Saturday, 3 February 2007

On the move in South India

Brian's allegation about our global footprint must be countered, we feel, with an update on some of our latest modes of transport: horse, pedalboat, houseboat, ferry, bicycle, rickshaw, foot, train not to mention the not quite so non-polluting taxi...
So here we sit at sister Meilan's PC in Bangkok feling very refreshed after a day of v little apart from ordering new specs and a swim in the compound pool..
But to fill in the gap between Delhi & Bangkok: we've been to the home of snooker in Snooty Ooty & played on the venerable table where the game was invented- it was touch & go whether we'd be allowed in to the Oooty Club, the Hon Sec having spotted rucksacks in the back of the taxi which had wound up the Nilgiri Hills from Coimbatore bearing immediately dispatched round the back and Rules of Club firmly explained. We were to know these off by heart pretty soon. Obviously under-wardobed and under-shod, we still had the hugest suite of rooms ever seen, 2 vast ballrooms each lit by a 40 watt bulb, one containing a battered chintz 3 pc suite, several lampstands (bulbless) and more copies of the Rules, and the other 2 chintz covered beds and 2 vast wardrobes... bathroom (I think a newish feature as modern tiling) a strange corridor about 40' x 3' with toilet at one end and shower at the other, but with neither bath nor hot water ....Tim had a late lunch of cornflour soup (10R charge for being in the dining room out of hours) but the crushing blow was to find ourselves having dinner in the Children's Dining Room (mini tables and chairs, cartoon characters on wall). Without a jacket & tie, 'closed' shoes (trainers wouldn't do) etc we couldn't have access to any other public parts of the club after 8pm. I lie, Tim was allowed into the Men's Bar and the Hon Sec finally relented and gave me special dispensation to sit in the gloomy vastness with him under the rows of stuffed tigers', boars' and jackals' heads.

Tim takes over, firstly to reassure you that although we rode our horses up and down Scottish-style glens and beside the loch, we didn't actually join the Ooty Hunt -- which till very recently was hunting jackals, complete with pack of hounds -- and that although he didn't find any other members prepared to play snooker with him in his tieless state, he did play against Alison and later against himself on the 133-year-old, slightly sloping table and won both times, so it was historic in every way.

So much for Ootacamund, Queen of the hill Stations. We then proceeded back down its monkey-laden mountain and surrounding tea plantations and carried on to Kerala. There we based ourselves in the oldest European settlement in India (and Asia?), Cochin, or Kochi as it now is. Vasco da Gama died here (and was initially buried in St Francis' church, pictured) and there are still lots of crumbling old Portuguese ramparts and decaying villas. We stayed in a lovely room, with teak floor and fine mosquito-netted four poster bed, in the Old Courtyard Hotel, complete with mango tree in courtyard, white pillars, balconies and long steep staircases. It all reminded us very much of the Macau we knew in the 70s. There are even Chinese fishing nets, dating from the 15th century visits here of the fleets of Zheng He, the Chinese eunuch admiral I did a Radio 4 programme on not so long ago. Not to mention legacies of the Dutch and British years -- and the oldest synagogue in Asia in what's still called Jew Town. But all this in a very unspoilt Indian town tucked away on a little peninsula. We ate a lot of fish, which you pick fresh from the seafront stalls, then have cooked for you, thick with Kerala spices. And saw an excellent Kathakali drama (Yo! Ru - remember our night under the Hammersmith Flyover?) one night, including a preliminary hour's worth of makeup being applied, layer by sticky and dazzling layer.

We moved on by smart, elderly white Ambassador car to the backwaters -- a maze of river-deltas and canals and beautiful lakes, where we spent a day and a night cruising round on our own houseboat. Not quite as upmarket as some of the Kashmiri ones, perhaps... there was a bathroom of sorts but Alison found a giant spider creeping towards her through the rattan walls, which were also far from being mosquito-proof. Great though to wake up in the night and see fishermen glide past, casting their nets from canoes -- and it's a fantastic place for birds (my Brighton cousins will be interested to hear), with cormorants swooping and egrets standing stock-still on the clumps of water-hyacinth, looking like elegant garden ornaments.

Then it was another sleepless but interesting night as we made the 27-hour train journey up the west coast to Mumbai. We didn't get robbed or attacked -- as I did on similar journeys in 1973 -- but some of our 6 fellow-passengers ( crammed with luggage into a compartment that would have fitted at least 20 times over into our bedroom in Ooty) almost came to blows over who got which bed in the 3-tier bunks.

There was also lots of time (especially if you retreated from the tense compartment to the open door between the carriages) to savour the sights and smells of the countryside: brown limbs sloshing through green ricepaddies or washing clothes in soapy rivers, lumbering oxen with ancient ploughs and the odd crow on their backs, blue-turbanned men with wide wicker baskets of red peppers on their heads, brilliantly beshawled women with silver pitchers of water on theirs (or sometimes piles of bricks, at grim-looking brick-making squatter-camps)... And no end of wandering goats and cows (both of which also still crop up in the middle of cities, where we've also seen the odd camel and elephant).

But there can be no city like Bombay, where we spent our last couple of days in India. One moment you're on Marine Drive sweeping gloriously round the bay and you think you're in California, next you're passing hundreds of bodies sleeping in rags on a back- street. In fact we probably couldn't have taken any more than two days of it...but good to have seen. We stayed one night in grand colonial style in the Royal Bombay Yacht Club - founded in 1830 but the billiard table this time a mere eighty years old -- and another in a nearby semi-respectable dosshouse which appeared to be the only place in town offering any beds at all that night. But - it's me again - plumbing and sewers still a problem, yaar....we got ourselves a haircut and head massage from a Bombay barber too...
It's really nice getting your comments - we look forward to opening this up and keeping up with you - well done, Harry!! fact the people who go to the Chelsea Hotel can't be that rare - as it's already booked solid for May but we've got another Bob Dylan favourite - Washington Square. And yes, Simon, says T, he did happen to see the Bo Yibo obit in the Trib - could it have been one of the many we wrote 20 years ago??
And off we go to enjoy Thailand....but can we face another o'nite train trip?


TIM said...

A Quick Comment on the Comments on my own blog, if that's allowed: we thought they'd sadly if understandably dried up, but have just noticed the latest ones have been getting added to Posting No 1, which now has 17 Comments, instead of the newest posting, which has none -- all very strange. But such are the mysteries of Blogspot. Reassuring to know about canadian plumbing, anyway (not that we ever doubted it); also hackney hunting (feel free to add moustache to the bloke in the painting over your bed, andy, but don't tell cisco); and thanks for terminus tip, bernardo, but saw it too late -- and we had just about had enough of trains by that stage.

Inedible Halk said...

Dear Mr Tim

For your preparations check out the Bolivian billiards scene at - you can click through to a contact for Mr Percy Jacobs in Cochabamba, Bolivia. He has an impressive tache and maroon shirt/tie combo. Also Miguel Lora in Lima - perhaps we could go and see him together. Excellent blogging. Lots of love, Hal xxx