Friday, 25 April 2014

India Part 5 - Spicy talk and down by the waterside

Alan has pointed out that all the tocitement with the nephalents actually took two days, but it felt like one big long day, so it doesn't really matter.  In the middle we went to a spice farm, and for lunch Alan had some special tea.

You all know that coffee smells of jasmine, but how do spices grow? Don't say, "In the ground," 'cos I know that, but it's the higgledy piggledy every which way that matters.

Nutmeg grows on trees, pepper - achoo - grows up trees, as does vanilla, allspice is a tree, cloves are flower buds, cinnamon is tree bark and cardamom pods grow on stalks under the leafy plant. When you go to see them growing it's amazing, 'cos there's no apparent rhyme or reason on why one grows where and another grows there.  But it's all very cunningly done.

Coffee and cardamom need shade, so you grow trees that will provide it. You can grow pepper and vanilla vines up the tall trees and in the spaces you can grow the smaller bushy trees like nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon. In even smaller spaces you can grow allspice bushes and piripiri pepper plants, turmeric and ginger too, and even cocoa for chocklit!

Pick and crush an allspice leaf here and sniff the heady scent, bite a clove bud there and you find it has almost no taste until it's dried. Then crush a peppercorn and see your hands go red. Bite into the fresh peppercorn and feel your mouth explode with the perfumed heat, then pick the seeds from a fresh green cardamom and experience the fragrant taste straight from the plant. Around and about are other little plants to keep the bees busy all year.

Here are some pictures of spices and things:

Here's a man up a bamboo ladder picking pepper, and that's pepper before it's ripe. It goes red before you pick it.  The red pepper is dried to make black pepper, but the outer red skin is removed to get at the seed and that makes white pepper.

 Here's nutmeg on its tree.

Inside the fruit there is some soft flesh that you can make chutney from. The red stuff is mace wrapped around the seed shell. Inside that is the nutmeg.

This is a whole hillside of cardamom with pepper vines growing up the tall shade trees.

Here are more cardamoms with a young banana plant growing in front of the bushes and in-between is a very tiny and very hot piripiri pepper

Cardamom flowers grow on shoots from the ground and the are very pretty. If you hold one up it looks like the whole plant.  In between the stem you can see the pods that will be picked.

Cloves grow in bunches on trees and they are picked before the buds open.  These have very little flavour until they are dried. We are used to black cloves, but the best ones are reddish brown.
On trees nearby grow little rose apples.  These are tasty but very very sharp. In any spare ground the farmers also grow roses so that they can extract the oil for perfumes and the flowers get used for garlands too.
Finally these are cocoa pods, and when they grow ripe they pick them and make chocolate. 

Cor, wasn't that amazing and then we went for lunch in an interesting little restaurant. Alan had special tea with his food.  It came in a teapot and he drank it out of a china cup.  Funny though it didn't smell of tea and when peaked into the cup it was very pale for tea, and it was definitely fizzy. "Here," I said, "That's really special tea alright - it's beer."  "Shhhh!" said Alan," we have to call it tea because they haven't got a licence. So it's special, Kingfisher tea."  

Coo flip, we had a smashing time in Periyar, but then we had to go and leave the nephalents behind. Everyone say, "Ahh." We didn't know it but we would see them again, but that's a story for another time.

The next morning we were up nice and early to head off to our next destination.  You've seen the coffee and spices, so here's a glimpse of some tea on the hoof.  Alan laughed when he saw that the tea estate was called the Connemara Tea Estate. I don't know why it was funny, something to do with that being a part of Ireland. Indeed it is, way out in the west and seldom as hot as Kerala!

After we came down from the hills we drove for ages and ages, and when we stopped a nice man in a canoe was waiting for us and he punted us across to where we were staying.  This is our room.

And here we are sitting on the half door enjoying the view across the water.

When all that looking got too much we sat on our comfy chair and watch more of the world going by and listened to the birds

When evening came the nice man with his boat came back and we had a sunset cruise.  First we had a look behind us and then we turned around to see where we were going.

We went out into the lake near the Chinese fishing nets.  No, I don't know why they are Chinese either 'cos there were definitely no Chinese people there.  While we were puzzling with that the sun dipped towards the horizon and his nibs took lots of pictures.

We had lots of lovely meals there and while we ate we sat with the other guests around a huge enormous table with a great big turntable this on it. Ann says it's called a Lazy Susan, but there was no-one called Susan there so I spect she left it behind. Next day when it was late morning we snuck back in and clambered up.
Well we had to sit on it of course and then we got to go whee, round and round on it. 

