Travelling – day 103

Another lazy morning, getting up with the sun and birds, extracting ourselves from the layers of bedding before showering, dressing and going down for breakfast. It seems like everyone else in the guest house was also leaving today but they were all planning on getting the train down the mountain having got the bus up to Ooty. Seemed like there was a lot of them all wanting to get waiting line tickets and none of them seemed particularly keen on getting to the queue early. Spoke to a Canadian lady who was keen to know our upcoming plans for Sri Lanka as she was travelling without a guide book – only going on recommendations from other people. After breakfast, we packed up our stuff, said goodbye to Eve and Camille and walked to the bus station. Jumped on a bus to Coimbatore just as it was pulling out and managed to find space for the two of us and our bags at the front of the bus – even if we did have to pack the luggage around Jayne!! The journey down the mountain was certainly quicker than the train but slightly scarier as they don’t seem to worry about the cliff of impending death that is quite literally centimetres away from where you are sitting as the bus driver sped around the hairpin bends, being overtaken (and undertaken!) by cars and motorcycles, all of whom are trying to avoid the monkeys!! Saw a few signs saying that elephants had right of way so that added to our nerves as we half expected an elephant to appear as we hurtled around every corner! Unfortunately, or fortunately, we didn’t see any elephants although we did see some wild mountain deer which must have been unusual as even the bus driver slowed down to look at them. Arrived in Coimbatore and transferred onto a smaller and more crowded bus to take us to the bus station for buses that went south as opposed to the one we were at that only caters for buses going north! Feeling a bit sick and woozy getting off the local bus, we were grateful that the police man pointed us in the direction of a semi-deluxe coach to get us some of the way to Kochi. As we settled down at the back of the bus, we watched ‘The Inbetweens’ film on the iPad and tried to get some rest. Got off the bus in Thrissur and, after looking for somewhere to eat and working out how much further we had to go until Kochi, we decided that there was no way that I could get on another bus that day. Walked across the road to a hotel attached to the bus station and booked ourselves in for the night.
After watching a bit of TV with the fan going full blast, we headed back over to the bus station to check the bus departure times for tomorrow, used an Internet cafe to book our next few days accommodation and had dinner in an Arabian restaurants, eating chicken and meat kebab (which was chicken but didn’t have any vegetables in it). Went back to the hotel and watched some more TV before falling asleep. Monday 18th January 2016

Ooty – day 102

Woke up to the sun shining through our threadbare curtains and the birds singing – it was actually one of the nicest ways to have woken up! Slowly extracted ourselves from the cocoon of blankets, duvets and sheets that we had used during the night to shield us from the cold. Had a delightfully hot shower – you know it’s cold outside when there is steam coming off your limbs the minute you turn off the shower!! Got dressed and opened up our door to the balcony to let the sun into our room, where we met a French lady who was looking for some walking buddies for the day. She showed us the map of the route she wanted to take. In desperate need of breakfast and coffee before any big decisions were to be made, we headed down to the dining room of the guest house. A cheese omelette, toast and 2 coffees later, we were both feeling more human and decided to throw out our original days plans of relaxing and go hiking with Eve. Grabbed our stuff, including some left overs from our picnic last night, and headed out to the bus station to catch the local bus to the starting point. Having always shared the task of finding out what bus we needed to get, it was quite refreshing letting Eve ask the bus conductors although I did feel slightly guilty letting her do it in her second language. As we got on the right bus, the driver decided to ‘entertain’ us with the loudest Hindi music ever – so much for chatting! Got off the bus after about 10 minutes of meandering through the narrow lanes of the mountain at high speeds and were immediately rewarded with a stunning view of the valley below. IMG_4130
IMG_4129Whilst Jayne and Eve took photos of the temple, I tried (unsuccessfully) to make friends with the shabbiest, shaggy sheep I’d ever seen. We started walking down the road, stopping for more photos and chatting about ourselves. Saw the toy train come along the track, which looked even more precarious than it felt yesterday! IMG_4150Took the route we thought it should be and walked through a beautiful forest of silver oak trees, stumbling upon a little village that appeared to have a bomb shelter at the end of it (currently being used to store wood!). Got to a section of the trail which had no apparent way to go, so Eve went asking for direction and we got sent down a section between two houses. Ended up walking for a bit through the village and local tea plantations, saying hi to the villagers and wishing them ‘Happy Pongal’.IMG_4162Managed to the find the road we should have been on and continued our hike. Described as a culture hike by the tourist office, it was 12km of walking through different villages and through the agricultural fields. We saw kids playing cricket, which Jayne was asked to join but she turned them down since they were basically playing in a scrapyard. We also saw a man splitting tea trees in half by using an axe and Eve took photos of the locals in exchange for ‘tips’. Stopped outside a beautiful temple for a snack when we got told off by a passing priest for having our shoes on inside the complex – on the grass… The final section of the hike was a little bit tough, with basically a vertical uphill climb to the bus stop. Only stopped once en route for a quick water drink and to catch our breath. IMG_4252Didn’t have to wait long for a bus back to Ooty, although it was ridiculously full – so much so that Jayne and I were wedged together between two seats as the conductor frantically tried to find space for the ‘fat’ tourists. Arrived back in town and, after having to use our elbows to get off the bus through the mass of people trying to get on the bus, we went back to the guest house. Spent some time sitting on the terrace, enjoying the last of the sun, sorting through the photos and chatting to Eve’s travel companion, Camille. We all went out for dinner together, to a nearby hotel that seemed more interested in clearing up our plates and getting rid of us than letting us enjoy our food. Didn’t really matter as we were all tired and I had gotten disgustingly sun burnt on my neck so we went back to the guest house and nestled straight back into our bedding cocoons.
IMG_4194Sunday 17th January 2016

