Happy new year!
These lovely welcome messages lay at the outskirts of every settlement we passed through.
We noisily revved back into Mysore on the Royal Enfield (called a Bullet in India) yesterday after a fantastic road trip round the tranquil plantations of the beautiful Coorg region of Karnataka followed by two nights in the stunning jungle forest of Wayanad wildlife reserve in northern Kerala.
It has felt like a wonderfully refreshing break – I have been a complete yoga rebel for a whole week, not doing any practice at all and eating all kinds of lardy bready goodness and drinking beer and dodgy local spirits. Deliciously naughty… When we returned yesterday, I had that flat ‘back to work’ feeling, sulkily trying to zone out the endless yoga conversations amongst a group of newly arrived yogis at the cafe. Chris reminded me that it wasn’t so long ago that I had been filled with the same eager enthusiasm, having found I’d landed in yoga heaven where there seemed no limit to those with whom to chew the yoga fat! I sheepishly agreed, suitably admonished.
Anyway, as always with ‘back to work’, it’s never as bad as you think it will be when you finally get started. This morning, it actually felt great to get back on the mat. It was lovely to be welcomed back by Masterji, who was on top entertaining form today, and my fellow students. I took it nice and steady, was disappointed to find my back issue is still there when I drop back, but hey-ho – it will no doubt disappear as mysteriously as it arrived at some point.
For those who want to hear about our Enfield travels (including, sneak preview, an account of how we nearly died at the paws of a wild tiger – maybe…), read on.
- Discovering an unexpected love for motorbike travel – I have always been a bit scared/disapproving of fast, noisy motorbikes but immediately loved the thrill of the loud, throaty engine and feeling part of the scenery through which we flew, sun on skin and wind in hair, rather than being once-removed through a pane of glass. Chris tells me I’ve now crossed a line and can no longer tut when a motorcyclist bezzes past, leaving in its wake a series of frowns, lifted skirts and grannies dropping their shopping.
Biker chick (possibly some creative licence going on in this shot…)
- Leaving behind the hectic city and slowing down to a rural pace of life – cycling along country back-roads, watching ants (this happened a lot – a sign of being in the moment if ever there was one?!), listening to the throaty moos of long-horned cows (rural cows are, to my relief, much more vocal than their urban counterparts), watching the foraging bats at twilight…
- Enjoying the tranquility of sitting on the verandah of our cosy eco-bungalow in Coorg, looking out over rice paddy fields and coffee plantations, enjoying the green vista and relishing being serenaded by the symphony of birdsong rather than of honking vehicles.
- Being welcomed into an unbelievably warm, funny and endearingly chaotic family at their coffee plantation home, as part of a traditional homestay experience. It was timely, as I was missing being amidst the warm chaos of my own family during my first Christmas away from home – the Sri Lankan owners had even made Christmas cake – heaven…
Chris amidst the coffee plants (there is some weird perspective going on here – coffee plants are not of such tryphid-like proportions in real life, neither is Chris a midget).
- Bringing in the new year with the most impossibly idyllic view of Indian jungle thrumming with life – the incessant backdrop of insects and warbling birds, langhur monkeys crashing through the canopy (and occasionally dropping onto our roof), pretty spotted deer grazing in front of the verandah, shadowed by white egret sentinels. I felt utterly content and happy sitting on the verandah soaking it all in – time stilled along with my thoughts.
- Seeing wild elephants at the side of the road twice as we drove through the park!
- A shaky start to Enfield appreciation on Chris’s part – the old models (ours was circa 1980) are an absolute bugger to start until you have mastered the technique. We mostly relied on finding a hill and bump-starting it until the head of the household in the coffee plantation homestay showed Chris the ‘secret’ technique, which turned out to be much more gentle than the brutal desperation that Chris had resorted to!
- We stayed in one complete duffer of a resort – sold as a ‘cosy, secluded treehouse’ in the Lonely Planet, it turned out to be a smeggy, faded and sad shack on stilts. When the biggest spider I’ve ever seen in my life appeared on the ceiling in the evening, it somehow symbolised the bad energy of the place. Then, what’s worse than a huge spider on the ceiling? When that spider mysteriously disappears when you turn your back for a second to retrieve your camera for photographic evidence of the malevolent beast. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep a wink that night.
- Just missing seeing a tiger in the wild whilst on a guided walk. Our guide seemed an entertaining chap with an eye for creating drama and tension. As we set off he gave us a bit of a pep-talk: “Watch where you tread – we have many poisonous vipers here – five minutes and you’ll be dead. If we see a tiger, stay absolutely still, stand your ground, make eye contact with it and don’t make a sound. If we see elephants, just run with me, that’s all. So, let’s go.” And off he disappeared into the undergrowth. We shared uncertain smiles – was this guy for real? A little further on, he pointed out two huge, water-filled distinctly feline prints in soft mud next to a stream. “Male tiger. He passed by less than half an hour ago. Let’s go – but don’t make a sound.” I gulped and immediately stood on a crunchy dry leaf.
- At the top of the slope he shoved some stinking soil in our faces that smelt distinctly tom-cat like. “Tiger spray”, he said, “Absolutely fresh”. My throat went dry. Then suddenly he held his hand up in the air, indicating we should be still and quiet. “It’s near,” he hissed. “Can you hear it walking?” I couldn’t hear anything above the hammering of my heart. I’d never felt like ‘prey’ before – it’s quite novel to experience a true flight or fright adrenaline rush. I suddenly empathised with the flighty deer we’d seen earlier. The guide crumbled a leaf and threw the broken pieces up into the air, where they immediately sank heavily to the ground. “No wind. This is very dangerous. Don’t make a sound.” He then felt compelled to add, “Now is mating season – when tigers are most dangerous. This is very, very dangerous now.” Either this guy was really good at amateur dramatics or we were apparently screwed. I grabbed Chris closer. ‘It’s been fun knowing you,’ I whispered. The guide snapped a frown back at me and held up his hand again for silence. We stood still for some minutes, whilst the guide cupped his ear. I half expected him to put his ear to the ground, but he didn’t indulge me. After a while, he motioned us to follow, reminding us to avoid the dry leaves and sticks – this proved impossible for our clumsy urban feet. Suddenly there was an almighty crash near us, as some mighty beast was startled away. I think I can safely say that we all jumped a mile, including the guide, such was the tension that had built up. He pointed to a fresh steaming cow-pat nearby. “Goan” he whispered. These are also known as wild bison – huge, muscled beasts with formidable horns. Not particularly aggressive but no doubt mortally dngerous should they decide to charge you. My heart gradually returned from my stomach to my chest, and we went on our way. It seemed that the Goan’s dash had also sent the tiger on its way. As we left the thick foliage behind my heart-rate gradually slowed. I had never been so pleased to see an electric fence before as we slipped back out of the park into safety. Probably the most memorable walk I’ve ever done!
Here’s to a peaceful and happy 2015… 🙂