in the complex (which you had to pay an additional fee for), heading instead to the audience Hall. Built in the 19-century, it is an open air pavilion. Notably, the stone columns that are carved to look like wooden pillars – and they really do!! A visit to the royal palace to see artefacts that had been recovered from the site during excavations. I visited the taxidermy of Rajah the Tusker, the revered elephant who died in 1988 after serving for over 50 years. The black and white photos on the right wall showed his life whilst the photos on the left wall showed how he was preserved and stuffed… No wonder it looked like he was crying!! Left the complex, crossing the moat where we spotted a water monitor lizard. Bumped into another traveller called Daniel and we all headed off to get a coffee. Had a nice long chat about our respective travel stories and proposed routes. Seems we are doing a similar route to Daniel although he has only just started his trip in Sri Lanka and has yet to visit India. Decided to walk up the hill towards the giant Buddha. Having made the way up the hill, Jayne and I refused to pay 200LKR to enter a holy site. Told Daniel we would wait for him but he joined us a minute later as the boy asking for money had no change!! Decided we had all had enough for one day so we said goodbye to Daniel, exchanging contact details and headed back to our hostel. Jumped in the pool when we got back – still freezing but after a hot day walking round town it was actually quite nice… For about a minute before I started turning blue!! Had a warm shower and sat on the balcony, drinking ginger beer, eating fruit and booking accommodation in Sigiriya. Got chatting to a lady who has been in Sri Lanka for nearly three weeks and got some tips on places to visit. Had a huge vegetable curry at the hostel and chatted with Shauna and Jenny about their favourite places in the world, weirdest things they’ve eaten etc. Also got talking to two ex-teachers who were volunteering in a turtle sanctuary in Sri Lanka. Headed to bed and literally passed out from walking around in the heat!

Saturday 30th January 2016

Travelling – day 114

Woke up early after another night of sleeping badly and headed straight to the shower to wake up properly. Went down for breakfast and used the wifi to organise ourselves for the next couple of days. Grabbed our stuff from the dorm said goodbye to Dikshanta who had been planning on joining us in our visit to Kandy but clearly decided against it after yesterday’s walk. After checking with the hostel manager which bus we needed to catch (pretty much any of them!!), we crossed the road and jumped on the first bus that stopped – the buses won’t stop to pick up more passengers if they are full, unlike India that keeps putting more and more people on. Got off opposite the train station and used the bridge walkway to get into the station by which time we were both melting in the heat and humidity – it wasn’t even 9am! Managed to work out which platform we needed to be on and sat down with our bags people watching. Lots of western tourists with very short shorts(!) and exposed underwear really gave us the impression that we were a million miles away from India. A deaf mute guy signed to us about the trains and, after asking us what class of carriage we had booked, told us where to stand on the platform. He seemed a bit worried when we didn’t get on the first train that came into the platform but a bit of writing on hands explained we were waiting for the next train.  We were chatting on the platform about how Sri Lanka felt so safe and Jayne said how she didn’t feel compelled to lock her daypack like we had before during our time in India. I mentioned how we shouldn’t be complacent as that’s when things get stolen!!  As we boarded the train and did our usual routine of holding each other day packs whilst the other gets sorted with their big bag, there was a commotion behind us. The guy behind had just had his day pack stolen – full of all his money, passports and electronics. The tourist police were there within minutes but it was a good reminder to us to make sure we don’t let our guard down anywhere! The first class AC carriage was nice – it even had a film showing (Baby’s Day Out) and I kept having to poke Jayne to remind her to look out the window rather than watching the film!! The three hour train journey took us through some absolutely stunning countryside – the views of the mountain area and surrounding forests were spectacular.  Arrived in Kandy and waited for our transfer to our hostel… And waited… And waited… Since we hadn’t paid for it, we decided after 30 mins to just started walking the 3km uphill. Wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be and was certainly good training for EBC (if we end up doing it!). Found our hostel and checked in with a free welcome drink – could get used to this!! The hostel looks out over the valley and I took full advantage of the swimming pool, despite it being freezing. I spent the rest of the evening reading my book on the terrace whilst Jayne investigated car hire companies for when Nicola arrives. Got chatting to two girls who were also staying at the hostel and had dinner with them before going to bed in our two-person dorm (bliss!) and falling asleep by 9pm – so rock and roll!!

