South India 2008

Part 2: Kerala and Karnataka - Palaces and Backwaters
Backwater cruise, Kochi, Blue train, Ooty, Mysore, Halebid, Belur, Sravanabelagola, Bangalore, Mumbai Elephanta Island.

To return to Part 1 - Temples and Beaches, click on Hanuman ------>  Hanuman

Weds 13th. Kanyakumari felt like a clear boundary or turning point in the journey - so far we had come down the Coromandel coast in Tamil Nadu state, now we were turning round to go up the Malabar coast in Kerala state which, according to the guide book, would have a very different feel to it - less hectic, more geared to tourists, lusher than the rather parched landscape of Tamil Nadu. Also, as it turned out, there were different preoccupations in the two states - Tamil Nadu seemed to be all about religious pilgrimages while Kerala was all about politics. And, we were poised for our first train ride of the holiday (last year almost all of it was on trains).

We caught the 10:20 Bangalore express to Kollam, and the first two hours of the 3-hour journey were very pleasant. There were few people in the train and we were able to spread ourselves and our belongings over a six-seat compartment. At Trivandrum the train suddenly filled up and 8 people ended up occupying our six seats, as well as a couple more sitting in the upper bunk amongst our luggage.

At Kollam we went to look at a couple of hotels but weren't impressed, so we ended up at the boat jetty and booked an exorbitantly expensive two-night one day cruise along the backwaters in a rice-barge style houseboat.

The barge was 40km away up-river so they took us there in a taxi, stopping on the way at vegetable and fish markets to buy the ingredients for dinner.
After our luggage was stowed on board, we went to the nearby black-sand beach to watch the sunset, and walked back through the nearby village.

Although the houseboat had two bedrooms, and according to the guest book had accommodated up to 8 people at a time in the past, we were the only people on the cruise this time, with a crew of three to pander to our every need. We sat in wicker chairs in the pleasant sitting area under a canopy on the foredeck, sipping beer and lime soda listening to the jungle noises in the palm trees around us, until they served dinner of delicious masala prawns and fried king-fish steaks, with vegetable curries and accompaniments. It was all extremely pleasant and relaxing, being waited on by the crew like some relics of the Raj.

Thurs 14th. We woke up with the dawn and pottered out to sit in the foredeck with a cup of tea, watching the bright blue kingfishers skimming over the water. After breakfast of omelet, toast and bananas with grated coconut, the crew cast off and we began to cruise gently down the waterways, watching the fish jumping, the fishermen fishing, the freshwater jellyfish drifting by and the cormorants standing on posts drying their wings. The sun soon became hot, but the cool breeze off the water with a pleasant freshwater smell kept it bearable. It was very soporific, spending the morning drifting past the Chinese fishing nets, the mussel-fishermen and the clay collectors, both diving to the bottom of the lake to collect their respective 'catches' and pile them into their little wooden canoes. It was like a slow-motion television documentary of waterway life.
Cruising down the backwaters in Kerala ....
.... it was like a slow-motion television documentary of waterway life.....
.... it was very soporific!

We stopped and went into the Matha Amrithanandamayi Ashram, where people come to meet 'the hugging mother', one of the few female gurus in India and apparently a lovely, very popular woman who has performed many charitable works such as building houses for tsunami victims. Our main impression of the ashram was of tall, pink high-rise buildings which is where all the visitors stay. Not long afterwards we had oranges and bananas before we moored up for another delicious, huge lunch of prawn curry, tuna fish and various vegetable and salad dishes.

Coir weaving
Nearby, women were weaving coir, dried-out coconut strands, into ropes using wooden winding machines on wheels.
Sheila had a go at driving the houseboat.... luckily we were moored up at the time!

We set off again in bright sunshine and it looked like being another soporific afternoon until disaster struck - first a sudden tropical rainstorm broke and rain poured down soaking some of the seats but mostly soaking the captain who had no choice but to remain at the wheel getting drenched. When the rain stopped he went to dry out while 'number two' took over, until possibly due to inexperience he grounded the boat on some shallow rocks and bent the rudder, so that we were suddenly drifting directionlessly across the river. The crew poled the boat to the bank using long bamboo poles, and we moored up to undertake repairs. They took the rudder away to the workshop in an auto-rickshaw and an hour or so later we were on our way again, across the large lake Astamudi to moor up for the night near a lakeside village. Once again the cook produced a huge meal of fish stew as we sat in the foredeck cooling down.

