Day 4 The Mount of Olives

It had to be done. Well I suppose it did. Can a Christian come to Jerusalem without viewing Christ’s supposed tomb? I think not. But neither it seems can most other religions, agnostics, atheists etc. which is why you have to get up early. 6.30 in our case and arriving at The Church of the Holy Sepulchre at about 7.30. Dani and Mike had gone to a 6.30 mass and it was pure luck that we joined the queue to get to the tomb directly behind them. The queue was not moving. We stood an chatted. Still no movement. At about 7.45 some thing seemed to be going on up ahead and sure enough the queue moved. Slowly we inched forward until at about 8.20 we got to view the marble slab on which he supposedly lay in the tomb. From there it is but a short walk and a short queue to view the supposed limestone mound which was Golgotha. Of course it didn’t have to be that high as being on a cross made you all to visible ‘pour encourage les autres’. There is a gilded hole above the stone which I assumed was to put your arm in to feel the stone. I was somewhat surprised to find it full of litter. Then it dawned on me that these were bank notes. How better to commemorate the death of our Saviour than in dollar bills or shekels?

 

We did not linger and headed back through empty streets to our hotel and breakfast. At the Damascus Gate Christine noticed a woman n a red coat and bobble hat standing absolutely still in front of it. Christine had noticed that she had been there at 7.15 when we had passed through. Very odd.

We met Dani and Mike for breakfast and then set off to the. Mount of Olives. We headed back to the Damascus Gate. I was now 10.00 but the girl was still in the same pplace. I asked her what she was doing and apparently it was some form of independent film project. Her cameraman was on the steps to her left.

We walked down the Via Dolorosa looking for Lion Gate and St Anne’s Church. I mistook one of s number of arches for the fate and then got us completely lost. Eventually we found St Anne ‘s and it was heaving! The church is Romanesque and beautiful in its simplicity. It has a remarkable acoustic and an American Choir was trying it out with Amazing Grace. If sound quite impressive, in spite of their pronounciation. Once they had left we had the church to ourselves so I gave a quick solo of ‘Lord we beseech you.’, and yes the acoustic is quite remarkable:even  my voice sounded passable!

 

It is hard to work out what is what outside the church so many generations gave built over and around the pools. Add to this the vast numbers of awed Americans and clamorous Chinese and the whole experience becomes hard to enjoy. However they do stay with their leaders, few wander from the throng, so we found a walkway around the other side of the site and enjoyed some relative peace. The pools, north and south, I was particularly keen to see having written about them in both of my religious monologues, Febronia and Mary, particularly the latter. I was not disappointed. With the help of a simple guide and some plaques we managed to piece together what would have been there in the time of Christ. I imagined Mary in one of the rather posh rooms situated between the pools, favouring the northern one where the water was cleaner and the common people did not enter.

Outside the Lion Gate we entered a Moslem cemetery which gave us good views across the Kidron Valley towards the massive Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. We crossed the Kidron or Valley of Jehoshaphat, dodging the multitude of tourist buses and taxis and eschewing the Basilica of the Agony, we found a quiet road up the edge of the Jewish cemetery to a viewpoint at the top of the Mount. The sun was beating down and it was quite a climb, but well worth it. As we passed the Jewish cemetery I pointed out the stones piled on many of the graves. “Why do they do that?” Christine asked. I reminded her that at our Family Remembrance Service only a couple of weeks ago I had based the service on this Jewish ritual and we had all laid stones around the font. It clearly had made quite an impact!

 

We treated ourselves to a cereal bar as we looked across to the walled city and then after using the impeccable toilets we headed further up to the Mosque of the Ascension. Within its grounds is a beautiful little chapel dating from about 1200. Inside is a piece of stone with a supposed footprint our Lord left behind as a left for heaven. If so, he had surprisingly large feet.

 

We descended via a much busier road and enjoyed an overpriced, but delicious pomegranate juice at a small cafe at the bottom. Back through the Lion Gate we navigated our way across the old city to the Jaffa Gate. The Via Dolorosa was blocked in places by thrombosises of tourists, clustered around their guides, drinking in every word and quite oblivious of everyone else. Eventually we struck off away from the crowds, but met them again as we approached the Jaffa Gate.