Friday 29th January 2016

Colombo – day 113

After a very bizarre nights sleep, having both done our first hostel dorm room for the first time in years, we woke up and started getting ready. Tried to be as quiet as possible but, as always in these situations, I managed to make more noise trying to be quiet than if I had stomped around the room like an elephant. Took it in turns to take a shower – the joys of sharing toiletries doesn’t quite work out so well when the dorm cubicles don’t have gaps that you can pass stuff through!! Went down for breakfast and got chatting to one of our room mates, a Nepalese doctor living and working in the Maldives. Clearly making up for the lack of alcohol on the island, he still seemed slightly hungover as he told us about life on the island and what to expect when we go there. He asked if he could spend the day with us and since both of us had some work to do we said we’d leave around midday. He headed to the Nepal embassy to complete some important paperwork whilst we went to the computers to sort out the final two islands for our stay in the Maldives. Managed to finish off booking places and double checking our ferry routes when Dikshanta returned so a quick grab of cameras and we were off! Convinced our new friend for the day that we should walk to where we wanted to go rather than take a TukTuk. He seemed quite happy with walking… At that moment in time! Headed towards the South Beira Lake and visited the Gangaramaya Temple which houses an extraordinary eclectic array of bejewelled gifts presented by devotees and well-wishers over the years. Amongst some of the stuff stored in this antique shop / old ladies living room / moth ball haven was a taxidermy elephant (called Ganga), a massive collection of sculptured Ivory, a multitude of medals, monks robes, jewellery, and furniture. There was even a lock of Buddhas hair (supposedly… It kind of looked very good for hair thousand of years old!!). Wandered around the temple / museum, looking at the different things. Went to find Dikshanta only to be told that he had left earlier. Sat down for a bit, assuming that he might have gone to get some food and waited for him to return. Stayed in the shade for about 10 minutes before making our way to the Lake to look at the Seema Malakaya Meditation Centre – situated on an island in the middle of the lake. Couldn’t go inside as Dikshanta had our entrance tickets (it is linked to the Gangaramaya Temple) and we weren’t prepared to pay twice so we took some photos from the outside and kept walking around the lake.   We walked across the bridge to an island when we heard someone shouting – looked across the water and Dikshanta was waving at us like a maniac!! He had gone to get some water and had gotten lost en route. Continued walking through the back streets of Colombo towards the fruit market. As we got to the main town we went down some back alleys where they were selling sacks full of garlic, onions and dried fish. The sight was amazing… The smells not so much!!! Arrived at Mannings Market which is Colombo’s wholesale fruit market selling anything and everything edible that is grown in Sri Lanka. 

 We bought some grapes and some guavas before walking up the hill to the Wolvendaal Church. The most important Dutch building in Sri Lanka, it is quite a plain church but has stunning antique Dutch furniture and beautifully elaborate tomb stones on the floor to long-forgotten Dutch governors and colonists. Apparently named ‘Wolf’s Dale’ or ‘Wolvendaal’ because the area where the church was built was in the wildness and full of roaming jackals which the Europeans mistook for Wolves.  We then double backed on ourselves to visit the Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque, a candy-striped red and white building hidden amongst modern shops and bustling traffic. The mosque is currently undergoing work so we were unable to visit the inside. Dikshanta was certainly feeling the pain of our ‘little’ walk so we got the bus back down the city. He wanted to go to the cinema so we dropped him off and walked to the local shopping mall to stock up on toiletries, water and new fizzy drinks to try – each more chemically than the next!!! Found a local Sri Lankan place for dinner. No menus, no English. But with some pointing and hand gestures, we got two plates of absolutely incredible food. Egg fried rice with chicken and spicy macaroni pasta. Jayne enjoyed hers so much and, after eyeing up the guys plate next to us, ordered a plate of Sri Lankan pad Thai noodles. Feeling very stuffed having also drunk far too much Elephant Ginger Beer, we headed back to the hostel to pack. The old Czech guy in our dorm was asleep already so we dragged our stuff into the hall to pack. A quick phone call to both sets of parents before we had a much needed shower and went to bed ourselves. After I had gone to sleep, Dikshanta came back and told Jayne that the Star Wars film was great. He also showed her the blister on his foot from all the walking we had done that day… Oops – we broke him!!!Thursday 28th January 2016

50 things we’ve learnt during our 111 days in India.

