Days 7 - 11 THALASSERY and KANNUR
(Photos here http://s571.photobucket.com/albums/ss159/kedgemanxx/Kannur/)
Having experienced the pooram, it was time to move on.
We had a really early start, as we were to catch the 05.05am Mangalore Mail train to Thalassery (Tellicherry). Again, we had booked this train before leaving the UK and as we knew we were going to need a sleeper, and had opted for 3 tier A/C.
So, at 4.30am we were up and lugged our backpacks downstairs, past a deserted reception and out into the dark. The rear gates were padlocked, but luckily there was a guard in a little hut, who opened them for us and we were across the track, through the fence and back onto the station platform. Our train was to depart from the far platform, so it was heave-ho, up and over the footbridge. We were surprised at how many people were already there waiting. We thought the place would be deserted.
In the distance, we could hear the loud crashing explosions of the fireworks/mortars from the pooram, which appeared to still be going full strength!
The train arrived and we tried quietly to push our packs under the bottom beds. The only spare bunks were the top ones. Luckily a man who was awake, showed us the art of scaling the rungs, and we climbed up. We were provided with 2 freshly cleaned sheets and a pillow case and we settled down. Surprisingly we managed to get a couple of hours sleep and it was daylight when we awoke. The train was slowly starting to come to life. But we were sort of trapped on the top bunks until the people below, woke up, and sorted out the seating. It was interesting watching the sellers walking up the carriage selling chai and coffee and various sorts of presumably breakfasts. We had read a lot of bad things about people getting ill by eating train food, so we gave it a miss, but it sure smelt good. Anyway 4 hours later we were in Thalassery.
We had done a bit of research on Kannur before we left the UK and had read the guide books and knew there where only a handful of places to stay on the beach. Generally, if possible, we prefer to try places that aren’t listed, but have been recommended by fellow travellers on the forums. So, we opted for Ezhara Beach House, which we had emailed prior to leaving the UK, and had confirmed with, via email, whilst in Ottapalam (yep, we found an internet shop in Ottapalam). We had been told that Ezhara Beach House was midway between Kannur and Thalassery (about 15kms from each) , but they advised possibly Thalassery was a touch nearer. So here we were at 9.15am and it was time to explore for a while.
Reading the Rough Guide to Kerala, it suggested that you could easily walk to the fort within 15 minutes, so we decided to leave our backpacks and walk into town. By asking, we found that there was a Parcel Office on the other platform, so yet more physical exercise getting our packs over the footbridge. Into the office where we thought we would simply just plonk our bags and pick them up later, for a few rupees. But this is India and there seems to be a form for everything. So we had to patiently wait whilst a huge ledger was brought out and all filled out in duplicate and then another sheet had to be completed, giving the time of deposit and approximate time of collection! Very efficient.
Now the guide book is a little misleading here, as it seems to imply you come out the station and walk down a hill to the fort. But in fact you come out into the car park and there is a small road to the left which slowly winds its way into the town. Which way to go? We couldn’t see any downhill direction. So, we started to ask people, but nobody could understand us. Finally we found a police lady, but she also didn’t understand “fort”, so we tried “beach”. This was more successful and she pointed us in the direction. Off we walked, through a bustling, busy town, and 30 minutes later we found ourselves pushing our way through the local fish market, getting quite a few odd looks!
