Saturday, 8 February 2014

Indian Head Wobble

David just came across this YouTube video explaining a little about the Indian Head Wobble which has so fascinated us during this trip.

With thanks to Madeleine Doherty for posting:

Not something we've been able to emulate despite several hilarious attempts among our tour group.


We've had two lovely Guides on this tour, one showing us the North and the other showing us the South of India.  However neither Guide was permitted to accompany us into the airport.

When we got to Cochin we were met by a local man who was supposed to facilitate our check in for the internal flight to Mumbai (Bombay) where we had to change terminals for our international flights back to Heathrow.

The internal flight from Cochin to Bombay was with Air India and the luggage allowance was just 15kgs as opposed to the luggage allowance on the International flight back to London with Virgin Airlines (23kgs).
Having been caught out on the journey to the South earlier in the tour (and charged quite a lot for excess baggage) we'd all reduced the weight of our suitcases by stuffing as much as possible into our hand luggage and wearing/carrying some of the heavier items.

Our helpful local man took all our passports and tickets and got the check in staff to put all hold luggage through in one batch.   Needless to say, the combined weight was over the limit and there was a charge ... but give him his due, he chatted up the girl on the check in counter and she waived the fee (think she was aware of the rumblings of discontent from our Group who couldn't understand why they didn't just check us in individually so we could 'pay as we go'.

Our helpful local man then waved goodbye to us and we set off through the myriad of 'officials' and rubber stamp wallahs en route to the departure gate.  We'd been keeping check of the number of rubber stamps collected on the way and had got to 5 per person by that stage.   But it was all going too smoothly.  

Before we reached the gate we were stopped in our tracks by an official who told us that there was a problem at the luggage desk.   One of our cases had revealed suspicious contents and needed to be opened and examined.     There were nine of us and all our hold luggage had been assigned to poor Ruth -  the luggage tags were in her name so we were told we'd have to give Ruth our padlock keys and security codes and she would have to go to luggage security to sort the problem.        Obviously we objected strongly to this and said 'one for all and all for one' and all that sort of thing but they were adamant only one person could deal with the problem.

We suggested to the official that they take the radical approach of checking the name tag on the 'offending' suitcase and then that person could go and open his/her case and deal with the problem.  That got lots of the wonderful Indian head shakes (how do they do that)?   but the idea took hold and was passed on to yet another official to deal with.   After 20 minutes of inactivity we asked what was happening as we had one hour till boarding time ... then after another 10 minutes we were told the case had been identified as belonging to Neil.  Neil had already worked out his might be 'the one' as he has been puffing away on electronic cigarettes throughout the tour and the 'plug in' sections could be mistaken for little bullets (although they'd got through customs checks/X-rays at every other airport).

Unfortunately as all baggage was in Ruth's name, the officials needed to have a Proxy form completed (and triple rubber stamped) to allow Neil to open his own suitcase and this took a further 30 minutes.

But all got sorted in the nick of time and we all caught our flight.     Mumbai/Bombay airport is the pits .... changing terminals involved leaving one building and battling our way through  hoardes of guys trying to grab our luggage to take it the 500 yards to the International flights building for a mere 40 US$.    The noise and smells and hassle are hard to cope with at 1am when tired and hot but that's just the start of it.

We'd upgraded to Premium Economy with Virgin which meant we went straight to the counter to check in but after that we queued for nearly an hour to get to the Immigration desk then another 30 minutes to Security (collecting several more rubber stamps along the way).

Once through, the first thing we did was stop at a bar and have a stiff drink!       Just 3 more rubber stamps and we were on board and Virgin took care of everything in their usual wonderful way.    The flight took off on time at 3am (Indian time) and we landed at Heathrow 10½ hours later

We've had a fabulous time - Its a shame that Mumbai airport is such a shambles as its the last memory we have of the trip.  

Positive things:   I got to watch all 8 episodes of the ITV drama Broadchurch which I'd missed on the TV - brilliant series and so good to be able to watch 4 episodes on the outward journey and 4 on the way back - saves having to wait a week between each episode.

and ...... just look at these cute salt and pepper pots shaped like stylised planes.

They are stamped underneath 'pinched from Virgin Atlantic' so I obliged ... well actually I did ask the stewardess if I could take them home for Grand-daughter to play with and she said it wasn't really allowed, but yes go ahead and take them

and whilst thinking about meals/presentation I remembered that I'd photographed some of the desserts from the penultimate hotel restaurant.    These are much smaller than they look in reality and declared delicious by all the 'dessert loving' members of our group who manfully struggled to do a fair comparison by sampling several each.   Shame I don't have a 'sweet tooth'

but last night's hotel, whilst getting lots of brownie points for location and 'Green Policies/Conservation aspirations' just didn't make the grade on food presentation:     Do you see what I mean?

This was part of their salad/veg display photographed from our table across the restaurant.   Looks like a  mouse head doesn't it?

We're in the process of transferring all the photos from our travel laptop (Christine) to my computer now and when I have the time I'll work through them and archive them in categories for future use so there may be more posts on this blog as I come across interesting/funny pictures.    There really wasn't time whilst travelling to be very selective - we didn't get much free time, and when we did Internet access was either expensive or very slow so Blog posts had to be done in a hurry.

I've also promised to send photos to a couple of people from our tour, one of whom forgot his camera battery charger so ran out of steam halfway through, and another who didn't manage to capture all the butterflies and birds she wanted as her camera didn't have a decent zoom - mine isn't the best but nobody on our group had a 'professional' camera which I found surprising.

