A couple of weeks ago, on a lovely warm day in early May, we spent an afternoon at Cragside, the home of hydroelectricity. Now run by the National Trust, Cragside was the home of Lord and Lady Armstrong, who built and then expanded a house on the hillside near the town of Rothbury in Northumberland. It was the first home in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity. A fascinating place, and very interesting to see how wealthy Victorians lived their lives.
My son Shaun will be off to Malawi shortly for a couple of months, to undertake some fieldwork for his course in Hydrogeology at Strathclyde University. So, what with my other son Jamie currently working in Ethiopia, that will be both sons on the same continent. In fact, they may meet up, as Jamie has some work pending in Lilongwe.
It’s over 30 years since Lindsey and I lived in Malawi, and I’m sure that much has changed since then.
Above is the first house we lived in, in Kalimbuka, Zomba. When we were burgled, we moved into a better-protected house, shown below, nearer the university.
It was while I was looking at the old photos above, which we showed to Shaun, that I thought about whether it would be possible for Shaun to meet anyone we’d known who might still be living in Malawi. Just about everyone I knew at the University of Malawi has moved on or retired, but then I thought about contacting the family of our cook, Doviko. Doviko himself sadly passed away a number of years ago, but we used to be in touch with his daughter, who was born while he worked for us.
So I looked out some letters received in the past and tried a couple of old email addresses mentioned in them, but they no longer worked. There were some phone numbers, so I tried these, again without success, except that one of them reported a fault, rather than being completely not working. When we tried this number later, we got through to a rather surprised Triphonia (Doviko’s daughter). Well, it will be very good if Shaun can meet up with Triphonia while he is in Malawi, and take something out for her mother.
On the way from Thekkady to the Malabar coast, in order to break the journey, we stopped to look at a cattle market. Not everyone realises that, unlike most other parts of India, beef is often on the menu in Southern India. Some people don’t agree with this situation, and occasionally there is trouble, so our group leader Santhosh told us that he would give us the usual signal if it was OK to take photos, as he had done previously among the tea estates when we met tea pickers. The signal for not taking photos was when he stood with his arms crossed, but when he stood with his arms behind his back, everything was OK.
Santhosh stood with his arms behind his back, so we took some photos.
After a further stop at a rubber plantation, we continued to Alleppey for our overnight stay on a traditional Keralan houseboat.
It’s difficult to accurately express how wonderful an experience it was to spend a little time on a houseboat, moving up and down the waterways, passing by village life, and being waited upon by the attentive staff. This didn’t signal the end of the trip, though.
There was a brief stop at a toddy shop.
A fascinating visit to a coir factory.
An overnight in a homestay on the coast.
A reminder that my video of the Exodus part of our trip to Kerala is available above.
The drive from Madurai to Thekkady took a while, so the journey was broken with short stops at a brick-making factory (shown above), and then a vineyard (shown below) where several people wanted their photos taken with our ladies.
Everyone very much enjoyed the visit to Abraham’s Spice Garden, a short drive down the road from where we were staying. We were given an informed guided tour of the garden, where all sorts of spices, herbs and flowers grew, and then given the opportunity to stock up on spices in the shop.
In the evening, there was a Kalaripayattu display.
The next day involved a walk in the Periyar National Park. We were ferried over the river on a raft made from bamboo, and then followed our guide for the morning along various tracks.
The highlight was finding a tiger pugmark.
The next event was a boat trip on the lake, during which we spotted a surprisingly (given the time of day and the noise that everyone was making) large number of animals, including two groups of elephants.
The day wasn’t over, though. In the evening we had a hoot at Bar-B-Que Thekkady, where the group prepared its own dinner.
Sometimes, on a group trip, you become part of a crocodile. For example, the group is on an outing to a venue, temple, building, castle or whatever, and once you’ve been dropped off by your transport, you follow each other down the lane, or through the market, and so on, and the group looks just like a crocodile as each person in the group follows the person in front of them. I was on an Exodus trip where one of the group nearly left the holiday early because she said there were too many crocodiles. I’m not too fond of being part of a crocodile myself, but I can’t see any real alternative.
When you’re walking in a group down, or up, a mountain or through the bush or jungle, the crocodile tends to get rather spaced-out, with those in front walking at a faster pace than the tailender. When the guide, who is usually at the front, stops to point out something (a bird, a plant, a crop, something in the distance, etc), those at the back gradually catch up with the front of the crocodile.
It’s then that you can hear the question from those at the rear, as everyone at the front is looking at whatever it is that has previously been pointed out by the guide: “What are we looking at?”
This happened a lot on the day we said goodbye to our tented camp, where we’d had breakfast even though we’d all spent the night in the guest house at Top Station, and walked single file along a track and out of the hills to Mundhan. It was a very good day, with lots to see.
Our Exodus group leader, Santhosh, gave us information about every place we visited. Each evening, he would brief us about the next day’s events, and then he’d invite us to ask him questions about absolutely any aspect of India, its history, people, geography, politics or society. The resulting questions ranged from the bland to the ridiculous. Santhosh was extremely knowledgeable and able to answer just about every question.
After the walk, we were transported to our hotel, the Green Royale, near Bodinayakanur in Tamil Nadu. Whoever it was who designed this lovely hotel, where we were absolutely delighted to be invited to a coming of age ceremony for a local girl, went a bit over the top when it came to electrics. There were 37 switches in the room Lindsey and I were given. These were mostly plugs and light fittings. 37!!
The next day, we drove further east to Madurai.
As we left the temple, in front of us were a dozen microphones and a group of photographers. I was about to step up and state, “Unaccustomed as I am to making speeches…” when someone pointed out that a proper VIP was about to visit the temple.
Top Station is a place of wonderful views (when the weather is clear). Top Station used to be the upper terminus of the Kottagudi Aerial Ropeway.
My plantar fasciitis was giving me gyp, so the day after the Meesapulimala walk I took the easier, shorter walk option. This went through the tea plantations and villages until we picked up the Jeeps and rode to Top Station, below which we camped. The main group had a long walk, got very wet in a localised downpour, and Lindsey was bitten by a leech!
The next day was warm and dry, the views glorious, but the tents were still wet, so instead of moving to a new campsite as planned, we did a circular route from Top Station, and then stayed in a basic hotel.