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
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
Having had half a beer and a sip of red wine last, I may have passed out as soon as my head hit the pillow (bloody travelling is totally ruining my ability to manage my alcohol!!), but I woke up around 3am unable to get back to sleep. Jayne couldn’t sleep either so we both tossed and turned until it was a reasonable hour to get up, washed and dressed. Decided to walk to the entrance to the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary and work out where we needed to met for our full days hiking tomorrow. Stopped en route at a French restaurant where we had local vanilla coffee and French baguette sandwiches filled with coleslaw and fried chicken. They weren’t anything like French baguettes but after nearly four months without French bread, they were pretty good!!! Kept walking through the town, admiring the new hotel being built to resemble a tree house compete with wobbly bridge to get into reception and avoiding the taxi jeeps speeding back and forth to the park entrance. Saw a black monkey sitting in a tree near the entrance of the park, watching us with great curiosity – clearly to see if we had anything worth climbing down and stealing! Also saw 4 or 5 wild pigs run through the hedged fence in someone’s garden – at the speed they were charging we half thought a tiger would be coming crashing through the hedge seconds after them! Couldn’t see the place were we are supposed to meet tomorrow so we headed back to the tourist information centre to double check. Turns out we were at the wrong park entrance! Ten minute walk in the opposite direction and we found the bamboo hut that will be our meeting point at 7.45am. Decided to have another lazy day back at the guest house, using the hammocks on the veranda to take a must needed rest. Spent the rest of the afternoon planning our next travel steps and booking our flights between Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand, Myanmar and Australia (with a little detour for Jayne back to England). Can’t believe we’ve managed to get ourselves organised and booked our flights to places I’ve only ever dreamed about visiting! Went up to the roof top to watch the bats ‘fly home’ for the evening. Saw one turn around mid flight which led to a silly conversation about the bat forgetting its handbag – maybe you had to be there!!! Celebrated our successful day (and our Visa cards taking the strain without too much complaining!) by treating ourselves to a nice meal at the ‘posh’ restaurant in our road. I had cauliflower cheese with brown bread whilst Jayne ate an Israeli mezzo of hummus, falafel and pitta bread. Chatted about our upcoming travel plans and the need to up our training regime if we are going to seriously consider doing the Everest Base Camp Trek in Nepal. Had an amazing fruit platter for pudding – a quarter of a pineapple, watermelon, orange and banana – which is the first time in ages we’ve had so much fresh fruit. Friday 22nd January 2016
Woke up (relatively) refreshed and spent the morning catching up on essentials like washing underwear!! Took our time getting ready, enjoying the hot bucket shower and space in the room to actually both move at the same time. Headed up to the roof top veranda and ate some bread, jam and Nutella. Used the fact that all the guests were out for the day to abuse the wifi to get up-to-date with blogs and uploading photos to various cloud spaces. Chatted with the owner of the hotel for a bit, in which he spoke about how he has found that Indian tourists have become increasingly lazy over the past few years. In fact, one family refused to stay here because there was no restaurant attached – even though there are several a few doors down in either direction. Apparently it was too far for them to walk… Once we’d finished doing our ‘work’, we went for a leisurely stroll around the town. Aptly described as the Disneyland-in-the-ghats by the Lonely Planet, it is a town full of western and Indian tourists with the shopping choice to match! I’m always surprised at how many shops can be in a row, selling exactly the same stuff and make any kind of money – row upon row of spice shops, dried fruit and nuts, home-made chocolates and ‘Indian’ clothes that I’ve never seen an Indian person wear, line the streets opposite the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. We walked around for over an hour, trying to find somewhere to have an early dinner, getting ourselves lost in the back streets and finding the main road within a couple of turns! As we walked, we saw coffee trees growing by the side of the road – I have to admit, I never thought they looked like that! But it was great fun finding the berries that had fallen on the floor, cracking them open and finding 2 coffee beans inside!! Ended up returning to the place just down the road to have some food. Paid 220INR for the smallest glass of red wine (it was a hobbit glass!) but the food was amazing so it kind of made up for it! As did the Westlife music playing in the background!! They also had the cutest resident kitten in the restaurant who spent most of the evening curled up on Jayne’s lap. She is a self-confessed dog person, so it was really nice to see Jayne melt at the affections from a cat… I might still be able to get a kitten one day!! Shared a cold beer whilst watching ‘The Chronicles of Riddick’ being projected onto the restaurant wall and listening to a near-by tour group be loud and irritating – smugly enjoyed the fact that the waiter then quoted them 20INR extra for their beers…
Thursday 21st January 2016
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.
Whilst 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! Took 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’.Managed 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. Didn’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.
Sunday 17th January 2016