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.
Munnar is quite an attractive and busy town, situated in the mountains of Kerala. It’s surrounded by tea estates, through which our group walked on several days.
There’s something uplifting about walking through tea plantations. There’s a certain peacefulness, and while the scenery was not as dramatic as in north India, there are many expansive viewpoints in the Kerala mountains.
In the background of the photo above is Meesapulima Peak (2630m), which the group climed on day 5.
The group walked through the Kanan Devan tea estate. While the quality of tea produced in Kerala tends not to be as high as, for example, Darjeeling or Sri Lanka, the packets of lemon and masala tea we bought have proved to be really tasty and thirst-quenching.
To get from place to place we sometimes used Jeeps.
The tea estate workers were provided with basic, free accommodation by the founders of the estate, along with medical treatment and primary schools. This continues today, but one wonders what the future is for such work, as mobile phones and TVs bring the wider world to the fingertips of children who grow up in these villages.
This post is way out of sequence, as we completed our India trip a number of weeks ago. There’s a video of the Spice Trails part of this holiday.
Fort Cochin is definitely worth a visit. There’s quite a history to the place, there are interesting old buildings, ‘Chinese fishing nets’, and various gorgeous boutique hotels and nice restaurants. It’s far more touristy than Kochi and offers many opportunities for shopping.
We enjoyed a couple of very nice meals in Fort Cochin. The restaurants were busy, and on one occasion I couldn’t help overhearing what was being said at a nearby table. The customers were French (like quite a high percentage of tourists in Fort Cochin) and, of course, they were taking their food very seriously. One ordered a soda and hot water with lime, but no honey, the next one ordered a soda with honey but no lime, and the third wanted to know whether the meat curry contained coconut. When the waiter said that it didn’t, she decided on the fish curry instead. They then spent most of their meal discussing what they were eating. I tend to not be like that when in a restaurant – I simply make a choice and leave it to the cook.
We had a couple of days in Fort Cochin and then Kochi before joining the Exodus Spice Trails of Kerala group trip, and after walking around various sites we visited the Kochi branch of Kaylan Silks. Well, I can honestly say that I’ve never been in a store like that before. I found out later that there are 240 staff in the shop, most of them dressed in identical sarees, and they are very attentive. In fact, you end up with your own assistant, who guides you through the shop and points out various goods of potential interest. She doesn’t package up any purchases, though – this is done by someone else. Another person deals with the bills. That person doesn’t take cash, though – that is done by other assistants on the ground floor, where you collect any purchases when you leave. Everything to do with money is double-checked by a second salesperson. There were also several lift attendants, guards, money counters, and so on. After trying on several sarees, Lindsey bought a pair of Indian style trousers and a lovely blue dress. When we came, eventually, to collect our packages on the ground floor, we were told that because we’d spent a certain amount we were entitled to a 40 rupee (about £0.40) discount in the food store on the top floor. Well, I’d had enough by then, after watching Lindsey try on I don’t know how many dresses and trousers for over an hour, but the assistant was adamant that we had to spend the voucher, so we went back upstairs and bought some crisps. This shopping trip was a good introduction, showing us how different many things work in India.
Alcohol is very restricted in Kerala. A previous government brought in a near-complete ban, but more recently this has been partially lifted. Many hotels are still not allowed to sell alcohol, and if you want to buy beer or spirits you have to go to special shops, run by the government. One of the first stops on the Exodus tour was one of these shops.
It’s a bit of a cliché to say so, but the Indian experience is definitely a bombardment of the senses. That’s why it is so great! Every meal is a new experience, and the traffic in the streets is almost unbelievable.
I had to go back to Decathlon today because I realised that they’d overcharged me for the clothes I bought there on Wednesday. I cycled the direct route – along the canal, and what a glorious track it is.
The development of the Fountainbridge area has really come along well over the past year. It’s now quite an attractive part of town, with student flats, residential flats and a school.
Above is where, at Sighthill, the canal used to be breached.
