When I look back on this trip in the years to come, memories will return to me as sensations or snapshots or moving images, memory beads strung on to a necklace.
Here is one such memory that I hope stays with me:
Andy and I up front in a jeep, with the children and rucksacks bouncing about in the back as we travel along a rutted track through the cool, misty, green hills outside Kodaikanal. The kids are screeching with laughter, playing Sweet and Sour, a game I used to play with my brother and sister many years ago, when you wave to people passing, counting up how many wave back (sweet) and how many don't (sour).
The cold weather and rain came as a surprise in the hills of Tamil Nadu after the heat of Gaia Grid. We had booked ourselves into Karuna Farm and were given a little cottage at the bottom of the valley. This place must have once been a fertile paradise, but now neglect and despondency hangs over this "eco-resort" (the only thing eco about it is its severe neglect which means nature is taking over). Our cottage was dusty, damp and un-loved which generally epitomised the whole place, and it was hard to understand what had happened here, for we sensed a very negative energy amongst the staff.
In one corner of the cottage stood several trunks which we opened, only to find the lives of a family who had once lived there, home-schooling their children in the forest. We found photos, books and games, but why they had left without their belongings remained a mystery.
Despite the dust and the damp, the children were delighted with the cooler weather and we wanted to make the most of our four nights we'd booked there. So so swept, collected wood from the forest, lit a fire in the log burner, picked some wildflowers for an empty jam jar and wrapped ourselves in blankets.
Our cottage was called Sangam (meaning the place where the rivers join), but I thought of it as a little hobbit house, nestled in a valley at the bottom of a very steep, slippery, forested hill and shrouded in mists and rain. The first day we were there, it literally did not stop raining for a moment. So we either sat huddled by the fire or on the patio area and did some home learning with the children, eating Kodaikanal chocolate and listening to Rodriguez as the rain plummeted and the forest breathed around us. Maya also decided to learn Elvish script (from the Hobbit), another secret language to add to her journal writing!
As for the real creatures of the rain-soaked forest, early in the morning the children would run off to explore and one morning, Benji returned from the expedition with a leech attached to his foot. Poor boy was terrified!
We also kept spotting an elusive creature either scurrying along the steep path leading to our cottage or jumping through the trees. It took a long time to work out what it was, but eventually we realised it was a sloth bear. Here's what they looked like:
From Kodaikanal, we travelled all day to reach Ooty, another Tamil Nadu hill station but this one, much further north. This time, we'd booked into an Air B n B on an animal rescue farm an hour out of Ooty. We stayed in the 'goat shed' (it was no longer a goat shed, but judging by the amount of flies and the fact we were on a farm, I'm sure it once was.)
This was such an interesting place - getting there, we drove across plains with a mountainous backdrop, spotted deer (known here as cheetal) springing past the jeep.
Run by an Indian / Finnish couple, the farm rescues and rehabilitates lots of different domestic animals as well as sterilising street dogs. So all over the place are a huge number of wonky donkeys, 3-legged dogs and horses with broken bones. I'm not quite sure what the story was with this beautiful goat below, but he munched everything in sight, including Benji's home-learning (Benji: Hooray!), every last piece of our ukelele sheet music and even Lily's hair.
"The Goat Shed"
The children loved being on a farm and as well as the girls having a horse riding lesson, we also watched some Finnish vet volunteers operating on a dog, sterilising it, and re-setting a broken leg bone on a pony.
The landscape around the farm actually reminded me a little of Kenya. I can't say I miss Kenya yet, because India feels so all-consuming. But being in this kind of landscape, it somehow catapulted me into a future sense of missing Kenya that I know will come (if that makes any sense.)
Leaving Ooty to head back to Coimbatore, we travelled the best way imaginable: by steam train!
As the children and Andy waited for the train to leave, I had a wander around Ooty as I love nothing more than losing myself in a town's backstreets. During the Raj, Ooty was filled to bursting with Brits, once known as 'Snooty Ooty'. No sign of that now!
The train ride was just stunning. The line itself is well over 100 years old and passed through 16 tunnels, over 19 bridges and through 11 stations, many with English-sounding names such as Runnymede, Lovedale and Hillgrove. We all got covered in steam and it was crazily noisy, but we LOVED it!
We've been to 23 different places since leaving Kenya - phew! A little downtime, pretty please, in Goa?