Down onto the beach, which was definitely just for locals. Don’t expect sunbeds and umbrellas! Anyway, I thought as the fort was listed as being on the beach, it would be really easy to see. But it wasn’t! So we set off, trying to pretend we knew exactly what we were doing. Took a few photos of the fishing boats and happened to look up and spotted what looked like some ramparts of the fort, set inland a bit. Climbed up a really steep path and found ourselves in the graveyard of the pinkest church we had ever seen! Can only assume that this was St Joseph’s Church, as the boys school is next door. Next to the church we found the old British cemetery where we tried to find the grave of Englishman Edward Brennan (as mentioned in the guide book), but it was a bit overgrown and the stones had badly eroded, so no luck. However we were now at the rear of the fort and it looked fairly imposing. Walked around to the front and found our way up the steps and inside. Just after the entrance there was a kind of museum/information room where a kind man showed us photos of more forts and temples. We wandered around the battlements and over to the lighthouse (which to be honest has seen better days), where we sat in the shade and planned what to see next. The Rough Guide mentioned that the “Odathil Palli Masjid”, was worth a visit. So we thought we would give it a try. But where was it? We asked the man at the information room and after he asked a few other people, they indicated we should walk along the main road, back towards the fish market. We also wanted an ATM to replenish our funds, so we had 2 objectives. Setting off down the main road, again wasn’t the most pleasurable of experiences, lots of traffic etc, But we walked and walked, past the fish market and into the spice wholesalers area. Quite a few people would come out, smile and shout hello. We showed a couple of people the guidebook and again tried saying Odathil Palli Masjid, but all they could understand was Masjid, and they pointed the way we were walking. Eventually we arrived at a mosque, but it wasn’t the one described in the book, this one was painted green.
We were getting hungry, hot and sweaty (normal day in Kerala, for us!!), so decided we would try our luck back in town. Back through the spice area and up into the centre. We tried asking a few more people about the mosque, but no luck, so gave it up as a bad job. Wandered around and finally found an ATM opposite a large park. Guess what, at the far side of the park was a large mosque, was this it? No it wasn’t.... never mind, I’m sure it was beautiful.
Time was getting on and we had seen as much of Thalassery, as we were going to see, so we walked back towards the station. We stopped at a few local “Hotels” to try for some lunch, but they were all Non Veg (so no good for the wife). The last one we had seen, before the station, was a small one on the main junction and it served biriyani, which the guidebook said was the speciality of Thalassary. In we went. It was very local, but again it was just non veg. The wife said she would make do with just rice and I ordered chicken biriyani. The manager was so friendly that he specially made my wife a plate of vegetable curry to go with the rice.
Back to the train station, collected our bags (20 rupees) and it was time to try and find our way to the beach. We had written the name down and tried showing it to a couple of rickshaw drivers, but yet again they either couldn’t read English, or simply had no idea where it was. It was at this point that a very kind man who was waiting nearby came over to help. He acted as interpreter for us, but he didn’t get much luck either. We had sort of anticipated this problem, and Ezhara Beach House had given us the number of George who was one of the owners. Our Airtel SIM card had been activated, so we gave him a call and explained the problem. He in turn spoke to the kind gentleman and he spoke to the rickshaw drivers. It was three way conversation, with us just being bystanders! The end result was the driver now had an idea of where we were going, but we had to sort out a price. Our interpreter said the driver wanted to use the meter, but we had no idea if this was fair or even what the rates were, so we asked for a fixed price. Finally he said 150 rupees (which Ezhara Beach House had told us was about the right price), and of we went. Yet again the Keralan people had proven how helpful and friendly they were. The ride to the beach provided us with the first proper idea of rickshaw travel in Kerala and we soon learnt that when travelling with our backpacks we needed to get the larger Piaggio rickshaws. We were crushed together like sardines in a can! Anyway, we eventually made it to Ezhara Beach House and were met by our host Hyacinth. At this point I would point out that Hyacinth runs the house and her husband George works in Cochin and returns at weekends.
What a place!! It is located right on the beachfront of Kizhunna Ezhara Beach and is shaded by coconut trees. There is a small Muslim fishing village nearby and then just peace and solitude. The house is at the start of a long beach which is fine golden sand and perfectly clean.
Hyacinth greeted is and showed us the old house which she and George had renovated. We were the only people booked in so we had the choice of upstairs or down. Downstairs had 2 bedrooms and a bathroom. But upstairs had 2 bedrooms, bathroom, fridge and a full length balcony overlooking the beach. No contest! We paid 1,500 rupees per night including breakfast, filtered water and laundry. We lugged our bags up a flight of very steep stairs and unpacked. One of the first things Hyacinth had asked was if we had any laundry. Boy did we have laundry! After the bike accident in Cochin and visiting the pooram, we had enough clothes to give any soap powder a good test! So we loaded her up and set of to walk to the “Secret Beach” which she had told us about.
