3.16.2007

India: Day 6 - 9 Kerala

Post wedding festivities, Yun-jo and I made the onward journey toward Kerala for our girls-only tour! So we started off in Mumbai, which is West India in the Maharashtra region, and moved south, to Chennai and Kerala.


Day 6 - March 1st Thursday

Itinerary: Arrival in Cochin, meet and transfer to Munnar. On arrival at Munnar, check in to Siena Village Hotel and then sightseeings including the visit to tea plantations
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Dragged ourselves at 6am to the airport for our flight to Cochin, which is the nearest airport to Munnar, where we're going today.

BTW, for all domestic flights in India, I highly recommend Kingfisher, and failing that Jet Airways. We took Kingfisher from Mumbai to Chennai, and our stewardess was called Cinderella, I kid you not.

Our driver Koti/Kuti (?) at least that's what it sounded like) picks us up from the Cochin airport at 8.30am. Bundled into the tourist car (basically a white cab like looking car that's used for shuttling tourists), we make a 4.5 hour drive to Siena Village, our hotel in Munnar. Fell asleep in car, naturally and woke up to find ourselves on a winding uphill path. Had no idea that Munnar is in mountainous region (Yun-jo arranged for everything and lazy me did not do any research whatsoever).
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Lady at a shack along the way up
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Anyway, it was a very wind-y road but it was nice and cool! We didn't even need to put the A/C on...only problem was that it was super dusty. Nags' friendly advice to us before we left for Kerala was to wear seatbelts - IF available. We couldn't even do that because our car didn't come equipped with any! Luckily for us that we were asleep most of the time, because the way they drive in Kerala is pretty crazy. Non-stop honking, and a penchant for overtaking anything and everything ahead of you - on a road with only ONE lane in each direction. Meaning that any overtaking risks a head on collision. Particularly memorable (should I call it this?) was when our driver tried to overtake the car in front of us. Gunning the accelerator, he tried to push the car, straining and lurching heavily from side to side, to cut off the car in front. In front of us a BIG BUS is coming head on and honking at us. He swerves; the vehicles narrowly miss each other . Sounds freaky right? but I think that's what they're used to in India.

After lunch at the hotel, we signed up for a tea plantation and tea factory tour. Our guide and driver, Ravi arrives in a jeep.

Us and the jeep
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We were wondering why we had to take a jeep, but we found out later. The "roads" winding along the tea plantations are really just narrow dirt paths cut in the side of the mountain, some with practically 90 degree drops downwards. As the jeep crawled and clawed up the dirt path, we were treated to what Ravi called a special "massage" Munnar style - the most bone-n-teeth rattling ride of my life! The jeep has no doors, so there I was, one hand clutching the side handle (in place of the door), the other firmly on the camera and my bag - bumping up and down on the seat, trying not to hit my head on the roof.

To the right is a slope that drops straight down!
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The view and the air was great - gorgeous undulating views of the tea plants, worker ladies picking leaves and carrying sacks on their heads. The air was cool and crisp and fresh - such a nice change from the mumbai air!

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The tea plantations are just a huge mass of plantations - you can't tell one from another, besides reading the signs. They're not separated by walls, or any type of boundary. Ravi stopped so that we could get off and walk around several times in our ride. He showed us how the tea plants are pruned, which part of the plant is used for tea and we spoke to some worker ladies.

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Tea plantation worker
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Lodging for the workers - apparently workers can stretch 3 generations in a family
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Ravi explaining tea harvesting to Yun-jo
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Tea leaves
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This is the part that's used to make tea - the lightest coloured and tender leaf
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Harvesting the tender leaf - they are real quick at picking out the leaves
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Carrying bundles of tea leaves
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On arrival at the Kolukkumalai tea factory, we were treated to cups of tea - Orange Pekoe with milk - yummy!