Ooty – day 101

Imagine if you will, that you are at your favourite garden centre! All the different sections; house plants, cacti, bedding plants, ferns, grasses and bamboos, palm trees, hedge grows, flowering bushes and the heavy bags of substrates, the humble aquatics department and even the café. Imagine that you mix all these sections together in a beautifully ironic fashion and take a tour around the centre in a little toy train. Imagine this, and continue to read on, for we have been indulged with the Nilgiri Mountain Railway heading from Mettupalayam to Ooty on the edge of the Western Ghats.IMG_7267
Up at 03:00 and at the station by 04:00, we were #13 & 14 in the queue for a ticket. Not a chai vendor in sight (lucky git was still asleep somewhere) and it was cold. We got chatting to #15, Jan, from the Czech Republic, working in Indonesia and time flew by and at 05:30 the counters started being handed out for the first 50 in the queue. Needless to say, there were those who cut in front, but the station master beamed at us, having met him the night before for info. The trick to buttering up a station master is to let him know what countries you are from. It seems to go on his virtual checklist or some secret collection. Counter in hand, security let us put bags in a carriage, which Katherine defended, while I purchased the tickets and returned for the grand total of 30 INR a ticket for 2x Adults to Ooty on yet another World Heritage Site toy train. I also returned with Chai – I think that was more appreciated than the tickets!?
Dawn arrived in the blink of an eye, but was probably obscured by the throngs of people swarming up and down the platform after the ticket lady – hoping to see a cancelled name on the list and be lucky number 51 and so forth. The chaps in the canteen were speechless when I returned with the same two paper cups for more chai. I don’t think they have ever seen it and were incredibly thankful, showing their appreciation by filling the cups up to the brim, which never happens. Of course, some of both had to be drunk before returning to the train or one would burn themselves. Score!IMG_5155
The gentle, steady lurch of the train commenced shortly after its scheduled departure. This fact in itself is miraculous. The other was that the train did move in the first place, watching the staff oiling and greasing parts non stop and every station in between didn’t fill us with much trust. The rhythmic motion, the puffing steam engine pushing us up the tracks, it all became serenely hypnotic as we slowly climbed through the habitats.IMG_7243
The construction of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, a 46-km-long metre-gauge single-track railway in Tamil Nadu State was first proposed in 1854, but due to the difficulty of the mountainous location the work only started in 1891 and was completed in 1908. This railway, scaling an elevation of 326 m to 2,203m, represented the latest technology of the time. They say you should sit on the left going up, admiring the views and landscape.

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We didn’t get to sit on the left, but that’s alright. For what remained to be seen was the occasional glimpse of landscape and scenery draped with ever changing fauna, catching your breath in a way the valley views could not. Plants, wildlife, waterfalls, bare rock cliffs, tea plantations, and all sorts of habitats were thrown together and apart in a kaleidoscope of colours and textures.