Fri 15th. A couple of hours of gentle cruising took us to Kollam jetty, where we said goodbye to our crew and houseboat and got a tuk-tuk to the railway station. This was where it finally dawned on us that you really need to understand the different classes of carriage on Indian railways. After the crush on the train into Kollam two days ago we really wanted to have reserved seats, but again all we got at the reservations office was 'no reservations on this train', so I tried to buy three tickets for the two of us but they said oh no, two people two tickets. We were just giving up when he said "do you want A/C class?" Yes please, we said, whereupon he gave us tickets for allocated seats in A/C three-tier which was twice the price, but much cooler, smoother and more orderly than the non-A/C free-for-all in Sleeper class, and in a completely different world from the wooden-seat, bring-your-animals-with-you second class. The train remained uncrowded and it was a pleasant 3-hour ride to Ernakulam, the station for Cochin (Kochi), although the train staff couldn't understand why we weren't checking the onboard menu and buying lunch on the train like everybody else (partly because Sheila is still suffering the effects of the lobster and egg curry). Just outside Ernakulam station we found a prepaid auto-rickshaw booth so we were able to ignore all the rickshaw touts, and went down to the jetty to get the ferry across to Fort Cochi, a nice smooth ride across the harbour.

We liked Fort Cochi immediately - it is a compact, relaxed, historic town with lots of old mansions of former traders, now mostly up-market hotels, and an interesting waterfront with Chinese fishing nets and fish-sellers who will arrange for your 'catch' to be cooked and served to you in a nearby local restaurant. We stayed at Chiramel Residency, another charming old house on the edge of the town centre, although we were given a room in the modern annexe rather than the old house itself. It was the first hotel so far that really felt clean the minute we walked in.

Fort Kochi. The chinese fishing nets on the waterfront.  You can buy your fish or prawns straight from the fishermen and take them to a nearby restaurant to have them cooked.

We strolled around the town and had freshly-made tomato soup at the breezy rooftop restaurant above the Elite Bakery cake shop. We looked at several of the hotels in former merchants' houses, now beautifully renovated with arched colonnades around shady central courtyards containing a restaurant, or swimming pool, or both. In the evening we went to one of the most expensive ones, Malabar House, which quotes its prices in Euro not Rupees and as Lonely Planet says, 'if you have money to burn, let this be your pyre'! They have an upstairs wine and tapas bar so I decided to give Indian wine one more try (after not being very impressed last year) and this time I found a really nice one - La Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz from Grover Vineyard in Nandi Hills, Karnataka. It was selling at European prices (4 pounds a glass) but I splashed out and had a couple of glasses and a mozzarella, tomato and basil tower with pesto sauce which was very tasty.

Sat 16th. A very pleasant day of sightseeing and snacking in Cochi. I had tea and a chocolate cake for 'breakfast' at the Elite Bakery in Princess Street, then we got an auto-rickshaw to Jewtown in nearby Mattancherry, the town adjacent to Fort Cochi, which was established 2000 years ago by Jews fleeing from a Roman crackdown in their Palestine province. It's an area of narrow streets and small shops which is also known as the 'spice market' but unfortunately the spice shops have mostly been replaced by tourist curio shops. There are a couple of huge antique shops in former warehouses, crammed with amazing statues, carved wooden doors, a 20-metre long wooden boat and all sorts of other stuff, but of course it is hard to tell what is actually old and what has been made to look old. These warehouses back onto the harbour where boats would have unloaded their cargo in the past, and one of them has a very pleasant branch of Ginger House restaurant at the water's edge, where we sat and had very refreshing ginger sodas and ginger and mango ice cream. Revived by this we visited the nearby Portuguese-built 'Dutch Palace' with beautiful heavy dark-wood ceilings in the coronation hall of the rajahs of Cochin, and some impressive and historically important murals of the Ramayana epic on the walls.

