The route to Subramanya

areca nut farm near subramanya

Subramanya bound, and fresh air.

Having been kept awake all night by the hostel’s party animals going out nightclubbing and noisily returning at all hours between 03:00 and 05:00 without any consideration for the other hostel guests, PK and I arose at 06:00 and headed for the Majesty bus station in Bangalore for the journey to Subramanya.

We had dosa with curry and chutney for breakfast at the bus station. I love dosa. The portions were so big it defeated both of us, but it did set us up for the seven hour journey to Subramanya. The morning was cold and I needed my sweater on. By eight o’clock the sun is up properly and the sweater was relegated to the rucksack.

The bus journey to Subramanya takes about 7 hours. Initially across the relatively flat-lands of the central portion of the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Then it takes a downward route with hairpin bends and spectacular views as it descends the Western Ghats towards the coast and the Arabian Sea. The roads aren’t bad, no worse than some of the country roads in Eire or Wales. The same can’t be said of Indian drivers. Overtaking on the worst possible bends, driving three abreast, the journey can be nerve wracking. I just relax and work on the principle that if my time is up, it’s up.

After a couple of rest stops to get the rectangles out of the backside we reached Subramanya, home to the famous temple of Kartikeya, the son of Shiva.

[quote from Wikipedia] In this temple Kartikeya is worshipped as Subramanya, lord of all serpents. The epics relate that the divine serpent Vasuki and other serpents found refuge under Subramanya when threatened by the Garuda.

Kartikeya is also know as Murugan, Skanda or Kumara. He is the brother of Ganesha (known as Ganapati in the south of India).

Now it’s time for a local bus and then a short trip in an auto-rickshaw (tuk-tuk) to PK’s parent’s farm down by the river Kumaradara. The Kumaradara flows through Subramanya too, and the religious pilgrims bathe in the holy water. I just swim in it.

Down on the farm

areca nut trees near subramanya
areca nut trees

PK’s parent’s were delighted to see me again. They frequently ask after me when PK is home and on the messenger to me. “When is Q coming over again?” I would love to be able to speak to them without needing PK or his brother Rathan to translate. I have to learn the Kannada language, or at least enough to have basic communication.

rubber milk collection
rubber milk collection
PK’s father farms. Principally areca nuts that are used as a stimulant that they chew in much the same way that western people used to chew tobacco. He also collects pepper from the vines on various trees and taps rubber. You can see the areca nuts drying in the main picture. In the photos there is a picture of PK’s dad at the rubber trees and the milk collection bowl. It’s hot an humid here; probably in the high 20s or low 30s celsius (USA friends do the math 😉 )

After a couple of cups of tea we, PK, Rathan and I, head for the river for a swim. The water is beautiful and warm. Warmer than the air temperature in the UK at this time of year. I hate cold water but this is lovely and refreshing. PK’s dad is going to go fishing tomorrow and I’ll head along with him to take some photos. I had assumed that they’d be fishing with rods and poles but I was wrong, they’ll net the river.

Supper is of curry and boiled rice of a type that I’ve never seen or tried. The grains are huge and fat with little black flecks. It’s surprisingly light. PK’s mum seems to want me to get fatter – she fed me way too much. So we had a giggle as I stopped her from mounding my portions daily. Out here in the countryside the food is served on a banana leaf instead of plates. I would have liked to have taken a photo or two but I felt that maybe they would have been a bit embarrassed. I’ll try and rectify this later in a roadside café.

The milk in the tea is straight from the cow. It’s lovely tea but as I have a slight lactose intolerance I requested milk-less tea. The tea is strong, so strong you could tar the road with it. A little sugar is needed.

The nights are quiet with only the sound of the odd night bird and night-time insects. No traffic noise whatsoever. The sky is crystal and the stars are so bright away from the light pollution. I can see Orion and Taurus easily and much higher in the sky than they would be in Wales. Gemini is over head and Leo is just fading into the trees and the horizon. To the south are stars that I don’t know. They’d be below the horizon in the UK and invisible. Ursa Major and the Pole star aren’t visible because they are so low on the northern horizon here. I don’t even know if they would be visible from this latitude. I have seen them in Uttar Pradesh but U.P. is about 2000 km north of here.