It was to the left of the house and over a headland. We did get a bit lost and wandered into somebody’s garden, but as always they were very friendly and showed us the path again. It wasn’t too far a walk and we soon found the beach, which we had to climb down a steep path to get to. It was just a small beach, but had some lovely views along the coast. Back to the house and Hyacinth asked what time we would like dinner. There wasn’t any option really to eat anywhere else, so we asked how much dinner was. Not much was the reply! How could we refuse! We said about 8.00pm and pointed out that I liked anything, and my wife was vegetarian and wanted non spicy. No problems said Hyacinth. There was just enough time to venture onto the main beach and have a quick look further to the right, where we found some local fishing boats. Back to our room, borrowed two glasses from Hyacinth and took our rum and coke down onto the beach, where we sat sipping them, whilst watching the sun set over the Arabian Sea. Just what the doctor ordered. A complete opposite from the night before at the pooram!
Dinner was served at a table in front of the house and we had so much food we found it hard to eat it all. But did our best, it was delicious. Also Hyacinth said she would put some Kingfisher and Sand Piper beers in our fridge (75 rupees). I still had my receipt from the liquor shop in Cochin, so everything was sorted. This, we realised, was going to be a hard place to leave! After dinner Hyacinth joined us and we sat chatting. She told us about her life story, local gossip and the history of the house and we regaled her with our adventure so far in Kerala and of other countries we had visited. It was just like sitting talking with an old friend.
The next morning we had breakfast and our first taste of Indian fare, which is really what we wanted. Again there was a tonne of grub and all very tasty (so much better than toast). Oh, and the best tea we had the whole trip! Whilst we were sitting there we spotted a mongoose at the side of the house. Hyacinth told us they come everyday and she puts water out for them. Sure enough they appeared near the kitchen and helped themselves to the water and licked a lid from an ice cream tub. Wildlife at breakfast! She had also told us that crows/ravens could bother us, as they would peck at the upstairs windows. They were simply pecking at their own reflection in the glass and it never bothered us, in fact we found it quite amusing to watch.
Now we like beaches, but are not ones for lying out baking all day trying to look like a wrinkled prune. We prefer to chill in the shade and don’t care if we get a tan or not. Also, due to our wounds gained as a result of the previously mentioned bike crash in Cochin, we couldn’t really go into the sea to swim. So as this was our first full day, we lazed around and then decided we would explore. We set off walking along the beach and it was completely deserted. The only company we had were crabs who scurried along the edge of the surf (looking like they didn’t want to get their feet wet), and eagles/brown kites soaring overhead. The beach stretches for what seems like miles, so we walked and walked. Crossing a small rocky headland the beach continued, and so did we. Eventually reaching another rocky headland, which we thought we could cross. But this route took us along the cliff and past quite a few houses. Finally it turned into a road and headed more inland, so we turned around and headed back to the beach. By the time we got back to Ezhara Beach House, we were pretty tired, as we had been walking for hours (and this was meant to be one of the relaxing parts of the trip!!). Up onto the balcony, feet up and cracked open a really cold Kingfisher. Some things are just too good to put into words!
Whilst we were resting, a rickshaw arrived, with two new guests, who took the ground floor, so Hyacinth was now fully booked. The new couple were German and had been recommended the house by a previous guest they had met in Varkala. It turned out they were a fire act/jugglers and were great company.
Dinner that evening was a communal affair and we even had about 30 minutes of rain, where we briefly had to move the table under the ground floor verandha. Hyacinth again joined us and we all had a good chinwag.
The next day was due to be our last full day, as we had only planned on staying 3 nights. However, we had decided that it was just too special a place to leave just yet. We knew we most probably had too many days pencilled in for Munnar and Varkala later in the trip, so asked if we could stay on. Of course Hyacinth was delighted. I would like to think that was because she enjoyed our company and had nothing to do with the extra cash!!
This morning, the waves were pounding the beach and reaching right up to the tree line (possibly there had been a storm out at sea the previous night, hence the rain). The German couple decided to hire Hyacinth’s scooter and go shopping in Thalassery town. We chilled and then went for a walk around the local village. Once you start walking along the road you enter into maze of side roads and its pot luck where you end up. We walked down some small roads and the locals almost did a double take when they saw us. They must get some tourists from the beach house, but I assume most stay in or around the beach area. I did think to myself, that they must be saying to each other “Now there’s something you don’t see everyday!!”