When we got back to Fort Cochi it was around 3pm when the fishermen are actively raising and lowering the huge Chinese fishing nets all along the waterfront, so we sat in an open-air café on the front and had fresh juice and a big slice of papaya while boats of all sizes went in and out of the harbour and the nets went up and down, the weight of the net counterbalanced by big rocks on ropes hanging down from the spidery wooden structures. The catch was very poor however, and it hardly seemed worth the trouble for the few fish that they got out.

Boats of all sizes go in and out of Kochi harbour.

Tired out by all this activity in the hot sun, Sheila went for an afternoon nap while I found 'The Teapot' café down Peter Celli street in the town, and had a delicious Samosa Chaat (a spicy samosa broken up and mixed with onion, yogurt, coriander and other bits and pieces) and a 'Tpot special' tea, which was loose black tea in a pot (instead of the usual tea bag).

After dark we got an auto-rickshaw to the temple, but on the way we got caught up in a fascinating procession with drummers and trumpeters leading a group of twirling dancers dressed in strange costumes, some like fluffy Christmas trees, others with archways on poles on their heads, and behind them long lines of girls and ladies carrying offerings of food and candles in coconut shells, all followed by the image of the god in a chariot being wheeled along behind.

We went and had a drink at the Seagull restaurant, where the tables are set out on a small boat jetty projecting into the harbour, then walked into town along River Road and had a very tasty beef with ginger and onions and a burned tandoori chicken, sitting out on the street at the Chariot Beach restaurant.

Sun 17th. Now we are really splashing out - we checked out of the very nice Chiramel Residency (2000 Rs a night) and moved to the Grande Residencia, a lovely hotel in a former merchant's house and bazaar, with huge rooms with high ceilings, dark wood floors and little window seats built into the high windows overlooking the street below. And, luxury of luxuries, a bathtub with an actual plug, instead of a shower! The residencia is built around three sides of a garden with a restaurant and, another unheard of luxury, a swimming pool complete with jacuzzi!
In the garden of the Grande Residencia was a Tamarind tree with fruit that grows straight out of the tree-trunk rather than on the branches amongst the leaves.

We dragged ourselves away to go to for a good breakfast at The Teapot. Then we caught a tuk-tuk intending to return to Jewtown, but he said "do you want to see the three-elephant procession?" so of course we did.......
Near where last night's procession had been, we met a fantastic ritual in progress, with a drumming band leading the three elephants which were all dressed up in their temple bells and golden headpieces.......
.... the band included a front row of three horn-players, the next row of 5 or 6 drummers, then a row of cymbal players, followed by 3 or 4 big drummers - the noise was tremendous.  They kept up a hectic drumming for nearly an hour, leading the elephants through the streets to the temple while three priests on each elephant waved decorated fans and twirled sticks with feathers attached.

When the procession finally reached the temple there were offerings to the god and the drumming ended with a huge crescendo which left our ears ringing the rest of the day - it was really spectacular.

After that we completed our sightseeing to the historic Synagogue in Jewtown, and a visit to a ginger warehouse where 'the ginger king' (obviously the main trader) was sitting on the floor picking out the choice pieces, while in an adjacent warehouse ladies sifted the ginger from one huge pile into another. It seemed to be a genuine trading activity, but they are clearly often visited by tourists because they were very ready to ask for some cash when we left. 

We went back to The Teapot hoping to get a Samosa Chaat for lunch, but the samosa maker had gone home because it was Sunday, so we went back to the rooftop restaurant for some soup, then luxuriated in the swimming pool back at our hotel, followed by a hot bath, a rare taste of luxury!

We luxuriated in the swimming pool at the Grande Residencia.