In this little valley near the village of Yedamangala 4G connection isn’t really available. A climb up the hill soon rectifies that but it does mean that communication and writing this is impossible. In a couple of days I’ll be back in Perlampady where the connection is permanent(-ish) albeit a bit slow.

Rubber tapping in Karnataka

A few pictures from down on the farm

Bangalore 2020

Chaya or tea in Bangalore

I arrived in Bangalore (Bengaluru) at 00:35 on the 23rd of January. The Air France flight was 25 minutes late. Due to the coronavirus that is running in China at the moment the immigration hall at Kempegowda International Airport was a nightmare. Queues everywhere. Lots of officials wearing masks doing… well not much.

I joined the queue. The wrong queue. None of the officials saw fit to try and direct the weary passengers from multiple flight to the proper lines. I was in the line for the health questions for people coming from China and Hong Kong. Obviously I needn’t have been as I’d arrived from the UK via France.

Having waited all the way to the front of the queue I was informed that I’d joined the wrong queue, so I headed for passport control and joined that line. Yup – it was the wrong one too. I have an e-Visa. Different queue.

Two hours later and about three aircraft’s worth of baggage on the baggage claim belt 10 I finally have my biometrics taken (I’m not a criminal but I’m subjected to having fingerprints taken and a facial scan) and I’m free to collect my rucksack.

PK has now been waiting for me since 00:10.

Bus to Bangalore

The bus ride into the centre of Bangalore was uneventful but lengthy enough to be a literal pain in the arse having been sitting down, effectively, since 20:45 on the 21st of January.

At nearly 04:00 PK and I exit the bus at Cubbon Park in the centre of Bangalore. I know we are near the hostel but as I don’t have an Indian SIM and PK’s credit is out we wander around for a good while without Google maps help trying to find Social Rehab Downtown Hostel. The place isn’t going to open until 08:00 so we have time.

Finally locating the hostel we are faced with a 2 hour and 40 minute wait until the doors open. PK leans on the bell and we are let in at about 05:20. We both fall asleep on the sofa in the social gathering area of the hostel for a couple of hours. It’s ok, this is India and it’s pretty normal to crash out when and where possible.

Breakfast, lunch and supper

Vegetarian restaurant Bangalore
Anna Kuteera veg restarurant

Very much refreshed we head out looking for an Airtel shop to buy me a SIM, recharge PK’s phone and to find some chaya and grub. The phone shop opens at 10:30 so… grub first. Anna Kuterra (only vegetarian food) provides the grub. The food there is so good that we’ll end up eating there every meal time. I’ve been missing dosa and idli. Two cups of chaya, two plates of dosa, sambar and chutney 120/-Rs. UK money, about £1·50. Stuffed to the gills. You’d be unlikely to get a coffee back home for that!

Lovely food – all vegetarian

SIM purchased and installed and I’m connected to the net at last. 289/- Rs (£3) for 28 days and 1·5Gb of data daily. More than enough for me.

We have a meeting in town at 15:00 on the 24th – more on that later. So now is the time for a quick explore of the local area. I don’t want to stay in Bangalore, I want to get out to PK’s parent’s farm near Yadamangala. His mum and dad ask after me frequently and I want to visit them again, breathe some fresh air, have a swim in the river Kumaradara, sleep with only the noise of night birds and insects (and the occasional dog barking).

Beer in Bangalore

Many people I know think that India is dirty and covered with rubbish. In some places it is. But Bangalore is a modern city, it’s kept clean and tidy and has some lovely architecture and great food. PK and I discovered a bar where they brew excellent beer on site, and I mean excellent! Yes it was a little pricey but, sure, I’m used to UK and Europe prices so… what the hell. The Bière Club wouldn’t be out of place in any major European city. Their choices are

  • Blonde Ale
  • Lager
  • Stout
  • Wheat Beer

I had a couple of the blonde ales, PK a Lager and a blonde ale. But I also had samplers (chupito/shot size) of the other two.

We are leaving Bangalore on the 25th. So no more beer and back to the hostel for an early start.

