Autistic, rambling about the world as the mood takes him. Aspergers, Depression, Anhedonia, Dysthymia. Occasional detours into travel, snakes and weird stuff. All views and opinions are my own. I've nobody else to blame!
Still waiting to know what the future will bring. Still waiting on pension company’s to provide information they promised a fortnight ago and without which I can’t make a decision about leaving work.
Still waiting, probably without hope, that work are going to acknowledge the mistakes they made and the factual inaccuracies upon which they relied in my OH referral. Still waiting for them to hold up their hands and say ‘Let’s talk’ even if that talking gets us nowhere.
Still waiting for my partner to make up her mind. If our hand is forced, which way will she twist?. Will she stay or go? Do we move and buy or stay and rent? Which is best? Can she say goodbye to people she has worked for over the last 30 years? Can she face moving with all it will entail? Can I persuade her to make a start on clearing the clutter and things we haven’t seen in 10 years?
Is there any hope?.
And what does the future hold for me? Employment? Self employment? People tell me I have these skills then clam up when I ask them what they are. There are no fancy qualifications in this boys background and at 56, Autistic and with ADHD, there are few obvious and sensible career choices. The last thing I need is into the frying pan out of the fire..or the other way around!.
And I hate waiting. This feeling of being in limbo, of not knowing, of being helpless. The powerlessness of it all. Wracked by indecision and with no support to sit down with and go through the pros and cons of each decision, to identify possible careers, to…advise.
I hate waiting. I hate it but it’s a necessary evil.
It’s much cooler now as we wind our way up to Ooty, the old British hill station. The road is narrow and winding and with every mile you note a further drop in temperature from the stifling heat of the plains.
Our hotel is shambolic and far from ideal but we must make do. The staff seem almost to resent our presence and the smallest request is treated as if we had asked them to move the world backwards.
Ooty is nice enough and the train journey upon which we embark to Coonoor is truly lovely, slipping and sliding through the hills with spectacular views down into the valleys. It’s a small train with little carriages that lurch and jolt along the route and with no access to facilities you need an empty bladder at the outset.
The sky is sparkling and bright, no doubt due to the altitude and the lack of factories to pollute the air. There’s a fresh smell about it as well, reminiscent of a bright and sunny spring day back home. There is something deeply comforting about today, it’s almost an English thing, to travel by train or so it seems to me and every rail journey taken overseas reminds me of countless hours spent travelling on UK trains but in a better way. There’s an honest charm here, a throwback to a more innocent and simple time and one which, for a short time, we must relish.
Coonoor is a quiet and sleepy place and after 75 minutes we arrive at our destination, a small station that would not lookout of place in 1950s England. We disembark and the train rumbles on towards its next destination whilst for us it is a return to our old familiar coach and a hair raising experience as we return to Ooty along the narrow winding roads.
It’s nice enough I suppose but Kochi, once Cochin, lacks certain charms. It’s less chaotic than other places and less distinctly Indian. It seems more organised and more cosmopolitan and I’m not sure I’m keen on it.
It also has the disadvantage that it’s tourist sites are generally not very interesting and that one of its main attractions, the vast Chinese fishing nets, are set up on a beach that’s so strewn with rubbish that you have to hunt the sand grains just to make sure it is actually a beach.
Far from the pristine images presented in glossy brochures, the nets ..or at least their frames, rest amidst an assortment of drinks cans, plastic bags, wrappers, packets and packages that completely detract from their charm. Does no one look at the mess and feel any shame at all?. I know India is vast and has a huge population but even so, this isn’t likely to attract the tourists is it?.
Oblivious to the chaos a lone fisherman wades into the water and casts his net. He stands for several minutes, his eyes fixated upon the distant shore and then pulls his net in, neatly gathering it before casting once more. He repeats the exercise at least three times but each time his net is withdrawn it is devoid of life.
Perhaps it is the regular passage of craft along the shoreline that scatter the fish. Boats move to and fro upon the blue-grey ocean and their bows send small waves scurrying towards the shoreline where they lap and dance about the fisherman’s knees. He glances once in their direction, the glance of a man who knows that today is not his day.
The most effective air conditioning has kept the room beautifully cold and as I peer through a carck in the curtains I can see that the sun is shining and that the morning mist is slowly being burnt away, offering up the promise of another glorious day.
The rapid change in temperature makes cameras go funny and there is much hasty drying of equipment as lenses fog on immediate conatct with the warm air. They say that patience is a virtue and we must be very virtuous and wait patiently, fortified by cups of tea provided by our ever attentive crew.