In the evening the fishermen at the Chinese fishing nets didn't seem to be working because it was Sunday, so we walked about indecisively trying to decide where to eat and drink. We went to the very nice Fort House Hotel down River Road where their restaurant is set out on a jetty over the water (like the nearby Seagull restaurant but much more attractively presented), but the Fort House does not serve beer so we returned to the town centre. We had a drink in the impressive and historic Koder House, the 200-year old house of a former rich Jewish merchant (our hotel next door was his 'bazaar'), and we also had a look at one of the hotel bedrooms which was amazing, one of the best we've seen, with rich old-fashioned furniture, high ceilings and lots of dark woodwork, and what seemed like a 5-minute walk from the balcony through the bedroom and dressing room to get to the large bathroom, complete with a Jacuzzi! However, we decided not to eat there because the restaurant by the little swimming pool was surrounded by buildings and was rather airless and mosquito-ridden. Sheila had a sudden urge for rice pudding which she had seen on the menu of the Chariot Beach restaurant where we ate last night, so we returned there and this time the waiter seemed more cheerful and, in a very theatrical whisper, asked if I wanted a 'special tea', which is a beer presented in a big teapot because they don't have a drinks licence! Looking around, I saw that most of the tables had teapots and china mugs of 'special tea', so of course I had one as well! I had a very nice chilli chicken with peppers and fried rice, while Sheila had the rice pudding. Watching the tandoori chef we saw that he consistently burned every chicken and kebab that he cooked, so we decided it is a good place if you stay away from the tandoori dishes!

Mon 18th. Breakfast was included in our room rate so we had it at the hotel, sitting by the pool, then Sheila went to the beauty salon for some more pampering - a special pedicure for 200 Rs, eyebrows threaded again for 20 Rs (how fast do they grow in two weeks?) and a milk and honey facial for 300 Rs, all of which took 3 hours, a short time by her standards at this stage of the holiday. I wandered round taking photos then went to The Teapot for tea. We had samosa chaats and banana smoothies with lots of crushed ice for lunch (oh no, what do they say - don't eat the ice) then went and relaxed in the swimming pool at the hotel.
I wandered round Fort Kochi taking photos of the nice old buildings, including the Old Harbour Hotel near the waterfront ......
.... and the Grande Residencia hotel in the street nearby.

At dusk down at the Chinese nets, small silvery fish were literally jumping out of the sea - as each wave came in they were jumping and splashing and getting left behind on the sand, while fishermen simply picked them up and put them into carrier bags and the crows wheeled around trying to get to them first. We bought some huge tiger prawns from a stall at the sea shore, and took them along to the Marina restaurant where they cooked them beautifully with garlic and butter, and they were delicious with lemon rice and salad, and more 'special beer' in a teapot! The Marina restaurant is built over yet another boat jetty next to one of the ferry docks, and we had a good view of the ferries and other boats coming and going and the lights of Ernakulam at the other side of the harbour.

Tues 19th. We were ready to move on today but it looked as though Kerala's preoccupation with politics might stop us. When we enquired about a taxi to the railway station, we learned that the taxi drivers were on strike today; in fact, it was a statewide general strike and there were also no tuk-tuks, no ferries and almost all the shops were closed. The hotel phoned around for us and found an airport taxi with special permission to operate today, and he agreed to take us to the railway station at only 50% more than the normal price. That was a relief, but when we got to Ernakulam Junction (south) station where we had arrived, we found it was the wrong station for our destination - Sheila rushed out and jumped in front of our 'airport taxi' as he was driving off with another fare, and for another 100 Rs he took us to Ernakulam Town (north) station.

We got the 11:35 Hyderabad express and sat comfortably in 3-tier A/C class, which was a nice temperature unlike the last one which was over-A/C'ed to freezing point. When the ticket inspector came we paid 50 Rs more to reserve our seat numbers so that we didn't have to worry about someone getting on at the next station and making us move, and while Sheila dozed on the upper bunk I sat below having samosas and chai from the train sellers and watching the world go by outside the window.

In Coimbatore we negotiated 400 Rs for a taxi to take us the 50 km to Mettapulayam, but unfortunately we got the craziest driver in India who committed prosecutable acts of willfully reckless and dangerous driving at every turn. Amazingly we arrived in one piece and went to Nanda Lodge, a basic but clean and friendly place right in the town centre where we got a large room for 315 Rs (4 pounds) and the owner refused to give the taxi driver any commission because it would only be added to our bill, and anyway we had specifically asked to go there. After walking down to the railway station and finding that we couldn't reserve a seat on the 'Blue Train' to Ooty, we went to the surprisingly nice and very friendly bar at the Soorya Lodge hotel where we had a beer and a lemon soda, and they showered us with complementary snacks including watermelon, cucumber, some sort of little bhajis, a dish of chick peas and a samosa chaat. Then the food that we actually ordered started arriving - soups, chili gobi (cauliflower), onion pakoda and vegetable pakoda accompanied by five little dips of varying spiciness, which all ended up being a huge meal!