1. Your feet will never be clean… No matter how hard you scrub.

2. TukTuk drivers are incapable of telling the truth – either about distance or price or location or gradient of road.

3. Apu never charged Homer Simpson cold tax on his Duff beer… I grew up disillusioned!! (One even tried to cold tax my ice cream – until Jayne asked for a warm one!).

4. As a white westerner, you could go out naked or in a burka and the locals would still look at you in the same way. 

5. Deluxe hotel doesn’t equal hot water…

6. Or wifi…

7. Or cleanliness.

8. You will pay at least 10x the amount for any entrance fee as a tourist. 

9. Delhi belly is inevitable… Embrace it with Limca! 

10. Personal space is a fantasy. 

11. Private buses come in a wide variety… And paying more doesn’t mean better quality or comfort. 

12. Getting up earlier than your neighbour (shop owner or house keeper), means you can brush the rubbish in front of their door to sort out. 

13. Bins are what you put your rubbish next to.

14. You are every shop keepers ‘friend’ or ‘sister’.

15. And when they saw you yesterday, you promised you’d go into their shop today (even if you have just arrived in town).

16. Getting out of a bus or train station through the mass of TukTuk drivers should be an ironman challenge… Or an Olympic event. 

17. You are ‘aunty’ to every child in the country. 

18. Chai tastes better from street vendors than it does in hotels. 

19. Don’t look at the chai pots or you won’t drink it. 

20. Bus stand street food is the best and freshest street food you’ll find.

21. Pharmacies are a hypochondriacs dream, and have everything to sort out any kind of diseases.

22. Piracy is a crime… But it’s bloody cheap and will save the day when you just want to watch an English film!

23. If you’re in a ‘traffic jammy’, it is perfectly acceptable to steal goods from the truck in front. 

24. On a bus, there is always room for one more person…

25. If you wake up wanting to kill someone, don’t leave the hotel room!!! It only gets worse when you go outside…

26. Crossing the road is 2% looking both ways, 4% bravery and 94% crossing your fingers and hoping for the best!!!

27. On a completely empty bus, the next passenger to get on will always sit next to you.

28. It is free to look…

29. But you are a ‘nasty’ tourist if you don’t look in their shop!

30. Cows can, and do, attack!

31. Bus conductors are the nicest, most helpful people you will ever met – unless they’re a woman… Then it’s a camera in your face and a wrong bus!

32. Eyeliner on babies… You never get used to seeing it!

33. Jayne and I on a seat equals 4 Indian women on a seat…

34. 25km per hour on any form of transport is fast.

35. Someone is always sick on a public bus… Chose your seat carefully… And preferably near the front to avoid splash back through the open windows!

36. Standing on a street corner with your arm out trying to get a vehicle to stop is perfectly acceptable.

37. Everyone thinks you are nuts for walking anywhere – even just to cross the road.

38. Eating with your hands gets easier but the temptation to lick your fingers never leaves.

39. Temples are beautiful – but you do begin comparing them to each other eventually.

40. Indian museums have some of the best mis-translated signs ever.

41. Your mouth might get used to the spices but your belly will never get used to the bacteria.

42. A hot shower is what dreams are made of.

43. Trains run on a approximate schedule. 

44. Buses run on a precise schedule – even if it means travelling at speed!!

45. Monkeys are evil – and they know what they want from your bag.

46. For a country that never sleeps, the airports have opening and closing times.

47. Beer after altitude trekking is never a good idea.

48. The Indian head bob is a dangerous move for non-native Hindu speakers.

49. Indian time varies across the states – 5 minutes could mean 1 minute in one state and over an hour in another. Be prepared to run at a moments notice.