 

Our aim was to walk on the walls which run between Jaffa Gate and Dung Gate. It cost 18 shekels each, but I produced my senior railcard and got in for 8 as a senior citizen! The walk was lovely but hard work. Every tower had massive stone steps up and down and by now our legs were feeling like jelly. At Dung Gate we set off in pursuit of refreshment, but decided instead to buy some cakes and head back to the hotel for afternoon tea on our terrace. We bought some delicious cakes from a stall near the Damascus Gate and as we passed through there was the girl, standing in the same spot. Christine asked if she had had a break and was released to hear that she had. She was still being filmed, so I presume we are now part of an art installation to be screened in the future!

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Tomorrow we leave Jerusalem for the Sea of Galilee and hopefully a less frenetic and cheaper few days.

Monday 17th February – Kochi to London

I think we both managed some sleep but not as much as we wanted. Still we were up at 3.00 a.m. and on the coach at 4.00.

Kochi airport was reached by 5.30 thanks to a manic coach driver who sensing the prospect of fairly empty roads and a reason to get somewhere as quickly as possible took full advantage and no prisoners. Luckily I could not see ahead out of the screen as there was a curtain in front of us, but judging by his use of horn, there were shattered and frightened road users scattered in his wake.

Kochi airport is very attractive and entirely solar powered. However, the border and security staff could do with some custom relations training. ‘A smile knows no frontiers’ so I suppose that’s why they didn’t break into one, but it is also said that ‘a smile costs nothing’. This lot wouldn’t give you the sweat off their brow!

Our Emirates flight to Dubai was fairly uneventful except that their in-flight media is called ICE and that could also be applied to the cabin temperature at the start of the flight. I put on my jumper, then requested a blanket and as several passengers went down with frostbite they eventually raised the temperature of the air conditioning. What I had assumed to be a Spanish castanet group practising in another part of the plane turned out to be the chattering teeth of my fellow passengers.

Dubai airport is not only very attractive, but very efficient and Indian airports should take note of how things are done there. The flight to London proved unremarkable except that I watched some good films including ‘Parasite’ which is excellent and ‘Red Joan’ which I also enjoyed. On the earlier flight I had consumed ‘Farmaggedon’ and ‘A Rainy Day in New York’.

Roger was there to meet us and we were home by 8.45. Now to reset the body clock! A lovely, relaxing holiday in great company. It is such a pleasure to travel with this group and to be led so expertly by Mark. Thank you for your company, one and all.

Sunday 16th February – Marari Beach

And suddenly it’s our last day! I ate well last night and without any ill effects, so I followed up this morning with a hearty breakfast, condemned as I was to while away the day lounging by the pool.

First of all Judy, Christine and I went to the butterfly garden and I took a few (!) photos. The butterflies are so beautiful and attracted in large numbers by the flowers they have planted there.DSC_0581DSC_0586DSC_0590
At 9.30 we went on the bird watching walk with the naturalist. At first there seemed little around us soon we were spotting quite a range of birds, including the little owlet roosting in the daytime and another one with a youngster There was also an Indian Scopes Owl roosting in the roof of one of the houses. It was a good hour ad a half and ended with a spectacular woodpecker. We also saw en route some bright red and black shield bugs which covered the ground and some tree trunks.DSC_0654DSC_0647

Exhausted by all this we went for a swim and lounged by the pool – very pleasant. At 4,00 p.m. Christine had booked an Ayurvedic massage. I decided to download our boarding passes and get them printed. This proved more difficult than I expected as I had lost internet access and it required some IT expertise to get me back on.Eventually I returned triumphant with said boarding passes printed at the hotel reception. All quite pointless as it turned out as they simply printed proper card ones at the baggage drop at Kochi airport!

Once Christine was back, duly rubbed to a state of peace and transcendental bliss, we went to the beach to watch the sunset – how romantic. However C’s state of inner calm was short lived once she saw the amount of plastic rubbish on the beach. She set to with a will and soon had a mound of bottles and other plastic waste for us to take back to the hotel recycling bins. There is something special about the sunset reflected in an empty coke bottle, but romantic it isn’t!DSC_0720

Christine wanted to wear her sari for dinner, so Karen arrived to help her tie herself into it. I was a bit concerned about cultural appropriation but was told not to be so silly. Christine certainly looked stunning in it and I was proud to offer her my arm to walk into dinner on. In fact I came in my entirety,to save any messiness.