Wed 20th.

Steam engine
The Blue Train is another of the small, steam-powered mountain railways up to one of the former hill stations, in this case Ooty (Udhagamandalam).

Because we had no reservation we got to the booking office as it opened at 5:30, but then the booking clerk immediately went away for coffee and didn't come back until 6:05. First class was full but in fact the little second-class carriages were just as good, and we were first on the train to establish ourselves in good seats next to the door for quick exit at the various photo and snack stops, and on the lefthand side for the most impressive views as the train shunted its way labouriously up the mountain. The carriage was full of a couple of other Europeans and lots of Indian people who were all enjoying the ride and were most impressed by the various waterfalls, including the one at Runnymead station. Two-thirds of the way to Ooty, at Coonor station, the track levelled off and the steam engine was replaced by a diesel.

When we arrived at Ooty we got an auto-rickshaw to Regency Villa hotel, which was everything we hoped it would be. It's an old-fashioned, rambling, single-storey lodge in the grounds of the Maharaja's palace, with huge bedrooms with wooden floors and nice old sofas and armchairs and, most importantly, a fireplace for when it gets cold later. We got the best room, number 2 in the southeast corner, with windows facing in two directions, and immediately went to have a very tasty lunch in the little annexe restaurant attached to the hotel, where William the nice waiter attended to our every need.
Ooty. We got the best room in the Regency Villa, room 2 in the southeast corner.

While Sheila had her afternoon nap I walked through the grounds to Fernhill, the actual maharaja's palace, which was an enigma. It's a huge, lavishly decorated place with delicately carved woodwork around the windows, and it is now part of a hotel group who have been renovating it for at least 10 years, but I couldn't work out if it was finished yet!

Most of the Maharaja's palace at Fernhill seemed to be deserted, especially the great galleried Durbar hall with its prewar style chairs, sofas and card tables and a piano under a dust cover, as if the Maharaja had left a few years ago and it was waiting for his return as the dust gently settled.

... yet down the long rambling wings were beautifully renovated hotel rooms with flatscreen TVs, apparently ready for guests to check in tomorrow.

On the way back to Regency Villa I saw two ladies walking up the driveway carrying bundles of sticks on their heads and sure enough this was the firewood that we ordered for the fire in our room. Sheila woke up and we went to have another look at Fernhill palace, and this time the friendly security guard who showed us round told us that it is due to open for guests next month, and he opened the enormous, lavish king's suite and queen's suite for us to see.

We walked down the driveway through the eucalyptus forest to the main gate, where we got an auto-rickshaw down to the bazaar where Sheila was on a mission to buy some coal for our fire, because the 'firewood' that they delivered was really just twigs and would be burned up in 20 minutes. We found the improbably named 'IBM Firewood Depot' and there a man was busy chopping logs and loading them into someone's rickshaw, while they sold us a big bag of coal. Back in our hotel room, as it got dark and cold the hotel man came and lit the fire, and sure enough the sticks burned fiercely, showering the room with sparks, then were gone, while the coal burned nicely through the evening giving the large room a warm glow. We ordered dinner which they served at the little dining table in our room by candle light.

Thurs 21st. After breakfast in the nice little dining area, we got an auto-rickshaw to the station and, we hope, booked our 2-bed coupé for the final 24-hour leg from Bangalore to Bombay. We walked up to the IBM Firewood Depot and ordered our logs for tonight's fire, then walked around Ooty, a pleasant town set on hills in a cool, sunny climate which was a great relief from the hot, sticky lowlands. We looked at 'Charing Cross' where our bus is supposed to leave from tomorrow, and walked along the main shopping street and through the colourful market.
It was a slow day down in the vegetable market at Ooty.......
.... until a major order for chillies came in.