As we walked we could hear that in some of the houses, the locals appeared to be weaving. We then spotted some, what I presume was yarn, hanging out to dry. Next we spotted a lady working one of the weaving machines and she was happy to let the curious white people have a look. After pottering around the streets and being greeted by everyone we met, we thought we would walk back along the beach, so headed down to the coast. Finding the beach wasn’t a problem, getting onto it was. As mentioned the waves were crashing up the beach and this was causing large flooded areas up against the protective rock sea wall. We wandered along the wall area as best we could, but in places the water had breached it and we had to backtrack. This was definitely amusing the locals, seeing two tourists endeavouring to reach the beach! Eventually we found a dry spot on the beach and by timing it right we managed to jump from the rock wall, over the deep pool of water and onto the sand. Having made it we saw that it wasn’t far back to the beach house. But after only 5 minutes of walking along a deserted beach, again with just the crabs for company, we realised we weren’t going to make it. The waves that had built up along the wall had flowed along until they found a route back to the sea. This route now lay in front of us. There was so much water, it had carved out a deep fissure in the sand and was gushing through it. There was no way we could attempt to cross here as the water would have swept us away, it was flowing so fast. As we stood there the fissure grew wider and wider and the water faster and faster. It was time to turn back. Yet again we had to retrace our steps and climb onto the rock wall. At least it was easier as some of the water had gone now. Back up to the road and back towards the beach house. But some school children had spotted us and came up asking for the usual “One pen” or “One Rupee” or “Chocolate”. We knew, and Hyacinth had confirmed, that we shouldn’t give into their requests as it would just fuel the fire and cause more pestering on a greater scale, for future tourists. So we just laughed and joked with them, as we walked. As we neared the beach house, we could see that the beach was clear of waves, so thought we would make a break for it down the side of a house. Big mistake. The house turned out to be the local school and we were out of the frying pan and into the fire!! All the kids were outside and once they spotted us, that was it. The girls encircled my wife and I got all the boys. It was all good natured and we had a laugh, trying to make ourselves heard above their repeated usual questioning about our names, where we were from and where was our unlimited supply of pens! Making our apologies to their teacher for disrupting his lessons, we made it to the beach and back to the security of our balcony. Every day in Kerala brings something different.
Today was Friday and we had read that the Kannur area was renowned for its Theyyams and in fact we were in the season for them. Hyacinth had found out that there was a local one taking place tonight, so she arranged for a rickshaw to take us there, wait and bring us back, cost about 250 rupees. She had been told that it started about 6.00pm, so we set off and looked forward to the treat that lay ahead of us. We got there for 6.00 and walked into what was like a church yard with various temples dotted about. There were a few drummers in front of one temple and we spotted a seating area to the left where there were a couple of other tourists. Sitting down next to them we asked if we had missed anything. They told us they had had the pleasure of getting there for 4.30 and all that had happened was the drumming. We settled down for the show. After about 30 minutes more drumming, a rather portly man arrived and joined them. He seemed more important, as he had a robe about his waist and a headdress. After he and the drummers visited each temple they finally arrived at the one in front of where we were sat. He was seated and some attendants started to decorate his head and torso in an elaborate pattern. The place had started to fill up with locals, so we knew something special was about to happen. The decorating process took some time, but when it was over he picked up a small shield and sword and for about 2 minutes pranced around waving the sword and banging it against the shield. We had now been here an hour. He then was seated again and his attendants brought out 2 metal structures which they placed either side of him into which the locals went and queued up. They were each presented to him in turn and they all seemed to have a good chat. We just sat there waiting for something to happen. But nothing did. I kept thinking this must just be the warm up act and the real theyyam has still to begin. Sadly not. It dawned upon us that that was that. The four of us sat it out until 8.00pm, but nothing else took place. Not quite as described in the guidebooks, it seemed more like a church service, but at least it was local. The books do say it can be hit and miss, and I think we got a miss. By the time we got back to the beach house, I realised that was 4 hours of my life I wouldn’t get back again! Hyacinth asked what we thought of it, and then told us that other guests had had much the same experience. Luckily we had seen far better at the festivals in Cochin and Ottapalam and also we had dinner waiting for us.