Bike ride into the Western Ghats

Western Ghats - Talakaveri

Uncomfortable in the Western Ghats

Baja Pulsar 220 F in the western ghats
Baja Pulsar 220 F
Madan has had me sitting on the back of Baja Pulsar F 220cc motorbike for my journeys into the Western Ghats mountains of this part of India. The bike is incredibly uncomfortable and the scenery is incredibly beautiful. So it makes a sore bum worth while. (I linked the specs of the bike for those of you that like that kind of thing… Yes Tim, you.)

Areca nuts
Areca nuts with a cat. Looks uncomfortable.
The geography of this area and the Western Ghats still confuses me, largely to do with the place names that bear no resemblance to European place names. I’ve been to the joining of the three rivers that form the holy river of the south, the Kaveri, at Talakaveri (tala = head) and I’ve seen coffee plantations. There are coconut palms everywhere and also areca nut palms. The latter look a little like mini-coconuts both growing and when taken apart, they are fibrous inside just like a coconut. They are a little smaller than a tennis ball. Areca is used as a kind of tobacco substitute here. It’s chewed with a bit of tobacco wrapped up in a leaf that has a light coating of lime on it. As yet I haven’t tried it, and I’m not sure that I will. We’ll see.

The Western Ghats of Karnataka and Kerala

The bike ride took us in and out of Karnataka and Kerala as the border is very close to this part of Karnataka State. The Western Ghats run the length of the western side of India, a bit like the Andes in South America. In places we were in deep jungle and I’m still hoping for some wildlife. Tigers don’t exist here but there are cheetahs and elephants. To date I’ve only seen birds which move too quickly to get pictures. I’d need to sit still for a couple of hours. In other areas the scenery is open and rolling with mountains in the distance. The rivers are fairly dry at the moment but Madan tells me that they are huge and fast running in the monsoon season.

Hanuman in the Western Ghats
Hanuman paying devotion to Shiva at Hanumagiri
We climbed Ranipuram in Kerala and saw the vistas of the Western Ghats from on high. Some of those photos I put on Facebook. I went to Hanumagiri which is a huge temple dedicated to Hanuman, the monkey god that helped Rama rescue his wife Sita from Ravana the king of Sri Lanka who was claimed to be a Rakshasa, a demon. There is a lot of information on the legends of Hanuman on the Wikipedia site. Here in India Hanuman is jokingly referred to as Superman’s big brother. Read the stories and find out why. The little squirrel I mentioned in this post is tied in with this legend. It helped Shiva to construct the land bridge to Sri Lanka to rescue Sita.

western ghats roadhouse
Madan waiting for his food
We stopped for lunch, it cost about 2 quid for the both of us. I had a pilau I don’t remember what the name of Madan’s dish but it was served on a banana leaf. Here in the south they eat with their fingers. They claim it tastes better that way. I don’t see how and I haven’t noticed. Nevertheless I’ve had to learn the technique as some of the eateries don’t supply cutlery. I’ve explained that in Europe one of the first things you teach children is NOT to eat with their fingers. Personally I find it pretty gross to have food all over my right hand, but that’s the culture here. Granted all the establishments have a hand basin or some sort of wash facility.

Journey south to Perlampady, Karnataka

Perlampady, Karnataka header

On my way to Perlampady, Karnataka

Areca nut tree - perlampady, kernataka
Areca nut tree
Well I’m down in Perlampady, Karnataka in the south west of India. Above Kerala and below Mumbai (Bombay). I’m staying with Madan’s family. His mum, sister and brother. This is jungle territory. Coconuts, rubber trees, bananas and areca nut trees.

perlampady, karnataka
Karnataka State
Madan and I flew out of Delhi to Bengaluru (Bangalore) on IndiGo airlines. The flight left at 17:05 but we had to suffer the 4 hour bus from Simbhaoli to Delhi with my case that’s as big as a coffin but at least my ukulele fits inside. The plane arrived in Bangaluru, the capital of Karnataka half an hour early at 19:20 which meant that we had plenty of time to get the 50km from the airport into the city and find the bus to Perlampady, near Mangaluru.