We had a look at the Ooty Club and the Savoy Hotel, both nice old-fashioned Raj-style wooden buildings with long verandas outside, but the Ooty club was for members only so we couldn't go in.
We collected the firewood and somehow got it and us into an auto-rickshaw and back to the Regency Villa, where it took four people to unload it all into the room ready for tonight, while all the hotel staff looked on in a mixture of amusement and horror.

Then we had a late lunch of soup and sandwiches and spent the afternoon repacking the cases. 

About 5pm the lady came and lit the fire and we spent the evening basking in its blazing glow while we read or watched television.

Fri 22nd. We set off by minibus for Mysore, but as usual it took more than an hour of driving backwards and forwards aimlessly round Ooty until they somehow got organized and we set off. It was a great ride, 1000 metres (of altitude) down the mountain on a road full of hairpin bends, then through the Mudumalai and Bandipur national parks where we saw deer, wild elephants (in someone's garden), an iridescent blue peacock and macaque monkeys along the road.

We stayed at the Adhi Manor hotel in Mysore, a clean, modern hotel well-placed in the centre of town, and I had a walk round the pleasant, compact centre through the big bustling market and looked at the palace through the impressive but closed north gates.

We got an auto-rickshaw out to the Lalitha Mahal Palace hotel, another of the maharaja's former palaces which appeared to be a copy of the US Capitol building, with a huge white dome at the centre and wings at each side, set in an impressive position on top of a hill.
Inside it was equally spectacular, with vast high rooms, lavish decorations and an impressive Italian marble staircase. For a small tip one of the staff took us up the turrets and out onto the roof, for spectacular views of sunset over Mysore and the surrounding countryside. We had a drink in the bar, another impressive hall with an elaborately decorated high ceiling and reputedly the best billiard table in India, although the curtains were drawn over the huge windows which made it a bit gloomy. Back at our own humble hotel which had a very good Nepalese chef, we had a very nice meal of tandoori chicken and chicken tikka, and another treat - a bath instead of a shower, but this time we had to use our own bathplug which we'd been carrying around for weeks for just this occasion.

Sat 23rd.

Mysore. This morning was the highlight of our 'Palaces Tour' segment of the holiday; we spent the morning at the Maharaja's Palace and grounds, which occupy one whole quarter of the town, and it was amazing.
The size, the opulence, the craftsmanship in wood, marble and stone, were all indescribably impressive - we thought it was great.
And, as the final cherry on the cake, for only one pound Sheila went for a ride on an elephant through the gardens!

We had refreshing snacks of cucumber masala and papaya from stalls outside the palace entrance, then a very nice late lunch in the Adhi Manor hotel restaurant, and a lazy afternoon - anything else would have been an anticlimax after the palace!

Sun 24th. We could see from the postcards that the Maharaja's palace in Mysore is lit up like Blackpool tower (but more impressive) on Sunday nights, but we could not wait. We went from Mysore to Hassan by taxi, a very easy 3-hour drive along excellent, smooth, traffic-free roads through an agricultural landscape. We stayed at the Suvarna Regency hotel which was nice, but the rest of Hassan was a grubby, fly-blown place with nothing to recommend it. We only came because it is the jumping-off point for the next stage of the Temple Tour, and our main task was to walk up to the taxi rank at the top of the town and engage in half an hour of play-acting as the taxi drivers competed for us and told us how great their cars were and how bad a driver the other guy was, until we established what seemed to be the lowest price they were prepared to go to for the tour tomorrow, and the winning driver gave us a free ride back to our hotel to remove us from the competition who were still pressing round the cab trying to persuade us to change our minds.

The hotel has a very large bar and a small adjacent restaurant in the basement, but when we tried to go into the bar the waiters rudely hustled us out because it seems to be a men-only place, so we settled for a meal in the restaurant where the food was very good.

Mon 25th. Altaf, our taxi driver to Halebid and Belur was indeed a very good driver and a nice chap, and his car was very comfortable (car number KA03 U2492, in cast you are ever there).

