Ooty Hill, the descent and on to the Keralan beaches

The following day we left Ooty for the descent. Surprisingly the first few miles out of town were undulating, so much so that we climbed another 472m. The descent though was fabulous. We dropped through the tea plantations, down through the pine forests, on an on. The scenery was just stunning. Care was needed with busses coming round blind corners on the wrong side of the road and huge pot holes covering half if not more of the road. We descended for over 30km before a tea stop. We then descended for another 22km. Overall we covered 85km, dropping 2600m, cycling into Kerala for the first time. It was an epic day of descending. We transferred by coach after lunch to Guruvayoor, a Krshna temple town.

Guruvayoor was a really busy with pilgrims making their way to the temple. We’d arrived during the festival. We were treated to street food on the main drag for dinner, several dishes all a little different to the dishes we’d had further north. The one that I remember the most was the curried quails eggs, it wasn’t my cup of tea I have to say. The bison meat though was good and their special bread was amazing to eat and watch it being made. I can’t find the name of the bread or a photo of it on the web.

After dinner we walked to the temple through the crowds of worshipers. Someone was even having their brand new car blessed. The temple opens to the pilgrims at 2:30am, there were 100’s queueing and it was still early evening. More were sleeping down the sides of the paths. The temple itself was covered in 1000’s and 1000’s of lightbulbs, looking more like a Blackpool theme park than a temple.

The following day we rode to the beach, our first sight of the Indian Ocean. It looked stunning with fishermen and their boats all about 300m up the beach. We’d been warned to just watch where you’re treading. I wasn’t expecting though to need to dodge turds at the high water line. The fishermen don’t have a loo so they just stroll down the beach and squat down.

After lunch we had another short ride to a local Christian Church. The way there was nice following the train line for parts and through the coconut palms around all the houses. Kerala is far richer than the areas we’d cycled thorough further north.

The next morning we woke early as we had a long ride to Kochi to complete. We twisted out of town towards the beach, arriving at a picture postcard scene with the ocean lapping beautiful sandy beaches with palm trees hanging over the waters edge. We followed the ocean all morning, never more than a few hundred meters from the water.

We arrived at a modern restaurant for lunch with coconuts opened as a drink for us. What I thought would be lovely turned out to be rather less than the dream, warm sweet water inside and not very refreshing at all. But that was short lived as we ordered a couple of beers each and had a lovely swim in the Indian Ocean. Perfect.

After a 2 hour lunch we headed off along the coast. The road was tough going with patches of sand covering the road. The easiest way to tackle it was just to power through it. Eventually we arrived at Kochi after a very busy ferry crossing. Our accommodation for the night was a very nice house within the city and they had gin and tonic! Dinner was just around the corner and was at a superb restaurant serving some lovely fish dishes.

We had the following day off. It gave us time to visit the sea front and see the chinese fishing nets as well as the local fish for sale. No ice here to keep the fish fresh and so much rubbish around the stalls. In the afternoon I took a walk through some of the less well off areas. It was amazing to see the canals, filthy and smelly, lined by Communist flags, Kerala is a communist state.

The following day we rode from Kochi along some fairly quiet back roads to Alleppey, a town on the Keralan backwaters. The ride started with some dirt roads between the lakes. Following dirt roads we moved onto some flat tarmac roads and the pace was good with Sue pushing all the way to the outskirts of Alleppey. Our accomodation for the night was a beautiful group of thatched bungalows with outside showers and loos right next to the main canal out of Alleppey. Wicker riverboats cruised by as we sat canal side drinking chilled lagers. Stunning.

The following morning we all cycled into town with the purpose of picking up some gin and tonic and a sarong each to wear on our backwater cruise. Some of the lads decided it wasn’t for them but there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity. Shopping for booze was an experience. Outside the shop there was a huge queue. As soon as we joined it though we were ushered into the shop through a small metal door. It turns out the locals aren’t allowed in but we could go and peruse the spirits and beers stacked on filing cabinet style shelves. We also picked up tonic and limes ready for our afternoon cruise.

Our three riverboats arrived and bikes were loaded. Ours was plush with a deck glassed in, a flat screen TV and three ensuite bedrooms. Very nice too. We set off in convoy taking the opportunity to enjoy a gin and tonic as we cruised the broad lakes and canals. Ever other minute we saw a a kingfisher along with thousands of ducks and people fishing and washing in the water. It’s a beautiful area. As the sun set we moored for the night. We tried our hand at fishing (unsuccessfully) and continued with the G&T’s. We even had Bollywood on the screens.

We awoke to the boats already moving along the canals. After breakfast we docked and unloaded ready for a big day ahead of us, our last and longest day. It was already warm. No sooner than we had started than behind me I heard a crashing noise. Jean had taken a tumble going over a speed bump. She’d gone down with a huge crack which turned out to be her helmet doing exactly what it was supposed to do, take the impact and break. She had a couple of scrapes but was able to get back on the bike and continue. It was only our second accident with Sue having the previous one on our first day in the hotel car park.

The day warmed up very quickly. We avoided the lunchtime heat at a guest house where we met a German lady who was travelling with her husband in a Mercedes campervan conversion. They’d been travelling a year and were expecting to drive to China returning to Germany in 2014, what an epic journey.

After lunch and a bit more cycling we enjoyed a pit stop with superb onion bhaji’s cooked as we watched.

The highlight of the day was reaching though was our final pit stop. After enduring heat of 37C for almost 60 miles we stopped for drinks and and ice cream. Jennie disappeared. There was a cry from outside the shop and I ran out to find Jennie vomming all over the bikes, the steps to the cafe and Sally’s sandals (which Jennie was wearing). I got the pleasure of carrying the smallest bag, laidened with sick up 4 floors of a block, through offices to the rooftop toilet. Meanwhile others dealt with the chunks of pineapple!

A short ride later we made it to our final destination, Varkala beach and a hotel with beers witing by the poolside, utter bliss. We spent the evening and the final day enjoying the beach, shops and restaurants of Varkala, a hippy town perched on the cliff tops overlooking the schools of sardines swimming past. Ideal, well apart from getting sunburnt.

The holiday had been superb, India was great even with Dheli belly and the people on the tour just wonderful. It was a trip to remember for life.