XV Planes, Lakes, Peaks

I am currently in the city of Coimbatore, the supposed Manchester of India. I have to disagree, though, for everyone here has a charming, accent, pleasing & amiable manner, plus the sun shines all the time – & I haven’t even heard Fools Gold once. My journey here began in Madurai just before New Year & swept me plain-to-plain over the Palani Hills – a mountain spur that juts out easterly from the main chain that are the western Ghats – the north to south running ’Apennines’ of the subcontinent.

At the top of the Palani Hills – though at 2000 meters above sea level they are twice as big as Ben Nevis – lies Kodaikanal. The journey there was one for the soul, my bus sluggishly climbing the winding mountain roads for a good 50 kilometers. At every turn the scenery was wonderful, from mile-high waterfalls to the glittering lakes in the plains far below. The lush greenery was peppered with purple, pink & orange January flowers – reminding me that snowdrops shall soon be out in Britain. Both climb & landscape seemed very much of the Pyrenees, as once again the global microcosm that is India once more altered breathlessly its shade of natural landscape.

After 3 hours of bus-crawl I was rather surprised to find how sprawled-out the busy, ‘taxi-taxi-taxi’ town of Kodaikanal was, hugging the slopes all around the central lake. It was like being in Rome or Sheffield, only above the clouds. The plains below were obscured by a pure white sea of cloud, shining brilliantly in unadulterated sun. By day Kodai is a pleasant 20 or so degrees, but by night the temperature drops to about 10 & I found myself practically freezing to death. So much so, that on my first morning in Kodai I woke up with what turned out to be a wee spot of flu. After spending new year in bed with a fever, buried under the epic blankets the hotel provided, I quickly descended once more to the warmth of the plains, convinced I was dying of some kind of fatal mosquito-borne disease. It’s a funny feeling getting ill so far from the NHS, but after explaining my symptoms to an ordinary pharmacist, a few pills later & I was right as rain.

The journey to Palani was among the greatest I have ever taken. The mountains were simply gorgeous, a kind of snowless New Zealand, lush with greenery, like an English country forest. Half-way down the serpentine roads we even stopped for tea at a lovely spot, perch’d high over the plains. Below me, by a glittering lake, was the temple town of Palani. It was reach’d after descending to the plains, the green sea of coconut groves growing ever clearer until with a metaphorical splash those treetops were now above my head.

I stayed in Palani a couple of days – the view of the mountains I had left behind was magnificent from the silence of my hotel rooftop, but there wasn’t much to it. I was really there to muse & shake off my flu. I did, however, take a wee trip to the temple, perched atop a wee hill, but it was like Glasto back when you could sneak in – total rammers with the rattle of toy plastic guns going off every few feet. It wasn’t for me, so I took a walk around a bit of the lake instead – where I got my feet mucky as fuck. There then followed an amusing moment when I barged into some women filling up their water carriers, asked to use the tap, & got my feet & sandals cleaned by a not unattractive bird

Further up the plain I finally came to Coimbatore. I thought that I had another Ramashwaram on my hands, its holiday time & every lodge was filled up. Luckily I got a room in a pretty decent hotel just towards the end of a frustrating, fluey afternoon, & I’ve been holed up there ever since. It’s quite central & I feel like someone who lives in Soho stepping out into Tottenham Court Road very morning. My days have begun at 6.45 AM, playing cricket with some lads of my own age – & getting better at it every day – winning their respect in the process. The rest of the time I’ve been taking advantage of the cheap internet & printing & typing up the Kural. I printed off my first hard copy yesterday, a great feeling, & as I flicked through them walking through the night back to my pad I felt like Thiruvallavar would have felt as he carried his palm leaf manuscript about the streets of Tamil Nadu 2000 years ago.

Coimbatore is also hosting this trade fair at the moment, & I went down to check it out. I was a little disappointed at first, until I was told I’d gone into the children’s’ playground next door by mistake. But I did see some kids playing kabbadi on rollerskates – very cool. Next door, then, was the trade fair. It was like one big, happy Tamil family, but the stalls were mostly as tacky as Burnley market. There was a wicked fair, though, whose rides; from ferris wheel to crazy spinny things, would put many in Britain to shame… but after the waltzers on Brighton pier 2001 I’d sworn I’d never get on another ride again. Then Glenda managed to blag me to go on this crazy thing in Dumfries last summer – reinforcing my former vow. However, I never said anything about camel rides. After watching groups of up to 4 parents & kids float about these ships of the desert, I thought ‘fuck it,’ paid 40 rupees so I could have the thing to myself, & went bobbing about the fair, much to everyone’s amusement.

 Coimbatore… 8-1-09

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