Life continues around us. Men in small craft ply their fishing trade amongst the marshes and shout out greetings as they pass. Morning ablutions are conducted in the cool water, unconcerned at the curious stares of local and tourist alike and water taxis, laden with man and machine, slip serenely through the canals.
Breakfast is taken as we begin our slow drive back to base. Rob is entrusted with steering our vessel and the sight of a white man at the helm almost causes one houseboat to clip our own, the drivers mouth agape as Rob gives him a wave and bellows ‘Hello!’ across the water. Gaily painted kingfishers cavort in the trees above our head and cameras now functional, we are able to record at least some of what we can see.
It’s a beautiful day, a special day. A special time in a special place and you wonder if it can ever be repeated, that feeling of pure enjoyment, of simple relaxation as though you had no care in the world. But all good things must end and so, with utmost reluctance we chamber from our vessels and with one last wistful gaze we depart.
Now we move on. Another day, another coach, but Kerala and her backwaters will not quickly be forgotten.
Kumarakom lies on the shore of the massive Lake Vembanad, the largest in Kerala. It’s an unhurried, sleepy place which serves as the base from which cruises such as ours depart and soon we are underway, our sojourn accompanied by the gentle chugging of the houseboat engine and the gentle wash of water against our bow as we cut through the canals.
The scenery changes with each passing metre. So many shades of green in the lofty palm trees that line our way and now and again the vivid splash of a house or collection of dwellings that dot the riverbank.
There’s no denying the heavenly nature of our trip. Conversation flows and good food is chewed in a leisurely fashion as we allow our captain to steer us skilfully along the canals and, once lunch is done, we settle once more in the bows and simply watch the world go by.
Towards the evening we stop midstream and transfer into smaller vessels in which we can venture into the tighter canals and see life in all its particular glory. Children returning from school, women washing the clothes, men bathing in the waters and a water snake, head held high, that zips past us, oblivious to our cameras.
The people here are friendly. A wave and a smile greet us at every turn and one gentleman even turns the tables by snapping a picture of us on his phone. It’s a quiet life here amidst the backwaters and it’s hard to imagine a more pleasant place to be.
By dusk we are tied up for the night at the side of the canal. The sky is full of purples and pinks and it’s a truly glorious sight. The air is calm and balmy and it’s a joy to walk unconfined alongside the canal and listen to the silence.
Dinner is a happy affair, full of noise and excitement. Three boats exchanging experiences of the day, comparing notes and sharing pictures over good food.
I step out onto the bank once more and take in the views. Silhouettes of trees loom across the water and a pale light, just enough to see by, guides us along the path to our own vessel and to sleep in this most heavenly of places. Truly, Gods own country.
Another glorious day as we struggle down from our lofty perch in the hotel. Our bags weigh heavier this morning and partially that is down to sorrow at leaving such a splendid place. Periyar has so much to recommend it and has been a welcome haven from the hustle and bustle of the great cities.
But onwards we must travel and the state of Kerala awaits us. Kerala, or ‘Gods own country’ as it is often referred to, lies on India’s West coast. It is a state of abundant jungle and lush greenery and we eagerly anticipate our houseboat stay and the chance to relax amidst the backwaters.
But we have to get there first and the scenery is undoubtedly spectacular as we wend out way between gently sloping hills covered in tea plantations. The sky is blue, the sun is hot and it’s the most perfect of days.
There’s a church on one of the hills and we stop so that we can climb up to it. It’s an odd sight as there are no villages nor towns nearby and clearly it’s use must be limited to those plantation workers who wish for some spiritual guidance between skilfully plucking the buds from the branch.
It’s a nice church, quite Spartan and bare save for the altar, but it provides a welcome respite from the unrelenting heat of the day. The views are simply marvellous and it’s one of those ‘good to be alive’ type days because it’s hard to find fault with much.
Apart from my legs that is; legs ravaged by insect bites during an evening in Madurai when I invited any living creature in the vicinity to come have a nibble on me!. Perhaps I too could use some spiritual help?. I’m certainly in the right place for it.
We continue onwards, now laden with bags of tea plucked by dusky maidens in bright saris. The loose leaf is a curious mixture of green and brown with the occasional paler leaf. It does not look particularly appetising but, as they say, the proof is in the pudding..or in the drinking of the tea.
