2nd February 2005 - Pondicherry

Our next destination was Periyar National Park about 80 miles away and 4000ft up.  So two days was planned to get there as the up bit wouldn't start until we had covered 50 miles and the temperature would be a bit high to start climbing. There was only one road out of town to Periyar, and, yes you have guessed it took ages to find.

We haven't mention internet access yet - Internet cafes are to be found almost anywhere and are very cheap at 20-30p an hour. Due to the poor phone lines, most are very slow but we occassionaly get a really fast one. A really annoying problem is the powercuts which can occur anytime and usually just before Joan is about to save several pages of typing. You may have noticed a few(!) typing errors, but most of these are because of bad keyboards (Joan's excuse). Sometimes, a key does not work at all and we once had difficulty getting capital letters.

The road was quite pleassant and the gradient not too steep as it wound its way through tea and coffee plantations. At the top, we only had a few miles to go to Periyar Tiger reserve but spotted some cottages for rent in a lovely spot on a hillside. We thought that they looked expensive but we felt like treating ourselves. Joan asked the price. "Fifteen pounds a night", he said. "Ten pounds" said Joan. "OK" he said, and we settled in to a luxury cottage with a terrific view over tea plantations.

Next morning after a short ride we arrived at the Periyar reserve. A small bamboo hut with bathroom and a nice garden setting was only 100yds from the reserve entrance and had an observation platform overlooking the edge of the reserve.

It was worth a three day stay and we spotted many different birds, including the Indian Pitta, three types of deer and many wild boar from the observation tower.
A ticket to the reserve gave us unlimited access and we went back in several times. A two hour boat trip on the reservior was full of noisy Indians but we still managed to spot wild elephants, Indian bison and large otters swimming near the banks that seemed to be unperturbed by the boat. We also saw a Great Toucan. In order to get the best seats on the boat we had to arrive at the ticket office before it opened at 6.30a.m and fight to keep our position at the front of the queue while our tickets were inspected four different times before boarding

What goes up, must come down, and the road out of the reserve was no exception. The first twenty miles was downhill through forest and the next 70 miles to Madurai through uninteresting countryside.

On the way out of Karaikudi at a small village called Chettinad we rode through the most historically interesting area yet. The whole village seemed to be an ancient palace complex with very old ornate and majestic buildings, some occupied and some just locked up and left. The streets were lined with old, originally exspensive well built houses which had just been left to deteriorate but it was obvious that once the whole place was one of wealth.

It seemed very strange to us that this place was not on the tourist trail, nor was there any attempt locally to promote it. But, as it didn't appear to have an impressive temple, that was sufficient reason for tourists to ignore it. (Indian tourists go from temple to temple).

All the large towns were dirty, smelly, noisy and crowded. We headed towards Pondicherry on the coast hoping that this would be different. It was slightly better, but like all towns gave the impression of years of neglect. The beach road was surprisingly different and there was hardly any litter. We now have about 4 weeks to go and are considering heading inland again before returning to Madras on 27th Feb. for our flight home.

Dave and Joan Wooldridge