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The lower valleys were quilted in banana plantations and palm trees. The light greens and yellows of sapling trees changed to mature forests of browns and greens. Then suddenly it ended with the first tunnel. Cold, black rock, dripping with water transitioned to red sandstone and the heat was already bouncing off the walls in to the carriage.

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Plants clung to mountain side, defying gravity and reaching out to the carriage with leaves of burnt yellows, gold, maroon, rust red, bright red and all 40 shades of green. The bridges were precariously held together, but one was too focused on the waterfalls and gorges with water rushing over boulders of orange hues. The flowers began to bloom further up, with trumpets of white, fireworks of yellow, red and orange and pockets of violet. The black and white patterned butterflies had quadrants of red on their wings and they were easier to discern than the birds flitting through the trees in rapid evasion of the metal snake chugging its way up the railway.

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Each station was a chance to get out and gaze at the views and wonders of the route. It also provided a pit stop for samosas which is a plus. Alas, before too long the patchwork of tea bushes and columns of dividing, silver ash trees gave way to sheds and houses. We were at our destination and a pang of regret hit us for reaching the end of the journey. The photos will never do it justice.

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We visited the Thread Garden, a collection of flowers and plants created with a unique technique of thread and canvas. The ones in the exhibit are in need of a good dusting, but were certainly something different. 12years in the making, by 50 women, the collection supposedly had 250 species from all over the world.

IMG_5196We reckon that a lot have been damaged and removed, based on the way the place is now set up and the back section devoid of any displays. In to the town proper for some supplies and find an Internet Café, we sadly learned of the death of Alan Rickman. So much news that we’re clearly missing on our trip, we need to try and read more news articles when we get internet access.

Saturday 16th January 2016

Travelling – day 100

Wow. 100 days of travelling. 100 days in India. 100 days of Jayne not killing anyone (even though we’ve come close on several occasions!). 100 days of writing this blog, having never before been able to keep a diary for more than a couple of days! I would love to say that day 100 of our journey was an exciting day… But it wasn’t! We were up at 5am and we went to bed, shattered, by 8.30pm. I would love to say that we pampered ourselves, even just a little bit… But we didn’t! We sat on a bus for 11 hours squashed next to a wide variety of sweaty people (ourselves included!). I’d love to say it was one bus… But it wasn’t – it was five! I’d also love to say that the buses were comfortable and pleasant to be on… But they weren’t. They were clearly sent and driven by Satan, with a furnace included as his luggage! More frustratingly, the nicest bus was the last one – the final hour long journey to reach our destination rather than the cramped 7 hour hell on bus number two!! Equally annoyingly, each time we got off a bus at the connecting bus stand, the next bus we needed was just ready to leave which meant we literally got off one bus to walk 5 metres and then climbed on the next bus. So painful in fact that I even shed a small tear when the bus conductor called our next destination the exact moment my foot hit the tarmac when we got off the penultimate bus.

WE HATE BUSES.

Friday 15th January 2016

Kumbakonam – day 99

Both feeling much better after our refreshing afternoon of watching Harry Potter and sleeping, we decided to try attempt two of visiting the Brihadishwara temple in Thanjavur. Left the hotel around 7am and caught a bus that actually had space although the bus driver kept looking over at us and saying ‘sexy’, so I guess you can’t have everything!!! The 41km journey took just under an hour and a half, which is practically a miracle by Indian standards (notice, my love of buses has decreased slightly since we began travelling!!). We jumped out at the bus stand and walked the rest of the way to the ‘big temple’ using the walk as an excuse to stretch our legs. The temple, built between 1003-1010, is considered the crowning glory of Chola architecture, sculpture, painting and bronze carvings. You walk through two ‘gates’ before entering into the temple complex, each one built to celebrate a Royal victory. There is a covered statue in front of the temple of Nandi (Shiva’s sacred bull). Carved from a single piece of rock, it is the largest statue in India of Nandi, weighing 25 tonnes, measuring 6m long and 3m high. Another long hallway leading to the main temple, filled with less carousel horses but more bat guano. The temple itself was similar to yesterday’s although today’s priest was willing to let us violate the no photo rule for a small ‘donation’. Suffice to say, we left without taking any photos! The outside of the 66m vimana (tower) in this temple is straight and severe when compared to its ‘sister’ temple that we saw yesterday – you can clearly see the difference in design.

