Our day begins innocuously enough with breakfast. We are at a street side food stall eating dosas or omlettes when Riyaz gets it in his head to ask the cook for an omlette-dosa. The befuddled old man does his best to oblige; he whips two eggs in his mug, adds two dollops of dosa batter, and after a second vigorous whipping, pours the mixture onto the frying pan. The result is an interesting dosa, but an unimpressive omlette. I can't tell if Riyaz got what he was looking for, but the expression on his face is priceless.
We board a local bus bound for Kochi, and as we hurtle down narrow lanes and busy roads, a familiar pattern reemerges. There are no window panes; instead, the panes have been fashioned to hold a set of folded steel blinds using clasps. When unclasped, the blinds fall, and I can't imagine they'd let light through, much less air. Again, I can't be sure as to its intended purpose, but I can see this as a perfect defense against thrown stones during a riot; should things get ugly, the bus comes to a halt, the blinds collapse, and the passengers wait out the storm.
The bus is crowded, and I have to stand at the back of the bus. The conductor comes by, and motions a seated passenger to get up. The passenger does so, and to my surprise, the conductor settles into the emptied seat. Minutes later, when another passenger boards the bus, the conductor gets up and makes his way to her. The emptied seat stands unoccupied until I seat myself a few moments later. The conductor has dispensed a ticket to the new passenger, and is making his way back when he sees that I have taken his seat. He looks at me and then away, and a battle of glances ensues.
While he debates within himself on the virtues of escalating this into a verbal conflict, I, a stranger in a strange land, decide to avoid an altercation altogether. I gesture to him that I am willing to vacate the seat, and he accepts. Out of earshot, I ask the fellow he first displaced if this is commonplace. He smiles fatalistically and nods in the affirmative.
We get off at the bus station and wrap up a few chores. We learn that in Kochi, if you're a woman, it is costlier to use a public urinal than taking a ferry to Fort Cochin. My wife pays 5 while I pay only 1. The prevalent theory amongst our troupe is that this is to incentivize men to use the public urinal instead of peeing in public.
Before we grab a boatride to Fort Cochin, we stop by a street stall for refreshments. Shibu, the gent manning the stall, makes us a unique coolie of lime, ginger and soda. It is an amazing concoction and Ruchi adds another recipe to her phylactery.
We take the ferry for Fort Cochin, but we're running short of time. Riyaz and Kyela consult their Lonely Planet guide, and we walk to Rahmatullah cafe, a small local joint renowned for its mutton biryani. Alas, they're out of mutton, and we settle for other items on their menu. While their fried chicken is too dry, I like the masala used, and suspect tamarind a prime ingredient. The tamarind sauce, served as a condiment, is brilliant, and I help myself to several servings.
We've been eating in Kerala for three days now, and we realize that food here tends to be lukewarm, not piping hot. We also note that water tends to be served mildly warm, and with a reddish tint that comes from boiling it with Tulsi leaves. I make a mental note to corroborate these observations with the locals.
We need to board the bus for Munnar at 3, so we opt for returning to Kochi. Before we do, however, we stop at the Solar cafe, a joint with a rustic decor that claims to serve organic coffee. I order a cardamom coffee, and while I cannot vouch for its organicity, it is the best coffee I have had in Kerala so far.
A boatride later, we're back in Kochi, and we encounter Shibu again. This time, he's beset with clients. Shibu, we discover, is a genius mixologist. He's mixing colors of red and yellow, throwing in spoonfuls of salt and basil seeds and concocting wondrous potions. They all appear temptingly thirst slaking, and we share one drink, followed by a ginger lime soda, amongst ourselves.
We're now in a local bus heading for Munnar. After the humidity we've endured so far, we're looking forward to some chilly weather.
Two hours into our ride, there is a discernible drop in humidity. The air is cooler too. We've moved past Kothamangalam, leaving the urban sprawl behind and entering the hinterlands. We roll in a meandering river of tar and rock surrounded by greenery, with the soft smell of moist mud filling the air.
We arrive well into night, and disembark amidst restaurants, tea shops and chocolateries. It's been a 5 hour ride and we've moved from a hot and humid town to a chilly hill station. We're all tired, but happy.