Jan 6, 2009

Our Winter Annual Mela -27-29 Dec , Kochi

Our group of friends ( Ex-Elgi , Coimbatore) have a ritual of making at least one trip in every year , which is happening almost consistently since 1990 . Few have left the country , few new faces have been introduced in the group , what we started off as 8 bachelors on essentially biking trips has matured into mellowed affairs accommodating close to 25 with the addition of beloved wives and children.but the underlying principles remain the same- Make merry as if there is no tomorrow

Being the organizer for so many trips , i started off as early as July. As soon as the Location was finalized , browsed for several hours and realized Fort Kochi is the place to stay in Kochi . After several enquiries and gaping at the astronomical room rates-Globalism to the core , almost all quote in Euro and upwards of 70 per night -finally settled on Prem's Homestay ( clean and economical - 0484 2215269 , ~ Rs. 1000 / per night , Non A/c )
It was a well co-ordinated plan , involving few travelling by Train and the Rest by Road from Coimbatore . Initially 28 members were enrolled ,but to our disappointment there were last minute cancellations ,bringing down the tour strength to 20 and escalating pro-rata budgets
Started on 27th morning around 8.30 AM, in a modified 407 (21 seats inside , with A/C ,which was not working along with Fans) . Packed breakfast from Aarya was not upto the mark . PSP (Poi Solla Porem) kept us engrossed on the journey and reached Ernakulam by 1.45 PM ,matching with Sabari Express in which couple of ladies of our group chose to travel , comforting their Backs.Started to Fort Kochi thru' MG road, Not so broad road packed to brim ,restricted further by parking and it was like a procession all the way to the cross to Willingdon Island .
Reached Fort Kochi by 3.00 PM exasperated and to keep down the hunger pangs , went in search of a good Restraunt near Nijaliparambu , but could manage one small shack' Lucky Star' . Had some paraottas and Appams and settled for Siesta in our rooms
Travelled again to Ernakulam Jetty for our night cruise . Arranged thru' Ronnesh of Maria Travels , who has arranged Kettuvallam 'Santa Monica' party boat for our cruise along with Dinner ( Rs1500 / per hr and Rs150 per Dinner Plate) . The boat had 2 Decks and the downstairs has a Dance floor with cushions on the side to sit , eat or Drink
We had a great party with few of our group swaying to Tamil numbers and we had ample drinks to keep the spirits up . After 3 hours and filling Dinner , we said good-bye and proceeded to our homestay
Although we wanted to take the Van across to Cherai Beach by barge next day morning , Van driver negated that and we had to settle for Fort Kochi beach itself . It is a small beach ( on backwaters?) with medium size of crowd in the early hours . Drenched ourselves wet , clicked to our satisfaction and walked back (10 min. walk from the House) . After homemade Breakfast ( Bread +Omelet) , by 11 AM our Caravan finally started towards Mattancherry

Jewish synagogue was closed and we had only Dutch palace to see . Not much to see , except for Murals of Ramayana and few ancient things . As renovation was going on, most of the palace was out of bounds . It was quite interesting to note the observation windows with comfortable wooden seating to observe the private pools from the first floor (What a jolly life , the Kings had ?)...

Our group scattered around shopping for souvenirs and Raja led us to taste the Local brew . After quite a detour , we finally located 'Sea Gull' the sea-food restaurant . They serve Beer on the house and the Fish curry is par excellence . Being a busy Sunday Lunch , was heavily crowded and the service suffered
Our Sunset Cruise , arranged by Prem picked us up from Sea Gull's Ferry point itself and it was an ordinary boat with shoddy seating and covers . But the crew compensated with all requests ( let the group member try steering the ship , sitting anywhere on the ship and helping to take Titanic snaps) . We were able to see the small villages , which were picture perfect . Only sour items was polythene covered latrines (?) , placed right on the edge of the water by several houses . There were palatial mansions offering impressive view of the water front , wish we could get to stay in one of these for a day or two

Briefly had a halt at Bolgatty island , nothing except for Golf course and waterfront Honey-moon villas . Sunset was brief against the backdrop of Chinese fishing nets ( which are over-hyped mechanical fishing nets)

The non-stop touring took the toll on Ladies , who preferred just to retire to the room instead of continuing with our planned Dinner feast with Fish you buy from the Market . Several things conspired to take the entire group edgy that night, starting with mis-communication , group splitting and Van Driver being the chief-wrecker of the evening with non co-operation . Hence we bought Fish from the Market gave to Sea Queen Restaraunt ( I guess ) right on the Jetty . Beware of this Hotel , never ever set foot here as they are bunch of crooks .Since we asked them to pack food , they cheated us royally , packing much less than we ordered and paid .
Like all the wrecked souls , we sought solace from our Dear Friend Mr.John (alias Johnny Walker dressed in Black) , who managed to sooth us instantly and got us going on the Long night. No one was expected /prepared for hitherto silent Mams Senthil ,erupting like a Volcano and engulfing us with Romeo adventures of the past . After a long time our group settled into their slumber , we returned to Ground Zero ..

After un fit-ful sleep for few hours , woke up with massive headache , which got cleared with a Hot Chai and a walk to the Beach . All the party group had a massive breakfast of Idiyappam , Parotta and Maggi Noodles as most of us could not eat any Dinner , wasting so much .
After checkingout and courtesy phots with our hosts , we were on our way by 10.30 or so.