IMG_4067Along the temple walls, the king who commissioned the temple had inscribed the names and addresses of all of his several hundred presents, 400 dancers, 57 musicians, barbers and poets into the stone. After the temple, we walked back towards the bus stand and decided to get out of the midday sun by using an Internet cafe to sort out our plans for the next few days. Also had lunch in a nearby ‘hotel’ where our food was served on banana leaves directly onto the table.

IMG_5122Think the waiters were fascinated by us eating with our fingers and not making an awful mess, although one did keep coming over to give us ‘tips’ and to pore sauce over my rice to make it easier. Got back on a bus and got off at the town before Kumbakonam to visit the third and last Great Living Chola Temple. The Airavatesvara Temple of Darasuram was built by Rajaraja II between 1146-1163 and was, by far, our favourite Chola temple.IMG_4100Less grand than the other two, with its 24m vimana, it was overflowing with mini sculptures, columns, paintings, stone chariots, elephants, horses and a stone image of Shiva on the rare incarnation of Kankalamurti, the mendicant. IMG_4093Having avoided the priest who, when I said I didn’t require a blessing, blew out his candle and huffed away to look for more visitors and the shoe boy who wanted money cause he didn’t touch our shoes, we left the temple and walked the 3km back to our hotel. As it is Pongal tomorrow (the Tamil Nadu region Indian version of harvest festival), we got to see all the beautiful and intricate kholams that were being created to decorate the outside of most homes we walked past. IMG_5089As we continued our walk, a group of guys slowed down on their scooter and practically drooled as they said to Jayne ‘niiiiiiicccccce quality’ – I couldn’t contain myself and the three of them drove off looking slightly wounded to the sounds of my laughter. I then, being lovely, teased Jayne about it the rest of the way home! Decided to visit a couple of the colourful temples in the town before heading to dinner. IMG_5128There are 18 temples in Kumbakonam, mostly dedicated to Shiva or Vishnu but we only visited two – the Sarangapani Temple which is the largest chariot-based Vishnu temple (at 50m high) and the Kumbeshwara Temple which is the largest Shiva temple, claiming to contain a lingam made by Shiva when he mixed the nectar of immortality with sand. Headed back to Dosa Plaza for dinner before returning to the hotel, packing and falling into bed.

Thursday 14th January 2016

Kumbakonam – day 98

Had a brilliant plan to get up early and visit the two Great Living Chola Temples the furthest away from where we were staying – both of which are 40km away but in opposite directions! Left the hotel by 7.30am and walked to the bus stand, Jayne getting us lost en route and I pointed it out (something that never EVER happens!!). As we re-found our way back to the bus stand, we saw loads of decorated doorsteps using the coloured chalk. They were absolutely stunning and beautifully symmetrical – some had even laid bricks out around their designs to stop people walking / driving over them. Got to the bus stand and found our bus quite quickly. As it was still in the stand we knew we had a while until it was going to leave so Jayne went off to find some Chai and breakfast. Literally as she turned around the corner out of sight of the bus, the bus driver got in and started the engine! A quick hand wave and a cheeky wink, he seemed to understand that I was waiting for someone… Jayne strolled back into view and, as I tried to get her attention, stopped to get some chai. The bus driver saw who I was waving at and started beeping his horn to get her attention. He still waited until she got our chai before pulling out of the bus stand, only to stop and turn off his engine 5 metres down the bus station for 5 minutes… All that stress for nothing! Jayne spent the first part of the journey telling me (boring me!!) about how they make the chai differently here. Everywhere else in India, the chai is fully made in a pot and you just get poured some when you want it. Here, apparently, they boil the milk and tea separately and then mix them together in front of you like a cocktail when you order. I can’t really tell the difference… Started our hour and a half bus journey north to Gangakondacholapuram. Had to wait to cross a bridge that is clearly too narrow for two lanes of traffic. As we waited, we watched a man skin and gut a goat tied to a tree. It was disturbingly fascinating watching him burst the bladder with his bare hands!