A couple more mojitos helped dinner go down, but Christine seemed to have picked up a slight tummy complaint and had to leave early and in somewhat of a hurry! She managed to give Mark his present before she fled the scene which was the main thing.

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And so to bed for our last night. We would have to be up in 5 hours for our departure at 4.00 a.m. Sleep was likely to be elusive as it often is when you know you have to be up early.

Saturday 15th – Marari Beach Resort

A leisurely rise and breakfast before we set out up the big lake and across to the western shore where we docked at around 10.00. We wished farewell to our crew who had looked after us so well and climbed into our tuk-tuks which brought us back to the main road. There’s coach was waiting for us to take us north to this beautiful eco-resort.

It is rare that one starts a hotel stay with an examination of the sewage disposal facilities, bu that is what we did and very interesting it was too! Our guide, a trained naturalist, took us through the finer points of settling tanks and anaerobic digesters. We looked at diagrams and understood the issues raised in maintaining a functioning plant. He could not be accused of just ‘going through the motions’!

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He took us to the ayurvedic oil manufacturing workshop where herbs and spices are added to oil to produce massage oil. Then we went to the see rainwater harvesting and a biodigester that provided methane for electricity for the staff quarters. Finally we went into the hot water plant for the hotel which is generated by solar power.


I should explain that we had arrived early so our rooms were no where near ready and we had to wait for them to be serviced. Eventually after a couple of hours we were brought to our chalet, which is delightful. Entering we came into a sitting room cum bedroom cum kitchen. Outside was a bathroom, entirely private but open to the air. There is something very special about open air ablutions in a hot climate. Everything was strewn with levees and petals.

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Our bags arrived and we unpacked a bit, deciding not to go to lunch as we had a late breakfast. Instead we polished off 1.5 fruit and nut bars each and then went for a walk to the beach. It is beautiful – your typical coconut palm finger sandy coast, but the beach was deceptive. We paddled, our visit in the Arabian Sea, but noted that the beach shelved rapidly and there was a serious undertow. The flag may have been green, but we were not going to be swimming here! Instead we headed for the pool. Mark was already in residence and so we joined him. It was lovely and we lounged around the pool until Christine decided to go on the village walk that the resort lays on for its visitors. I remained supine while she toddled off.dsc_0536
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Back at the bungalow, some time later, Christine said that the walk wasn’t worth it,but thought she’d go to a sari tying workshop at 5.30. I was continuing to lounge, this time on the porch.

Dinner was at 7.30 and so we decided to go for a drink first of all, expecting some of our number to be way ahead of us on that front. But,no, the bar was remarkably empty. We ordered 2 Mojitos and settled in. Another couple came in and immediately the staff turned on the muzak at a volume which precluded conversation. Why do they do that?! The other couple moved away from the speakers so we took the hint and asked them to turn it down, which they did but only by a few decibels. We finished our drinks and left for the restaurant.

An excellent meal followed in the buffet style and I was able to get freshly squeezed pomegranate juice which was wonderful. On the way back to our bungalow, Christine spotted a Little Spotted Owl (so now it was double spotted!). We had seen it on the way out, but I didn’t have my camera (a rare occurrence) and by the time I’d gone back for it it had flown away. This time it sat obligingly on a Frangipani and waited for its moment in the flash. In fact it waited for some time as I tried various settings to avoid using flash. None worked so I went for broke and flashed at it! It seemed unperturbed, so I took two more. The result is a triptych with it looking right, left and straight ahead. What an obliging owl!

Lovely as our room is I didn’t have that good a sleep, partly because of the hard pillows. I was all for going to receptions and asking if they had something softer for me to rest my head on, like some granite or a block of teak. Christine advised against it, but then she slept well!