50. It is called incredible India for a reason… But it will, at times, be incredibly tiring!

Travelling – day 112

Got up early to make our way to Madurai airport, knowing that it was only 12km away but also well aware that that distance could take anything up to two hours in India. After packing away our stuff and finally throwing away our socks full of holes, we went downstairs to check out. Having already priced an air conditioned car transfer to the airport, we enquired about the rough price for a TukTuk. The manager sent the bell boy out for us who came back with a TukTuk that quoted us a ridiculous price to get us to the airport. The manager looked slightly embarrassed when I said ‘no’ and explained that I knew full well it was only 12km to the airport and I wasn’t going to pay that much. Some frantic talking and hand gestures between the manager, bellboy and TukTuk driver were exchanged before we got a decent (but not cheap) price. Not sure whether he was pissed off or being creepy but the driver then spent most of the 12km staring at me in his mirrors… Arrived at the Aiport in record time – the roads were completely clear (aside from some pretty massive potholes!) and, having given ourselves an extra hour to get there, we’d arrived in 15 minutes! Also having read the tickets details stating that we had to be at the airport three hours before our scheduled departure time, we felt pretty great that we’d have time to use up our left over INR in some over priced coffee shop inside the terminal whilst we waited… Except the security guard wouldn’t let us in! Apparently the airport was closed and would open two hours before our flight was due to lead – in an hour and 45 minutes time! Had a look around the deserted airport grounds and found a wall in the shade to sit down on. Spent some time looking at the Nepal book and working out which, if any, Everest Base Camp treks we wanted to do. I went looking for the elusive ‘canteen’, only to find a shack selling tea and coffee with some fried goods. Sent Jayne off to investigate the milk hut and she returned with two packets of biscuits – our last breakfast in India!! Got the jam out of my bag and we had a feast of cashew nut biscuits and jam!! Decided to kill some more time, drinking tea and coffee at the overpriced ‘canteen’ before we got into the airport. No problems with scanning our luggage and checking in except that they have workers who lift your bag onto the scales and then take your trolley away for you – felt very unnerving not doing it myself! Had to wait 30minutes for immigration to open so we could go through to the departures lounge. The immigration person was brilliant – asked us where we had been in India. When we got to Ahmedabad (clearly a place no tourist usually ever goes), he stopped us in our round off list of towns and said ‘everywhere. You’ve been everywhere’. A quick stamp in the passport and we were airside… With no shops except for a cafe serving drinks. Headed to our gate where Jayne stole their electricity to charge her phone!!   Didn’t have to wait very long until we were called to the gate and put through a second bag and person search. The woman used a hand held metal detector on me but managed to jab it really hard into my boob!! I tried not to laugh but she looked absolutely mortified and I just fell about giggling. Clearly glad that I wasn’t offended, she waved me on and was laughing heartedly as I told the story to Jayne. Got on the transfer bus that would take us to our ‘plane’… Now, I’ve been on one of these rubber band planes before but probably not in the last 20 years!! Rows of 2 seats by 2 seats for about 100 passengers with 2 propellers being the only means of getting you up in the air!! Actually felt like it was going to break as it charged up the runway and took off. Fortunately, it was a quick flight – time for a speedy food delivery service (where I managed to throw my drink of Miranda – opened – at the flight attendant) and we were in Colombo! The fastest immigration check the other side (I love e-visas), we had a sticker and a stamp in our passport and were officially in the country! Got our luggage and headed out to the arrival hall. Wanted to check with the car rental agency for when Nicola gets here but there was no one there so we went to catch the bus. Unlike India, there was a swarm of taxi drivers waiting but when we said we wanted to get the bus, they pointed us in the right direction – no bus strikes, no broken buses, no cheap prices mentioned!! Stowed our bags in the luggage compartment as requested by the man and jumped aboard. The bus was quite full so we couldn’t sit next to each other but for the price of 110LKR (about 55p) we were on an air conditioned bus driving down the express way to Colombo. Arrived at the central bus station to find that the compartment that we had stowed our bags in was now jammed shut. A few hefty tugs from us, the conductor and the bus driver were useless and we were put back on the bus and driven to the mechanics section of the bus station. Safe to say, we got our bags back but it took 6 men, a crow bar, hammer and a variety of other tool plus a lot of laughing to get the door open!  Gave the guys a tip for freeing our bags which they seemed genuinely surprised with. They even told us which bus to get on next to get to our hotel. Knew we wanted to go to the train station first to sort out our transport to Kandy and to work out train times to Galle for when Nicola arrives. Got chatting to a lovely man at the train station who got us train tickets on a full train to Kandy for Friday (by letting us purchase ‘department’ tickets – not sure if it’s tourist quota tickets or train staff quota tickets!) and who also has a guesthouse in the city. He showed us some photos and we booked two nights with him (and his pool) – can’t wait! Decided to walk the 6km from the train station to our hostel – it was along the seafront for most of the way so it didn’t seem too bad.   Managed to find a new drink in one of the seaside shops to try – it was the most chemically raspberry ade I’d ever tasted – Jayne loved it!!   Continued walking past the huts selling shrimp fritters with the shrimp still whole and cooked right in and various cut up fruit covered in chilli. Arrived at the hostel and checked in. The manager was surprised we had walked from the train station and was really lovely and helpful. Went up to our four bed dorm and had a quick shower before heading out to get some water and find some dinner. The hostel manager had recommended a posh looking restaurant just down the road from the hostel and, too tired to wander around aimlessly, we headed in. Ordered hopper and pittu (both a Sri Lankan speciality) with cashew nut curry – it was amazing.   The waiter was concerned we’d find the sauce that came with the pittu too spicy but it was barely hot! Had a traditional Sri Lankan dessert too which smelt and tasted like Christmas! Stuffed for the extravagant price of 1,584LKR (about £8), we headed back to the hostel, caught up on uploading blogs and went to bed (after fixing the air conditioning that the old guy in the bunk below Jayne had broken!!).

