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SOUTHERN INDIA    DIARY  6

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From Diary 5 and the central part, I have now reach the south.
6/3 2020. I get yet another early start, and within  long, I meet the foot of the mountains. The first part is just as dry as the plains, but here are some real tall Euphorbia trees.

Then I meet the forest, of which some are a reserve. In some parts is is dark-green and dense. But the southern side still look more desert-like. Here are several species of cacti and agaves, which look great - if you can abstract from them being invasive.

As I get even higher, the trees take over, along with some large fern-trees. Some trees are plantations, like the Eucalyptus. Where most of the drive from 200 to 2000 metres have been nature, here start to be villages and then towns. One have a lot of the purple flowering trees. As I see so many familiar invasive plants, I am suspicious every time I see something pretty.

All the way up here, there have been some great but slightly misty views to the other mountains and the valleys. Just before the top, I have to pay a road fee, but it is worse it. Right around the corner, a great waterfall is found; Silver Cascades Falls. A bit further up, the big town of Kodaikanal / Kodai is filling out a high valley. It is surrounded by steep farmland, but it seems like the main income is from Indians, heading for a cold place in the vacations and weekends.

It is not really a pretty town, but the huge lake is nice. Here are still banana plants, and not that cold at all. Hundreds of small stands are closed, but they are ready for a big visit. I do a loop around the central part, but in my mind, the drive up here, is the main event. Especially, when you almost have the road to your selves.

Back the same way, all the way down to Batagundu. I stop a few times, once to have a closer look at the Euphorbias. A few hours later, I reach Madurai. I is an intense but old city, and I get to drive some around its centre, looking for a parking lot.

An old fart ask, if I'm looking for the temple-parking. He jumps in, and guide me all the way down to the river, and a bridge, under which people park. I give him 100 Rupees, which he expected, but have a hard time getting rite of him. He must be on speed or something, and try to drag me through town. I finally dodge him, and start looking at the old buildings and the locals.

A single man have a bunch of Stephania-like caudex for sale, and it is as expected as medicine. I get close to the massive temple towers. One in the middle of each long wall, surounding the temple ground. Apparently, there is a film-set in there, and I have to wait three hours, before I can deposit camera and smart-phone, and enter. Or not.

I see the outer area, walking the entire way around. Especially one ancient building are really astonishing. It mush have been a temple, but now it is filled with stands, selling mainly things to the pilgrims. But the carvings in the huge granite rocks are in a class of its own, and the vacant central hall huge!!

I had thought about sleeping here, but at two, I feel I have seen enough. Next sight is at the seaside - but 300 kilometres away. I skip lunch once again, and get into race-mode. It is through yet some more dry landscape, with Acacias, flooded rice fields and alike. And a lot of towns and villages I have to cross.

Some of them have kilometres of rather intense LED lights. Whole walls along the road, huge pictures of gods and more "Christmas"-like stuff. It does not help my night vision.

Just before dark, I meet a 1000 meter mountain range, which I have to cross. And the backside of it have its share of towns. It is eight, before I reach Varkala. I head for the coast, planning to upgrade myself a bit. And right next to, what could be the port, I find a nice hotel in the right class. I work till one, but have to stop before I am finish. Kodaikanal and the mountain road there, Madurai .

7. It is eight before I enter the outside, and I'm not at the harbour at all: I am way up on the red cliffs at Varkala, giving me a great view over the perfect beach. And I have flat tire number six! Well, I know the routine....
Then I find my way down to the beach, and follow it for a while. Here are only a few people, but some shells to find.

A temple is found here, and as I passes it, a lot of white dressed people exit, and walk down to the sea. The temple is not that impressive inside, but the encounter with the pilgrims is great. I head up the cliffs again, and find a larger temple complex; Janardhana Temple.

Here, butter is offered all over the place. The walls of the temple is endless cradles, and it must look fantastic at night. I don't get to see the inside, but all the exterior. A bit further inland, way down, a huge gath is found. A turtle, a cormorant and a choppy man are bathing in it.

I do a loop in the little town, but besides from some palm and palm leaves motives, here are not that much to see, unless you like to look at the few pales. I do another stroll along the beach, and head home to finish my work from last night. The internet work just long enough for me to order a huge pot of milk-tea, expecting to be working for a while.

At noon, I set off towards the inland and mountainous Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. 200 kilometres with only a breath stop at the tire-man. I speed the best I can, but the first 150 kilometres is through towns with not a single field in-between.

When I finally get out in the wild of farmland, it is a even more twisting mountain road. Despite the sealing is good, the 200 kilometres take me five hours! The last bit above 900 metres is dominated by tea plantations, covering all the soft mountain tops. A single pineapple- and coffee plantation have found its place here too.