Friday 14th – the backwaters

I did not have a good night, although I’m not sure why – perhaps I wasn’t tired enough. My stomach was still not feeling too good as well. We got up at abut 8.30 and came into the dining room expecting to find Mark, but he wasn’t there. Eventually around 9.00 we were getting a bit worried, so I knocked on his door. Still no response. Then one of the crew joined me and we both pounded on his door. Poor man – he was in his bathroom and perfectly alright, just decided to have a lie-in!

I resisted breakfast, but then got off the boat and took pictures of weaver birds building their nests. On my way back I spotted one of our crew fishing in a paddy field. He was catching catfish very successfully.

As we set off I got some good shots of a Baya bee-eater and later a white-throated kingfisher.

We stopped at a Roman Catholic Basilica with a small parade of shops along the waterfront. St Mary’s Basilica dated from 429 although I suspect the present building is probably about 200 years old. Mass was in full swing so we stood at the back looking down the nave to the resplendent altar reredos and listening to the priest and choir. When we returned later a red curtain had been drawn across the chancel – to preserve the mystery?

From the Basilica we walked through the shops and I went into a barbers for a haircut (if I’d gone in for a lawn mower, that would just have been silly). He was young, enthusiastic an d did a good job. He didn’t have any thinning scissors which was unfortunate, but he carefully crafted the sides and back of my head, while chopping a bit off the top. He also snipped out my nostrils, any area David has never ventured into! The result was very pleasing and he asked 200 rupees which I gladly gave him with a 50 rupee tip. When I told the crew member accompanying us he was outraged and wanted to go back to demand 100 rupees back. I demurred for, as I pointed out, back home I paid 1,500 rupees! He was clearly shocked.Unfortunately Christine has the pictures of me so you’ll have to make do with one of Mark Iman adjacent barber’s!

Back to the boats and lunch with more pottering , reading and sleeping to follow. We stopped again at a busy part of the river in order to take a small boat trip through the small backwaters. It was clearly a well trodden route, but none the less peaceful and interesting as we had a window into local people’s lives. We watched children bathing and women washing pots. Some houses were beautiful while others looked fairly squalid.

WE docked back at our boats and managed to get everyone off without anyone falling in. More lazing, taking pictures and reading before we docked for the night. Everyone came to us for dinner, which included, duck, chicken and tiger prawns. We veggies didn’t do badly either. David did another splendid turn, having us in stitches and then others joined in, so it was a very merry evening.

Our last night on the boat. We shall be sorry to leave!

Thursday 13th – the backwaters

I still wasn’t feeling too wonderful this morning so I skipped breakfast and joined C and M later. The boat stopped at an unusual Buddha – a half Buddha as it had been damaged by warriors in the past. Tuk-tuks arrived and we careered off to a very old Krishna Temple. Of course we had to take our shoes off. Not normally a problem but the courtyard had been baking in the sun for about 6 hours so the stones were red hot and we hopped and skipped into some shade. In the shade we watched a priest weighing a beautiful baby on some scales against a large bunch of bananas. The parents were given a banana each, but the temples kept he rest as an offering. The parents had been trying for along time to have a child so they were grateful when one arrived. Shock number two was that if we wanted to go into the holy of holies the men had to take off their shirts! Sagging white flesh is not a pretty sight at the best of times, but compared to the better toned and brown bodies of the local they were an affront to the eye! Mind you some of the locals could have done with shedding a few pounds as well! We moved around the shrine, encouraged to chant ‘Omraom’ as we progressed by our leader from the boats.

Arriving back at the boats, I returned to my bed, still feeling poorly while Mark went to visit Suki and Lucy so poor Christine had lunch on her own.

The boats docked again and we came off to see coir string being made. The grandson, who seemed over-eager to please, showed us around. We met his 99 year old grandmother who seemed remarkably fit, although a little puzzled by our presence. Then we watched as her daughter spun the coir into first a single strand then a double one. A grand-daughter seemed to be sorting out the coir into strands. The man was very ken to have my contact details, so I gave him my diocesan card. I look forward to the day when he phones Alison on the front desk at St Nick’s and tries to make himself understood! He was very kind, however and shinned up a coconut tree and twisted off three coconuts, sliced off the top and then dug his machete into the top so that we could drink the milk. Delicious!

