Workwise I’ve been busy with office admin, filling in for some of the staff off sick/holidays and getting things ready for our stall at the local Christmas fete next weekend. Finally finished off the posters and marketing (am now great friends with the guys in the printing shop), made some cookie deliveries to the local orphanage, helped out in the bistro, and organized a delivery of 200 paper bags from the unit to France.

My Mother came to visit from London for 12 days, which was a great excuse to do some more sightseeing around the area! Met her in Chennai last weekend – which welcomed her by pouring down with rain for two days. Still had fun sloshing around the temples barefoot (although she didn’t find it so funny…) and seeing the old Fort St George and San Thome Cathedral. Actually managed to gatecrash a wedding, though no one seemed to mind! We stayed in the Residency Towers hotel, which felt like a great luxury after my little apartment in Pondi – I took great advantage of the power shower and all you can eat breakfast buffet!

Back in Pondi, Vetri kindly took us both to Matur on Wednesday to show Mum the village and tell her about Sharana’s operations there. She loved meeting the children in the crèche and school. I’m really pleased she got to see the ‘real’ India (rather than the usual AC hotels and tours!) and meet some of the people benefiting from the work Sharana does.

On Thursday we set off for Bangalore – a 3hr taxi and 2hr flight from Chennai later we arrived at the hotel only to be told they had a ‘leak’ and that our room was unavailable.  They offered us a room at their sister hotel which was ‘very close’ but turned out to be way out of town. The manager there was much more apologetic but let slip there was no leak but they had overbooked. Rage!! Was getting late so we just took the room and had dinner in a gorgeous 5* hotel nearby… after a few cocktails all was well again!

Next morning we took a 2hr train to Mysore. We’d booked into first class (another benefit of travelling with your Mother) so had big comfy chairs in an AC compartment with gorgeous countryside views.  Stayed in the Royal Orchid – HIGHLY recommended beautiful colonial building, a short tuk tuk ride from the centre of town. Spent a couple of hours looking round Mysore Palace, which was built in 1912 by the English architect Henry Irwin. The interior was full of stained glass, mirrors, carved wooden doors, mosaics and bright colours – so over the top but also so fantastic! Outside, the palace is covered by over 96,000 lightbulbs, which light up every Sunday evening (and briefly for the light and music display we went to in the evening). Breathtaking!

Afterwards we took a tuk tuk up to Chamundi Hill to the Sri Chamundeswari Temple. Pretty similar to the other hundred temples I’ve seen in India (!) but we got talking to a local who showed us where to make an offering and put red powder on our foreheads. I laughed with the boys sitting in the ‘coconut breaking’ area (to break up before the offering) who gleefully scavenged for leftover bits of coconut. Saw a 5m high statue of Nandi (Shiva’s bull) on the way back to town then had dinner in the hotel in the evening.

We booked a car the next day to drive 5hrs to Udhagamandalam (‘Ooty’), established by the British in the early 19th century as the summer headquarters of the Madras government (and nicknamed ‘Snooty Ooty’!). The drive actually turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip; as we left Mysore the chaos of India quickly subsided to be replaced with lush green countryside and towering hills. En route we drove through Mudumalai National Park, with sunlight peeping through tall spindly trees and deer and monkeys running alongside the road. There are tigers, wild boars, jackals and elephants in the reserve too but we didn’t spot them! I got the car to stop to take some photos of the monkeys and Mum screamed as I wound down the window, thinking at one point they were going to jump into the car!

We reached our accommodation in Ooty early afternoon – a gorgeous pine-clad colonial villa up on the hillside. Built in 1828 by Captain McPherson of the British Army, it later became the summer retreat of the Maharaja of Patna. Our room was gorgeous – a roaring fire and heavy dark wooden furniture gave it a toasty chalet-chic feel in the midst of India.

Later we visited St Stephens Church. Built in 1829, it its the oldest church in the Nilgiris, with some lovely stained glass windows and huge wooden beams (hauled by an elephant from the palace of Tipu Sultan 120km away). Afterwards we walked round the botanical gardens, which demonstrated the natural fauna of the Nilgiris. It was packed with Indian tourists who kept stopping me to take my photo – although slightly irritating after the hundredth photo, I felt like a bit of a movie star!

The next day we visited the huge lake in the centre of Ooty (with boat trips and fairground rides surrounding it) and a thread garden. The ‘garden’ had 150 species of plants from around the world recreated using hand-wound thread. Apparently it took 50 people 12 years to make, which I found a little tragic more than impressive!

We took the famous miniature hill train from Ooty to Mettupalayum. The train itself was a little steam train, with quaint wooden carriages, and it was a wonderful journey, chugging through the scenic Ketti Valley through stunning scenery – tea plantations, hills, quaint old stations, and little rail side villages. We waved to everyone we passed and got lots of excitable waves and head waggles back!

Upon reaching Mettupalayam it was a long taxi ride to the airport, flight back to Chennai, and finally another 3hr taxi ride to Pondi before we were home. Both exhausted but had a fantastic few days and I’m so glad we got to share some amazing experiences together in India. There are certainly some memories we’re never going to forget.

Mum left yesterday so it’s back to work at Sharana and Pondi life full time again. Although I miss my friends, I really feel like India is my home now and its gong to be strange going back to London – just thinking of the greyness (and coldness!) of the city compared the vibrancy here fills me with such apprehension. I really must try and make the most of my time here in the next three weeks…

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