IMG_5090We were just turning up the road for the last 2km to the temple when our bus turned into a remake of the bus we saw yesterday – people hanging out of windows. One young man even gave me his school books to hold through the window as he gripped onto our window bars – the conductor still demanded a fare, even though he wasn’t technically on the bus!! The bus tilted like a palm tree after a tropical storm. The natural disaster was abated as the passengers slowly spanned out of the bus like spaghetti in a pot. Leaning over each other and contorting limbs and luggage, the bus was able to pick up speed and head us towards the town with the impossibly difficult to pronounce name. (Yes Ed – Jayne wrote that last paragraph!!)
Getting off the bus was equally as torturous – literally climbing over people trying to get into our seats before we had even left them and then trying to pick our way through the throngs of people hanging out of the bus door.

IMG_5099Fortunate, it was actually funny and you could see the locals were amused just as much as we were by the situation – it was madness! Walked the short distance to the Chola temple, left our shoes with the shop keeper and walked in.
The Shiva temple was built by Rajendra I in 1035 and has a 49m-tall vimana (tower) that is situated on top of the temple. It has elegant sloping sides and, as a comparison to the main Great Living Chola Temple in Thanjavur, it is considered the feminine counterpart or sister temple to the Brihadishwara temple. The temple complex itself was blissfully empty and we got a chance to wander around at leisure, exploring all the nooks and crannies of the different buildings.

IMG_4027There was an extraordinary long hallway passage that led to the temple which was home to several shrines and, bizarrely, what looked like horse rejects from a carousel. I got bitten by ants when I accidentally stood on their ant hill… The little buggers had a feast on my feet!
As we left, we bumped into French Canadian couple who were having a disagreement with the shop keeper who had, apparently, asked for 60INR to store their shoes… We paid 6INR and, even then we probably paid too much!! Helped them sort it out and walked out with them. They were trying to find the museum that was attached to the temple complex. Chatted about our journey and they thought we worked for UNESCO (which was kinda cool – wonder if they need new employers to travel the world?!?). Found the one-room museum and decided to give it a miss. Walked back down the road to flag down a bus back to Kumbakonam to get some lunch. Headed back to Dosa Plaza for a thali and paneer dish before we both started to feel a bit dodgy. Decided to head back to the hotel to use the toilet and have a little nap before making our way to the next temple… Three hours later, Jayne finally woke up and, as I was still not feeling great, we decided to give the other temple a miss and spent the rest of the day in our room watching Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban.

Wednesday 13th January 2016

Travelling – day 97

Had a lazy morning, abusing the hotel wifi again to do mundane tasks such as paying my tax bill (yuck!!). Ordered breakfast to the room again and spent the morning slowly packing up our stuff whilst being distracted by Masterchef Asia – I was filling Jayne I’m on all the gossip from yesterday’s show and predicting which chef was going to be eliminated. Have gotten far too into the programme having only seen it the day before. Had a bit of a nightmare checking out and trying to convince the hotel manager that we needed to pay for three pieces of laundry, not one! Managed to get it all sorted and then confused him further by asking for a receipt. Ten minutes later, we were heading out to the bus station. Negotiated the streets/sewers easier than when we arrived and got there quite quickly, if not very sweaty! We also fortunately didn’t see anyone being tattooed in the street side tattoo stand like we did the day before… Asked at the enquiry desk how to get to Kumbakonam and we had a choice to make!! We could either wait two hours for a direct bus or we could get on a bus immediately to a town close to our destination and then change. Decided that we would both prefer to be moving than sat waiting, we jumped on the bus leaving straight away. An uneventful bus journey and three hours later we were at a bus station in the middle of nowhere being pointed in the right direction for our next bus. Worried that our bags were going to be a problems based on how many people were getting onto each bus, I basically curled up into a little ball and put both backpacks under my feet.

IMG_5081Clearly didn’t need to as no one wanted to sit next us! As we pulled away from the bus stand, we watched the bus in front of us tip precariously with the amount of people hanging out of the door. As we turned the corner, we realised that some people weren’t even (technically) in the bus… Just holding on the the window bars and letting their feet drag on the floor! Arrived in Kumbakonam and carried each other’s backpacks to the hotel as Jayne’s back was hurting – my rucksack has better back support and is (slightly) lighter!! Dumped our bags and headed back out to get some dinner. Found a brilliant fast food restaurant called ‘Dosa Plaza’ which sells pretty much every type of Indian dish. Our waiter for the evening was clearly the Indian version of Igor and, after trying to order thali or tandoori, was most apologetic to tell us that the chef that cooks those dishes wasn’t in and we could only have dosa. Used this to our advantage by ordering the most obscure dosas we could find… Roasted garlic dosa, chowmein dosa and a roast salad dosa.  They were all amazing!! Especially the roast salad dosa that basically was filled with coleslaw and cheese!! Ordered a second one to share (cause we were being greedy!) and waddled back to the hotel, with bellies stretched to bursting!!

