29.03.2013 - 25.04.2013
Fights, bruises, being shouted at by old ladies - another bus journey across India, as we head up to the mountains of Tamil Nadu, taking hairpin bends at top speed, overtaking on blind corners and the usual array of life-threateningly appalling driving that thrill-seeking Indian bus drivers love so much.
Kodaikanal where we spend the next couple of weeks, is very high up, about 2000 metres, and the hostel we're staying is perched on a mountainside with a fabulous views of the surrounding forests and the valley below - on clear days. Other days we're just looking down on cloud, nothing visible at all except grey, like gazing over the edge of the world. The town is surrounded by natural beauty - forests, waterfalls, wildlife, dramatic mountain views and clean air. It's a perfect spot for Indian families to roar around the quiet country lanes in their SUVs, horns blasting constantly, taking photos of each other in front of picturesque views while making as much noise as humanly possible and leaving behind as much rubbish as they can muster.
The hostel is a cluster of little self-contained buildings, occupied by western backpackers and Indian families. One night a group of local work colleagues stay in the dorm room next to us, dance drunkenly round a bonfire, sing, fall over, dance some more, then come over to 'chat' to us, which involves one of them insisting he has an important message we have to give Britain about his placenta, weeping, and being carried away by his friends. Apart from the odd placenta-related outburst, rainstorms, and water buffalo in the garden munching the shrubbery it's very peaceful and beautiful, which is just as well, as I end up being grounded there for a couple of weeks with an infected leg. Three mosquito bites on my leg have turned into big seeping ulcers which refuse to heal and get bigger and seepier to the point where walking is quite difficult. So no hiking for me, just a lot of sitting enjoying the view, which is fortunately wonderful, and watching the birds and the changing light on the hills.
We have a few days away from this rural idyll at somewhere even more rural and idyllic, an organic farm on another nearby mountainside, run by an old man with a long white beard and flowing white robes who looks like a proper guru and rhapsodises about London in the 60s and acid and festivals, as proper gurus should. He has transformed the hillside from a bare potato farm to a wonderful huge green oasis, planting thousands of fruit and other trees and crops of vegetables, spices, bananas and coffee. It's an incredible achievement. It would be even more idyllic if there were no mice in the house, a proper toilet and electricity in the evenings, but in daylight it's heavenly. Again there is nothing to do apart from read, write, think and enjoy the nature. So I start to write some short stories.
Our stay in India ends with a few days near Pondicherry on the east coast. We stay in an indescribably bad hotel by the beach, in a room promising a sea view - if you stand on a chair, on tiptoe, you can just about see a tiny distant patch of blue. But you can hear goats bleating in the adjoining field, and it's cool and quiet (as no-one else is daft enough to stay here) so not completely terrible. We visit Pondicherry (French, occasionally pictureseque, mostly annoying), Auroville (big creepy utopian community/possible cult) and go to the beach (mostly filthy). Other than that we read, reflect on all the things we've seen and done, and look forward to being back in London and having our lives back.
India has been beautiful, frustrating, hilarious, maddening, depressing and wonderful. But more maddening than usual - six weeks of constant overcharging, petty dishonesty, belligerence and horrendous traffic are starting to wear us down, to the extent that we won't feel too sorry to leave. Apart from the push of accumulating annoyances, there is also the pull of things to come home for - music, friends, new projects, my cooking, our garden in May. We've had an epic six months, seen incredible places, and had some major realisations. It has been a real journey in every sense. But now - we're ready to go home.