First Zeke got dizzy.
Then I got dizzy.
hen we BOTH got dizzy.  Tee hee, what fun it was until the humins came and said could they have it back please, because it was time for lunch. 
 After lunch we sat in the sun and caught some rays, and we saw some lovely flowers that smelled wonderful.  They're called frangipani and we think they made us look quite festive and smart.
Next morning we got up early early while all the birds were singing, and we watched a man carry a basket of coconuts on his head from the farm and load them into a canoe. Then another man came and took the coconuts to market.

Here's a video of him. We wanted you to hear the birds and the music wafting over the water from the temple. It takes us all back, 'cept for Ann who was still in her bed!

Anyway bears and peeps, that's all for this time.  Just one more story about messing about in boats and living in a boatyard.


Jock and Zeke

Monday, 21 April 2014

Nephalents! NEPHALENTS! We get to ride a REAL NEPHALENT!!!!

Oh the tocitement of it!! Nephalents everywhere!!

We were staying in a lovely place called Periyar, a long drive up throughout the mountings and tea plantations to a place where lots of spices grow, but more importantly where lots of nephalents live.

What a day we had. We got up really really early and went to the Periyar National Park and had a lovely boat ride.  It was all very calm with oodles of birds; egrets, storks, kingfishers, herons, darters and many more. 

There were so many that Zeke and I nearly fell asleep after our early start and no breakfast, but then Ann said, "Look boys elephants!" 

"Where, THERE, LOOK, look nepahalents!!!  REAL live NEPHALENTS. Whoopee, we see'd nephalents, hooray, hooray!"

 "Shh, said Ann, don't make so much noise boys." Well, how could we not? But she explained that we might scare them off and that wouldn't be good.
 We certainly agreed about that, so we sat quietly and watched the mother with her little tusker.  That means he will grow up to be a great big boy nephalent, 'cos mummy Indian nephies don't get tusks.
This is a lovely group and we saw them twice during our ride. We also saw wild water buffalo, wild boar and even Riki Tikki Tavi mongoose. There were bear tracks by the side of the lake, but sadly no bear - we'd love to have seen a bear and said hello, but we didn't. Ah, never mind, Alan says it's another reason to go back. Though I don't think he needs any excuse at all.
Soon our excitement was over and we went back for breakfast.  Then we asked if there was anything else to do, and Alan and Ann smiled and said that we might enjoy ourselves a bit more, but it would be a surprise.

Many of the rest of the photos below were taken by our friend and driver Mr Shijo. He took us safely through India in his car and any photos with no copyright below are his. Thank you Mr Shijo.
After a huge breakfast served in our Homestay by the friendly Mr Cyriac and made by his wife Mrs Dolly, we piled back into the car and next thing we we arrived at a place called "Elephant Junction." Here there were lots of nephalents.  Why was it not called Nephalent Junction Alan? Well, that's because you've been getting their name wrong.  Those large pachyderms are really elephants.  But, if you want to call them nephalents as your pet name, who am I to stop you. Hmm, elephants..nephalents..? No, nephalents it is. Everybear knows that's what I call them, so it would be too confusing to change now. You're probably right. Nephalents it is.

At Elephant Junction we met the lovely and friendly Puja, who was going to give us a long ride through the forest.  Here she is blessing us, isn't that nice? I did wonder if she was going to have a little nibble, but no, she was a very friendly nephalent.
We went up onto a great big platform and suddenly we were at nephalent level and we scrambled on her back and started on our way up the hill through the spices. Can you see us in Alan's hands?
What about now? 
If you look very carefully you can see us tucked in behind Ann.

When we had ridden for an hour we got off and the humins stretched their weary limbs - I don't know what all the fuss was about, Zeke and I were quite comfortable thank you.  After some tea and a snackeral Ann went off with the ladies of the house and Alan with the men, and then they re-appeared all dressed up for a Kerala wedding.  Here they are with Puja and her mahout, Mr Vishnu.

Soon it was time to get back on board and go back down the hill.  Here Ann is holding us so that Alan Can take our photos to really prove that we were actually on an nephalent's back.

This is the view from a nephalent's back.  Puja had a very hairy head, (but not as hairy as yours!). True, but it was an intermeresting view all the same.  On the way up and back agin Mr Vishnu was talking to Puja and she seemed to talk back to him. Sometimes it was a bark and at other times it was a rumble that vibrated our chests!

