The AC sleeper-train to Bangalore. Bangalore was the only place in India we saw one of the skinny meandering cows being milked, by a destitute old woman in a back street. We stopped in Bangalore, as the kids wanted to experience a first-class train for the few hour journey to Mysore – a little disappointing as it was not a sleeper, and just a succession of free train stuff; orange juice, papers, tea, food, etc. We had now travelled in every class available.
The idea was to start at Mysore and wind our way through the hills and end up at Fort Kochi on the coast in Kerala. This was Eddie’s idea, to see some of the beautiful sights a lot of tourists miss.
The boy and I discovered they were lighting up the White Palace for an extra night due to Eid al-Fitr. So we rushed back to the guesthouse to get the other two. This was the reason we had decided to start in Mysore, to see the Place illuminated in a flash of electrical brilliance, and it is something that would be difficult to tire of. If you are passing through the area try and catch the radiance of the Majestic White Palace.
We hired a driver to see as much as we could of the area in short time. He didn’t speak very good English which annoyed the wife, but his English was better than my Hindi. She was further annoyed by him wanting Rp200 to park at the White Palace. But any annoyance would pail into insignificance compared to the later ‘coracle incident.’ The kids loved the Zoo, but I always find Zoos in developing countries depressing, animal rights are not hardly high on the list when a large proportion of the population are trying to subsist. It is not long before my mind returns to the White-Handed Gibbon at Kuala ‘elephant’ Lumpur Zoo many years before, whenever zoos are mentioned. As the poor creature in terminal solitary confinement grabbed my wrist as I feed him nuts, and as our primate eyes locked, we both knew he could snap my ulna and radius like twigs, but the defeated sadness in his eyes gave way to resigned subordination. Me guilty of belonging to a ‘higher’race of apes with opposable thumbs, and bigger brains; capable of greater injustices. The irony being in zoos animals live longer than in the wild!
In Tipu’s Summer Palace of the tiger attacking the British soldier fame, there is only a model now, the original was bought back by an Indian businessman from the Victoria and Albert Museum, ‘bought back’ being a strange expression. One of the advantages of having an empire is you get to steal all the good stuff and in a moment of benevolence you can sell the plundered loot back to the originating country. Anyone fancy buying some Elgin Marbles? It was my idea to visit Tipu’s summer house, not just for the history, but I had a curious desire to ride in a coracle, you know, one of those tiny round lightweight boats, my desire became the children’s desire once I had explained the possible delight of hopping aboard a small circular unstable craft. According to the guidebook they were to be found at Tipu’s on the river–they had been moved away recently. Try explaining your desire to carouse a coracle to a non-English speaking driver and watch him reach for a calendar to check it’s not April 1st! He asked around and the coracle dream was back on. It was raining quite heavily and the river was swollen, so we were not allowed to do anything foolish by ourselves and had to have a driver/steerer/oarer. The wife was impatient and did not share the excitement of a rounded boat as we all did, but the enthusiasm was infectious, even more so for the girl as the main reason for caution apart from the raging torrent of the water, was marsh crocodiles. Tourists being eaten by large reptiles is not good for business, and it is sensible to show caution if Indians believe it to be too dangerous.
The wife starts to haggle with the owner and I suggest we wait and see what the locals pay. But before you could say: ‘unstable craft in croc infested waters’: we were in. It was no place for a virgin or amateur coracler. The oarsman span it around and around in the middle of the fast-flowing water to the delight of the children (and me) and the bucket list was ticked. Then, what’s that expression from Gladiator, ‘On my command, release hell.’The wife had agreed to pay the owner Rp200, but now, due to the duration of the boating trip, only wanted to pay Rp100, voices became raised and just when she was about to pay him and walk away, an Indian family got into a coracle and handed over Rp10! She has seen the transaction. Her voice now more aggrieved and angered, and more shouting occurred, ‘It’s disgusting how you rip tourists off. YOU’RE GREEDY. HOW MUCH MONEY DO YOU NEED TO MAKE?’ There was more vitriol that involved a few terms; ‘contract’, legal action’ etc. The children and I are taking steps backwards, shrugging our shoulders and trying to distance ourselves from an angry Indian women addressing a less angry Indian man with a flotilla of coracles. It has come to pass in our family as purely, ‘The Coracle Incident,’ and something’s are best avoided in retrospection. This was not like the beautiful woman I married in New York City Hall, but a culmination of events. The major one being the girl playing up the day before I suspect, and lack of food. A woman scorned maybe a bad thing, but a woman scorned, with a crashing glycemic index is a badder thing! (In our house anyway, and also in the houses’ of her sisters–got to be genetic?) When you travel as a very close unit for months there is little time for the personal space we can all find back home. Try explaining to someone about a past argument over the payment of a coracle, and watch their faces contort and crease in bafflement.
