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.


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’!


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.


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
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?!

Sunday 9th February – Dera Dunes Retreat

Another leisurely rise and a day at ease, catching up on my blog, Facebook and emails, then reading and snoozing in the hammock. This was punctuated by another cookery demonstration at 11.00 – the delicious fired okra and some pakoras and then a communion service at 12.00 around the outside bar. Lunch of course was delicious and needed more snoozing to get over it.

At 4.00 p.m. we went out to meet our camels for a ride into the desert. Christine got one that seemed to burp or complain continuously (it is hard to tell the meaning of camel oral outputs.Mine appeared to be heavily pregnant which was why I came off her walking like John Wayne. We rode off, each with a handler keeping our camels more or less under control. Mark sat like a maharaja on a cart as did Peter and Glynis. We swayed along a path through the nearby village, passing the school and madrasah. Numerous holes in the sand betrayed the presence of desert rats, but only Karen was lucky enough to see one. Then we climbed the hill, leaning forward in our saddles as we did so. We followed the ridge to where the Retreat had set out a bar and chairs for us to enjoy a drink as the sun went down. It was beautiful to watch.

Back on the camels we now had to descend the hill, continually reminded by the camel handlers to “lean back”. I began to feel like bacon by the time we got back into the village! It was great fun, even if we did feel a little sore by the end of it.

We then discovered that dinner was to be served al fresco with tables set out in the performance area and braziers lit to keep us warm. The main highlight was chicken cooked in a pit whichI have to say did not look very appetising but apparently tasted good.We had cauliflower done the same way,which was tasty. However as the meat eaters were served that as well, we were on short rations! Other dishes were served and there was a rather exotic looking dessert resembling a gateau. A good attempt, but the Indians are not a nation of puddings. It was all very pleasant aided by the fact that it was a comparatively warm evening.

An early rise tomorrow as we head south!

Monday 10th February – Dera Dune – Kochi

A travelling day today which began well with a good coach drive to Jodhpur, stopping at a petrol station for a wee and then by roadside for tea – no biscuits this time! However when we stopped in Osian for a pharmacy our assistant driver returned with an orange and a banana each. We arrived early enough in Jodhpur to enjoy a buffet lunch in a pleasant restaurant in an enclosed courtyard. We ate under an awning for about £5 a head plus drinks. The soup was probably out of a packet but the pakora were tasty as were the other dishes. The toilets were Sloan as well which is always a bonus. Tom gave them 5 star on bogadvisor!

The airport was crowded and by the time we got into the departure lounge we couldn’t …lounge that is. Standing room only! As a flight started boarding some seats became free and so we managed to sit down one by one. Our flight to Delhi was eventually called some 45 minutes late and I think,by the time it left the ground it was an hour late. Queueing, that bastion of British manners, seems to be on the wane in India and w enjoyed several examples of pushing in. The Raj had its good points!

We arrived at Delhi and knew that time was short to make our connecting flight. We headed for domestic transfers, but on arriving found our flight wasn’t on the board. We asked at the transfer desk and it was explained that flights for Kochi were international transfers. I didn’t have time to ask if it had been annexed by Pakistan and on reflection that probably wouldn’t have gone down well. So we headed for international transfers, to be told that we needed international departures. This involved leaving the current terminal and entering another one. More showing of our boarding cards and a ride in a lift brought us to the international departure area. Gate 19a didn’t seem to exist, but after further confusion we discovered why there was a large D on our ticket. We followed the arrows and came to a whole new security area with very long queues. By now our flight was boarding. An Air India representative who looked as though he should still be reading comics guided us to another security area where the queue was shorter. We queued while sundry Indians barged ahead of us. To make matters worse we had a pedant looking at the X ray screen and so every bag was examined in minute detail. Then he vacated his chair and with all the haste of a man enjoying a cold beer in a drought, another officer took his place. However he was quicker and at last we were through.

Janet was being wheeled in her chair by another infant who promptly took us through a staff door and we hurried through behind the scenes and avoided duty free – always a good move. Further rushing got us to the gate at the final call. The problem was Mark didn’t know who was already on the plane and who we were still waiting for. Eventually we were all on board and the flight could leave. “Thank you for running Air India. We hope to welcome you on our runway again in the future”!

We arrived at Kochi at 9.30 but by the time had got our luggage and gone through umpteen showings of our boarding passes (to get out of the airport?), it was 10.00. Our Indus rep was there to greet us as we stepped out into 22C! We boarded our coach and after another hour and twenty minutes arrived at our very swish heritage hotel. We were exhausted! Dinner was offered which looked lovely but most of us were too tired to eat and went straight to our very lovely rooms. And so to bed……

Into the desert

Jamba – 8th February

A very leisurely rise and late breakfast today. Time spent lounging around the freezing pool looking out over the desert and reading books. Managed to get enough WiFi signal to get emails and blog which was pleasing after a while without it.

