Updated: Nov 21, 2020
The first line of my diary entry for 24th March reads "Well I survived the 11 hour car journey from Kahangad to Munnar." I've just woken up and the room is still dark. The temperature here, high up in the green hills surrounded by forest and tea planations, is satisfyingly cool and I'm looking forward to breakfast having not eaten for 20 hours.
Thinking back to yesterday I feel so very grateful to my driver Samir and hope that he, by now, is back safely with his family in Kahanghad. If I'm honest I probably was quite apprehensive about taking such a long journey alone in a foreign country with a complete stranger. But as I organised the transfer through the hotel I figured that Mr Jayan didn't seem the type to engage serial killer taxi drivers and that if I was to meet my end then Samir at some point, was going to have to answer some tough questions from Mr Jayan and there was every chance therefore that he would eventually reveal where the body parts were buried. As we reached the main highway thoughts of whether my compadre was going to 'do me in' dissolved and I became rather more fixated on the real potential to meet my end in a fatal car crash. Admittedly I'm not the most relaxed passenger and I'm also not a big fan of those white knuckle amusement park rides. So as we close in just millimetres from the bumper of a large truck whose covered load is swaying dangerously to the right, overtake on a blind bend, slide into spaces that don't exist but are somehow just big enough to slip into before we make contact with the on-coming traffic, I have a choice to make. (Samir can't hear my fear (he most likely thinks I'm practising Ujjayi) and I'm wearing enough deodorant and the Frankincese meditation spray that Susa gave me, to mask the odour of terror. ) I can either put my fath in the universe and trust that Mr Jayan would no sooner tie a friendhsip bracelet around my wrist and wave me cheerfully off with an axe murderer than he would someone with dodgy driving record OR I can spend the next 11 hours with every muscle in my body tightly contracted.
We pass through a number of big cities teaming with both cars and people who in the absense of pavements jostle together negotiating for the same space. Samir tells me he has been driving for 10 years and has never had an accident. This is a good sign, I am liking this sign. He also offers an explanation behind the seeming madness of the roads where there is no let up from the constant cacophany of horns. He tellls me that everyone is actually thinking about and looking after the other person and that noone wants to have a collision because then the police come and well it all gets a bit messy. Armed with this philosophy I work to convince myself it's true and even begin to see examples of it as a space opens up just in time to avoid the school bus that's hurtling towards us, yeay.
Samir clearly wants to praactice his English, so we spend the next few hours covering politics (that's a short conversation), religion (thats a long one) and arranged marriages - that's pretty interesting. He is also curious to find out why I am travelling alone - this is quite amusing, especially as he absolutely cannot understand why my husband would let me! He insists that we listen to western music boasting the he has over 300 songs on his phone. In the end I just give in and let him play last year's top 40.
We stop for food and since I'm determined not to be ill on the journey I decline to eat. I do however help myself to water from the jug on the table, mmm yummy warm ayurvedic water, my new favourite. My heart drops when the waitress comes along and uses the same water to clean the table! I confide my faux pas to Samir who assures me it is drinking water - I guess the next 6 hours wll tell.
The roads and scenery begin to change and as the light ebbs away we begin climbing the winding roads to Munnar which go on for an affronting eternity. Every time we round a hairpin bend I get my hopes up and every time I am slapped with disappointment. Hours later we get a sign, yes yes yes it says Munnar! The hotel is however really well hidden and I discover Samir has a satnaav . We drive up a farm track with no signs of life let alone a hotel, then quite randomly we come across a village where an Easter celebration is taking place. A girl gyrates on a makeshift stage and the small streets are packed with partying youths. Samir manages to squeeze through but the people are so close I can literally see the whites of their eyes, their hands press against the car as they part to let us through. My slightly surreal and ultimately entertaining road trip comes to an end as we chance upon the Olive Brook Hotel. It's almost 11pm. I thank Samir and hand over what I hope is a suitable tip for his care, attention and expertise for which I have now developed a lot of admiration. I fall into bed exhausted, humming a little mantra of gratitude to Ganesh.