I have been looking back over the years at holidays that didn’t quite work out as I planned. Thankfully many of these had very funny moments and I believe if you can laugh all is not lost.

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David & Joy above the tea plantations southern India

Recently my husband and I went to the south of India. We researched and planned an exotic mix of events and places. Although we had toured extensively in the north of India this trip was stepping into the unknown. We were determined to jump right in and enjoy as much as possible at the local level. Too often our holidays have been somewhat pampered and exotic.

David and I were staying at The Mountain Club, Munnar, in Kerala. The hotel had an excellent Ayurveda massage facility which looked and smelt luxurious. However, we decided to leave the hotel and get our driver, Rejoy, to take us to the authentic village massage. Rejoy escorted us to the salon, where we met the masseur; he introduced us and booked us in. All too late to run away and anyway, it’s only a massage I thought. No need to make a fuss.

The masseur was huge her assistant slightly smaller and the room was none to clean, saturated in oil, it smelt stale and was filled with dusty plastic dust flowers from floor to ceiling. I was lifted upright by my hair, covered in baby oil, rubbed, scrubbed, frozen and dressed in a very small disposable loin cloth which looked suspiciously like my kitchen chux cloth.

The masseur shook me, rattled and rolled me for an hour and then pushed me into a plywood box which allowed my head to poke out the top. For fifteen minutes I sat on an open weave plastic chair that roasted by posterior as my greasy flesh slid down the cracks. The steam was provided by an old aluminium kettle sitting on a single gas ring on the floor. It belched hot air over me and I kept glancing down to make sure it would not topple over.joy india 7


Finally, the lid to my box was lifted and I was allowed out. There were no mirrors thank goodness and I could only guess how wrecked I looked. The masseur handed me a small worn out toweling square and I rubbed my body as best I could. I wrapped a scarf around my hair which was glued firmly to my head, pulled my tee shirt on over a still oily body and struggled into cotton pants. The shirt stuck and showed up every curve and bump. The pants, well we won’t even go there!

My husband appeared from behind the partition and we both looked at each other gasped and gave a couple of hollow laughs. Rejoy our driver was beckoned in and the look on his face has stayed with me until this day.

TAJ - Savoy Hotel- Ooty
TAJ – Savoy Hotel- Ooty

Back at our luxury village I begged to be dropped at the staff entrance, but the horrified driver explained this was absolutely out of the question and he would lose his job. Out we got in the grand foyer, heads down and scurrying like rats we beelined to our suite. It took a long time to remove the oil from my hair but what a luxury to sit down in fresh dressing gowns, put our feet up and enjoy a glass of white wine.  We both laughed until we cried.

Next day when I compared the treatments and the prices. I discovered our authentic Indian Ayurveda Massage was much dearer. The laugh really was on us. I don’t have photographs of this adventure but if I did I probably (for decencies sake) couldn’t share them anyway.

Our next adventure was a nonevent. We arose before first light to meet a jeep which was to take us to Periyar National Park.  Yet again we bypassed the mainstream tours and choose a local group of young men.  We were assured the wildlife sanctuary on a picturesque lake would allow us to view wild elephants frolicking in the water. After which we would meet leopards, wild dogs, Nilgiri langur, bonnet macaque, sambhar, porcupines, squirrels, deer and gaur (Indian bison).

My husband and I were shaking with the cold. Our jeep was old, open sided, dented, tyres with virtually no tread and a very grumpy driver who chain smoked! One could only wonder what the mechanics were like. We bounced around, took corners at breakneck speed, skidded, twisted and eventually reached the Periyar National Park. There were at least 50 jeeps which proceeded to travel in a convoy. Some had loud music and others called out one to another. A couple even honked their horns.  It was party time.

The closest we got to wildlife in Coonoor
The closest we got to wildlife in Coonoor

This was unlike any safari or trek we had ever been on as stealth and quiet is of the essence to enjoy being in the presence of nervous wild animals. We stopped in many places guaranteed to have leopards, or elephants or bison, but none did. People smoked, dropped cigarette butts on the ground, complained about the cold, winged about lack of wildlife and shuffled around.
After some hours we were told this was very unusual, it was now too late to see any animals and we would be driven back home. The journey back was as hair raising as the earlier one, but it was a little warmer and we looked forward to a sumptuous breakfast even if the animals in the hotel were carved from stone or wood or even stuffed.

Elephant at our hotel after the wildlife safari
As close as we got to an elephant – at our hotel after the wildlife safari

I must add here that we had wonderful days in Coonoor and Ooty known as ‘The Queen of Hill Stations’. We enjoyed the tea plantations, the scenic railway, staying in the old-world residences, dining by candlelight and open log fires, magnificent botanical gardens and views. This more than made up for our experiences in the massage and national park adventures. Perhaps we need to be more particular when we step outside the mainstream.