Terry's Indian Blogs

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Early in 2006 Anita Alberts got some contract work in Trivandrum teaching English as a foreign language. Terry decided to go with her for the experience and hoped to be able to help locals in some way with his mechanical expertise. He also decided to keep a blog of his experiences and these are published below

I wondered why an effigy was placed in front of most building constructions around Trivandrum

It has since been explained that when building a modest home or even a multi story block it is essential in to ward off any bad luck from your home. 

To this effect most building projects are screened from the road with thatch panels or as belowan effigy is placed on the building to distract and keep the building safe from the evil eye

 

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 A picnic on top of the world

The drive up to the top of the 3006 ft mountain is a must do visit while in Kerala. The views open up to neat carpeted tea plantations interspersed with breathtaking views as the altitude increases. This journey is not suitable and dangerous in the main monsoon season. The drive up takes in 22 hairpin bends with shear drops down the mountain if you cock up. You need a good safe slow driver ( A rare breed out here) to enjoy the journey. Most professional drivers understand that English people prefer getting there slowly without constant overtaking like the norm in most of the urban taxis. Keralan’s drivers take pride in getting you there faster than any body else. You have to nip this in the bud early in the journey, unless you are really fearless

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 As the gradual climb up the semi decent road with several badly potholed sections the increasing climb unveils the splendor of the Westen Gatts mountain rang. Located at a distance of 61 km north east of Trivandrum  and at a height of 3002 feet (Mount  Snowdon, Wales is 3560 ft) Passing rubber and neatly cultivated Tea plantations. There is a beer parlor a few   kilometers from the summit with wonderful views out towards Trivandrum. and the Arabian Sea

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 What was most surprising was how green it was even at 3002 feet. On our way up we tried to visit the Meenmutty Waterfalls. This involves a trek along a jungle path for 2 km to a waterfall area where the river drops 1000 feet in three falls. There are large rock pools of crystal clear water to bath in When we arrived at the entrance a crowd of somber looking  people were assembled at the gate as Police and an ambulance arrived.

 fig4Ambulance at Golden Valley Centre

 A forest worker had just been killed by a rouge elephant. The Golden Valley area was then closed to the public, because of the wandering rouge elephant and the possibility of flash floods in the river at the waterfalls. 4 students were swept away in March this year and drowned.

fig5River at Ponmoodi

These locals swimming in the river below the road. We  watched as they were ordered out of the river by  the  police due to an imminent  danger of sudden flash floods.

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I checked the Local news paper later for news of elephant incident but it wasn’t covered. What was reported that day was a family of 4 was trampled to death in their sleep by rampaging drunken elephants. Wild Elephants will seek out over ripe fruit containing alcohol. Occasional they will raid some of the forest workers illegal brewing facilities and drink their home made hooch. There’s not much they can do when the wandering thirsty elephants smell what’s going on and decide to check it out. There are about 12 people each year killed by elephants. The country side is full of wild elephants. Many trained elephants are used by forest workers and are hired for ceremonial work. Some temples keep their own elephants. 

They also support the tourist industry. I had a jungle ride on the one below at Nayar Dam .

 fig7Saddled up for tourist ride at Naya Dam

 The Elephant  below was out side our flat on Tuesday morning. It was interesting to see the Mathoot (Elephant driver) manage the elephant and dress it in the ceremonial attire. Last February in the same spot we watched from our balcony 18 elephants and hundreds of devotees parade past at 2AM, in a Temple ceremony. It kept us awake but was worth the excitement.

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Dukes Forest Lodge

Situated at the riverside edge of a 160 acre rubber plantation is Dukes Forest Lodge Retreat. The hotel very comfortable and was a great place to celebrate Anita and a Linda’s birthday. It is a bit expensive by Indian standards and doesn’t get very busy. It cost 5500 rupees a night for a double  room and breakfast (64 quid). Our evening  meal and beer was about 20 quid for all of us. The food was excellent and the Kingfisher beer was refreshingly cool.

 When we went for dinner the waiters had done us proud by decorating the table and surrounded it with fairy lights and even a Christmas tree.

  fig9Linda , Anita & Ian

The pool at the resort was ok but the water was a bit murky due to poor filtration.

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 Along a river basin of this plantation is the rubber factory. Some interesting and ancient machinery is used in this basic production process.

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Rubber from the surrounding trees is collected and processed and rolled by these roller presses, into flat ‘mats’ about 2 inch thick It remind me of the Old Mangle my mum used many years ago. Who remembers a Mangle’ in their youth? I remember turning the handle and getting grease all over the sheets. My domestic skills haven’t improved much since then. You can see many cottage industry type of enterprises drying these ‘mats’, smaller and about a foot square at the road side and on the roofs of houses. They sell the rubber to factories for about a Pound a Kilo.

Liquid rubber sap runs from the diagonal cuts in the bark into half a   coconut shell.  The shell fills in a few hours depending on weather and is collected each morning. When the rubber in the diagonal cut dries off it can be peeled of like an elastic band of pure rubber. Its amazing to touch and feel such a familiar product as this at its place of origin.

 fig12Our guide pulling set rubber from tree
 

 fig13'Elastic Band’

Several spices are cultivated along the riverside. It is interesting to see these things for the first time growing in their own natural  habitat I’d only ever seen some of these things in small Swartz pots in the kitchen,

fig14 Cocoa pods

The climate and fertile soil is rich for the growing of these spices and rubber.  Jealously fought over by the Portuguese, Dutch and English in the centuries gone bye. Most of the valuable produce being shipped and traded world wide, then, as it still is, from the port of Cochin. The curry in Kerala has a special fresh spice flavor to it.

  fig15Coffee beans

We saw thousands of rubber trees, and many coffee, black pepper, nutmeg, vanilla and other unrecognizable plants. In fact most had to be identified by our guide.

fig16Black Pepper

 Wherever you see a cow tied up at the side of the road or in a field (they are everywhere) you will see a bird strolling around it and often seen sitting on its back like an old mate. The close relationship is a life long between the Cow and the Cattle Egret. The cow’s activities provide a constant supply of food for the Egret.

 fig17Soul Buddies
 

  Terry Alberts December 2006