Tuesday 12th January 2016

Pondicherry – day 96 (Jayne)

It was weird getting up so early and sneaking around in the dark. It was like getting ready to go to work back in London, yet there was an air of excitement about the day rather than a sense of foreboding.
I was at the dive centre by 06:15. You know that too early and you’re in the way, but not being early shows a passive attitude and not being prepared. As such, the cats snuggled up while I got bitten to death by mosquitos and breakfast was laid out on the coffee table. Awake by 03:00 in the morning by these evil creatures, I would have consumed a gallon of chai along with my idli and curries but, alas, there was none.
It was nice to be listening to a dive briefing, rather than giving it. Some of the staff were overly concerned that I’d be cold with my broken wetsuit or that I’d get sea sick on the way out. Reassured that the water was 27*C the day before and the boat ride was about 35mins I tried to reassure them that I’d be ok. The main instructor overheard the commotion and was amused to say the least. He clearly had an idea of the conditions that are the norm in Ireland and thought it funny – there was already gambles and forfeits that I’d be sick on the journey.

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While my ass didn’t enjoy the occasional bump on the fibreglass hull of the boat rim, the gentle swell with the salty, sea breeze and the peace and quiet was blissful. We were at site #1 before long, dropping anchor and the DM (my buddy for the day – Jay) descending in to the depths to set a shot line for the 3x DSD’s (Discover Scuba Diving) on the other boat.
‘Temple’ as the site is called, is an artificial reef beginning to flourish. A metal frame was sunk here deliberately by the centre, with ropes extending along the sea bed to some crates and vehicles. The fishermen of the area occasionally try fish here and you can immediately tell why. Cardinals, fusiliers and a variety of other fish that I have yet to identify, habituated the frame, ropes and palm tree branches of the site. This has led to it not only becoming a sanctuary, possibly even a nursery and cleaning station, but a reason for Groupers to hang around like school yard bullies. These beasts look at you with a disdainful eye and intimidate you with their gaping mouth and rows of teeth, wondering if you’re going to disturb them. Needless to say, they’re all bark and no bite and we explored the site for almost an hour.

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I’m not sure Jay was sure what to do with me. Matching his air consumption and spotting sealife as much as he was with a torch, he checked my air three times and then just hovered until it was time to ascend. Perhaps I was an easy dive for him, perhaps I was infuriating as to be having so much bottom time and not be reliant on him… who knows???

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Together we spotted lionfish, scorpionfish, 3x types of puffers, a moray eel, squirrelfish, batfish, false moorish idols and a massive grouper hiding under a car/bus door that was on its side in the sea bed. Later, Kas, the main instructor doing the AOW (Advanced Open Water) on our boat, was telling me how the crates were full of grindstones. They tell DSD students that they are Shiva Lingas gathered from temples to go with the theme of their u/w temple structure. As such, DSD’s pray to these artefacts while being led around on their dive. An innocent joke, they helped create homes for countless fish to hide between and they looked brill.

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Between dives snacks consisted of biscuits and cake. It was all the better that the AOW refused, leaving more for myself, Jay and Kas. He wasn’t doing so well with the sea sickness, but was desperate keen to finish the course before heading to Australia. It’s normally after a dive when you should really be feeling a bit better, from getting off the boat for so long and your mind starting to tell you, you can do this. Even after dive 2 he wasn’t so flash, leaving fins on during the surface interval until dive 3. Was interested to hear he’s a pro chef in Toronto and he’d cooked nearly everything he saw on the dives… Interesting that Karma should follow him half way across the world.
‘Danny’s Eel Garden’ was site number 2 and it lived up to it’s name. A short distance from site 1 (coincidence?) they believe these group of rocks in a semi circle formation are the ballast remains of a shipwreck. Not really seeing anything but marine fauna, the 4 types of moray were impressive. Closing my fist as best as possible to conceal the rings on my hand so the lonesome barracuda didn’t get any fancy ideas (magpies of the sea… that bite fingers off) the little glint of titanium was enough to entice the morays out of their nooks and crannies to be stars in their very own GoPro home video. Of course, the laptop is too old to play videos of this quality, but I’m sure they’re going to be good when they’re less than 10cm from a row of crystal, needle teeth and a wicked grin.