The next day dawned and George had arrived from Cochin. But was rather tired, as he had had to come on the overnight bus, due to the trains being full. We had our breakfast and then we chatted to George who was a wonderful source of knowledge about Kerala and travelling tips. We had intended to travel from Kannur to Wayanad, stay there and then to Ooty, Coimbatore and Munnar. But thanks to the forums we knew that the Wayanad parks were closed due to fire risk. We did know there were other sights around Wayanad, but it was the parks we really wanted to visit. Also getting from there to Munnar was a bit of a slog. So we asked George his opinion. He suggested that even though there were indeed other interesting places around Wayanad, it was going to be extremely hot. He gave us another route to Munnar via a couple of places we had never even heard of, never mind thought of visiting. They seemed like our cup of tea, so we decided to pass on Wayanad this trip. After all you always need a reason to come back!! Georges’ route gave us more time and another reason not to leave the beach (and we didn’t need much of a reason). So what were we to do today. Well we had read on the forum that there were some backwaters and islands, north of Kannur, at Payyannur, which were supposed to be as, if not more beautiful, than those around Alleppey. George had arranged this trip for the person who had posted about it, so could give us all the details. He suggested that one way would be to get a rickshaw into Kannur and then catch a train to Payyannur and the either walk or rickshaw to the jetty. The ferry times were 6.30am, then 9.45am, 1 pm and 4.20pm. It was now approaching 11.00am and we didn’t think there was enough time to do it that way. So he suggested we take Hyacinths’ scooter. If we set off soon we could just make it for the 1.00pm ferry. OK, I had my confidence back after the accident, so we voted for the scooter trip. George wrote down the place names in Malayalam for us and off we went. Realising that it was about 60kms from where we were starting from!
We somehow found our way through the maze of side roads and onto the main road up to Kannur. This was where the fun began (not). Now, we had experienced some traffic in Cochin and its surroundings, but this was the NH17 and the main route to Mangalore and beyond. This was hardcore traffic!! This was take no prisoners traffic!!
In India they drive on the same side of the road as here in the UK – the left. But in India, it seems like you must spend as much time on the right hand side of the road, as humanly possible, trying to see if you are braver than the oncoming driver!! It really seems like you will have a rickshaw trying to overtake a slow moving truck, with a bus trying to overtake the rickshaw, whilst a taxi is trying to get past all 3 and all on a bend with another bus thundering towards them. We were usually somewhere in amongst all of them!!
We thought we were coping reasonably well with the situation until we started to approach the outskirts of Kannur town and the traffic started to become more congested and took on a sadistic streak. I was beginning to understand that you had to ignore what was behind you and hope that they would avoid you (my wife was acting as rear gunner and would shout truck or bus coming). All my attention was focused on the condition of the road surface, what was happening in our immediate vicinity, and whether anyone would take a blind bit of notice as they hurtled out of side roads without looking, even when we sounded the horn!
