The answer to a good holiday is to throw money at it. This should safeguard against our typical holiday experiences that include Starvation in Serbia, Starvation in Senegal and even Starvation in Alsace-Lorraine which we neither of us thought possible. Another ingredient is not to be too clever, if somewhere is recommended as one of the top hideaway destinations in Asia, just go for it and so it is that we find ourselves 3.5 hrs from the Beach Hotel in Calicut (origin of the word Calico and where Vasco da Gama first set foot in the sand in 1498) and up in the Western Ghats which rise from the coast to meet the plateau of central India.
We had been warned. Lovely staff at the beautiful, measured and tasteful Brunton Boatyard hotel in Kochi had been amply cautious about my plans to travel North. “Much enjoyment will not be had there’. After five hours on a train admiring water buffalo wallowing, buying Biryani through the window to discover we had no way of eating it and hanging out of the open door for the experience, we had to agree. Calicut is not quite as charming as its ancient history of boat builders (Cleopatra’s barges are supposed to have been built here along with Admiral Nelson’s flagship), traders and adventurers would suggest. The little bottle in our bathroom confidently marked ‘Shamboo’ was one of the first indications that we were now on our own. Attempts to secure a glass of wine were painfully met and resulted in two tiny portions of acid port, the lime sodas we resorted to came with the offer of a spoonful of salt. The Malabar coast is the best place in the whole of India for seafood I reassured Emile. The restaurant we slogged to through the pouring rain had nothing but chicken. I began to empathize with the sentiment of a close neighbor in the US who was eloquently incredulous of our holiday plans.
And so it is that we chose to wend our way up the monsoon battered road and through the banks of mist. The coconut palms petered out to be replaced by the colourful revving and reversing of traffic congested hairpin bends. Up we ascended, observed by colonies of monkeys sitting by the roadside like old men enjoying the day’s comings and goings and so traversed the Ghats emerging suddenly in the sunlight of the plateau.
We alighted at Tranquil, a beautiful home set amidst a 600 acre coffee and spice plantation. After a lunch that our hosts had saved for us, we set off on a walk through the plantation, climbing higher and higher past the dripping coffee bushes and fermenting jackfruit. It was at this point that Emile was allowed to be very masculine and I to be very feminine, also an essential holiday ingredient. Emile found a leech on his leg and examined it with scientific curiosity. I found a leech on my foot and let out four almighty shrieks. Leech number two was met with three shrieks; leech three with two shrieks and four with one shriek. I have not, managed to traverse the one shriek threshold and tend to let out a prolonged one of several pitches to make up for the fact that I can no longer resume the two shrieks without looking as though I am regressing.
Despite our bloodsucking friends who were along for the ride, we continued up the path and clambered onto a massive pink granite outcrop commanding views across all the surrounding valleys. A strange assortment of cactus and ferns grew from its crevices. Monkeys flung themselves from the branches and cicadas deafened themselves. On and up we climbed, coming in the middle of nowhere upon what looked like one man bus stop, a corrugated iron contraption with a wooden bench. An elderly gentleman in round Ghandi-like spectacles stood up and greeted us somewhat apologetically before shaking his newspaper and seating himself again. Rather to our disappointment he had vanished when we later made our way down.