"We travel not to escape our life, but to stop life from escaping us"
We scoot along the platform looking for the station masters office as the light from sunrise peeks across the platform in mettupalayam station. Handing him our ticket its confirmed we have no reserved seats, so into the unreserved line we go and wait to be huddled into our train carriage.
We had intended to book our tickets ahead of time but lack of a stable wifi connection had made that almost impossible. So now we hit and hope with unreserved and get into the Nilgiri Mountain Train Railway (called the toy train due to the cog system used during the assent up the mountain). I place my bag on the scale as a man adds weight to see how heavy it is. Then go into the parcel office to get the bag onto the train as our seats are to tight to have it with us. Bag tagged and taken, I head back to our carriage.
The train creeks and shunts into life and we start to move. Houses give way to amazing vibrant greenery. Which in turn gives ways to long deep valleys dotted with tea, waterfalls and the odd dwelling. Slowly but steadily our train picks its way up the mountain side over bridges and through tunnels. The carriage is packed, with every seat taken and a few people standing. At every turn of the track people lean towards the windows to snap a picture or just admire the view.
We stop at stations and take 5-10 minute to stretch legs, buy snacks and look at the views. Some station are overlooking rivers, others full of monkeys and even one station seeming to balance on the edge of the valley side as it drops away behind. The train whistle sounds and everyone loads back onto the train, snacks and cameras in hand.
Mettupalayam to Coonoor offers us amazing scenic landscape then changing gears and heading to Ooty we pass through towns and villages stopping only quickly for people to hustle off the train. After a while the train eases into the station and we pour out and down to the parcel carriage to collect our bag. Lucy waves goodbye to the train driver and we pick our way through the crowd and into the station. What a fun experience and a beautiful ride.
'Sploosh' the front and rear punters plop their bamboo poles into the water and we push away from the bank. The river is quiet and the as we glide past lush green banks of palm and mangrove and past clam shell fisherman. We are on our back water tour, but we aren't in Alleppey we're in Vaikom. Around 30km south of Cochin and 30km north of Alleppey lies Vaikom. Vaikom offers the same backwater experience but without the crowds. As we glide away from the
As we glide away from the bank our guide introduces herself and talks to us about the area and the history of the 250 year old man made canals we are traveling on. We drift between the banks which are dotted with house and the odd tributary stretching into the undergrowth. After a while the canal opens up to reveal lake Vembanadu, the largest lake in Kerala. Across the water we can see boat moving in and out of Alleppey and in the distance a ferry crossing the waters. Our boat eases right and hugs the bank of the government backwater area and before to long we are slowly pulling up at the village of Chempu.
Our guide walks us around the village and explains how they make rope for soaked and dried coconut husks. We stroll through the spice plants and back towards the water where we sit in a small open sided building to have lunch. Served on a banana leaf the traditional south India lunch is going to go down a treat. We all tuck into to the meal and sit back after full and happy.
Back on the boat and we make our way through the tightest canals yet. A brush against a mangrove on one side, then slide against a palm filled bank on the other and we are back out into the main canal. Pulling back up at the bank we thank our tour guide and the hard working punters and head back to the road to jump in our van back. So, if you are going to Alleppey to name drop it as a destination the keep on going but if you want a peaceful, uncrowded and authentic backwater experience then maybe check out Vaikom, you won't be disappointed.
We pull on our jackets and hats and lace up our shoes. Stepping out of the hotel the air is cool but comfortable. We take a left and head down the round the the start of the tunnel mountain trail. Tilley is in the front carrier and Lucy is scooting along beside me. We had talked about hiking the tunnel mountain trail the night before and Lucy was adamant that she didn't need any help to get to the top. So as mum sat down to enjoy on of the programs at the film festival we took the first steps up the tunnel mountain trail hear.
The trail loops back and forward with flat, steeper, stoney and muddy sections. For the first hour Lucy runs ahead and waits for me to catch up. Then zooms ahead again. Slowly though and inevitably she starts to tire. two thirds up the trial and we stop for a rest. Lucy sits on her log snacking on a cliff bar she had stashed in her jacket pocket and we all have a sip of water. I can tell she wants to go walk down but after a little coaxing she decides that she can make it the rest of the way. We steadily make our way up the last third of the trail. Lucy now determined to get there without being carrier. She scurries over the last section of rocky trail and I find her sitting in a big red muskoka chair looking very pleased with herself.
We head up the last few meters of trail and Lucy finds another log to sit on and produces a second cliff bar. This kid has got it figured out. We eat our snack and enjoy the view and I give her a huge hug. This is the first hike she has done completely under her own steam and i can tell she is tired and it wasn't easy. she hug me back and I tell her how amaing she has done and prund I am of her. As we start to make our way down Lucy pipes up 'I think we should go down and get have ice cream tonight, is that a good plan'. 'Yes', I reply 'I think that's a great plan'.
The alarm goes off and we roll out of bed early in the morning as the sun is still rising. Loading our 2 sleepy girls into carriers and romping out to the trail head grabbing some snacks from breakfast on the way past. Today we have a goal! Head up to Pulpit rock before the crowds get there to and enjoy some snacks and peaceful scenery with Lucy and Tilley.
Sheena and I are both fans of active holidays and more often than not come back more tired than we left from a trip. So being in Norway with the chance, and time to hike up to pulpit rock it was a no brainer. Tilley riding in the front carrier with Sheena and Lucy in the back carrier with me. W have learnt from other hikes that whatever your plan be flexible when hiking with toddlers. Lucy has spurts where she want to walk (or usually climb) section. Tilley just as spurts and need her nappie changed. Whether its one or the other it slows down progress but in doing so i've realized that it also adds to experience. Watching Lucy scale a section of rocky steps and see how proud she is when she get to the top. I wouldn't give that up to be 30 minutes earlier.
So on a beautiful sunny Norwegian day we meander our way up the trail to pulpit rock, stopping for nappies and snacks. The hike is fairly easy a couple hours and we are rounding the corner and opening up to a beautiful vista. You can see all the way down each side to the valley and pulpit rock juts out, as a prominent, and amazing as all the pictures we had seen in our research before we left. Lucy being the daredevil fearless and most 2 year old's instantly wants to run over to the edge and look over. We set down our carriers near the back wall and walk over to the edge then lay in out tummies and wriggle so our head lean over and we can see all the way down (The tummy scoot is the technique we practice for everything that she could fall into or over. It serves me well at heights and the edge of water and I haven't lost her yet). We all take our obligatory pictures and then sit down away from the edge and watch the three or four other people do the same.
We spend an hour of so exploring the area and as more people arrive and it starts to fill up with tour groups, we are beginning our way back down. We turn the corner and Lucy make the observation that that was very high followed by the sentence ' that was beautiful daddy'. There it is, why I love taking my daughter to places like this and let them experience new places. As we hike down Tilley falls limp in Sheena's carrier and not long after Lucy head butts me in the back of the neck. Two girls completely exhausted after a day of awesome exploration.