Backwaters of Kerala by boat :

Four hours every second day in the roads, seemed to be the norm for the distances we needed to cover. Not that I would ever recommend trying to drive yourself in India, my hat off to our driver Saadji, who navigated us out of countless potential head on collisions- either with other drivers or cows in the middle of the road.

Double overtaking on narrow roads with blind corners – made my hair stand on end, so much so I tended not to watch the road.  So yet another 4 hour stretch back down the mountains brought us to a “houseboat port” on the backwaters of Kerala – one of which became our “home “ for the next 2 days.

The kids got to fish and actually caught something.  This was probably one of my most relaxing days on this tour, and mossies aside – comes highly recommended for 2 nights at most. The water however, is not clean enough to swim in, so you’ll have to be prepared to suffer the tropical heat and take in the scenery.

 

 

 

 

 

Coconut Juice and Elephants

Day 3  – Cochin to Guruveyoov

Upon packing up at our hotel in Cochin, we discovered that Tatiana’s Epipens  (adrenalin injectors for her allergies) had been stolen, as it was in what looked like a purse-belt. This annoyed me so much, it is of no use to anyone but us. Fortunately I had brought two spare Epipens along with us, but still…

Once on the road, we stopped for a refreshment of fresh coconut water (which is different to milk) and put fresh jasmine garlands in our hair. I love the way the Indian women do such a good job of being pretty.  Bangles, make up, earrings, ornate flowing bright fabrics and flowers in their hair, so feminine.

On the road to Guruveyoor

On the road to Guruveyoor

We traveled three hours South to Guruveyoov where we visited Banudhur Elephant Camp. Being from Africa ourselves, where elephants are free to roam in thousands of acres we found this a very distressing place, so much so we all asked to leave.  These 65 elephants are all chained (24 hours a day, 365 days a year) to a post. Occasionally they get to go for a walk to drink water with their mahood (carer), but that is it.  These animals stay chained to their post by their back leg with less than a meter slack. I felt as if they were being humiliated – as they sway  from side to side,  displaying repetitive and distressing behavior of extreme boredom and sadness.

Elephant Camp at Guruveyoor

Elephant Camp at Guruveyoor

I looked into a this female’s eyes and she just seemed so mournful that I felt disrespectful to them to even take photos.   They are kept purely for religious festivals when they are decorated for processions.  The rest of the time they wait and do not even get to “work” to ease their boredom.   People come from so far to walk amongst these elephants, but it was wrong, wrong, wrong.  I was uncomfortable and helpless being witness to the misery of these giants who humans have not respected or understood.  It was entirely possible, at any point, for one of them to lose control and charge – those chains would be nothing to stop them, yet I almost wished for such a triumph. I am angry that the corrupt government in India allows for this to happen. In fact it is the government who buy the elephants from people who capture them from the forests – beating and scaring them into submission –  and it is the government who sells them to private owners. This encourages the trade to continue. Such intelligent creatures, they must be in hell. For 80-90 years they will live this cruel life and the humans will benefit from their misery.  My mind wonders back to them every few minutes – with so many pressure groups, how can this be allowed to continue ?

We were all quiet and subdued last night.  For me and George, it was a stark reminder of what much of India is all about, a sort of symbolism of all that is unfair here, the second most corrupt country in the world (after Pakistan). There is much suffering, many very, very thin old people sleep on the streets, they look “haunted” in the depth of their eyes, just like those elephants, yet they submit, powerless to change anything in this life and do all they can to survive another day, another week, another month.

Our kids struggle to grasp this concept, asking the same questions over and over, or offer futile solutions. They can’t accept that it is the way it is, in particular Tatiana. It is exhausting to process this,  an education in life, that some things we can’t fix, but it does not mean we should not acknowledge and see suffering, in order to avoid feeling uncomfortable or upset.

 

First 2 days – survived!

Our journey has officially begun.  We arrived at Heathrow for our flight at 6am on Saturday 16th April.   After the panic subsided that Nina’s ticket was not valid (thanks Flight Centre!) we finally managed to board the plan.  After a stopover in Dubai (note to all parents, Emirates in-flight entertainment and service sets an new precedent for keeping kids engaged and happy!).

