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Chris Bonner and his wife Marelle live on a farm in the beautiful Scenic Rim of South East Queensland where Chris uses his camera to showcase the scenery and wildlife of the area. Besides wider Australian travels, he has also produced a portfolio of pictures from across the world including  the wildlife of Africa to e magic of the Amazon to the history and beauty of Europe.  While Chris' primary motivation is to share his experiences, photos are available for sale in digital or print format. 

All profits from photo sales go to a Cambodian charity www.newhopecambodia.com. Non-profit organisations may apply to receive free photos for Promotion or Fundraising.

Kerala India

We leave the deserts of Arabia for Kerala, a South-West Indian State (note where the hyphen is or blame Columbus for any confusion) referred to as the land of spices or as the "Spice Garden of India.” 

The entry point to Kerala is Kochin city. Kochin is impressive for its Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial architecture left in sequence as they controlled the area.

Our hotel in Fort Kochin was the reinvention of an 300 year old colonial building with a room and Garden Restaurant and doting service reminiscent of the Raj..... 

..and a short walk from tidy streets with nice pubs, colonial buildings, restaurants and shops quite different from the India that is often portrayed.

Just across the street on the less tidy harbor, you can’t go past the amazing Chinese Fishing Nets for sunrise and sunset walks. These horizontal land-based nets, apparently introduced from China in the 14 th century, are 20 m or more across and operated by huge mechanical contrivances 10 meter high and counterweighted with large rocks.

These nets are still in operation and most mornings, if conditions are right, a team of fishermen lower the counter-weighted nets into the water then haul back up to harvest the fish.

For the ultimate cultural experience you can join the fishermen, select a fish and have it cooked by a vendor on the harbor front.

Alternatively the braver tourist prepared to wear a Dhoti and with a little local help could bid for a fish at the fish auction.

We were surprised to see the dhoti, a traditional men's garment, still commonly worn in Kerala by most men past mid 20 years of age. It’s a length of cloth about 3 meters long folded in half in the case of the knee length version and wrapped around the hips and thighs with one end brought between the legs and tucked into the waistband. What is amusing is that they are continually unhitching the thing and readjusting it. While one has to respect traditional dress, my point is that while for practicality they have invariably chosen western shirts over the Ghandi style tops, you could make six pairs of stitched shorts out of a Dhoti which would stay in place and surely allow better air flow. Based on TV images of India, Dhoti’s seem more common in Kerala than in the big cities and from various countries we get the impression that traditions survive longer in outlying areas.

Portuguese explorer and later Viceroy of Portuguese India, Vasco de Gama’s grave is in St. Francis Church, Kochi. Its always an emotional moment to stand in a place famous in history, and in this case it would have been more so if he was still there but he’s not, because his body was nicked by Portugal 15 years after his burial in 1539. He was smarter than Chris Columbus, so its important that more of him got back home than was the case of Chris Columbus of whom only bits survived after many miles, wars and several burials, to lie in the Cathedral in Seville (or is he still in the Dominican Republic as otherwise claimed).

We were also shown the Mattancherry Palace, containing some of the best mythological murals in India and too important to be photographed. It was built by the Portuguese in 1555 to appease the Raja of Kochi, who was a bit testy after the Portuguese trashed an ancient temple of which he was fond. Again as an example of Colonial trends its also called the Dutch Palace because they renovated it when they became boss. Where were the British.  All in all its a pretty boring building.

Another attraction was the Jewish Synagogue in Kochi, constructed in 1567 and the oldest active synagogue in the Commonwealth. Of more interest here is that only five Jews now live in Kochi and one is very old but they keep this place going. No inside photos due to fears of terrorism.

Of more quirky interest is this commercial laundry which services hotels and private individuals in Kochi. Fifty people work here, seriously beating the daylights out of our linen, hanging it out to dry on the World’s biggest clothesline and ironing it with a 10 kg iron.

From coastal Kochi to the hills

After the excitement of Kochi we are treated with the excitement of Indian traffic on a 120 Klm—four hour trip to Munnar. Someone asked me if I rode a bike there and I spilt my coffee at the thought of such a sure way to die. Narrow streets, slow and windy roads, dodgem car / needle threading driving with the incessant “here I am / coming through” tooting. But credit where its due: they seem to instinctively know who needs to go where and no sign of rage.

Then winding through busy and colourful villages, past lines of "why would you buy anything else" Mahindra 4wd's, only to stop to sample the delights of a roadside stall to get to...

.....the Western Ghats, mountains whose slopes support tea, coffee and spice plantations as well as wildlife

The mountains are covered in enough tea plantations to convince an extra-terrestrial that we earthlings bathe in the infusion.

India produced 1,325 million kg of tea in 2017-18, but surprisingly is only the second largest tea producer in the world, again surprisingly eclipsed by Russia. However India is the world's largest consumer of black tea consuming 973 million kg of tea during 2016-17.

If tea is synonymous with India, then maybe its beer for Australia. However, while India has 566,000 hectares under tea production Australia has a meagre 547 Ha under Hops. As a comparison of drinking habits Australians who are outnumbered by Indians by 540 to 1, drink 68% as much beer.

Alcohol sale in India is under a variety of strict controls. In fact in Kerala , the state government is the sole retailer of alcohol.

Historical records indicate the prevalence of tea drinking in India since 750 BC. Commercial tea cultivation in India only took off when the British got hold of the place. The British consumed tea in enormous quantities, sourced from China which they basically swopped for Opium grown in India (think: British gentry sipping on tea at the expense of Chinese confined to addicted oblivion). When this became unsustainable, they grew their tea in India.

