8th January 2005 - Ooty!

After five days lounging around on the beach near Thalassery, on Boxing Day it was time to leave. We met our first real cycle travellers, Joel from France who had been cycling around the world for five years and his Italian partner Nina who he had joined in China. He was on a proper world tour and not one on a round the world air ticket. His travels had taken him across China, Australia, NZ, Indonesian Islands, Burma and through to India where he intended to cycle back to Europe via Pakistan and Iran.

Our route would now take us away from the coast and into the Western Ghats (mountains). Finding our way should have been easy, but wasn't, due to the shortage of road signs, misdirection by locals and awful maps. After 20 miles we were hopelessly off our intended route and on badly surface roads. We found a basic hotel after 45 miles and asked for a room. Although it was called a Tourist Hotel and obviously almost empty we were told it was full and we should try up the road. This is not uncommon in India as some hotels cater only for nationals or don't want to bother with the increased paperwork and notification to the local police, which they have to do within two hours of us checking in. The second hotel took us ok, but we had to pay two pounds for the room and another pound for our evening meal and drinks.

The prices are getting lower all the time. A large watermelon, 10 bananas, one pineapple and a packet of sweets was 65 pence altogether. Breakfast of omelette and tea - 25 pence for both of us.

 Our short wave radio on BBC world news told us of the earthquake off Indonesia, which had caused massive tsunamis in Thailand and the southern coast of India. Local papers told of the devastation on the coastal areas including the area we had just left. If we had stayed another day, we would certainly have been affected, as we were only 100yds from the sea, but although many local fishermen were reported missing the extent of the damage where we were was not known to us. Later in the day, the death toll was reported to be 20,000.

We will continue to review the situation, but may have to keep away from beach areas until the problems are sorted out. You have all heard a lot more about the catastrophe than we have. To date 8.1.05) the estimated toll is more than 150,000, but not all in India.

 A word about eating in cafes and restaurants. First, even the most basic of eating-places has somewhere to wash your hands both before and after a meal as many Indians eat with their fingers (right hand only). There is a preoccupation with removing anything from the table as soon as it is finished with and sometimes even before. Waiters hover around and pounce on a dish or cup as soon as it is empty, even while you are still eating from another dish. As we progressed south, the glass of cold water always offered turned into a glass of hot water and we were often asked if we wanted hot or cold water to drink. Apparently, the winter temperature here in the 70's are considered cold and people need warm water to warm them up.

 After climbing 3000ft through forested but badly surfaced roads we arrived at a town called Manantavadi. The next day was a very pleasant ride through hilly forest and tea and coffee plantations to a town called Sultans Bathery, the biggest in the region. As always, walking around the town is rather uninteresting as the shops seem the same in any town (same as at home really). We always attract attention while riding through small villages. In some, people shout "hello" and "how are you", and in others we create total silence and stares - a bit like Clint Eastwood going into a saloon bar.

About a 50k from Sulhans Bathery lies a large forested area of several National Parks and reserves towards which we headed. The ride was the best yet and took us through very quiet forested roads teeming with wildlife. Wild elephants roam the area and we were warned to be very careful, as they can be aggressive, unlike their African cousins. Park rangers patrol around mainly to keep ivory poachers away. They carry very ancient guns and the poachers are armed with modern AK47s. The main poaching gang headed by a man called Veerapan was very recently set up in an ambush and all shot dead by the local police.

 At the National Park entrance, there were several places to stay but we were told they were all full although they obviously were not. The only way people can stay in these official lodgings is to book ahead in the headquarters miles away. Eventually we found a room in a small village just outside the park but were told we would have to move to another room the next day (new years eve) and also have to pay for a compulsory new years eve meal.

A few miles away, there is an area with several forested resorts and we decided to go and have a look. We found a place that had a tree house overlooking the forest and about 500yds from the main building. It was about 30ft up in the air with a roof terrace and forest views on all sides. Three days stay were booked immediately and we moved there the next day. Every evening, a family of wild boars came to eat kitchen waste put out for them. Herds of deer would walk right under us and wild peacocks and long tailed monkeys roamed. In the forest around us there were elephant droppings everywhere and although we heard them at night we could not see them. Wild bear were around but we did not see one of these either.

 In the evening, we were not allowed to walk the 500yds to and from the main house and we were collected and returned in a jeep for our safety. The biggest danger was not tigers, of which there were several around, but elephants and bears which attacked people most. Only last year, a Canadian couple had been trampled by elephants while walking at night. The owner had been attacked by a bear and showed us his scars. Our stay lengthened to five days before we eventually headed off to Ooty another 3000ft up.


Dave and Joan Wooldridge