Archive for November, 2008

Home at last

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

Yesterday at 11.45 a.m. we arrived at our apartement after a 24 hour trip that brought us from Bangalore via Mumbai, Dubai, Vienna to Graz. It was an exhausting journey back home, which pushed me to my very limits in Mumbai where we had to change over from the domestic airport, where we arrived from Bangalore, to the international airport. Although we had more than 3 hrs in order to change planes we made it by 15 minutes to catch our plane to Vienna.

My nerves where cracking for Mumbai airport was (more…)

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Getting ready for returning home

Friday, November 28th, 2008

This is our last morning here in Bangalore. We are very positive that we can go home tonight since yesterday’s Austrian Airlines flight from Mumbai to Vienna was carried out as scheduled.
Honestly, I was very shocked by what has been going on in Mumbai. For me, it was utterly disturbing, all the more since we have visited all those places under attack – we had two lovely evenings in Leopold’s restaurant and used CST station to depart from Mumbai to Goa by train.
Although that is easy to say now, Sylvia and I had kind of a hunch about this trip. Although we were far from canceling our trip, we seriously considered about going to Bali instead. Something didn’t feel inviting about this trip. However, in retrospect it is interesting to note what kind of messages our inner voices are communicating.

In essence, it was very difficult (more…)

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In Bangalore watching the terror

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

We heard of the terrorist attacks in Mumbay yesterday while watching the cricket one day international between India and England. At first, we thought that it was just a minor incident but we couldn’t be further away from the truth.
We are lucky to be here in Bengalore far away from Mumbay but we still have to go into Mumbay on Saturday morning to fly out of India. We wouldn’t want to go there today so we appreciate the extra day here in Bengalore and hope (more…)

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Spotting big game

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

The boy woke me at 5.10 a.m. as we had arranged. It was still dark outside and it was drizzling. I scrambled out of the mosquito net that covered our beds and into the open air bathroom. My stomach was aching. I had, once again, eaten too much for dinner. I had still not learnt to handle the Indian food. It is much too good, literally forcing me to over eat. Terrible. But I had not experienced any problems with spices or had become sick of the food or water. Good.
At 5.45 a.m. I arrived at the reception which was a short walk away from our bamboo accommodation. These huts were built a little apart from one another in order to create an atmosphere of remoteness, of really being out there –alone– in the jungle. As a matter of fact, you can watch wild deer grazing just a few meters away from the huts at dusk and dawn.
Daniel, the gamekeeper and our guide for the morning trekking tour, was late. Trying to be nice to my stomach, I helped myself to a cup of black tea with milk. If you add sugar to this mixture you get the number one Indian drink: Chai. It is just delicious.
The noise of jeeps announced the arrival of Daniel, who appeared in his usual camouflage suit and safari hat. Either he has a couple of those in the cupboard or he wears the same suit all through the year for we should never see him in a different disguise.
Since Sylvia didn’t come, it was just me and a guy from Belgium to join Daniel. As we walked to the jeeps, we invited our driver, Baboo, to come along. We drove for about 15 minutes and were dropped off not too far from Jungle Retreat. The early day light was putting a gray veil on the scrubs and trees as we began our trek. Walking was not hard since the ground was covered with tense, short grassy scrub that reminded me more of a golf course than a jungle. As we continued along, however, we got a feeling of how tense and impenetrable the jungle really was as we forced ourselves through thorny bushes and low trees.
The scenery was just beautiful as was the fresh and clean air. It was a fantastic morning walk, our spirits were high and everyone was spying out for some game. Daniel led us to half a dozen water holes where he was sure that, at least, elephants would have their tea for breakfast. In the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, there live quite an impressive variety of wild animals, among them animal celebrities like tigers, leopards and elephants. But except for a lot of different noises, the animals managed well to keep out of sight.
After one and a half hours, we had reached the street again, where we were picked up by our jeep. I wasn’t disappointed for, honestly, I hadn’t expected much and there was still our afternoon safari.
Returning home, Sylvia had already raised and was ready for a hearty breakfast, after which we surrendered to our hut in order to enjoy the morning in wild nature.
Mudumalai is a remote place, except for two nearby villages, and it is one of those rare places in India where you can escape the hurliburly of her cities. But it is not a silent place for the jungle is alive and this you can hear. It is the most hypnotic, soothing sound you can imagine. It is prone to induce deep trance. We sat there listening for a long long time.
At four o’clock in the afternoon, we found ourselves again sitting beside Daniel in the jeep and off we drove to hopefully spot something exciting.
First on our menu was the washing of elephants. Here in the sanctuary, two dozens of elephants are taken care of by elephant caretakers. They watch them, train them and feed them. And in the evening, they wash them in the river. On the one hand, the washing is like a ritual, which is fascinating to watch. On the other hand, for the elephant, it seems to be going to the spa or even to the beauty studio. They lie down in the water and are washed, brushed and massaged all over by the care taker, injecting total bliss as evinced by relaxed elephant grunts. It is just sweet and nice to watch those gentle, impressive and good-natured (at least, there in the water) animals being treated so well.
Suddenly, Daniel was getting excited. He had received a call on his mobile, having been informed that a family of wild elephants were grazing nearby. And, hey, after a short ride, there they were. Five elephants including a baby elephant out there in the bushes having what seemed an excellent dinner. Monkeys were doing gymnastics in the trees and making a lot of noise. The elephants seemed not to care and made a very relaxed and unexcited impression. No wonder, Daniel explained, for the grass they were eating was top cuisine.
As more and more jeeps kept arriving, we decided to go cruising again. Returning to the river, Sylvia suddenly pointed out something in the bushes just beside the road. Daniel hit the brakes in excitement, reversed the car, and there it was: a wild leopard hiding just a few meters from us. It was beautiful with its dotted fur and elegant and smooth body. As we were really close, the animal decided to take leave and quickly disappeared into the jungle. Everyone was excited for not even Daniel had expected to see a leopard that close to the village and road. It was just about 150 meters from the next house. Sylvia was the hero of the day for she had spotted the hiding leopard, which, according to Daniel’s expertise, was really difficult. For me it wasn’t as much of a surprise because I know that she has extraordinary sight and an amazing ability of perception.
Of course, this was the highlight of the evening – the tigers wouldn’t show – but we still came across a huge elephant about to cross the street and saw a beautiful samba deer. The trip was an exciting, beautiful and memorable one, all the more since Daniel delivered some interesting details and stories about the animals and their way of living in the wilderness.
Thus we returned home after a great afternoon out in the jungle. Sylvia and I agreed: It was worth taking the pain of coming to Mudumalai all the long and difficult way up from the coast. We would not change our minds, even after our trip to Bengalore which we were supposed to do on the following day. More of that soon.