Here's a couple of photos taken by photographers at the Taj Mahal and Elephant ride station (Amber Fort, Jaipur) which have now been scanned at home.  Think we had one of the prettier elephants!

Not our choice of pose but the photographer was insistent and this wasn't as odd as some he insisted on.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Tea Factory and Journey to Cochin Airport

Our last breakfast in India.     I misread the time on my watch (should have put my glasses on) so we were up and about an hour before breakfast started but this was brewing in the Restaurant and it was delicious.     I had 3 cups and it certainly cleared the sinuses.   In fact the cold symptoms disappeared rapidly (although the cold may just have run its course I guess)

Chukka Kaappi - Its made with coffee powder, crushed peppercorns, cumin, basil and lots of fresh ginger - all boiled together and strained then sweetened slightly.    Very spicy and comforting


One last walk around the gardens photographing the wildlife.     More of the large squirrels here, I think they're called Malabar Squirrels

and a Wagtail - with freshly caught breakfast

This place isn't called Tall Trees for nothing .... and many of them are very old

Another lovely lady gardener

The restaurant is 5000 above Mean Sea Level (which doesn't mean much to me, but it certainly felt a 'long way up')

Bags packed for the homeward journey we set off at 10am to visit the Tata Tea Museum in Munnar.

There are demonstrations of CTC tea processing (Crush Tear and Curl) with small-scale machinery showing the different stages of cutting and sorting.  

and this Gandhi look-alike guide was a real comedian as he talked us through the benefits and healing powers of tea - and the correct way to infuse the leaves

We then sat through a promotional video extolling the virtues of the Tata Group and their benevolence to their staff.    The Tata Group have fingers in many pies - as well as Tata and Tetley tea (and various other brands)  they own Jaguar/Landrover, Taj Hotels, airlines, insurance companies .. in fact you name it, they probably own it or invest in it.  

The Tata Tea museum was interesting and houses a small collection of original machines and artefacts from the old Planter bungalows.    I particularly liked the photographs showing life in the early days when Munnar was transformed from an uninhabited stretch of forest to a huge plantation area.

I love these old photos

The old monorail transport system - single track to guide the wagons but pulled by horse or bullock cart.  Saved having to lay two rails - ingenious eh?

the machinery/equipment was all shipped out from England and having experienced these steep, winding roads in the relative comfort of an air conditioned coach, I can only guess at the hard work involved in manhandling these to the hilltop plantations.

Some of the roads don't look much different now

and the telephone system which I guess is the precursor to the dolls eye switchboards which were still in use in some offices when I started work in the 70s.

and there was a shop where just about every imaginable type of tea was stocked.   We bought Masala, cardamom, chai and Ginger varieties

I don't drink much tea.  I prefer coffee (but only the instant sort, not the strong beans that David favours) maybe now I've heard so much about the healthy properties of tea I'll try drinking more of it

one of the lotus flowers in the ornamental fish pond outside the shop

and a beautiful dog who was obviously feeding pups.   She came to see us whilst we waited outside the tea shop for our coach ... so she got lots of attention (and food) such a pretty little thing and with a very waggy tail

Back on the road for another couple of hours.   At the next 'comfort break' stop I watched the workmen next door.   This guy's job was sifting/sieving the cement which he did by emptying sacks onto a wired rack which seemed very laborious but I guess in India one thing they aren't short of is manpower

Note the lack of mask, goggles or safety boots

 Jungle Myna birds

 Red Whiskered Bulbul

and I think this must be an Indian sparrow!

There is always something to see from the coach window, although its not always easy to photograph the sights because of glare/reflections on windows, speed of the coach or obstructions from other vehicles on the road.    I've taken sooo many pictures during this tour that it will take me forever to download them from the travel computer and categorise them..    I hope to cull them and save perhaps 25% of the better pictures for future reference.

Scenes like this will probably never make it onto the drawing board but they just reflect the nature of the country.   Expect the unexpected is the phrase that springs to mind

We stopped at a hotel near Cochin airport to freshen up, change into comfortable 'flying' clothes and use the facilities.  

Just look at the name of the hotel - Well, they say 'it pays to advertise'!!

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Tea Plantations

An interesting drive to the top of the world .... single track hair pin bends (with a few passing places) and several times our driver had to manouevre back & forth to negotiate the tighter turns as the coach was too long to get round in one move.

But the views were worth it.  Acres of tea plants everywhere.   From my school days I'd envisaged neat terraces on the mountainsides but these were planted on rolling hills rather than 'shelves'.   Lots of tall trees interspersed to help stop soil erosion in the monsoon season

Tea picking .... we're told these ladies work from 7am till 5.30pm for approx £2.50 per day.  Have to assume there are some other company perks to make it worthwhile!

this is what all the fuss is about:  Our familiar teas are made from the tender tips/small leaves.  Indian Chai is made from powdered leaves

We are staying in 2 storey bungalow accommodation at a Hill Station.   Not for the faint hearted or those with impaired mobility as there are hundreds of steps to climb to reach the restaurant and gardens ....

Our bungalow.   It has a huge balcony on the upper floor and a smaller balcony leading from the downstairs bedroom.   Bathrooms upstairs and downstairs - accessed via a steep spiral staircase

lounge and upstairs balcony areas

Bedroom, dressing room and smaller balcony

We're off next to a tea factory en route to Cochin to catch a flight to Mumbai.  Then a flight from Mumbai to London at 3am.