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The resident octopus was where he should be, but do ya think Jay could remember where that was? Kas banged his tank with the butt of his knife to let us know he found it. A trick that would never work in Irish waters as you wouldn’t have a clue which way on the dive site to swim. We were fortunate to be at one end (the wrong end) of the ballast, enjoying a sea urchin with incredibly iridescent blue/purple to its shell, when I heard the banging. He was cute, changing colours ever so slightly to blend in to the type of shell he was over as he withdrew like a shadow into darkness.

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There were scorpionfish and a crab (which I think I was supposed to be impressed with) along with some LPS coral dotting the rocks. The zooplankton on the ascent drifting by, were just as cool to behold as the sea bed. But, of course you must be barking crazy if you’re waving your arms about like you’re trying incantations on a safety stop. It did make my eyes go all fuzzy focusing on so much blue and silt trying to discern the opaque outline of sea gooseberries and other pelagic macro life. I had to resist the urge to go swimming after a bell jar monster and return to the shot line.
More cake and biscuits. Whoop! The countdown to dive 3 was literally to the minute. Surface interval planned to depth and bottom time and we were descending in to dive 3 (just another short boat journey from last site – sceptical much?). ‘Macro Garden’ is a muck dive, meaning you dive over muck and hope for the best. They have a line laid out on the bottom and then they swim in an agreed direction with the cox’n.
The rock at the end of the line has by happenstance become the recent home of a frog fish. So ugly as to be cute, they walk along the bottom and he swaggered around 180 to be a tad more photogenic.

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Off we went, like Dory, “just keep swimming” and there was evidence of sea potatoes from discarded shells. It wasn’t long until we found 2 types of nice starfish, a flat species of sea urchin that I didn’t know existed and suddenly we’re stopping by a sand mason worm to admire a seahorse. Shy and still, the poor thing must have felt oppressed by 4 looming shadows and the sound of bubbles. We left it in search of more.

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Garden eels became more frequent. Pikemen guarding the castle gates, these cowards retreated in to their holes just at the limits of the camera zoom and stayed there till the paparazzi had passed. The 2nd seahorse that Jay found was slightly more amicable. She wasn’t burdened with 4 divers as Kas had to begun his ascent with the AOW. We did try and call them back for the massive cuttlefish, but it didn’t stick around for the party. I did manage to convince Jay to come back down slightly, as the gap in the middle of the sand ridge looked too much out of place not to be investigated. Sure enough, another octopus, so small as to hide in one half of the clam shell and await our departure.

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The dives were brilliant. Without any need for depth or colour, the magnitude of life we came across was astounding. The fishermen weren’t happy to see us drift over their nets on the way back up river, but if they focused less on shouting abuse at us they’d have noticed all the fish jumping to freedom over their nets. Back to the dive centre, late as always is the case, I was feeling guilty about my day diving when I saw Kat in the centre and I immediately had to run to the loo and save a bladder.

IMG_7104Diving in India… ticked off the list!

Monday 11th January 2016

Pondicherry – day 96 (Katherine)

