An amazing 3 week cultural 'dip' into the real South India; long journeys with plenty of time to observe Indian life at close quarters and reflect upon the history and sociology of this fantastic country. Never a dull moment.
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
The City Palace at Mysore; Mahabalipuram Rock Carvings.
Eating dinner at the Summer Palace of a Maharaja in Ooty and visiting the wealthy Chettinad mansions--- neither on the itinerary.
Climbing barefoot up the 700 steps of the sacred Jain hill.
Having mentioned Rick Stein, Charles downloaded the BBC programmes and arranged for us to have Rick's favourite curry in all of India , cooked by the same chef, on the seashore at Mahabalipurum , with the same fish and of course we were invited to watch in the kitchen.
- What did you think of your group leader?
Charles is a whirlwind of ideas and energy, with a real 'can do' attitude. Always cheerful with a great sense of humour; always trying to please every member of the group; always ready to reshape the itinerary.
We mentioned the 'New Age' commune of Auroville - not on the itinerary. A few minutes later Charles had arranged for us to leave the bus and be taken there by auto-rickshaw, which waited for us and returned us to Pondicherry. In Ooty we were whisked off to read about life and death in hill stations at St Stephen's Church.
On our dawn safari from Ooty in Mudumalai and Bandipur we saw lots of wildlife. Charles was determined that we would see elephants and of course he spotted some. He even rose at 5.30 am to accompany us to watch the village wake up and see sunrise over the sea at Mahabalipuram.
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Do not think you will lose weight! The food is superb with fresh ingredients, an enormous variety of spices and delicate flavours. Experience cooking and eating a biryani with a family near Cochin.
Be brave, strip off, and go for the 4 handed ayuverdic massages in Kovalam. One hour of pure bliss- always men for men and women for women in Kerala.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
Be ready for adventure.
Ours was--- Che Guevara portraits and hammer and sickle flags outside our hotel in Periyar near the Tamil Nadu/ Kerala border during a 48 hour strike and a 2.00am getaway- omelettes offered by the hotel for an early breakfast!! A lorry and party activists blocking the road. But hey- no problem- a good leader can talk you through anything. We were pious Roman Catholic Pilgrims who had to leave to catch a flight. Weren't we? And we were off into the night driving through the Western Ghats.