Arriving at Munnar we get to stay at another impressive, but this time modern cliff face hotel overlooking a valley of tea plantations, the Atukkad waterfall and a cute little Latin catholic Church. It all requires the Drone camera to do it Justice.

A closer look involves a stroll along the steep winding paths.

Tea cutters snake up the pathways and are happy to stop to greet us. According to estimates, the tea industry employs over 3.5 million people across some 1,686 estates and 157,504 small holdings; most of them women.

These ladies use hedge trimmers with a catcher attached. Assumedly there are powered cutters as well.

A final stroll through the tea plantations to the waterfall in the gorge below the hotel  and then it wouldn't be India....

                                                                                                                 .... without a spot of Yoga.

We leave the Munnar tea district for a hike in the  Eravikulam National Park with its spectacular granite cliffs and mountains rising out of the tea plantations.

Situated in the National Park is Anamudi , the highest peak in Kerala, at an elevation of 2,695 meters is pure rock

The park is the sanctuary of the Nilgiri Tahr or Ibex an endangered animal related more to a sheep or goat than an Ibex but in any case giving Chris an opportunity to engage in his passion for wildlife photography.

The next day takes us over more winding roads through villages, over rivers to the Spice growing region of Thekkady.

...........and accommodation that again surpasses expectations.

Its up before sunrise for a jeep tour into the misty mountains in none other than a Mahindra..... 

.....where besides tea, rubber and coffee plantations we found coffee beans spread trustingly on the road to dry and every conceivable spice that the area is famous for.

Cardamom comes from seeds that grow at the base of the plant and it even grows wild on the raodsides. 

Pepper grows on vines usually draped up Oak trees that also serve to help prevent the tea plantations sliding down the hill. 

Then there's Vanilla, all spice (it’s a separate plant) cinnamon, clove, ginger, nutmeg and the leafy oregano, rosemary, curry leaves, thyme, basil, bay leaf, coriander and sage

Kerala was known for its spices as far back as 3000 BC. These spices then found their way into the Middle East before the beginning of the Christian era, where the true sources of these spices were withheld by the traders who associated them with mythical protection by monsters. The Romans struggled to ensure that the trade route to India remained open to them. Kerala was the place traders and explorers such as Ferdinand Magellan, Chris Colombus (who thought he was in India when if fact he was far away in America, leading to the confusion in my history lessons in understanding why indigenous Americans are called Indians) and Vasco de Gama (who was a tad smarter than Columbus but died in Kerala) wanted to reach.

Vasco da Gama successfully discovered the route to India via the Cape of Good Hope in 1498, brought spices for the first time to Europe from India and ushered in an age of European domination and bullying in the East. Portugal gained a monopoly on the spice trade that served it wonderfully for much of the 16thcentury with the spices being more valuable than gold. By the 1580s, Venice was increasing its pepper imports rapidly - at the expense of Portugal. By the 17th century, the Dutch had muscled in, and held it zealously till the British, with bullying tactics of the likes of Sir Frank Drake took over. The struggle between the Western Europeans for control over the spice trade endured over three centuries. Today, procuring spices is nowhere as difficult or perilous as it used to be - but the allure of Indian spices still remains intact.

To break up our sightseeing, we were enticed to join some 200 Indian tourists to view some Kerala cultural theater known as Kathakali. Well it wasn’t a bucket-list experience but was significant for its elaborate make-up code. This dude I gathered was the mythological divine hero Rama, but why on earth go to so much trouble with your rig while forgetting your shoes.

Another excursion involved a cruise on Periyar lake at Thekkady. This required joining 1000 Indian tourists in a one hour line for tickets, then another hour not eating lunch because a monkey will definitely get it no matter what you do; and giving one a flogging with your Man Bag simply results in a nasty stare-off. The cruise, was wildly exciting for the open-space-deprived Indians whenever they saw a speck of unidentifiable wildlife way-way out on the shore.

But  our guide was happy we did it.  We find guides on overseas trips insist on treating us to what they consider locally exciting, without realising that its something we can do any day in Australia, with far less trouble and cost.  The cruise on Perivar lake had an equivalent excitement level to a cruise on Moogerah dam, without the wait, the crowds and the nasty monkeys.  We would however have thoroughly enjoyed more time walking the spice plantations and enjoying the local culture.

What monkey's do after being flogged with my Manbag.....

There are apparently Tigers on the island in the lake, which we  would have found exciting but nobody ever sees them so we had to be satisfied with less exciting images of the cruise including a Bison peeing in the lake and Foxes emerging from the lake. 

These shots taken by a very helpful guide who apparently loved my camera and that was Ok because I couldn't get a photo from our allocated seat, and we weren't allowed to stand, which probably had something to do with a similar boat sinking in 2009, with significant loss of life after everyone rushed to the side to see something that must have been truly exciting....??? a Tiger...no actually it was a herd of Bison that were responsible for this tragedy. 

On the road again, leaving the mountains, tea, coffee, spices, culture and scenery,  but ever witnessing the love of colour, whether its on their saris, trucks or even the Catholic Church,  as we head back to or the coast.  

For our final day its back to the waterways that skirt the Arabian sea to spend a night on a traditional houseboat at Alleppey, a few hours drive south of Kochin to enjoy the serenity.......

......and watch young villagers going about their day, the fisherman dragging the canal bed for prawns the birds and the sunset and sunrise.

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