2018-02/03 Road Trip from Varkala to Bangalore

With all this, time was moving forward and it was time for the arrival of a friend for who I have organized a road trip. It was his first time in India and I had prepared a beautiful journey to discover the landscapes of Western ghats (mountains between Tamil Nadu and Kerala), the backwaters (networks of lakes and canals connecting to the sea), the past colonial and artistic present of Fort Kochi ending with the splendours of Maharaja in Mysore. Paul will be staying at my home during this time to keep the house and water the tomatoes and new plants bought on my return from Sri Lanka, enhanced by those that the owner added at the same time.
Our journey begins with a train journey to reach Kottayam station where we wait for the driver to take us a few kilometers on the edge of Lake Vembanad Kumarakom, we stay 2 nights in a beautiful resort that offers traditional style villas. Then we leave by boat to join Fort Kochi. The boat is little used because it is much more expensive than by road and fishermen do not like taxi boats that can damage their nets. Finding a boat was not easy and it was only confirmed at the last minute. It was worth the effort and the cost, the journey was beautiful. Our driver, very respectful of fishermen stopped to talk to them many times. Net fishermen but also mussel fishermen who scrape the bottom and all along the way Chinese nets lined the shore. The trip lasted a little less than two hours and we were dropped off at one of Fort Kochi’s first wharfs where we took a rickshaw to get to our hotel. Two nights are enough to see Fort Kochi when it’s not the biennale when it takes another day to see everything. The next few days are spent on the road to reach the mountains. We go through a palm grove, then the forest. There is water, the river runs downhill, it will take us to the waterfall, one of the largest in the country, a bathing area upstream will allow us to cool off and enjoy a natural jacuzzi . We continue in the forest, we climb up and reach the tea plantations of the region of Valparai. It’s sumptuous. Much less known than Munnar, this road and this region further north offers much wilder landscapes than Munnar and we are almost alone there. Here we will spend the night on a plantation in the middle of the tea fields, a river below, a wonderful landscape for sunset and sunrise. The next day we continue through plantations and we go down through the forest to reach Coimbatore. This stop is essential to be able to take the small steam train that leaves at 7am from Mettupalayam. I had opted for an ashram experience because a megalomaniac guru has 5 star resort type ashram, the Isha Foundation. The place is amazing because it’s like an amusement park. The guru who wants to be universal offers places very marked by the Hindu gods reinvented in his style and also a pure invention in the form of a lingam goddess where western ladies do the service dressed in red. No photo is possible inside. Here my friend has the opportunity to discover ashram meals at a fixed time, sitting on the ground, served from buckets and of course you can only eat with your fingers. I think it was a shock, I had to reassure him, the quality of the food was excellent and offered menus for Westerners. The accommodation was of hotel quality, I had planned to spend two nights there to have a full day, I thought there would be beautiful places to relax and meditate in and some beautiful ceremonies to attend. In fact none of that only megalomania theme park style, it felt like being in a cult. The good note will be for the 4 hands massage, which for me was one of the best traditional massages I have ever received. Sadguru, the guru of Isha made an appearance, arriving by helicopter … we must not forget that he preaches the simplicity of life, humility and the renunciation of material things … looking closer we found a lot of information that tends to show that he does not practice what he preaches that is not unusual for business gurus. I’m happy to have been there, to have brought Philipe. If another opportunity arises I would spend only one night maximum and probably avoid the place altogether. We leave very early to reach Mettupalayam and travel by steam train to reach one of the peaks of the ghats, Ooty. The train journey is great, the setting, the train, the stops to fill the water tank and the passengers all delighted by the trip. At Ooty we improvise a lunch on the grass in the garden of the hotel. Not much to do or see in Ooty town, the interest is the train ride, the cold climate, treck or horseback riding, for this one must stay several days, it was not our case, we leave the next day for a night in the jungle. In Ooty the nights are cool, the rooms too, a hot water bottle and a fire are necessary to feel comfortable and spend a sweet night at more than 2000m.
The next night is spent in the jungle 10km from the main road. The resort is located on both banks of a river, among trees, monkeys, suspension bridges allow to go from one bank to another, the setting is unique, the hotel service is impeccable, the villas are sublime . After this night in the forest it is time to go down through the forest and reach the plain and the city of mysore. We spend two days there, the city is small, charming, clean, calm. The palace is sumptuous, the market is full of color, the hill at the entrance of the city is the seat of the temple of the goddess Durga, herself protected halfway by a giant Nandi (bull, animal accompanying Shiva). To return to Varkala we fly from Bangalore to Trivandrum. The trip ends with a few days of beach and being in the festival period, he is lucky to be able to attend the one held at the Kalî temple and see the famous and unique carrying of the tower, the same that is done here for the Shivaratri festival. This road trip went very well and the services were up or above the expectations of my friend. I love to organize, accompany, guide, share the customs, the landscapes and my experience of this country and in this case the beauties of the nature of the south of India with some cultural aspects.

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