Bangalore buses

Bangalore bus station is… well let’s just say that I was glad to be with Madan. They don’t speak Hindi here but Kannada, not that I speak either. One thing I noticed almost straight away is that the roads are better maintained, the traffic obeys the rules of the road that I learned. The drivers don’t seem to feel the need to drive with one hand on the horn constantly as they do in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, and the roads are clean.

The bus station has more of an organised European feel, rather than the pandemonium of Anand Vihar in Delhi. It is also considerably cleaner. I’m guessing that the presence of litter bins and rubbish bins and fines has something to do with it. Either way the people down here don’t just toss their waste onto the ground or out of the car window.

We found a bus. Apparently there are a number that we could have used to get to the area Perlampady, Karnataka. This bus went to Subramanya, a temple town near to Madan’s village. Near is a loose word here in India. We’ll still have 50km to cover when we arrive.

The bus is, what I’d call, a basic cross town bus and we’ve got 350km to do in it. Rigid seats, no room for my coffin case but clean. Yes there are other more salubrious buses, sleepers, semi-sleepers, air conditioned and more. This one cost us about 450/- rupees – for both of us! Ok, I can deal with 350km for less than 3 quid each.

At ten o’clock the bus pulled out on time and we drove through the streets of Bangaluru. Again I noticed how much cleaner the city seemed to be, compared to New Delhi. The air also seemed less polluted but that could be due to the time of day. I’m told that the Bangaluru traffic is horrendous. It wasn’t bad at this time of night on Christmas day. By eleven we’d exited the city and we’d stopped at a roadside eatery for supper.

Now back on the bus the internal lights were switched off and we rumbled off into the west and the night. It’s hard to sleep on seats that are hard and nearly 90° backs. Actually it’s nearly impossible (for me anyway). I drifted in an out of dozing until we reached the Western Ghats. Now the road has to descend the mountain roads. Hairpin bends and, in this area, poorly maintained and some serious water damage from the monsoon rains. Some of the holes would swallow a small economy car. Driving in India is done on the left, like the UK, but here – well just use the bit of the road with fewer holes. Overtake where you can (and where you wouldn’t in Europe).

We eventually arrived in Subramanya at about 05:30. The town/village was already awake. Apparently this is because the temple here is famous and has many visitors and pilgrims. The temple is dedicated to Shiva’s son Shanmukha. I was glad the public toilet had no light 🙂

Now for the last bit. We found the bus to Perlampady, Karnataka and hoisted the coffin aboard. Again, the fare for both of us wouldn’t have got one stop in the UK. The driver made use of the early hour to try out his rally skills. On a few occasions I was literally lifted from the seat when hitting a particularly nasty bump. The twists and turns and hairpin bends made sure that no more sleep was possible.

Madan’s home in Perlampady, Karnataka

perlampady, karnataka
Looking over some of the Perlampady houses
So we arrived in Perlampady. Madan’s younger brother Kiran was waiting at the bus stop to see his older brother and the strange white man of whom the family had heard. We walked about 150 metres to their house where I met Madan’s mum, Selvamani. His nearly eighteen year old sister Chandrika was still in bed. I guess teenagers throughout the world are more or less the same.

Chandrika and Kiran speak english, albeit shyly. Selvamani has a couple of words. Once the shyness started to disappear both Chandrika and Kiran started to speak to me. It’s hard with non native languages even when you do learn them at school. The only way to get better is to speak, speak, speak. I hope my stay here helps young Kiran with his school work. Chandrika is at college in Mangaluru and will return there on the 30th or 31st for the new term. India’s new year falls on the 14th of January so the Christian festivals aren’t that important to Hindus.

Rubber tapping in Perlampady
Rubber tapping
So here I am, in the middle of a south Indian jungle surrounded by banana trees, areca nut palms, coconuts and rubber trees. It seems that a lot of the labour here is involved in rubber tapping the huge acreage of rubber trees.

This is paradise to me. If I get to stay in India I think that it will definitely be in the south of India. The temperature is in the high twenties, low thirties. I’m going to dig my shorts out and then have a wee siesta.