After the excitement of the ride, it was payback time as we got to wash the nephalents with scrubbing brushes. What's with the "We"? I seem to recall two creatures saying things like, "Water, water!? Sorry you two we'd hate to spoil your fun, we'll just watch." Hmm, well, um, yes I aspose it was just the humins, what did it. You see we only have short paws. Ah, that explains why you didn't join in. I quite understand.
You see where the nephie's trunk is heading?  Just in front of her is a tank of nice clean water and she was itching to get her trunk in there.
Well, first she got to roll onto her front and Alan got sit up near her shoulders. Then she sucked and sucked and then her ears started flapping - it's to a nephalent what wagging tails is to a dog.  Then suddenly skoosh and Alan got a shower. Just to make sure he was really wet the nephalent repeated the process several times.  

For some reason Alan had a great big grin on his face, and Ann laughed, but then it was her turn so Alan got to laugh while Ann got skooshed.

They didn't need to wash again till they came home! Oh, we did bear! Huh? After all that water? I wouldn't have bothered.
Well that was very tociting and it was still morning, and so we went back to Mr Cyriac's house for lunch as we were getting peckish. We had a rest in Mr Cyriac's lovely house until the evening when we went to see men jumping through hoops of fire!

Here's Mr Cyriac with a nutmeg tree.

Here are those people jumping through fiery hoops.

After all that tocitement we needed to have a nice relax so next time we'll tell you all about that.


Jock and Zeke

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

India part 3 - In which we get language lessons and meet new friends

Hi again, sorry this has taken so long but his nibs says there's been no why phi. Now you may also ask, "Why phi?" and indeed I did, but he says it's wifi and without it we can't connect to the internet. So anyway here we were in Cochin and we had wifi at last so we tried to stay in touch, but failed and now we're home and he has no excuse.

After staying in our lovely cabin for fewer days than we all would have wanted we moved on again to  a place called Wayanad.  It's up in them that hills. The place itself was called Tranquil, and it was really lovely.  We got to chill out a bit - well in so far as you can when it's 35C or more.
On our only full day there we went for a long walk - well, before he says it - the staff walked and we rode in splendour. We walked through the coffee plantation and we could see far far away across the fantastic hills of Kerala.

At  one point we had a lovely viewpoint with picker knicker tables, so Zeke and I sat down and waited for our food.  But there wasn't any!!!!! The staff said that we had huge breakfast of dosas and scrumptious masala sauce, with freshly squeezed pineapple juice and lovely coffee, so we didn't need a picker knicker, and we had to admit that multiple meals with multiple courses meant we really didn't need any snackerals, but still, being bears....
All too soon we were on our way to a wonderful place called Arthur pally, or how do you say it Alan? It's, "Athirapilly" Jock.  Oh, Athththth rapilly. No,  let's do it slowly because I know it's hard for a small bear.  Ready now? 
" A Pilly"
A Pilly.
Now run it all together and you get, "Athirapilly"
Athira-pilly, Athirapilly, Athirapilly. It's not really that hard, but I do spray a bit when I say it.  Not really, well done.
Athirapilly is famous for its waterfalls and in the picture above we're sitting on our hotel balcony with  the falls in the background.

We had a tosplore and we found another nephalent to be friends with. It had a funny head, but it was just right for both of us to sit on.  Little did we know that riding a real nephalent would be much more tociting, but you''l just have to watch this space.

Next morning we went for a walk and hey presto we were down at the bottom of the falls, so it was time for official beside the waterfall portraits.

 Zeke was a wee bit concerned that he'd be washed away by all that water.
So I put my (slightly atremble) arm around his shoulders and we both felt much safer. That's what friends are for.
Finally he jumped into Alan's bag and I got to be a brave bear an had my own photo taken. You can see that there were THREE waterfalls and we were rather near the one on the left!

Well, that was the end of our tocitement, but there had been some earlier, 'cos on our way out we met some new friends! 

We could see over breakfast that something was trying to get at the jackfruit in a tree that we could see from our table.  There was much shaking of the huge fruits, but none came down, and we wondered what was doing it. Would it be a bird, or a nephalent?                                      When we went out all we could see was lots of legs and two tails. So Zeke said, "Gee what's that Jock?" and I said, 'Coo-flip looks like a two headed two tailed monster thingy rumbling round in a fury blanket."
Well, Alan and Ann just laughed at that and Ann said, "They're not a monster boys they are Malabar Giant Squirrels."  They're just have a bit of fun.  Now I've seen squirrels, but these were HUGE. They are about twice the body length of a european squirrel and that tail can be nearly two feet long!

Aren't they lovely, and much bigger than ickle bears like us.

Well, that's enough tocitement for this time.  In our next instalment you'll get to see us riding on a real nephalent!  Stay tuned.


Jock and Zeke