India – Kottayam to Muvattapuzha

Indians love an excuse for a festival or party and at the moment there seems to be two overlapping (at least!). The schools are busy celebratin education, and everyone is having a holiday for a week. There’s a Hindu festival on, and busloads of pilgrims are being transferred seemingly from one temple to another in their man skirts in buses covered in flowers and flashy lights and a tangle of arms and legs hanging out the windows. And it also seems that there is some sort of Communist party get together going on, the sides of the roads are covered in red bunting and you can’t move for posters and flags. This makes for a cycle that is both colourful and really, really busy.

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Our day stared with Religion boy on reception once again asking if he could cycle our bikes. We were in a hurry to get going and tod him that it’d have to be fairy quick. In the end he thankfully gave up his silly notions and went back to thinking about Jesus. As we packed up our bags, we were approached by a man who was buying some bits and pieces from a nearby sawmill. He had lived in Texas and warned us to expect all Indian driers to be crazy! We already new that of course but it’s good to hear a local agree with our conclusions. His observation was that Indians are always in a hurry to get to their destination as soon as possible, and then they sit and do nothing!

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And so with his warning resounding in our ears, we set off. As we left the sprawling city, we passed the railway station where almost a kilometre of train carriages were being emptied of their cargo. Each one had a truck pulled up where men plastered in dust were loading the transport with bag after bag of cement. The dust hovered in the air and just cycling past it made us cough and splutter. The men doing the work must have an unbearable time of it, and of the many we saw, I counted only two who were covering their mouths and noses with a makeshift mask. They were all striped to the waist and covered in the dust like ghosts.

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And so we cycled on, past hundreds of metres of red bunting and flags fluttering in a light breeze, being passed by busload after busload of pilgrims heading to worship at their next destination. Once we left the main road, it became a landscape of small rolling hills. With the sun high overhead and our legs still becoming accustomed to hard work after our long break, progress felt slow and sluggish. Come lunch time, we found ourselves in a small village with only one place to eat. It was dark and dingy and so we decided to eat some very hard and not very tasty bananas and some packets of crisps. It would have to do until we could find something better! As we were finishing our crisps, a group of the usually curious locals approached us. We fielded the usual questions about where we were goingand when they heard that we were heading towards Munnar, they advised us to finish our day not in Thodupuzha as we had intended but to go to Muvattapuzha. They promised it as a much better route to the mountains and that the town itself was much nicer than Thodupuzha.

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Taking their advice, we continued heading north, following the road another 30km to Muvattapuzha. The road was fine, but pretty unremarkable in passing, and when we reached  the town we both just wanted to shower and relax for a while. No such luck, the first hotel that I tried had not a sinner in sight, there was tumbleweed blowing through reception yet when I asked about a room, they told me the place was full. Stange, I thought, but not to worry, we carried on and tied 5 more hotels. Each one seemed to be more deserted than the last but always the same answer, full; no rooms. We were getting pretty tired of the whole carry on at this stage and found ourselves at a small place. At first when I asked, I was told they were full, then another man stepped up, asking how many rooms I wanted; 1,2 or 3?! After establishing that there were, in fact, rooms available, Sam went to check it out, the hot water wasn’t working and it was a bit grubby. When he attempted to bargain the price down, he was shooed out of the room, the man shouting “closed, you go now!” at him. We were beginning to give up any hope of finding somewhere to sleep when we ended up at a place that would eat almost our entire budget for the day. Not having much choice, and with the two of us teetering at the edge of breaking point, we decided to take it. On the plus side, it had a tv and we got to watch the 9 o clock movie which was about trains, so Sam absolutely loved it!

Where we had failed at finding a bed for the night, our dinner made up for it at a small place serving chicken shawarma and the best lime and soda I’ve had yet. We filled ourselves up and headed back to our strange smelling room. It was a tough day, the challenge of accommodation here in India is a bit of a shell shock for us. It’s way too populated at the moment to try and camp, hopefully that will change with time and we won’t have to part take in the daily struggle of dealing with hotels that don’t want us!

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