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Fort Kochin to Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

Fort Kochin is special for the Indian’s try to make it that way – for tourists. The part where we stayed is the most ancient part of the peninsula, that part where the Europeans landed some 500 years ago. After a five minutes walk, however, you are quickly reminded of where you really are: India is beckoning with its littering, dilapitaded buildings, bad smell, traffic chaos.
On Saturday, we started our exploration of Fort Kochin by visiting the ancient and famous Chinese fisher nets. The fishermen were so friendly, calling us over, to check out the nets and take photos, only to demand an indecent amount of money from me – Sylvia having a hunch refused to come -afterwards. After telling them, that I was not willing to pay the demanded price the smiles suddenly vanished.
Afterwards, we decided to take a tour with a rickshaw and ended up telling the driver – after we had agreed to visit one which turned out to be heavily over priced – not to bring us to any more shops. It is anoying. You tell those drivers that you only wanted a trip around the place and end up continually telling the driver that you do not want to buy anything. This is because they get comissions from shops when they drop tourists there. It is anoying and nowadays I grow sick and tired of it very quickly.
Since refusing to play the driver’s game, the whole trip wasn’t such a happy affair anymore. Thus, we were happy to have seen a fair bit of Fort Kochin and to be back at our homestay. We decided to do the rest on foot and walked the streets of this ancient and admittedly beautiful place.
Due to its European heritage it is deeply rooted in Christianity as evinced by Saint Francis church, supposedly the oldest Christian church of India, situated just opposite of our homestay. Sylvia, in particular, like the place. Vasco da Gama’s grave was there until they brought the remains of his bones to Portugal 24 years after his burial in that church.
Another good thing about Fort Kochin was, no surprise, the food. We ate really good here: curry masalas, seafood, and the best chocolate cake you can imagine. Beer is not served because alcohol licences are expensive. If you ask for “special tea”, though, you might be lucky enough to end up with a Kingfisher beer in a tea cup.
Since we were destined east for Bengalore, we had to cross over from Kerla to Karnataka, which means passing through a mountain range called Western Ghats, which is renown for its Wildlife Sanctuaries. The owner of the place where we stayed, Wilson, arranged a two nights, three days trip for us from Fort Kochin to Mysore, which is about 500 kilometers or 12 hours by car. Since the journey goes through a Wildlife Sanctuary, we booked into one of the resorts there, Jungle Retreat, in order to relax for a day and spot some wildlife. We knew that the trip would be a challenge but we had to get to Bengalore anyway and with this trip we were able to combine a stay in the mountains and jungle with getting to the place from where we would return home.
We left early on a Sunday morning. Being Sunday, the streets were –relatively– empty and we made swift progress. We had a good driver, Baboo, who was instructed to put safety before speed. Still by mid morning, we had to go through the usual dodging of rickshaws and busses, the later being a real threat on the streets, approaching our vehicle in the middle of the street only to give way a few meters before impact. We passed through a busy area, the hub of India’s sandelwood production, saw some beautiful countryside, some really poor villages and something very peculiar: an elephant on a truck. It looks surreal when you see those elegant, huge animals on those small lorries. The look of it makes you really sorry for those poor things, who have to be taken down the lorry after half an hour for a walk in order for them to be able to make th journey.
We arrived the resort by mid afternoon after 380 kilometers in 8 1/2 hours. Before we had even got into our safari, we knew that Mudumalai was worth the effort, greeting us with lush rain forests, high mountain peeks and tranquility. It was nice to be out of the bustling towns of hot Kerala and in the coolness and tranquility of the most remote part of Tamil nadu. We settled into our bamboo huts and went for a well deserved afternoon nap.

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