We had a cookery demonstration at 11.00 a.m. ……some people will protest about anything it seems! We learnt how to make carrot halva which was delicious.

Lunch followed and then we had. Time for a post-prandial nap before getting in to the jeeps and heading off into the desert. We drove along some well made single track roads only having to leave them when confronted by wagons or tractors overburdened by their loads.

Our first stop was a village school where we were created with great delight and caused complete disruption of the lessons. The school was for 6 – 16 year olds and we were delighted to see that girls were there as well as boys. This has only been the case in the last 5 years. The pupils all looked very smart in their uniforms, although some wore coats as it was chilly in the classroom. They sat on mats on the floor, although there were desks and chairs for those taking exams.

We stood at the back of a class of about 23 which we think was being taken by the headteacher. He was teaching them English and particularly the difference between nouns, pronouns and adjectives. He involved us, asking us questions about grammar. The pupils listened attentively as well they might for it was clear that he stood no nonsense! We distributed pens to each pupil and took photographs. I asked if that was alright and he shrugged and said yes in a way that suggested only fools would want to do that – perhaps he is right?! He asked if I thought the lesson was good and of course I told him it was excellent.

We looked in at other classes which all seemed to be about the same size. We gathered there were about 200 in the school, although I think it may have been smaller. Pupils gathered on the raised platform outside and two pupils recited ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’. Suki gave them a poem her Ayah taught her as a child in India and Christine got the whole group going with ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ which they loved. Overall we were impressed with the school and the aspirations of the pupils who clearly wanted to learn and get good jobs.

We drove off and stopped at a fairly modern house and met a family who specialise in camels. The men were out with the herds, but we met the wife, grandmother and children. The camels are used in the hot season for transport because they ca cope best with the sandstorms which will cause tractors and lorries to seize up. However the camel business is in decline as new technology takes over.

From there we headed out across the desert sands, slipping, sliding and getting stuck. One of the jeeps behind us plunged off a steep sand bank and managed to stay upright, although its occupants all went a bit white. Late we all had the experience – Alton Towers eat your heart out! We passed groups of the small wild deer called Chinkara and saw a desert fox, but I couldn’t get a picture of it.

We came to a village of weavers and one particular house, now a workshop. Here we watched a man and his wife weaving cotton on a hand loom. Keeping the thread taught using combs to pack the thread into the warp. It was painstaking work and the two of them managed only a metre a day. The patterns were lovely and when he offered some for sale afterwards none of us could resist. At only less than £5 for a small mat it was remarkably good value for money.

I climbed up the sand hill at the back and took some pictures looking down onto the work huts. Beyond stood the family’s new brick an concrete house which they had made from their hard labour in the last year or so. Water in this region is delivered by tanker and put into large tanks in the ground. I stood on the hilltop and drank in the stillness and calm of the desert. It was so beautiful in the evening light.

From there we slid and dropped across the dunes towards another village and a house which is owned by an elderly couple who made us very welcome. The house is completely traditional and made of clay with smooth dung floors hand smoothed each season. It was spotless and the lady of the house did not like her husband to stay in his hut as he made it untidy. A circular stick hedge with a charpoy in it showed where he had to sleep each night! Various relations, many of them young men turned up to greet us. They all looked very smart as there was a wedding taking place in the house at the bottom of the hill. We had passed it on the way up and had met the groom who our driver knew. We were able to congratulate him on his forthcoming nuptials. The house was bedecked with coloured tenting and bright coloured lights.

The moon was rising and the sun setting over the desert and it seemed an idyllic spot to live, high on the hill overlooking this largely empty landscape. The husband lit his pipe, which probably contained opium and passed it around amongst our drivers which was slightly worrying. He was a merry old soul and clearly held court amongst his male visitors while living Nader a strict regime imposed by his wife. This good lady had lit her fire and was busy preparing chai for us all. This was served on immaculate metal bowls and tasted very good. We were guests and welcomed into her home. Her husband and the drivers sat on the mound outside the house where any traveller could rest and receive some food and drink as is the custom in these parts. The sun glowed orange and lit the desert with a gentle glow. Frankly it was hard to leave, but it was time for dinner, so we reluctantly got back into the jeeps and drove away.

Back at the hotel, Abhiraj, the young owner, had had prepared a barrow of street food for us to try. Needless to say it was all delicious and we tucked in washing it down with G&Ts. Braziers were lit and we sat around comfortably eating and reflecting on the afternoon. Then it was time for DINNER!!

Yet more delicious food! Mental note to self, “a strict regime must be followed once back in the U.K.” But then how many times have I said the same thing? Ah well…… camels tomorrow.