We got up and were served breakfast by Sellappan’s mam. As it was a Sunday it was the time for non-vegetarian food, and Sellappan’s mam had already been out to the market to get fresh meat and fish. Breakfast was mutton in gravy and idly, of course it was delicious.
As Mohan is going away on a business trip this week, he came to Salem so that Kowshalya could stay with his parents. Kowshalya gave me a yellow flower to put in my hair. We went to his family home and were of course given something to eat (pomegranate) and I spoke with Mohan’s mam. She has a treadle sewing machine and likes to make things, just like someone else I know! Mohan’s father is a chartered accountant, like Mohan, and the family business is conducted upstairs in the office, so clients can enter from the office side, but dad can come back to his house with no commute necessary!
Mohan drove Kowshalya, Sellappan and I to Yercaud, a hill station outside if Salem. There is a road all the way to the top of the 5000ft hill, and the route shows the view down to the ground through a few trees. All the way along the road there were monkeys sitting on the concrete, and a lot of them seemed to be eating tomatoes. When we got further up the hill we discovered a family car stopping at each monkey to give them tomatoes. We paused too further up and Sellappan gave a monkey an orange, and it quickly ran away with it into the trees.
We stopped and climbed a small metal watchtower for a better view, and about twenty huge yellow dragonflies zipped around us in the sun. The ground was starting to look very far away! The strange thing about the topography is that mostly the land is totally flat, and then steep hills spring out from nowhere.
As we climbed, the road started to bend around in hairpins, and signs told us how many we had passed through, counting hairpin bend 1/20, 2/20… All the while the ground below us started to get lost in the haze.
We suddenly came to the top and after only passing a few cars and buses on the way up, it was surprising to see how many people were already there. There was a small town at the top of the hill, with a lake with pedalos and lots of people selling food and souvenirs. There are old plantation buildings, few schools and plenty of houses, restaurants and hotels too.
We drove to the very highest point where there was a small temple cut into the rock like a small cave. We had to bend double to get inside, and were joined be another family. Once we came back out everyone had food in their mind, so we went back down to the town for snacks, including mango slices sprinkled with chilli powder and salt, pineapple slices, and egg bajis. There was also ‘American Style’ corn on the cob, which was scorched over a hand cranked burner. I took mine without chilli, just for a change! We ate this feast sitting in the car overlooking the lake, just like a British winter picnic!
At another spot we stopped and Sellappan had our names written on a grain of rice as a souvenir. There was also a proper old fashioned candy floss cart, which I never would have expected to find there! Naturally some of that also had to be bought. We began our descent, and paused at some picturesque spots for snaps. We saw coffee, oranges and pepper growing, as well as the ubiquitous monkeys. It was very strange to see them all just chilling out by the roadside!
When we got back down we stopped at Mohan’s again and there were people making flower garlands in the driveway, and Kowshalya fixed one of these to my ponytail too. Lots of buds and flowers were being strung together to make them. I had seen a lot of women wearing these flowers, but didn’t know about the strong, sweet smell that comes from the flowers every time they move. They were also very cool on the back of my neck.
The next stop was home for lunch – though it was already 5pm and we had been munching the whole time! We came home to one of Sellappan’s favourites – fish fry. The fish was a kind of river carp, and had been sliced perpendicular to the spine, covered in spices and deep-fried to a deep orange-red. It was very tasty, but I had a bit of trouble with the bones. The same fish had also been prepared in a green-brown gravy with a smooth flavour. Of course, we had it with idly while the TV played Tamil movies.
As I had had a problem with my flip flops and contracted “shoebite” (a brilliant word for when new shoes rub or blister your feet) we stopped again at Sellappan’s friend’s shoe shop for some new ones. The shop was packed as it was Sunday evening, and so there wasn’t much time for chatting. I did discover that one of Sellappan’s friends is visiting my area sometime next year though!
My Tamil is certainly not good, but I have learned a very important word – enough! Everywhere we go there is always some kind of food, and this is always true when visiting others! On our way to visit one of Sellappan’s tutees we actually crossed paths with them (“small town” of 850,000 people) and upon arriving at their house we had honeycomb sweets, as well as nuts and fruits and tea. Sellappan tested his students both in French and English while we were visiting!
Naturally when we got home it was time for food, so after another meal with Tamil movies, Sellappan packed up his bag to go back to Bangalore. I’m staying here in Salem with his family until he comes back on Friday for more trips!