The trip to Decathlon was much more enjoyable today without having Fat Mac complaining all the time from the rear. The wind was twice as strong this afternoon, so even if he’d come, Fat Mac would probably have quit before reaching Waitrose. I feel a responsibility to Fat Mac to try to get him out of his house more often, as most days he sits in his lobby thinking about death, doom and damnation, and then in the evenings he drinks in his kitchen, but it would be much easier if he wasn’t so crabbit all the time. In fact, what he really needs is a complete character transplant.
I can get to the Decathlon shop from Porty almost entirely along cycle paths apart from a wee bit at the beginning through the housing estate south of Porty Golf Course. After that, you soon get onto the old Innocent Railway and then through the Meadows which now has a bike track, then along the canal for a few miles to Sighthill, and then 200 yards down the road to Decathlon.
Above is a map of the route. But today I called into Fat Mac, who lives in Stockbridge, who said he’d love to go a bike ride to Decathlon. He’s lived in Stockbridge for 50 years, so all he had to do was get us from Stockbridge up to the canal. Not difficult, you would have thought. You’d have thought that he might even know a cycle path from nearby Stockbridge up to somewhere on the canal. But when I asked him about a possible route, he grimaced for a while, said he had no idea whatsoever, then said “Ah’ll jes follow yous, Rodz.”
So I lead us along his road, past Waitrose just along from his flat, where the posh people buy their food.
“Whar the feck are weez goin’ Rodz?”
“To Decathlon. That’s a shop. It’s near Sighthill and the canal.”
“This is nae ra way tae Sighthill. Ah kin get uz tae Dalry. That’s whar ma dealer used tae live.” Fat Mac offered, trying to be helpful.
“We can go up and over into Murrayfield, and then see how to get to the canal.”
“Rodz. It’s always the effin same wi yous. I could be sitting in ma lobby meditating!” Fat Mac complained, getting more and more crabbit by the minute.
After a mile or so Fat Mac found some other things to whinge about. “Ah’m effin caul. They’s too much wind. Where the feck is weez goin?”
“A shop near Sighthill” I explained again.
“Ah’s kin get uz tae Sighthill”
Now, I know that Sighthill is a relatively big place, and that Fat Mac would only know about the unsavory parts of it, so I continued to lead over past Murrayfield.
“There’s far too much traffic, Rodz. This is an effin lousy route you’ve chosen. I could be havin a bath and a nap. Instead Ah’m oot in the caul and wind cycling till Ah’m knackered. Ma legs is hurtin. Ah’ve nae been on ra bike fer a year.”
At this point, I must admit to becoming slightly flustered, what with the constant complaining from behind, so I gave up trying to get to the canal, and instead used Navigator to plot a more direct route to Decathlon. This took us through several fairly bleak housing estates, but was a very direct route, apart from the fact that we cycled one block too far south at one point.
“Ah’m nae goin oan thon duel carriageway” Mac complained, looking ahead, so instead we took a quiet road through another housing estate. Eventually we got onto a cycle path at Saughton. This is when the whinging from behind reached a new high.
“Ah could hae goat uz ontae this cycle path almost from ma hoos. Why did yeez nae say this is whar weez wiz goin? Fer feck sake. It’s caul. It’s windy. Where the feck is this shoap onywaiys?”
“Two blocks west” It turned out to be 4 blocks, but we’d cycled in a very direct route, apart from one short bitty.
“Why the feck are yous goin to ra shoap oot here. Yeez can get stuff aff ra Internet, my daughter telt me.”
“I like to sometimes see the goods in question.” I answered. Anyway, Mac never stopped complaining until we got to the shop, at which time he calmed down a bit.
“This is an effin complete waste of ra day” Mac piped up again, once we were out of the shop. “Ah’m caul. Ah thunk ah’ve come doon wi ‘flu.”
From the shop, it was easy to cycle 200 yards south and get onto the canal bike path, my original route, go past the edge of Sighthill, and then zoom in, the wind at our backs, all the way to Fountainbridge.
“Why did weez nae gang oot this ways, Rodz? We should go cycling mair often.”
At Fountainbridge we had a coffee in a Swedish cafe, where Fat Mac spoke non-stop about death, doom, damnation and more of his favourite topics.