We finally arrived in Cochin at 3am, excited but exhausted.  After finally figuring out that we had to prepay our taxi fare inside the airport, we hopped aboard our taxi which lurched an hour into the city. After coming from London, the air was hot and humid- and the chaos was apparent, even at 4.30 in the morning.  The kids peeled off their layers and giggled each time the taxi driver snorted, spat and veered (no seat belts) to avoid pot holes and cows.  We fell into our hotel bed at 6am and were only seen again at 1 o’clock the next day.   We met our tour guide Tony – a lovely, lovely man, who I am sure – was given to us by some sort of divine intervention.  He is a local, also father of three, incredibly good natured, kind and patient (which some how makes us all behave better!).  Tony is sticking with us over the next 2 weeks – arranging all our transport, educating us and generally making sure we don’t kill ourselves or do something stupid (known to happen quite often).

Day 1:  Cochin to Vypeen Island

We caught a sunset ferry from Marine Drive to Vypeen Island (to which one of our daughters asked if it named after vipers.  Reassuringly, not). While standing the queue for our ferry tickets, I was amused to “no spitting here” sign.   Does that mean you can spit anywhere else, but not in the queue?

The locals seem so taken with our children (most of which is good natured, but does make you feel like a rare animal of sorts).

India photo 1

Ancient Chinese fishing netsAncient Chinese fishing nets are arranged along the coast of Vypeen Island, which have counter-weights which drop the nets down at high tide. A school of dolphin swam by and delighted the children, but not more than when George’s chair gave way in a local restaurant.  How many times must I tell everybody “don’t rock on your chairs!”

Day 2.  Fort Cochin and the markets

Tony felt obliged to enlighten us with some history and took us to Fort Cochin at Mattancherry (Mattan meaning Muslim, Cherry meaning place). In 1565, the Portuguese enraged the Raja (King) by tearing down a Muslim temple, so to appease him they built him this palace instead.   Most of this area now appears to be Christian in faith, which is very apparent in the lead up to Easter next weekend.  We headed to the local markets where us girls got an ankle chain each and we were also promptly ripped off in a store by such a kind, humble-looking Indian granny. We bought 4 bottles of essential oils at 450 Rupees each, but when we got back to the hotel the bottles contained perhaps 4 drops each. Lesson learned : sweet, kind, sideways nodding (old) person will still rip you off. Back at the hotel – one of the girls managed to change the lock on her suitcase so Mr Handyman had to be called in to break into our luggage (alarmingly easy, lets hope he’s not part of the cleaning team that come in here each day!)

India

 

As a keen photographer – I pestered our guide to take me to the local markets which has by far been my favorite 2 hours of my time here.  A feast for the senses: chaotic and noisy (people, dogs, cats, bikes, cars) as people jostle for business surrounded by seemingly oblivious to the squalor and dirt.   My 10 year old has written her take on the markets next.  Poor Bella (8) found that somehow during the course of her market trip, she’d ended up with “pooh” (and we’re not talking bird!) in her hair, so we had to make a swift trip back to the hotel for a good scrub down!

 

A trip to the market (by Tati, 10)

We are in Cochin in Southern India. Today, went to the fruit and vegetable market. It was very busy so we all had to hold a adults hand (Mum, Dad or our guide Tony) and it stank because of the river and it was polluted so much! (sewerage and rubbish) uurgghhh!!! It seriously STANK. The fruit market was very pretty though and we browsed for ages looking at all the different types of fruit and vegetable that some of them we have never heard of!

Then a dark, black cloud towered over us and everybody went to find shelter and suddenly all the streets were empty, so we tried to find a taxi –  in fear that it was going to pour down with rain any second. Eventually all 6 of us squished into a tuc-tuc (see photo, my little sister calls it a Pet-Pet ) and went to the Indian version of McDonalds! I must say, the food wasn’t that great. Mum didn’t let us eat the chicken nuggets, because it looked dodgy. Then we went back to the hotel, had a nice warm shower. As I am writing to you, I am very happy that we are in India J   Tati x

India

 

Chaos in Cochin

Arrived in Cochin, India (3 a.m.). It’s so, so humid and hot. 27 degrees and CHAOS. Even middle of the night!

So with a snorting, spitting, hooting taxi driver – we head to hotel. Girls taking it all in with wide eyes, and can’t believe no seat belts in taxi. So British!

I look forward to daylight tomorrow. Very happy to be here…finally.