Wednesday 27th January 2016

Madurai – day 111

It was a nice easy start to the morning. A proper, working, hot shower and some space to move around. The constant beeping of trucks and cars on the main road outside our room didn’t even faze us. We had a little over 24hours to go in India and the anticipation was building. 

We strolled down the street and had breakfast at the British Bakery & Café. It was quite impressive watching the staff go about their tasks – one fella was kneading some dough to within an inch of its life and then meticulously measuring it out on a scales; one lady took to her task of creating jelly to the extreme and was only rivalled in intensity by the chap beating the egg whites. The grilled cheese sandwich was amazing, the fresh bread slices were the size of the plate. The cappuccinos we ordered were sent for approval by the manager before sending to us. They had a lovely rippled heart and rosetta latte art poured across the top. We polished the respite off enjoying a slice of black forest cake. We joked about how we could stay there all day and pretend the museums and temples were shut. We could read our books and gorge on cream and caffeine. Oh the irony, we should have stayed.  The temple down the road has 4 massive and ornate ‘gates’ at each side and as tourists are not allowed in, we walked past two of them and headed down the streets and towards the Gandhi Museum. We passed over the bridge we trudged across yesterday evening and marvelled again at how they went about their lives in the river and banks – washing, swimming (nude 😳) bathing, cleaning food and utensils, playing cricket, drying sarees, feeding cattle and goats. The day was about to go horribly downhill and turn as putrid as the water that flowed under the bridge. We didn’t yet know it however.   We said we’d try and pass in Katherine’s trousers to be tailored in to a skirt in one of the many shops we’ve passed along the way. Each one kept sending us back further away from the museum we were so close to seeing. It contains the blood spattered clothes that Gandhi himself wore when he was assassinated. Finding a tailor that would do the work was an ordeal and we eventually drew out the design of the trousers (at present) to the skirt (future design) on paper. We were sent off to buy some fabric and were charged 3times more than what we were told it would be. Go figure, four months in India and we still couldn’t haggle them to reasonable amounts. 