Talking of drink, as Kerala is dry alcohol must be purchased before we begin our cruise. The purchase involves a little shop with barred windows, brown paper bags and exchanges of cash for liquor rather more suited to a shady back street deal than a holiday in paradise. As a tea-total being I do find the sight both eye opening and entertaining.
Eventually, in the late afternoon, we reach our destination and our floating home for the next day. Rows of houseboats are neatly tied up alongside the waters edge and, having agreed travelling companions with which to share the experience, we clamber onboard and settle ourselves in the bow, eagerly anticipating the time ahead.
There are monkeys playing on the roof opposite our bungalow. Here amidst the delights of the Cardamom County Hotel, our base, I sip a tea and reflect on the journey thus far and the road yet to travel.
The hotel is gorgeous and our bungalow is set amidst rounds that stand in different levels with the most able bodied amongst us given those at the highest elevation. The view down is really lovely and the breakfast a myriad of delights.
We are in Periyar officially but also in Munnar. The actual location of the hotel is allegedly the latter but we are on the edge of Periyar National park and also Thekkady, hence the confusion.
The park is lovely on this bright and sunny morning. There are already crowds of tourists and locals about and tribes of monkeys scamper through the tree tops, watching our every move. There’s no real purpose to this mornings visit other than some fresh air and a leg stretch amidst some gorgeous scenery.
We stroll in the sunshine whilst monkeys, those bold enough, attack tourists who ignore the warnings not to feed them. Its a lovely place and apart from rampaging monkeys to contend with, a nice place simply to take in the views and chill.
Spice gardens are not really my thing. I visited one in Sri Lanka which was amazing but now the others pale by comparison. The one we visit is scrawny and it’s a case of hunt the single spice pellet/bud, rather than be assaulted by an abundance of sights and smells. It has elephant rides if that’s your thing and whilst I love elephants I have no real desire to ride on one again.
The town is perfectly pleasant and an easy stroll from the hotel. There’s no pressurised selling, no merchants constantly pursuing you and the post office delivers a card to the UK within three days!. Something you probably struggle with just sending the same card within the UK itself!. The sky is blue, the air is fresh, the company is most excellent.
The steamy South begins to cool as we head towards the hills where we will begin our climb into fresher surroundings.
There is still much of interest to see and do as we progress along the highways that seem remarkably well maintained when set against the pot hole hell that we seem to encounter daily on our neighbourhood roads.
We stop at a local school where the children are resplendent in pale blue uniforms and the teachers use a rather old school type of discipline upon them, gently cuffing them the head of their attention wanders. It’s not done excessively or, I suspect, with any great force, but just as a reminder that paying attention, particularly when you have guests, is all important.
The teachers seem to be entirely female which tallies with a similar sight in Sri Lanka. They greet us warmly and, much to her embarrassment, the one member of our party who used to be a school teacher gets ushered forward to speak some words of inspiration. I remind myself not to volunteer that my job involves Tax for fear of having tax returns waved in my face.
On we go passing a brickworks. Here a lone woman appears to be doing most of the heavy lifting whilst the men stand about and just neatly stack them. We stop to speak with her for a few minutes and she shows us her handiwork whilst her colleagues simply watch on, forgetting their own jobs in the excitement of seeing white devils in such close proximity.
The women carry on working though and eventually the men join in.
It’s wedding season and as luck should have it we stop and invite ourselves to a wedding. Apparently it is an auspicious thing to have tourists at your wedding although I can’t say if that’s true or not as we get rather bemused looks as we invade the wedding tent en-masse and mount the stage for wedding photos with a puzzled bride and groom who have had auspiciousness thrust upon them.
We are fed a desert that is a curious mixture of wallpaper paste, sticky rice and pomegranate seeds. It’s scraped out of a bucket that looks suspiciously like one that you might mix wallpaper paste in and the taste is overly sweet and creamy but still quite palatable.
A row of dark hills now linger in the distance and there are dark grey clouds scudding overhead. The air has cooled quite considerably and the humidity has risen. It’s clearly a good washing day and a breeze springs up, sending the sheets and shirts flapping merrily upon the lines.
Our climb is fraught with danger. Narrow winding roads with sheer drops to one side where only vast swathes of trees could cushion your fall. Cars hurtle last at breakneck speed forcing us to swerve and move perilously close to the edge and it is almost a relief to reach Munnar…or Periyar …or Thekkady…and our hotel for the next two nights.
Our day starts with a sad farewell to ‘The Bangala’ and it’s most excellent food. We are not quite finished with its owner though and we disturb her breakfast by trooping through her house to take photos in the glorious mansion she owns and which is literally five minutes away.