I reach Kumily, just as the information office closes at five. A pair of young men passes on a moped, and they can arrange a Jeep safari and a hotel for me. Both being their cousins - like everyone else around here. Well, the hotel is nice for the price, and I hope the safari in the early morning will be too.

I have a huge balcony, facing a large meadow. Totally unexpected, six of the rare Gaur or Indian bison; Bos gaurus come to grass in the dusk, right in front of my balcony. It is the largest extant bovine, and truly intimidating. Well, I feel fine from up here, where I also can watch some Wild Boars; Sus scrofa cristatus and some Sika Deer; Cervus nippon. Exactly why I will get up in the middle of night and pay for a safari, eludes me at present (later experiences do not answer the question).
 Varkala and tea plantations near Kumily.

8. After a very short night, I am ready for a Jeep safari at 5;45. It is chill and pitch dark. I bring my jacket and the hotel's blanket, and that is perfect in the open car (I have learned it the hard way). We head out through town, and then the surounding tea plantations.

It is a misty morning, and the dew covers the front shield. Just as I think; a glass of tea would be nice, the driver pulls over for one. After quite some driving, we approaches Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary and the road get real bad. The huge but soft hills are now covered in lemon grass instead of tea, but still with a few solitary trees here and there.

It look great with the mist in-between the hills and trees, and we stop at one hilltop to view the sunset. The concert from the birds and black monkeys are fantastic, but besides from a group of real remote Sika deer, I fail to see any larger animals. The sun breaks through over the mountain top, and the colours intensifies.

Part of me do think; I would have seen so much more big game, sitting on my porch with a cup of tea. Well, the misty views are great, and I got several hundreds picture to prove. As the sun gain strength, some more clouds drift in, and we change location.

We drive around in the area, but fail to find any mammals, despite we stop at a pair of other viewing points. The sun is up over the tea plantations, when we drive home, and after close to four hours, I'm dropped at my hotel. I have a long drive a head of me, but grab a hot bucket-bath, while I can.

67 - or actually 344 kilometres to Coonoor, and it is through a flat lowland around 2-300 metres height. However, the first part is a real nice tour down the mountain. Here are giant bamboo and huge trees, and even a rather big waterfall. Then I'm down on the plain, and it is dry, but rather farmed. I am now back in Tamil Nadu & Chennai, but can't tell the difference. I don't stop for photos, as I would like to reach my target before dark, as it is on a mountain top.

I drive right through several bigger towns - or rather: In zigzag. Some demands around ten turns, before I get out on the other side. Some have made the main road a one-way road, but failed to make signs for the alternative route. In one town, I have a hard time crossing the railroad, as the only crossings I can find, are for mopeds only. Another town have no cows, but donkeys, sorting the trash.

 I drive fare from the mountains most of the way, and only the last 25 kilometres is an intense mountain road. I had expected it to be rather empty this Sunday afternoon, or at least busy going down, but here are a lot of traffic. Along most of the way up, monkeys are sitting along the road, hoping for snacks, it seems.

Like so many other places, leaving more than half a length of a car in front of you, is an invitation to the one behind to overtake. You never waste a split second, looking to the sides, nor in the mirrors. If someone is there, they will sound their horn, indicating they have seen you, and will hit the breaks hard. That does is a bit more stressful to make pictures while driving - along with the manual gears.

I reach the mountaintop town of Coonoor at dusk, and get to drive right through the real narrow market streets. Finding a place to park turns out to be real hard. Everyone point to the other end of town. Finally, I squeezes it in between two tuc-tucs, and they are baffled I succeeds. Parallel parking is not known here around.

I can't find a nice hotel, but a tuc-tuc driver have an idea for 1. First one is too nice, but the next sounds right: 24 hours hot water. What I forgot to ask about was Wi-Fi and a towel. They have neither! Down town to find  towel, more cash and some breakfast. It is a rather large town, but I recon only the old centre will be interesting.

A police officer, standing in the central intersection, invites me on tea, and I use the standard: Later. Always works with hookers, hustlers, drunks and children. This is at 1800 metres height, and I pass bye the car, to get my jacket.

Back in town, I find dinner, then I start walking around the market. The covered part is light up just enough to make photos, and people are real friendly. I sample some of the local chocolate with different flavours, but it is made for hot climate, and does not melt in my mouth.

It is a huge market, and I quit before I have seen it all. I have after all; way to many misty photos to delete. When I want to wash off the fish market from my feet, there are no hot water. Their "Only in the morning" does not add up with their former "24 hours", and I tell them I will have hot water now! Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary and Coonoor.
        Time to open Diary 7 and head further up north.

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