Wednesday, 29 February 2012


On Tuesday the 21st we went to Srirangapatnam, and stayed at the lovely Amblee resort by the river. The hotel there has lots of animals and birds, including two ostriches called Coco and Bruno. There is a bird sanctuary nearby, which was the point of our trip there. We saw a great collection of birds, such as purple herons, which may well be my favourite bird, as well as night herons (which look like penguins), beautiful red and blue flycatchers, storks, pelicans, spoonbills, a river turn (who was looking after its chicks on a rock), kingfishers and chicks of various varieties. However the overwhelmingly brilliant things we saw, which we weren't expecting at all, were the marsh crocodiles. Some were as much as four metres long, and so going out on a four metre long boat was quite exciting.

After Srirangapatnam we went to Bandipur National Park, where we stayed at the very fancy Windflower (which has the most fantastically comfy beds, great as I've been sleeping on mattresses on the floor most of the time, and as I got ill again). On the first day we went on safari and saw a wild dog and a mouse deer, both of which are rare. The wild dog was huge, with a great big bushy dark tail and a red body. The mouse deer had striped patterns on its back like a big cat and was very gorgeous. Other animals included spotted deer (common and not very bright), langurs, sambar , jungle fowl, and we got one short glimpse of an elephant before it amazingly disappeared completely into the bush. On the second day we saw lots of elephants, including a group of six, with a baby, who took a very long time to walk across the track right next to us. But the really amazing thing we saw was a leopard, lazing in a slight clearing in the bush. It lay on its back for a while, showing off its white belly and demonstrating how completely it didn't care about the three Jeeps full of people that were staring at it at one point. We also saw two mongoose (one of which had a ginger bum), a hare, barking deer and a serpent eagle. I've never been on safari before, but I've decided I will be many times in the future.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Being sick and being in France

I was going to update this blog over a week ago, realising it's in a pretty sorry state with only one post. But first I got food poisoning and then I was without an internet connection for a few days, so here, finally, is the update.

We moved on to Trichy on the 3rd, a nice town with a Rock Fort and temples. There were more than 400 steps to get to the top of the Rock Fort, and you pass cave temples (but aren't allowed in) on your way up to a great view of the town, with kites circling above. The next day we visited the temples, which had lovely elephants and, most impressively, a simply massive Nandi carved out of one lump of rock. A ceremony one evening involved pouring industrial quantities of water, tumeric water and milk over the Nandi, which was quite cool (though I question why a bull needs an offering of gallons of milk).

Then we went to Thanjavur, and that night I ate bad food (chola poori, a generally nice dish of a big baloon-like fried bread and dips that I am never going to eat again). The next morning we went to the palace, which houses a large number of really brilliant statues, the best of which are from Darasuram. These were the best carvings I've ever seen, and the library also held amazing palm-leaf manuscripts, but unfortunately I started feeling faint and so we went back to the hotel. Then I spent the whole day throwing up etc. and feeling absolutely terrible. We decided to stay an extra day so I could recover. The next day I was slightly better, but still throwing up.

The next morning I felt better, and we moved on to Kumbakonam, from which we visited Darasuram and the temple there. The temple was gorgeous, with a grassy, shady garden all around it and fabulously (the best I've ever seen) pillars and carved lions. However, I felt extremely nauseous so once again we left early and I started throwing up again. That evening we got some antibiotics, and I finally started to feel a bit better. The next day I just tried to recover.

Then, on the 10th, we got a bus to Chidamburam, home of a temple to Shiva as the Dancer of the Universe. We went to see the fire puja that evening at 5 o'clock, which was quite pretty but largely uneventful. We later learned that the main event kicks off much later in the evening. The layout of the temple is the most enclosed I've seen yet, and as such it felt very different to the other temples I've been to.

On Saturday we got two autorickshaws to Pidavaram, by the mangrove swamps. The rickshaw dad was in had a far superior engine to ours, and the drivers raced the whole way, endlessly overtaking each other, which was a lot of fun. The roads we went down were very cool, with water on one side and small villages with thatched houses (as is the Tamil style) and gorgeous animals on the other. The hotel we stayed in was some 'eco' thing, still being built and generally with a weird atmosphere. However our canoe ride through the mangrove swamps was lovely and quiet, and counting the limited species that lived in the swamps (including a hermit crab the rower brought on to the boat) was nice.

Then we moved on to Pondicherry, a place I admit I was dreaming of getting to since getting ill, particularly due to a promise of wood-fired pizza as my tummy can't handle spice at the moment. It's basically like being in France in summer, but with more hippies because there's an ashram and a 'community' nearby. We started the trip by taking a local bus, and we luckily got seats because the hotel was the first stop. At the second stop, about 50 people (a wedding party) got on. At the third stop, about 20 people got on. At the fourth, 10. Etc. Etc. Etc. There must have been about 150 people on the bus by the end, with 8 hanging out of the door just in front of me and mum, and a ticket collector desperately trying to get everyone to pay before we reached the destination. It was quite fun for us, but mustn't be much fun if you do it once a week. However the atmosphere where you hand a random person your baby or bag because you can't hold it is pretty cool.

Pondicherry is lovely. I ate American pancakes with butter, home-made organic mango jam and Indian honey for breakfast both yesterday and today. I found three Science Fiction books and an Economist, which is interesting as it includes a censored map of India. The hippies are annoying and the prices are unbelievable (190 rupees for a bowl of overcooked pasta), but the view of the sea from our hotel balcony is stunning, and since today marks the half way point of the trip, this is a welcome relief from the chaos of everywhere else we've been. We're having trouble getting out of here, though, with all the trains being full until the 28th. I also saw a dead body lying on the street. It was covered and by a hospital, though. We may go to Goa early so as to go to a party being put on partly by BOOM festival.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012


Sadhus, marriage, monkeys, elephants, nationalists and body modification. This morning was wonderful.

We got a bus to Thirupparankundram and went to the Murugan temple there, which is carved from the giant rock you can see behind it. It was the first place we have seen big groups of Sadhus, rather than ones on their own. They seemed as intrigued by me as I was by them.

In the temple we saw a big family, and the females had their hair decorated with flowers, especially one girl, who must have been a bride. She was very nervous and didn't look very happy.

There were many monkeys at the temple, a few of whom sat at a particular place, waiting for the people to pass by with their offerings (coconuts and bananas) so they could jump on the people and steal their bananas.

Then we met the most fantastic temple elephant, Avia. I was nervously standing with a big stupid grin on my face, obviously very excited (if you didn't know, elephants are one of my favourite things in the whole world), so her keeper told me I could hug her!

On the way back from the temple we passed a nationalist rally, playing very loud music proclaiming 'JI Hind!'

Then I noticed that all of the women over a certain age in the town have stretched earlobes, probably around 2" though it was hard to tell as none of them wore jewellery. They looked as though they would have once been big enough for them to wear looped over their ears, but they collectively stopped wearing jewellery quite some time ago so they shrunk. Amazing place.