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I spent my time trying to take "art-fart" shots at the factory, so I wasn't really paying attention to the process of how tea is made - Yun-jo is the one to ask about tea processing! But from what I recall, it involves (not in order) - Withering (drying out the tea leaves), Humidifying, blasting it in a furnace, removing fibres from the leaves and oxidising it (that's when it turns brown). My one question after seeing the leaves all over the floor of the factory, the edges of which were trampled by our feet was - and I whispered this to Yun-jo: When do the leaves get washed?! I guess never...they're too busy trying to remove water from the leaves to want to wash it.

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Troughs of tea - the withering process
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They knock on this to remind the tea plantation workers that it's time to start work. It's all worn out where they hit it.

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The factory was built in 1935, and it still runs using the original equipment that was shipped over from England. Although some of the machines were rocking pretty violently, they still looked like they work pretty fine - I guess the British make their stuff sturdy!

Some of my "art-fart" shots: I was fascinated by the red turban the guy had on, but I didn't gather up sufficient courage to ask him for a photo.

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It was sunset by the time we headed back to the hotel
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Day 7 - 2nd March Friday

Itinerary: Check in Houseboat and cruise towards Alleppey. Cruise through the narrow canals in Alleppey Overnight stay in Houseboat
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We travelled about 6 hours (2 hours more than what the tour agent had told us, grrr) to our Houseboat to tour the Kerala backwaters. The backwaters is a network of esquisite channels, lakes, lagoons and deltas of approximately 44 rivers emptying in the Arab sea. Whoo - what an experience it was!Because of road closures and diversions, we couldn't board the Houseboat directly, and had to take another boat to it.
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The houseboat, or Kettuvallam, are traditionally used as a mode of transport in the early times from the isolated interior villages to the towns. Some guy got the brilliant idea of using them as tourist attractions - and they have since been adapted into (luxuriously) furnished houseboats.

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Our houseboat had one bedroom (some have 2) with an attached bathroom, an open deck, dining area, kitchenette and a crew comprising two oarsmen and a cook. Plus our guide, Manu who spoke decent although sometimes undecipherable English. That's the roof deck that Yun-jo and Manu are on. Our room is just below.

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View from the Boat

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Some other houseboats
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The boat was and was rather, shall I say, "rustic"?? and not airconditioned (only after our night onboard did we realise that some houseboats do come equipped with a/c!) There were 2 twin beds side by side covered with a grubby Donald Duck printed sheet, and a mosquito net (!) I haven't seen one of these in AGES. The small attached bathroom featured a sink, toilet and tiny square showertray. What's worse, the sliding glass doors were rather translucent!!! Yes - so we had to face the other way or leave the room when either of us were in the loo! Yun-jo and I considered "roughing it out" and just rinsing off for that one night because we were so adverse to the scanty shower - but we ended up taking two showers each because it was so hot and sticky on the boat. I am quite proud to say that we made it out alive!

Meals are included and cooked in the kitchen onboard - here's what we had for lunch. I got SO sick of coconut in Kerala. The place is full of coconut trees every direction you look. It's used in everything - practically all the dishes, oil in their hair, even the houseboat was made of rope spun from coconut husks! I love my nasi lemak and all, but having coconut with almost every dish (and it made everything taste sweet too, even the supposedly savoury dishes) was driving me MAD!

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Coconut trees....everywhere
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Coconut factory - they are churning out dry coconut husks
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This is the rooftop of the crew's sleeping quarters, and is adjacent to the "mezzanine" level where the dining table is. To get to the kitchen, you have to "walk the plank" and climb down a rickety ladder at the end. The kitchen is really just a small space - I can't even call it a room. The bamboo stick on top of the plank is what's used by the oarsman.

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Our oarsman!
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We meandered quietly along the canals - it was a very "back to nature" experience, although that also meant getting bit by mosquitoes. It was rather peaceful and serene floating along. It was pretty quiet, except for the occasional "How are you?" from the people along the banks....most of these are farming folk that live in houses by the canals. The shyer ones would just wave and smile at us. We passed by quite other houseboats along the way, and ended up snapping pictures of each other.

We stopped for the night, but started moving again the next morning to be picked up by Koti - he was to drive us to our last hotel, the Kayaloram Lake Resort.