Having been woken up at 3am by Jayne and her mosquito murdering mission and again at 6am when she left for the dive centre, I spent the morning moping – sulking badly cause I couldn’t go scuba diving!! Breakfast was served to the room as I watched crap TV and read my guide book for the Maldives, which didn’t help my mood, as all it talks about is the stuff you can see underwater!  Left for the dive centre to meet Jayne when she finished her days diving at midday. Fast forward two hours and I was still sat in the dive centre waiting for my darling wife to return… Surrounded by dive equipment and video footage of various local dive sites on continuous loop, I feel I deserve an award for not smacking anyone with the pink scubapro seawing nova fin that I spent the last two hours admiring!!! However, the minute I saw Jayne’s face I couldn’t be angry anymore. She looked like a five-year-old on Christmas Day with a new bike!! She practically bounced into the shop, stopping to give me her bag before disappearing to the toilet. She then helped the team unload the van and put away equipment (always the instructor, never the paying guest!). I had a look through the photos she had taken during her three dives whilst she chatted to various people, getting tips for whale watching and dive sites in Sri Lanka. By the time she was ready to leave, it was nearly 3pm and any plans we had of going to the Botanical gardens (which closed at 5pm) went out the window. Wandered through the back streets whilst Jayne giddily told me about her day as we tried to find somewhere open to get something to eat. Having walked past several closed cafes, Jayne clearly needed to eat something so we headed into KFC (again!!). After eating, we decided to just stroll slowly back to the hotel as there wasn’t much else to do in Pondi except walk along the beach, which we had done yesterday. Used the time back at the hotel to fully take advantage of the cable TV and relatively strong wifi. The film channel showed ‘Scream 4’, ‘Dracula Untold’ and ‘Independence Day’ so we had those films on in the background as we ordered room service, tried to work out which third island to visit in the Maldives and book accommodation.

Monday 11th January 2016

Travelling – day 95

Got up and packed up our slightly damp clothes from being in our ‘room’ (that would explain the amount of mosquitos!!). Went to got some breakfast and walked to the bus station to catch a bus to Pondicherry.    Arrived at the bus station, avoiding the countless taxi drivers who told us they could drive us for a good price to wherever we wanted to go and, after asking two bus drivers which bus to get on, jumped on to a moving bus. Triple checked with the bus conductor that we were on the right bus before settling down in our seats, feeling quite smug. Got to the main road turning and then we turned away from where we wanted to go!!! Slightly panicked, Jayne quickly ran down the bus to talk to the bus conductor – apparently she thought we said something else. Managed to convince her to stop the bus so we could jump off but at this point we were 4km down the road from the bus stop with no way of getting buses to stop for us. So, we picked up our bags and walked back to the main crossroads in the searing hot sun. Both of us thinking that the other was cross, we were both grumpily silent as we sweated and got sunburnt during our ‘stroll’ back. Arrived back at the bus stop incredibly wet and hot but got on a bus in the correct direction within 5 minutes. As we climbed onto the bus, I managed to smack my head on the bottom of Jayne’s bag. The bus conductor thought this was hilarious and as I took another step into the bus, he bopped me on the head!! Surprisingly funny, and nice to finally see a sense of humour from a local, it got me out of my grump and we both laughed about how, for the first time during our trip in India, we had got on the wrong bus! Sat at the back of the bus, opening the windows wide to dry off(!) and relaxed into our two hour journey to Pondi. The bus was relatively empty so it was incredibly frustrating when a guy got on and, walking past dozens of empty seats, decided to sit in the broken seat directly in front of Jayne. Had a quick lunch break stop where we were able to replace our much needed liquid levels with Limca! Arrived in Pondi and, as we got off the bus, a new passenger was waiting to get on. As I passed, he looked me up and down before saying ‘nice’. Before I even had a chance to say anything, the bus conductor tutted loudly and told him to be quiet – brilliant! Walked through the back streets, past ‘mini-canal’ street (more like an open sewer!!) with water buffalo wallowing in the dirty depths. Got to our hotel, dumped our bags and headed straight out to the local dive centre to organise some diving for Jayne tomorrow. Felt a bit sorry for myself that I couldn’t join her and the dive centre tried to convince me to do a DSD with them, until I pointed out that I was a DM – that stopped them quickly! They then asked Jayne if she was also a DM and were slightly embarrassed when she had to say she was a MI. Once it was all sorted and Jayne had packed up her equipment, we walked to the waterfront and we wandered up the promenade watching locals blow bubbles for their children to catch. Walked through the French part of town, stopping off at the Notre Dame de Anges. Built in 1858, it is an imposing pink-and-yellow building. There was a service going on (in French) so we only had a quick peek inside from the open doors. Sat on the beach chatting about nothing in particularly as the sun set. Went out in the search of a burger – Pondi is the only place in India to easily find beef! It took us four restaurants before we found what we were looking for. After a bit of faff over whether they had the ingredients, we were tucking into the first beef burger we’d had in over three months. Headed back to the hotel and I downloaded some new books whilst Jayne got ready for her day on the dive boat.

Sunday 10th January 2016