Back on the boat, we lazed around and the gin and tonic came out. I decided I should have some for purely medicinal reasons, but I stayed off the food. It all looked delicious, but…… Everyone joined us for dinner except Judy and Janet. For some reason their crew seem unwilling to let these two ladies off their boat!

David completed the evening by telling us some of his risqué stories. He is a born storyteller with great comic timing and he had us all laughing uncontrollably.

Wednesday 12th – To the backwaters in boats

Unwisely I had breakfast. Rather strangely I became the object of a photography group (students I think) who were taking pictures outside the hotel. They were trying to photograph me through the window. Then another shoot turned up and I was interested that they had a Bluetooth flash. I went out to talk to them, and discovered it was wedding shoot, so I offered my congratulations to the bride and groom but did not get a chance to speak to the photographers. We left the hotel in good order and headed for the backwaters.

‘There is nothing, simply nothing like messing about in boats.’ How true, Ratty, how true. We travelled by coach southwards towards the Kerala backwaters. At some point we were decanted into tuk-tuks and taken down winding lanes to a quayside where our rice boats were waiting. Formalities were completed and we were assigned our vessels. We shared with Mark, who took the stern cabin. Inside there was a large dining room where we could all eat together if we chose. Our bedroom was well appointed with a. Large 4 poster bed, but no hanging space. The bathroom or wet room was beautifully tiled and had everything we needed. We had a crew of 4 who have proved to be delightful and thoughtful.

We set off across the Vembanad Lake and pottered into a backwater. Unfortunately I began to feel ill so took to my bed while Mark and Christine lazed around and drank pomegranate juice. David joined them for the evening meal, while I lay on my bed feeling sorry for myself.

Tuesday 11th – Kochi

Back in the land of internet now, so catching up

I think I may have picked up a tummy bug. I certainly didn’t sleep that well, but I managed to force down a little breakfast and actually didn’t feel too bad as we headed off for the Chinese fishing nets a short distance from the hotel. It was already hot and busy with numerous tourists wandering along the promenade. In truth it seems the nets don’t catch much these days, mainly due to over-fishing, and the fact that a major container port lies across the river. The main catch now is tourists and we were besieged with people selling bangles, carvings and one particularly persistent man who wanted to sell me a box in the shape of a cat. If he had known me well he would have realised that nothing would tempt me to buy anything in the shape of a cat. However he didn’t, and clearly saw it as his mission in life to get me to take home a feline object.

We went onto a fishing gantry and had a go at pulling in the net. Apparently we were meant to bring good luck, but alas the fish stayed away although 500 rupees changed hands so perhaps we were lucky after all!

We walked along to the Church of St Francis, not exactly a thing of great beauty, but which contained the tomb of Vasco de Gama. His body had long since left for LIsbon, but the gravestone remained. The church was built by the Portuguese and had been remodelled by the Dutch and then the British. Another short walk brought us to the Roman Catholic Basilica of ……….which had a girl’s school in its grounds. It was very ‘catholic’ but had some beautiful ironwork at its entrance.

We walked to a restaurant where I rashly had a delicious vegetable stew with Kerala rice (fatter grains) and a mango lassi. AS others were taking their time I took a short walk, but, truth be told, saw little of interest.

We boarded the coach and went to the Dutch Palace which again was built by the Portuguese, but remodelled by the Dutch. They built it to appease the local maharajah and it certainly was magnificent with beautiful wood ceilings. In the dining area the ceiling was covered in brass balls to reflect the light. This meant that the number of candles were limited and so smoke was kept to a minimum. Two rooms had amazing murals of the Ramayana and our guide, Philip, explained the story in some detail. He is a born actor and frankly should be on the stage!

Another short walk brought us to the synagogue – the oldest in India (although according to our guide only beaten in age by the one In Jerusalem (Hmm!) We couldn’t take pictures inside but it was a beautiful building. From here we were due to go to the spice market, but we rebelled, being too hot and tired. This meant Philip didn’t get his cut, but he seemed to take it on the chin.

Back at the hotel I started to feel very poorly and took to our room, failing to make it to dinner. Some musician started playing a raga in the courtyard which seemed to go on for hours and did nothing to calm my savage breast – indeed I felt like throwing something at him – the first raga lout perhaps?!