Somehow we made it safely into the centre of town and arrived at a roundabout, where we assumed we needed to go right. Road signs would have been nice! However, it was sheer lunacy in trying to go right. Maybe if we had had a tank, we may have stood a slight chance of getting through the solid wall of buses and trucks! So we had no option but to turn left and see where it took us. Well it took us into the bus station, were we had a jolly ride around trying to find a way out. Somehow, and I still don’t know how, we found our way out and even back onto the main NH17 on the far side of the roundabout! The journey continued. Ever aware of the time and how far we still had to travel, we didn’t have the time to stop and admire the passing scenery (if there was any) and we just solidly kept our heads down and struggled on. We had no idea of where we where and towns and villages just came and went. Eventually we stopped and showed people the place names George had written for us and we got directions. We finally ended up in Payyannur, but still had to find the jetty, which, with the help of Georges’ Malayalam writing, we found out was left off the main highway and down through the town, across the railway (always a joy to cross with their triple speed bumps each side) and then left. We knew we were close but still had to find it. Lots off stopping and poking our scrap of paper at people. Lastly, a kind man jumped on his bike and gestured for us to follow him and he pointed out the side road down to the jetty. Phew, we had only just managed it. It was 12.50 and we had 10 minutes to spare. The wife walked up the road to a small shop and just double checked we were at the right spot, which we were. It had taken us 2 hours of what I can only say was shear misery, to get here, but we had made it. We knew we had the horrible journey back again, but at least we could relax for a couple of hours and enjoy the backwaters. We stood on the jetty and waited. One of the men from the shop wandered down and asked what we were doing. We explained that we were going to visit the backwaters and the islands. He looked puzzled and said there wasn’t a ferry until 6.30am the next day. We said, no, we know there is one at 1.00pm. He kind of shrugged and got into his canoe. Oh, now we understood, he was going to try and offer to take us for a fee. But he didn’t, he simply paddled off? So we waited, and we waited and then we waited some more! By the time it got to 1.30pm, we realised that he wasn’t kidding and there wasn’t a ferry. Aaaaaarghhhhh!!!!!!!. What did Kerala have against us? We had gone through all that, just to stand on a concrete jetty and look at what we might have seen. We rang George, to see if he could offer any advice. He said there should have been a ferry, but if not, then maybe we should wait for the 4.20pm one. This wasn’t remotely a possibility. Not only did it mean waiting around in the middle of nowhere for 3 hours, but it also meant we would be travelling back in the dark. No Way, José! He told us there was another road we could take and try and get over to an island. He tried his best to direct us over the phone, but it was never going to work. We tried our best, but basically ended up at a dead end near a large Naval Academy. It was time to admit defeat. So, we bit the bullet and set off back, along the highway from hell! Again it was a solid 2 hours of being pushed off the road by trucks and buses, before we made it back to the beach house. We looked at each other and our faces were completely covered in dirt, sweat and suntan lotion. I likened the experience to playing a computer game were you only have one life!!
This was the worst day of our trip and unless you are an experienced bike rider (or simply have a death wish), I wouldn’t recommend ever attempting what we did, even if you had a guarantee from the Pope that the ferry was running. Simply allow more time and take the train option, or stay where you are and stick pins in your eyes!!
We are still waiting for some sort of certificate or medal which states we drove along an Indian highway, on a scooter, and survived!
The next day was Sunday, and sadly, it had to be our last at the beach. We just had to be strict with ourselves and move on. We sat with George and Hyacinth and discussed where we would go from Kannur (prior to Munnar) and how to get there. George gave us directions and advised on places to stay and what transport to take. So we were sorted. We had a look at some of the accommodation, he had suggested, on the internet, which was in Hyacinths’ room, and then settled down to do nothing.
We took our books and Ipod down to the beach and just chilled in the shade of the coconut palms. This was despite the best efforts of the local children, who collected every shell they could find, which they arranged into a large pile, for our approval. Finally topping it off with a dead baby lizard... nice!
In the afternoon we took a gentle stroll along the beach and chatted to some local families who had come from the nearby villages and then took our last photos of the sunset (of course, whilst sipping our rum and cokes on the beach).Then we just had enough time to write a little poem for the visitors book and for the wife to get “No meat, No Fish, and No Chilli” written down in Malayalam, so she could show it in the next places we would eat in.
George had to leave to catch his train back to Cochin and said he would buy our train tickets for us, for the next day, and send them back with the driver. We were slightly concerned about this train, as he said it left Kannur at 05.45am, but when we checked on the IRCTC website, it didn’t list it. However, when the driver returned with the tickets, he confirmed that they had checked the time and it was correct. But, of course, as it was for the next day, we just had ordinary second class tickets. Cheap, but we were a bit wary about 6 hours in second class. Hyacinth said to simply have a word with the ticket inspector on the train and ask him if he could upgrade us to A/C, and give him a few rupees for his trouble. Wink, wink.
So, that was it, we had our last dinner, which Hyacinth had prepared specially for me (as I had seen the Green Lip Mussels on the beach, so she had bought some for me), said our farewells to the German couple and went to pack, ready for another early start and yet another, well off the beaten track adventure, in Palakkad and Nelliampathy.