Later at a bird sanctuary, where again we were not allowed to hire a row boat due to the threat of marsh crocodiles. It is safe bet that someone must have been eaten quite recently for this amount of caution. It could have course been the news on the wire about ‘The Coracle Incident!’
I suppose in the blame-culture we live in, I must bear some blame for ‘The Coracle Incident’, as it was my idea. I had a lecturer at university that set off across the bogs/wetlands of the west of Ireland to survey the wildlife, and he took with him a coracle to traverse the waterways. Something I would quite like to have a go at, maybe start by practicing on The Norfolk Fens first (Not Tipu’s River!) On another occasion at uni we used to be given scientific papers to read then summarise to the tutorial group. We had an eccentric lecturer called Dr Goldspink, that would become bored with traipsing through the same lecture for the umpteenth time and start making evidence and facts up–the harvest woodpecker that could count was a particular favourite that has stuck with me. He would shiftily look around the lecture theatre to see if anyone had rumbled him, and if they had, he would give them an almost imperceptible thin smile, for this reason we liked each other. On one specific occasion I had to feedback on social order behaviour in Pan Troglodyte’s communities, chimpanzees in a cage to you and me. I had decided to try and give Dr G a dose of his own mordant medicine, by suggesting the researcher had decided to study the particular community of primates as a coracle had been left in the enclosure and two of the younger adolescents had pretended to row in it. Unfortunately on this specific occasion he was off ill and the substitute lecturer in her first post after graduating failed to pick up on the fact I was making most of the research up! I do hope it has not led to a spate of coracle primate related research within institutions throughout the globe.
The next day we visited a deserted train museum, the sort of place you might bump into Bill Bryson. We left the boy at home to eat his own body weight in biscuits. I think it was that rare occasion when our daughter had both her parents to herself. She relished some creative playtime, climbing and ‘driving’ the trains. Years later I met a native Mysorean (Mysorite sounds too much like a biblical nasty that might live outside Sodom and Gomorrah, or possibly a haemorrhoid cream. The internet tends to call them, ‘the people of Mysore.’) He was amazed I had been to Mysore, overjoyed I had been, but when I told him I particularly liked the small train museum (along with the beaming Palace), he had never visited it. I thought he might commit hari-kari for culturally letting his fellow Mysoreans/Mysorites/POMs down. I live in Manchester, but I have never visited The Hat Museum, but I can live with that.
We spent a night in Bandipur National Park to try and observe wild elephants. Even after two safaris it was still a no-show, saw black and honey bears, and mongooses (plural not mongeeses–strange language English!) On the drive through the park we chanced across a large tusked bull elephant on the road, feeding on the verdant grassed verge. My daughter found this thrilling, which of course it is. The driver was terrified that the elephant, even from the distance it was located might charge us, which was a little overcautious, but he had only hired the car. It did beg the question of how we might sneak by the large pachyderm? Eventually it slopped off, as we were about to leave the park we spotted two sets of elephants grazing on the far side of a valley. If you have a driver, just drive until you happen across some. In theory drivers are not supposed to stop in the national Park, but that’s just in theory. The actual park ranger tourist aspect of the park was very badly organised. I suspect they weren’t that bothered about tourists being attracted in large numbers.
It was a magnificent ride through the Nilgiri Hills, imposing luxuriant mountains and mile after mile of rolling tea plantations. Eventually in no rush we arrived in Ooty. It was cold and damp in the mountains; these are the old hill-station settlements, where the Raj came to avoid the sweltering heat of the plains. It is the alleged birthplace of snooker (1875).
In the funfair in Ooty, which is in the state of Tamil Nadu, we went on a ‘cake-walk’ type ride that was called: ‘Tsunami!’ how untactful is that?
We caught the Blue Mountain Railway from Ooty to Coonor and back. There was a large group of schoolchildren in our open carriage, about eleven years of age. The stern looking female teacher was reading them the riot act in Hindi before the train set off, we, unaware of what dictates she was endorsing. But every time the slow moving train entered one of the many tunnels all the kids yelled and screamed at the top of their voices, undetected in the pitch-black. It was very amusing, something I had never encountered with schoolchildren. In our family we hold our breathe in tunnels, unless we are in Switzerland, works ok in North Wales. This was very amusing, and obviously the main part of the verbal riot act. Reminded me of when Edna Krabappel tells the school kids not to put their arms out of the school bus in The Simpsons, and of course it is the first thing they do.
More scenic driving through the hills to Coimbatore. Ditched the expense of the driver and jumped on a bus to Fort Kochi.
Next time: Chicken tea, anyone?
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