Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Where three rivers meet

"If you can't take the heat, head for the hills!"

After hearing about 6 different people tell us, we finally got the message and headed inland to the Western Ghats. Sneaking out of Fort Cochin almost before we arrived, we caught the 11.00 bus just as it was leaving. Four and a half hours later we were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves as we stepped off the bus into the verdant, quasi-alpine delight that is Munnar.

We spent the best part of a week enjoying the cool, fresh air and the hospitality of the redoubtable Mr Joseph Iype at his Zina Cottage Guesthouse. A lovely place, well out of town, nestled amidst dozens of fields full of tea. Typhoo tea and biscuits always available, as was a chat with Joseph or his wife about the various options for walks or sightseeing in and around Munnar.

Here's Debs, all smiling and happy up the hill at Lockhart Gap. Minutes earlier she had relieved herself of all her India-related frustration by hurling abuse at the top of her voice into the wind. Very therapeutic!

We spent our time relaxing, enjoying the mild climate and being amused at Indians on holiday fighting the "cold" with balaclavas and puffa jackets. We stuffed ourselves silly at ace veg restaurant Saravana Bhavan - our choice for about 50% of all meals - and also really dug the street food at the night market. Those parothas were banging.

Highlight of the week has to be Monday, when we hiked up "the second tallest mountain in south India" with Craig and Lorna, who were also staying at Zina. We're really not sure we were on the right hill, but we got to the top of one bit of it- elevation approximately 2000m. Pretty impressive huh? Slightly less so when you know that we started at 1600m...

After taking in the views and lapping up the refreshing drifts of cloud, we headed back down, discovering the path we hadn't noticed on the way up - always nice that - and then, just as we were hacking through some scrub near the bottom... we heard a wild elephant trumpeting! Very close!

With a mixture of fear and excitement we raced down the last bit of the hill, through the school sports field we'd ended up in (WTF?) and onto the road, from where we could see a big, lone bull, not 15m away from us. He had attracted quite a crowd of yelling, whistling Indians who were all acting extremely recklessly, trying to goad the elephant into action. He was nobly ignoring them, munching on grass. Good thing too, cos those tusks looked lethal. Later, Mr Iype told us he was a famous local rogue bull, responsible for at least 2 human deaths in the past year. Ooer! We felt very lucky to have met him and taken our pictures without incident.

Mr Iype also told us that the sounds we heard every morning issued from the beak of a "Blue Whistling Thrush". He even showed us a picture! I reckon it was Mr Iype himself though - the caption on the photo said the bird was native to the Himalayas (quite a long way from Munnar), the melody was nothing like any other bird I've ever heard, and the timing was always suspiciously close to Mr Iype's getting out of bed time...

Oh yes! We also had a go at rowing a boat on one of the lakes - hilarious fun! Debs got much better at it once I told her to stroke on the pull, rather than the push...

We were sad to leave, but you can't stay put forever, plus the monsoon was moving in. Against all our instincts, we had to head back into hot, dusty Tamil Nadu. Bah!


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