Fabric in hand, the tailor went crazy with his measuring tape, yellow chalk and before we could shout stop he had cut the fabric in the wrong place. The intrusive gentlemen from the garage next door had decided to tell the 2 tailors we wanted shorts, not a skirt and the agro between the 4 of them meant even I walked off. Returning with a big bottle of Mirinda (luke warm, not paying cold tax) the “skirt” was finished and was a shambles. I reluctantly paid them the pre agreed price for the Home Economics project they handed us. Having a little teary moment by the garage across the road, we had reached our limits. They never apologise. They will not get out of your face. You try and be polite and they treat you like scum and something they can abuse. No wonder that there were three separate jumper punch moments from shitty little kids before we even got back over the bridge. 

Oh but wait, it still gets better! We stood at the corner of the road, with a pair of locals. Neither of us able to say a word to each other in case we broke down again, when a TukTuk driver undercuts the bus, the back left wheel dips in to the drain and the rickshaw tilts so much that I had to jump out the way, the lady in the front seat pushed Katherine to the curb ( so as not to be hit full force by the metal frame of the cab, a small mercy that she was knocked over rather than hit) and the two guys and myself started laying in to the fucker of a driver. Shop owners from all over the street came over to assist all four of us and bollock this driver out of it, not before a pointless – but stress relieving – kick to the back of his yellow tricycle of death. 

More annoying TukTuk drivers later we were back at the hotel sitting under the shower trying to wash away the salty tears, sweat and dirt of yet another city that we’d sooner forget. Reluctantly agreeing we needed to eat we ordered the same food at the same restaurant (to avoid complications) and we watched tv/ read books (no prizes for who did what) and went to sleep for the last time in India. Tomorrow a flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka… A flight to freedom!

Tuesday 26th January 2016

Travelling – day 110

Knowing that we had an ‘easy’ four hour bus journey ahead of us out of the Western Ghats down to Madurai, neither of us were in a hurry to get up, pack our bags and leave the guesthouse. However, the family with young kids decided that everyone in the guesthouse needed to be woken up at 6.30am so we got up and slowly did our list of jobs before leaving. Paid the incredibly smiley and helpful guesthouse owner before being waved off by his wife and adult son. Got about 5m out of the guesthouse before we bumped into another couple of guests who wished us ‘happy travelling’. Is led to a slightly excitable Jayne who was delighted to be considered a traveller and not merely on holiday – must be my ridiculously dirty feet that gave it away!!! Arrived at the bus station and, after trying to convince us to stay at his hotel, a guy reluctantly pointed us in the direction of our bus. We had to cross under a police check point as we were now, technically, entering a new region of India to catch our bus. Managed to find the right one, we put our stuff near the front and settled down with some fried stuff from a nearby shop. Turned out to be idly with chilli and vegetable shaped into donut shape and a sort of daal hash brown. The journey down the mountain was significantly nicer than any of our recent bus journeys, mainly because the driver didn’t think he was part of the Formula One team and he actually understood that there may be other vehicles on the road! The journey was surprisingly painless except for the women who seemed unable to put her legs anywhere but on Jayne’s feet and the one woman who began rubbing Jayne’s leg affectionately… A quick swap around of seating arrangements made it better for everyone!! I finally finished ‘The Hobbit’ (my repetitive New Years resolution for two years now!) whilst Jayne finished here ninth Wheel of Time book.Arrived in Madurai and walked the 2km to our hotel. Checked in and, seeing that there was a Decathlon store in town, we decided to go shopping to replace some of our clothes and our cheap, nasty sunglasses with something a bit more appropriate for the Maldives. We decided to walk the 10km to the shop to get a chance to see the town although the sights were pretty few and far between – a dried up river bed, a pile of rubbish, a burning pile of poo… You get the idea!!! Arrived at the store and stocked up on hiking t-shirts for me (that actually fit!), socks for Jayne (without holes!) and two pairs of polarising sunglasses. Asked the cashier how to get back to town, to which he replied ‘turn right’ – he was surprised that we hadn’t come in a TukTuk. Tried to ask about buses but he was new to town so had no idea. We went down to the bus stop and tried the tested ‘stick your arm out for every bus and one will stop’ technique. The third bus stopped and we jumped on although we had to change buses at the next big bus station. Asked the enquiry desk who pointed us in the right direction and said ‘bus 700’. As we waited, a TukTuk driver came up to ask us where we were going, offering to take us anywhere for 100INR – turns out he was stood in front of the bus we needed but didn’t tell us! Fortunately, he had a change of heart at the last moment and told us to jump on just as the bus was pulling out. Got back to railway station and had dinner in a little place just a couple doors down from our hotel. Think the waiter was genuinely surprised when we said we’d be in India nearly four months and were able (and willing!) to eat with our hands.   A quick flick about on Facebook when we got back to the hotel before sinking into the softest bed I’ve ever tried – Jayne was in heaven. I hated it – It was like sleeping on a slightly depleted water mattress…