We had contests 'Anthakshri' and 'Dumb Charades' hosted by Raja and Ramya between the Male and Female teams en route and this perked up the morning gloom . As usual our team lost , but kept everyone engaged . Raja's enactment of BillA was a classic !!We were going to KodaNadu and Kaprikaad , for which we need to divert from Perumbavoor (enroute on Kochi- Coimbatore) . Driver again played spoil-sport i think, taking the straight route instead of shorter option and we reached KaodaNadu Elephant Center by around 1.00 PM . Much to our chagrin , this center is closed on Mondays . After debating and a detouring , we finally landed in Kaprikkad . There is cool , quite, calm River flowing by with nice jungle trekking options. Just had an Ice cream and photos on the banks of the impressive sight is all we had for 3 rd day . Iyer had his share of fun barging into couple in their Kissing Act inside their Car asking for directions .. The Guy totally flustered mumbled something and sped off to some uninhabitable place .
Lunch was on the corner of Koadnadu park , typical Kerala Lunch with Red Rice and other fare . It was delicious and everyone was elated with the Lunch fare . Grudgingly started towards Kochi to drop off the group taking the Train journey and this time we reached Kochi in hour and 30 min , entertained ourselves with the movies . Met Sundaraj , near Thrisoor and after a Drinks break , reached 'Aaram' for so-so Dinner .
Post-tour when we met up for New Year's Eve and Naren Hari's birthday party , there were complaints on leaving out Chottanikkara on the tour . We could always plan for a Pilgrimage around Dakshin Kannada ( Udupi) , which might happen this year 2009..Keep a tab on your mails and please do send Tour advances when requested to avoid unfair escalation of budgets .

Enchanting 3 days with the Nature and TEA !

Myself and wife wanted to take a break and we alone went to Glendale's Runnymeade Tea Estate's Guest House on Dec 22nd . I had booked ahead , impressed with their website description of the property and of course the price ( Rs2000 / night , 6 Kms before Coonoor , Ph: 0423 - 2206779)

Runnymeade Bungalow is surrounded by hillocks of Tea plantations on 3 sides and the remaining side is the Ooty main Road . But the Bungalow is at least 80 m down from the Road , hence there is nothing but the nature and the ubiquitous Tea that pervades you once you enter the property. Although this old bungalow has 3 Bed Rooms , needs a face-lift ,but satisfies with the basic amenities . It has a common lounge where there is a TV with cable connection and a Dining and Kitchen . Lawn is limited and plants are being planted and supposed to be blooming , come the Summer 2009
As we disembarked from our vehicle on the first gate of the property , my wife who got down and slipped after stepping onto tender coconut shell , which nearly spoilt the whole trip . Initially she was fine and as the time progressed , she had immense pain and could not walk few steps , relieved only by the Pain-killers. With that our Honeymoon went down the drain !

But this property boasts a wonderful cook ( Sekar) cum care-taker , who makes delicious food and too courteous , rendering a truly Royal treatment . We just need to give some money and he would go to the Market and buy the necessary items and start cooking , what you need .. South Indian , Chinese and Kebabs , no problems .Sekar would treat you to sumptuous food. And Lemon Tea is a class apart .. Never tasted anything closer , simply loved the Tea .

And i started on my 'Project 2010' document ,elucidating career options once my current job become redundant ( Yeah ! this is very much a possibility !) . Made some progress on that estimated how much i should earn at the minimum to keep present level of Living ..

The thing most liked out of this trip was refreshing , solitary walks inside the Tea estate at every Dawn ( nearly ) and Dusk . It was uplifting , simply breathing the fresh , moist , cool and oxygen laden air and walk at your pace on kachha paths formed from time immemorial from Tea pickers. It is hard to not to fall in love and romanticizing the green carpeted mountains and occasional streams . The brilliant and unique part is you are devoid of any 'non' nature things except for primitive worker quarters . Yours truly and 1000 acres or so of Tea Estates of Runnymeade ( my guess) has to deal one-to-one and i had a fabulous time watching , gaping , 'Awe' ing at the beauty and the rare opportunity to bond with the Nature and Tea ( of course)

This property boasts a unique , our Heritage Blue mountain Train cuts across the Tea Estate evey day twice , adding to nice photo-ops . I have not prepared for it , but perflexed by the amount of smoke the train emits and the extent of pollutants , killing the oxygen

And marvelled at the people who live in these environment and resilient and adjusted to the Rules of the Land . I had a great trouble on 2nd morning , climbing a steep hillock -panting , hoofing and my Lungs stretched to its limits -struggling to feed oxygen to support the climbing effort , whereas the guys who work and live there breezing thru' the climbs , happily chit-chatting . It dawned on me , materialistic comforts makes transitioning to other Lifestyle/ Environment almost impossible and adaptation time is huge and goes higher with your age

We went to Ooty on the 2nd day ( what can be considered a sin if you do not visit Ooty having gone to Nilgiris ) and visited Rose Garden , maintained by the Horticulture Dept . Huge park dedicated to Roses , but not brimming with Roses , guess all activities are tuned to climax for the Summer . Took some snaps and practiced on Macro-close-up shots with my camera . Need to learn how to avoid sun glare , while taking close-ups distorting the true colors of the flowers Went to Shin-Kose for Lunch and crowded a bit , making the service slower and thought food quality was not of the same standard of yester-years.
Final day just started working on my story outline ( this was the first premise of the trip) and came out OK after a filling and tasty Breakfast . Sekar's pongal and Avial for the Lunch was superb .
Left for Coimbatore around 3 PM with the nice memories and vow to come back again for another bonding session and Sekar's food ..