Munnar memories

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Strolling through the tea gardens

The road trip in India’s south, from Kerala’s tropical coastal lowlands to Munnar in the mountainous Western Ghats (reaching 2,695 metres or 8,842 ft) is an adventure.

A road that in most countries is two lanes, becomes something else here in India. However, there is a certain logic to what appears to be complete chaos.

Larger vehicles – trucks and buses – travel in the middle of the road, straddling the white line that theoretically divides the two lanes. On each side, space is taken up by the next largest road users – cars, utilities and vans. To their sides, motorcycles and auto rickshaws pass or are passed, on both the outside and inside. Meanwhile, bicycles, pedestrians and animals – goats, cows – are relegated to the road verges, or a rarer foray onto the sealed road.

After a long 9 hour drive from coastal Varkala, peering down precipitous drops off the edge of the road as a distraction from the adrenaline-inducing road focused experience, it’s bliss to arrive at our accommodation near Munnar, a yoga retreat located in a 300 acre spice garden. Rising at 6am, 90 minutes of yoga follows in the outdoor open-sided pavilion that begins in darkness and ends with the day breaking, as mists slowly rise to reveal mountains, steep valleys, waterfalls, rain forest, and tea gardens. Yoga’s Sun Salutation (surya namaskar) makes perfect sense here. Meals are south Indian vegetarian,  which are filling and delicious, with Dosa, Uthappam, soft Idli, and sometimes toast.

A spice garden walk takes you through cardamom, pepper, coffee, and other crops, to encounter women in brightly coloured saris harvesting cardamom, and swapping smiles, gossip and laughter. Neighbours grow other spices; ginger, garlic, nutmeg, vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves. A longer walk takes you downhill to the rushing river, wildly pushing through boulders and rapids.

At a higher altitude, a walk through tea gardens provides a picture of neatness and symmetry as they cover the slopes, like a vertical carpet.  Up here there is a chance to catch sight of a house from another era – a bungalow established by the British during the colonial period to house the owners of the tea estates. Many now serve as holiday accommodation. Further, into the hills, wild elephants graze near the road.

This is my contribution to Tiffin’s A-Z Guidebook, this month starting with the letter M.

 

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Kanawa Island: oh to be shipwrecked

The journey to Kanawa Island, located between Indonesia’s islands of Komodo and Flores, is memorable. Most visitors to Kanawa arrive by boat from Labuan Bajo, on the west coast of Flores, around 90 minutes flying time west from Bali.

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The jetty at Kanawa Island. The light coloured water is a metre or two deep, while the darker water shows the drop off to deeper water.

We hired a local fishing boat for the day trip, at a cost of about AU$100 (Indonesian Rupiah 1,000,000). The journey began a little late when our enquiry about the location of the life jackets, specifically ordered, revealed their absence.  Our skipper and his mate, somewhat reluctantly, eventually borrowed them from an adjoining boat, and the trip began.

We cruised past the bare dry hills of Rinca Island, reputably the home of more dragons than Komodo itself, pockets of dense forest, water of deepest azure, then turquoise, depending on its depth and after about 90 minutes we arrived at Kanawa Island.

The island has just one small resort consisting of modest bungalows and a restaurant. The main attraction is underwater, with extraordinary coral and colourful fish just a few metres off the beach.

We spent the day variously lolling about in the deep shade of the beach-side trees, reading, snorkelling, watching the progress of a few visiting boats and thinking about being shipwrecked.

This is my contribution to Tiffin’s A-Z Guidebook, this month starting with the letter K.

Islands of Paris: Île de la Cité‏

 

Paris casts a spell over many visitors. For this 14 years old visiting Paris for the first time, the bridge joining the Left Bank of the city to one of its islands – Île de la Cité, site of Notre-Dame Cathedral – became an important step to ensure a wished-for return.

The bridge’s messy appearance results from the countless padlocks, lockets, dedications, ribbons and other memorabilia dedicated to guaranteeing a return to Paris. Our visitor decided to follow the practice of attaching a padlock to the bridge. Having locked the padlock, one key is retained to unlock it on return, and the other key is thrown into the river.

The task of finding a padlock became a major concern. Central Paris does not seem to have many suppliers, but research indicated that the nearest hardware store was located in the historic Marais district on the Right Bank. From our hotel on the Left Bank, overlooking Notre-Dame, this involved crossing Île de la Cité, and the quieter adjoining island of Île Saint-Louis.

We passed through part of the old Jewish quarter in the Marais, distinguished by plaques on buildings naming the inhabitants before they were arrested and transported to the Nazi concentration camps.

The hardware store had a fine selection of padlocks. A particularly handsome one was chosen, ceremoniously attached to the bridge, and the spare key was tossed into the river. Although shortly afterwards we were taken aback to discover that the tourist stalls alongside the river were selling padlocks, just metres from the bridge, none was as fine as the one it took our 2 hour walk to unearth.

This is my contribution to Tiffin’s A-Z Guidebook, this month starting with the letter I.

Postcards from Gujo-Hachiman, Japan

I wrote about Gujo-Hachiman here and have added some photos.

Trains from Tokyo to Gujo-Hachiman include the super fast shinkansen (bullet train) and the ambling single carriage local train that finally takes you to the town.

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The shinkansen is even faster than it looks.
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A slow local train allows the traveller to savour the journey

Once in Gujo-Hachiman it’s time to slow down further, to stroll through the old part of town, admiring the centuries old wooden houses, the Shinto temples identified by their torii (entrance gate), to mingle with the relaxed locals, and find water everywhere.

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Strolling in Gujo-Hachiman brings rewards
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The old part of Gujo-Hachiman
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Another torii (the entrance gate between the profane and the sacred) welcomes you to a Shinto temple in the back streets

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Water is truly everywhere. The river flows through the centre of town, joined by numerous streams and canals descending from the hills. They provide the music of moving water, from tinkling and trickling sounds, to louder gushing, and the higher crescendo of the river’s waterfalls and runs.

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Pure water to drink

 

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This is the memorial to the fire victims of 1652.  If you are curious, more is revealed by the link above

After taking in the sights of town, a reasonably steep climb up the hill brings the visitor to the (restored) 16th century castle with its fine view over the valley and surrounding forested hills.

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The road from the castle to the town

Gujo-Hachiman is a delight.