So let’s talk about Madurai.
Tamil born and rooted, Madurai is one of India’s oldest cities. It is the ‘City of Nectar’ and, at its heart lies the Meenakshi Amman temple. The temple is dedicated to the triple breasted goddess Meenakshi. Don’t worry about the third breast though as legend told how it would simply melt away when she met her husband Shiva and, happily, it did. Alls well that ends well.
Todays temple is a 17th century iteration constructed by Tirumalai Nayak and the streets that surround it are pedestrianised so that traffic and noise pollution are kept to the bare minimum. The temple also enforces strict rules. No bare legs, no bare shoulders for women and no photographs unless you take them on your phone.
There’s no doubting it’s a beautifully constructed temple with its huge gopuram and their gorgeous colours and shades that dominate the skyline. The interior is perfectly pleasant as well and there are some vivid designs sketched in bold colours upon hallway ceilings but…
It’s also a bazaar. I am surprised and somewhat disappointed at the sheer number of stalls and hawkers contained within the sacred halls. It certainly takes the shine off the temple and I feel uncomfortable seeing such things in a supposedly holy place that is highly venerated. Perhaps I’m just out of touch with the reality of life.
We leave the temple for the obligatory haven of some local emporium. Carpets are pulled out and admired, silver is draped around wrists and necks, jewels dazzle and my wallet feels a lot lighter on leaving. Such is life when one’s partner is tempted by shiny things!.
Our hotel is perfectly fine and dinner is an amusing fiasco of misunderstandings and lost pens, lost menus and staff arguments about where people should be sitting. The foods nice but the insects are a constant menace and you spend half your time squatting the things before a burst of yawning tells us all it’s time for bed.
Breakfast is easily amongst the worst in living memory. In a room of very faded elegance I scramble for a stale croissant and a glass of tepid orange juice. The hotel, in daylight, looks pleasant enough but it is in desperate need of some love and attention.
Our day starts with a detour to Tanjore and a visit to the Brihadeeswarar temple. This temple, another one dedicated to Shiva, stands within fortified walls that were probably added in the 16th century.
The temple tower is 198ft in height and rather imposing to say the least. In fact it’s one of the highest in the world and you get neck ache craning your neck to look up towards the summit. There’s a Nandi bull that is 16ft long and set in its own pavilion near to the entrance. The ceiling of the pavilion is beautifully decorated in original paint that has been protected from the elements by its position.
The complex is impressive. Surrounding the main courtyard are a number of small rooms and niches which contain a number of statues and murals. I do find them fascinating as they are very colourful and imaginative and you find yourself finding new details all the time. There’s something lively about them, something sensuous and exotic and far removed from the often dull imagery of Christianity.
Thoughtfully, the temple provides matting for those of us in bare feet to walk upon, protecting us from the stones that can and do, I’m assured, become very hot as the day wears on. We are still in the relative cool of the morning and so we can walk anywhere without fear of breaking into some bizarre dance as we hop gingerly from one spot to the next.
Outside the temple there are the usual idiosyncratic signs telling us we can park ‘two wheelars’ or ‘two weelers’ in specific areas and the coach just to the side of us says it is the ‘last bus’. But I don’t know if that’s true.
We drive on to a most curious site. It’s a pretty weird and creepy place that consists of small shrines and hundreds of garishly painted terracotta horses who leer at you as you approach. It’s not the sort of place you want to see just before bedtime as some of the creations are a tad nightmarish.
Some are broken and are missing heads or faces and they stand silently by, watching you as you explore.
We move on towards our hotel for the night, the world famous ‘Bangala’, home to some of the finest Chettinad cuisine to be found anywhere in India.
The hotel is very pleasant, set back from the road in a rather nondescript town. The food is as spectacular as advertised and the range of small morsels allows each mouthful to bring forth new sighs of pleasure as we eat hungrily under the watchful eye of the owner who encourages seconds and thirds if we can manage them. And we can.
The area we are in is really interesting. There are large colourful houses set back from the road and each is painted in a bright pink or luminous shade of green. There is the usual silk emporium to wander through but there isn’t any high pressure selling here and we come and go as we please, strolling up and down the road to take a picture or generally just chatting in the warm evening air.
This is what holidays should be like. Just companionship and a laugh whilst staring a love of history and architecture and really forgetting the stresses and strains of home.
Purchases completed, we return to our hotel, to sleep, perchance to dream. Tomorrow is another day full of wonders yet