Other photos taken along the canal
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We saw this little boy when we made a stop to buy water at one of the little towns. He asked for a pen, so Yun-jo gave him the free pen she got on the Kingfisher flight
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Fishing nets
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Day 8 - 3rd March Saturday

Itinerary: Transfer to the Kumarakom Lake Resort. Ayurverdic massage and treatment
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Nothing spectacular about this resort. In fact another "rustic" place - it's a lake resort, so the rooms are just steps away from the Kayaloram Lake. It reminded me somewhat of certain Phuket resorts, except not as good. Case in point: no phone in room, the dreaded mosquito net + electric coils, and get this: No A/C except between 9pm and 5am! Guess we were really out in he middle of nowhere, and facilities like running water and electricity are quite scarce.

The toilet area was in the open - it had no roof, and a tonne of bugs flying around. I'm so afraid of bugs but I think I kind of got used to them at the resort because there were so many of them. Butterflies, dragonflies, mosquitoes and an assortment of others. We had to request for mosquito coils to get rid of them.

We also had a runaway/lost frog in our toilet - it was teeny, brown and quietly sitting in a corner. It wouldn't go away, and would stare straight at us with its beady eyes while we sat on the loo.

And we saw a much nicer houseboat! Boo hoo....it had two airconditioned rooms, nice wooden flooring, clean and neat beds, lots of space and a very nice kitchen and corridor area. Our only consolation was that we saw this AFTER our houseboat. Otherwise......

What's worthy of mention were the Ayurvedic treatments we got. Ayurvedic medicine is an ancient system of health care that is native to India. There is an onsite Ayurvedic treatment centre at the resort, and Yun-jo and I book ourselves for the full body massage and the Shirodhara - this involves gently flowing liquids over the forehead, in our case, it was warm oil. It's suppose to relax and destress and improve the eyesight.

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First of all, the centre is not like a spa AT ALL - it's a stark room with bars on the window (how depressing). Instead of a nice cushy soft bed to lie in - there is a wooden slab in the centre of the room. The masseuse tells you to strip and proceeds to hand you a rudimentary G-string/ thong. Think some rough white cloth, cut into a triangle with 3 strips on each side. She doesn't move, meaning she expects you to remove your clothes in front of her! She then helps you tie on the thong like device around your waist. I quickly reached for the last strand and handed it to her - God forbid that she stretched her hands between my legs to grab for it!!!

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Climbing onto the wooden "bed", you lay there, starkers, as she slathers on some Ayurvedic oil all over - imagine what a suckling pig must feel like while being basted for the oven. And unfortunately, as the masseuse doesn't speak much English, the entire 1.5 hour session is filled with her endlessly asking "You enjoy, madam?"

The Shirodhara was quite unnerving initially. Lying down, heated oil is dripped from a bowl (that has a hole in the bottom) 3 fingerwidths from your hairline. The bowl is brought back and forth across your forehead while the oil drips down and soaks into your hair. Brilliant conditioning method. Excess oil pools in the little catchment cup (see above picture) which is part of the bed, and it's scooped up and poured back into the bowl to be reused (gross but I guess necessary otherwise it would be a very expensive treatment).

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The oil was pretty hot when it first hit my forehead, and alarmed, I asked the masseuse if that was the correct temperature....except of course, since she didn't understand English, all she did was to chuckle and repeat that dastardly "You enjooooy, madam?" line at me.

It took me 3 shampoos to throughly get rid of all the oil in my hair.

Day 9 - 4th March Sunday

We checkout and it's a 2 hour drive to the Cochin airport. From there, we fly back to Mumbai. Since we have about 6 hours to kill, we hang around the Sheraton (we get massages in a proper spa, clean up and have dinner) before heading off to the airport for our flights back home.

Goodbye India!

1 comment:

carol said...

wow. interesting massages. I had the butt massage too when I went off-roading in Cozumel. More than an hour of it... great experience but don;t think I'll do it again voluntarily. as for the Ayurverdic massage... haha, don't know what to say. suffice to say that it probably won't be on my list if I visit India!