Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A full day of (cold) fun

Woke up early - thanks to my guest-house owner knocking on my door - askign for payment for that night. Quite annoying. However, it did mean that I got up early enough to actually enjoy the day. Also, given that it is mostly wet, and cold here (my towel is never dry in the morning for a shower), I'm quite happy to leave - as soon as I've "done" the touristy things....

Pretty much every rickshaw driver in town does a few set tours - they even have a menu that they show you, listing the places they take you. The most expensive being a trip to the "Top Station" - one of the highest points in the area, and the border with the adjoining state of Tamil Nadu.

Most of the rickshaw drivers wanted between 350 and 400 rupees for this trip...depending on how stupid they thought I was. However, after about 10 minutes of haggling, I managed to get one guy down to 250. I don't think he was used to this kind of business, as he kept complaining that his profit for the 4 hour sightseeing trip would be just a dollar.

However, at multiple points along the trip - he took the time to tell anyone within listening distance about how much I'd haggled him down, and how I was only paying 250.. after a while, it seemed, it had turned into something to be proud of.

The trip was amazing - through hilly tea plantations, an artificial lake/dam - with an "echo point" where you could shout and hear your voice bouncing around the nearby hills.

I saw women picking tea - at the lower altitudes, they chopped the leaves off the bushes with tools (crappy cheap tea), and at the higher altitudes, they picked the young leaves by hand. My rickshaw driver told me that the tea pickers make 70 rupees per day (about $1.75). This includes free rent, free hospital access, and rice at 50% cost (5 rupees per kg instead of the 10 that people pay in town). Still, for 10 hours a day of back-breaking labor, this sucks.

At the echo point, we stopped for cardamon chai (amazing), and deep fried battered peppers (slightly spicy, but more like bell peppers than chilis). Amazing.

On the way up, we passed through a national park checkpoint, and somehow, again to my driver's amazement, I managed to talk my way out of the 20 rupee "park entrance fee" (i.e. a bribe to the head guy at the checkpoint). This entertained my driver to a considerable degree - and he kept chuckling about it for a good 20 minutes after. "Good business man. No backsheesh. Hah!"

At the top of the hill, which we reached after about 45 minutes of driving, it felt like you were in the clouds. A thick layer of mist covered the area - stopping the view that is supposed to be quite breathtaking. However, the view of mountain tops covered in white cotton wool like mist was itself quite beautiful.

While it's nice to be taking hot showers (as cold ones would kill me), I think it's time to move on. I'm not happy about being cold (and of course, wet). I'll be heading downhill tomorrow, either south or west.. but i any case, it will be towards warmth - away from the hilltop tea plantations, and back towards the tropical coconut trees.

I have to say though, Kerala is the closest to Eden that i've seen. Everything is lush here, the food is tasty. Amazing spices are grown locally - enough to supply many parts of India with Cardamon, Black Pepper, and a few others.

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