Friday, January 11, 2013

Now where was I?

 Wasn't there some dodgy pop song about chasing the bright elusive butterfly of love?  [Val Doonican I fear: there are no depths to which my memory for words won't sink.] Well, not love in this case but a number of other elusive butterflies have led me round about the place recently. I last wrote when I was in Tanjore and enjoying frequent visits to my favourite temple. One elusive butterfly was the puzzle of how to get into the gardens behind the temple, which I had visited on previous occasions. They are beautiful, secluded, full of birds, butterflies and flowers - and unique views of the temple and its outer walls. The search for a way in (apart from the obvious one, which some official seemed to want to exclude me from) took me  round the neglected side of the temple, where I found a charming little pleasure park full of the people of Tanjore enjoying various diversions including a miniature train, the shortest and slowest cable car in the world (I assert) and little boats on a small "lake".

 I then went further round and found an area of small houses in a cul-de-sac, where I fell in with a number of friendly people intent on interviewing me and/or helping me.  One family showed me their view of the temple from their roof.
The next day I got into the gardens by the conventional route but was determined to find the back way.  En route I scored a close contact with an Indian roller and quite a few butterflies and, looking for a secluded spot found steps down to a gate that couldn't be locked, further steps and there was the other side of the pleasure lake. Further investigations led me up more steps, through some ruined buildings along a track and out into the world again! Having found the way, I came back and saw a couple of hoopoes (the remaining bird of my core wish list) but I didn't get very close.  I did have the chance to see both the rollers and the hoopoes in flight but to capture the brilliant impact of that (the rollers brilliant kingfisher blue, the hoopoes strongly marked - with an inverted multiple w, I think) would be a challenge for a professional - or someone with professional equipment.  A crock of gold at the end of a rainbow.

(another bird on a wire! At last the Indian Roller)

(a grasshopper in its beak, I guess) 
(just to show I did see a hoopoe, but against the light and up a tree!)
Finally I tore myself away from this private haven, as it felt, as found myself suddenly  back into the flow of happy brightly dressed pilgrims thronging the well-known paths of the main temple and playing games (some complicated form of team tag) in the forecourt.

I eventually had to leave Tanjore and resume to chase for other elusive goals.  The overnight train took me back across the Western Ghats (hills) and down into Ernakulam.  In the four-person cabin (this was a.c. luxury for a change) was a retired sea captain and his wife, Indian now resident in Singapore (and very much preferring it), and we had a wide-ranging and stimulating discussion until it was time to turn in - quite the best conversation with a Indian here (my dentist perhaps excepted) - you get a better educated class of person in first class!!

On arrival at Ernakulam, I was planning to take two days in Cochin and maybe go on a backwaters trip - but by the time I was approaching the ferry at about 7 a.m., I was already beginning to think I was a bit lame not to be going for a more adventurous option when ... I get to the terminal and find that there's a strike.  Without the ferry and public buses, I would have a long and tedious way round (and then be partly stranded). Rejecting the immediate alternative of two nights on the "mainland", I turned right round and went back to the train station and took another train (6+ hours) north to Kannur (Cannanore) where there was a recommended home stay by a secluded beach.

When I eventually got to the place (and findingits location in a very rural and meandering village was a prolonged challenge for the rickshaw driver - and me), I managed to get a room (although I'd been told on the phone that it was full): great relief. And pleasure as it turned out to be fascinating (a converted weaving factory), run by an intriguing man (an expert and enthusiast on trance rituals in the vicinity), offering excellent food in-house and home to 6 other guests, all very interesting in their different ways - a Greek couple full of measured insight on Greece today, an Austrian couple very knowledgeable about obscure temples and fascinated by these trance rituals, an older American woman from Oregon full of twinkling energy and enthusiasm for travel, and a German woman of indeterminate age but who seem to act as a cohesive force in the group. And I had just one day!  The beach too was all that I could hope for (and I actually went for two "swims") and with its own offering of wildlife (shore birds) and local colour (football on the beach for the local lads). I could have stayed for a week and gone to some of these trance rituals that the other guests were so enthusiastic about. It was still real India, but calm and quiet.

However, the next day it was back on the train to Ernakulam and then on Thursday morning another 4 hours on the train to the beach resort of Varkala, of which more another time.


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