Monday 25th January 2016

Kumily – day 109

Woke up with no alarms and decided to have a chilled out day, relaxing the hammocks on the rooftop. We ate the left over bread and pastry goodies that we had been given during yesterday’s hike for breakfast and drank copious amounts of water and Sprite as we sprawled out. As I caught up on writing and uploading blogs, Jayne got busy organising routes and making plans for Sri Lanka. Slightly mad moment when Qatar airlines sent me an email asking for my passport and bank details – which resulted in several emails and Skype phone calls to verify that it was, in fact, a genuine request. Managed to get verification and sent off the required documents with minutes to spare of their 48 hour time frame! Were joined on the rooftop by a couple of lads – I thought they were German, Jayne reckons they were Polish. Either way, they looked truly pissed off that we were sitting in two out of the three hammocks. We chatted about what we wanted to see in Sri Lanka and the islands we wanted to visit in the Maldives. Jayne also looked up some dive centres in both places. I popped down to the toilet and when I came back, one of the guys had taken my hammock – apparently literally jumping in it as soon as my head had disappeared down the staircase. Jayne was all for me demanding it back but I decided to be the bigger person – so much so that they both looked incredibly shocked when one of them went downstairs and his hammock was still vacant when he returned – fuckers!! Went up to the next level of the rooftop to watch the bats fly over head again.   It is absolutely amazing to see so many bats fly together in such a neat and tidy way! Went back to the Coffee Garden for dinner – there aren’t many restaurants in Kumily and out of the ones we have tried, it has far and above been the best so didn’t want to try the only other restaurant left. Having not eaten all day (albeit some crisps) we had a feast of cucumber salad, bruschetta and vegetable lasagne before rolling back to the guest house. Sunday 24th January 2016