The temples at Halebid and Belur were smaller than the others we have seen, but the stone carvings were fantastic. They covered the whole of the outside and inside of each of the temples, and included friezes of elephants, mythical creatures, armies in battle, musicians and dancers and a huge variety of Hindu deities. They were mostly fully three-dimensional, carved front and back, and were very well preserved even though they are about 800 years old.
Beside each of the entrances to one of the temples are statues commemorating the king who defeated a tiger in one-to-one combat.  Looks like he had a sword and the tiger didn't, so maybe it's not so impressive.

Tues 26th. This morning Altaf took us to Bangalore, with a short diversion to Sravanabelagola on the way. We started early, so it was still cool as we climbed the 600+ steps up the rocky hill in Sravanabelagola to the gigantic ancient monolithic statue of Gometaswara at the top. Gometaswara is the main pilgrimage destination for the Jain religion, but on this particular morning all the other people climbing up the hill were energetic, enthusiastic parties of schoolchildren and their out-of-condition school teachers who were struggling even more than us to get to the top.

Sravanabelagola. While we were there a puja (service) started, with lots of drumming and trumpet playing from a band seated at the side, while chanting priests anointed the feet of the giant statue with a variety of liquids and flower petals.

We continued our relatively easy and uneventful drive to Bangalore, where we went through the process of trying to confirm our Coupé class seats on the train by visiting the Regional Divisional office, filling in a form and giving it to the very nice lady Divisional Officer, who said that we were first on the list and would be OK as long as a VIP didn't turn up wanting a place. The Coupé is a very comfortable separate 2-berth cabin with its own washbasin and wardrobe, but there is only one of them on the train, so it will be a tense wait until the seating list is finalised later this afternoon.

With no time for any real sightseeing, we took an auto-rickshaw through the polluted Bangalore traffic jams to the Forum Mall, a westernised shopping mall where Sheila went on a shopping spree to really fill up the suitcase. When she finally couldn't buy any more we had a snack at the food court and went back to the station to find that we were in luck and our place in the Coupé was confirmed.

When the 20:10 Udyan Express to Mumbai pulled into the station we found our Coupé and settled in for a cosy night of dozing through the Indian countryside.

Weds 27th. The Udyan Express takes 24 hours to cover the 1300 or so kilometres to Bombay, so we spent the day reading, dozing and watching the world go by outside our compartment. When we arrived we got a taxi to the Antique Hotel where we stayed last time, and then walked down Causeway Road in Colaba, and interesting district of Bombay with shops, restaurants and markets. A lot of new restaurants seem to have opened since we were here 15 months ago, so after a really cold beer at the Chinese restaurant which doubles as a bar, we had excellent meals of navarin of lamb and smoked chicken at a little Italian restaurant called Churchill's Café.

Thurs 28th. We walked down Causeway Road to our favourite breakfast place, a French-style café called Mondegar where the spicy baked beans on toast with coriander were still great.

We went down to the ferry dock at the 'Gateway of India' and caught the ferry to Elephanta Island, an hour's ride across the large, busy Mumbai harbour for 120 Rs, plus 10 Rs to the boatman to use the breezy upper deck where there was a much better view. On Elephanta Island we climbed what seemed (in the heat of near-midday) to be a long flight of steps while monkeys terrorised the tourists and tried to snatch their drinks bottles, up to the ancient temples, cut into 'caves' in the rock face. 
Elephanta Island. The first cave is the most impressive, with a huge area hewn out of the solid rock, supported by great rock pillars and with carved panels of Shiva and his supporting cast all around the walls, including a triple-headed representation with a wonderfully serene face.

After the ferry ride back to Colaba we walked along Causeway Road sampling the really wonderful ice cream at 'Amore', one of the new places along the road, then I had a Croque Monsieur at 'Thobroma', an Italian-style patisserie next door, while Sheila had the full works at a beauty parlour nearby. In the evening we went for cold beers at Leopold Café and bar, another happening place on Causeway Road which will apparently be featured in the forthcoming Johnny Depp film of the book 'Shantaram'.

Fri 29th. After another nice breakfast at Mondegar we went on the long, hot, polluted drive to the airport for our flight home. It was the perfect illustration of the saying "if God had meant man to fly he would have made it easier to get to the airport".

If you would like to see our other travels, click here ................... Globe