Kumily – day 108

Got up stupidly early to get ready for our full day hike in the Western Ghats. Not really sure what to expect – we had been told to expect a hard hike and to dress in dark clothes. Both dressed head to toe in black, we looked like a pair of ninjas as we walked to our starting point.   Whilst we were there 15 minutes early, one of the couples were 15 minute late and the third couple never showed up! We’re given a pair of very unsexy and uncomfortable gators to wear over our socks and trousers because of the large number of leeches that apparently find their way into every little crook and cranny of your body!   We were also given a black rucksack (to match our ninja ensemble) which was full of breaded snacks and water to last us throughout the day. With the lovely thought of leeches in mind, we set off with two guides and an armed guard… Slightly disconcerting was the armed guards nonchalant attitude to holding his rifle – over his shoulder, swinging it from the barrel, repeatedly dropping it in the mud – didn’t seem like it was going to work even if it was needed. Started off by walking through the village located near the entrance to the sanctuary. Was really nice to see the local tribes going about their daily business and we saw two cadet groups pass us, both groups looking incredibly smart in the uniform with their trousers tucked into their socks to protect them from those deadly leeches!! Came out at the other end of the village, crossed a stream and were then ‘officially’ in the jungle! The scenery was amazing and the sounds of the jungle were all around us as we searched for bison, sambar, wild boar, langur, elephants, leopards and tigers which live in the 777 square-km wildlife sanctuary.   Not sure whether the armed guard thought I wasn’t up to the hike or if something else was concerning him but he kept calling to the guides to let us stop for a rest. Think they realised I didn’t need to stop every 100 metres when I refused to sit down on a seat (flat rock) that they had found me. After about 2 hours of uphill climbing, we stopped for breakfast, tucking into our wide variety of bread and pastries whilst flicking off the leeches from our gators – they were tiny!!   Got chatting to the other couple in the trek who were from Bordeaux in France. Julian is an emergency department nurse and Fanny is an occupational therapist. They have only been in India for a week but was kind of nice to see that they were having the same experience that we have had with the locals. Continued our uphill climb (no longer hiking at this point – I quite literally wanted to start crawling on my hands and knees at one point!) until we reached the top of the mountain pass – incredibly hot and sweaty!  Took a few photos of the viewpoint before walking through long grass (which made me feel a little uncomfortable based on how much noise there was coming from inside the grass!) to another viewpoint looking down on the valley below. A little bit upsetting that we could hear music coming from one of the hotels in town which slightly ruined the calm natural environment of the mountain. After another rest, where the guides spent time trying to take sneaky photos of all four of us before giving up totally and just posing directly behind us with their sticks, we headed back down the other side of the ridge.   Found tiger paw prints in the mud and, after the guide examined some tiger poo nearby, it apparently had been in the area recently. The guide equally did the same examination of elephant, bear and wild dog poo which made me think of the book ‘The little mole who knew it was none of his business’. Continued hiking up and down through the forest, spotting massive 300 year old trees that seemed to go on forever and the elusive Malibar butterfly resting on a tree. The guides pulled up flowers and crushed leaves along the way to show us natural ginger, wild mango, lemongrass and other food items that the local tribes use constantly in their cooking. Arrived at the 26 square-km artificial lake (created by the British in 1895) and walked around its shore line, watching a group of elderly tourists do bamboo rafting (and appeared to be hating it!). Stopped for lunch in a look out tower that was situated by the lake and, whilst everyone else went to sleep, Jayne and I kept a look out for wildlife; Jayne – birds, me – anything that moved!!!   At one point, Jayne tried to sneak us onto a bamboo raft but the armed guard wouldn’t let us so we went back to our position for wildlife spotting. Jayne saw a number of beautifully coloured birds, which she took loads of photos of and I was convinced I saw trees move in the distance but no animal appeared.   We set off again and walked back thought the sanctuary towards the exit. Not sure if they had taken us on an easier route or whether we walked quicker than they had anticipated this morning but they were keen to take us on little diversions off the path to try and spot some wildlife. Managed to see some wild Ox which were huge!  Had a hilarious moment where the French couple kept calling them bison and, as Jayne tried to explain that they weren’t bison, the armed guard got really agitated and kept repeating ‘they’re not bison, they’re wild ox’ every time he heard the word bison! As we wandered back down to the starting point, Jayne heard a noise above her head and we spotted 2 giant squirrels. Jayne was beside herself with excitement at seeing them but the guides, guard and other tourists couldn’t quite understand her excitement. They were happy for her to spend ages trying to take photos of it, despite it cleverly trying to hide itself behind a tree trunk.  We kept on walking and about 50m down the path, we saw another 2 squirrels! Headed back to the bamboo hut to return our rucksacks and gators before walking into town to use the ATM and get a celebratory beer – today marks the last Indian UNESCO site to be visited. 28/32 sites done during our trip with 2 being closed by the time we got there due to cold weather and the other 2 being national parks in Assam which we didn’t have time or money to visit! Headed up to the rooftop to drink our beer and watch the bats fly over head. Clearly we were being over ambitious getting a beer each – after a day of altitude trekking and being dehydrated, beer wasn’t the best option. We were both feeling rotten after half a bottle and gave the rest to someone else staying in the guest house!! Went down the road for dinner, both with massive headaches. Fortunately, the food made us feel slightly better as we shared cucumber salad, bruschetta and vegetable lasagne. Headed straight to bed afterwards, headaches easing off but leg muscles feeling slightly sore and abused!!

Saturday 23rd January 2016