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South Indian mountains are worth seeing. But don't cross the Ghats by car.

We traveled from Wayanad to Pondicherry by car. Wayanad is in Kerala, the western side of India. Pondicherry is on the ocean on the east coast. In between is the south Indian subcontinent. It's divided by a couple mountain ranges, the Eastern and Western Ghats. The roads through the mountains wind their way up the side of the mountain and then back down. They're medium-small, as mountains go. We still found ourselves looking down at clouds rolling through the valleys below.

The tea plantations were gorgeous. Imagine an entire mountainside covered with lush deep-green foliage. The occasional worker adds a dot of contrasting color to the vertical planes of solid green. There were large carrot plantations, too. These are all at steep angles, with some terracing.

Michael was enchanted by a little mountain village. The rows of houses follow the contours of the mountain, like the villages found on mountainsides in Spain and Italy. We got out and walked around a bit. I watched a construction site, where workers shoveled dirt onto a tarp, four people picked up the corners, and they all scrambled up the hillside. The grade would be too steep to use a wheelbarrow, even if they'd had them.

We saw a nice waterfall and rapids area, similar to the Great Falls area in Maryland/DC. A short 1-km path leads down to some rushing waters. The weren't many people on the trail, but we passed by a few Westerners. No Americans, but an Australian couple and another who were speaking German. Several enterprising vendors set up shop at the head of the trail to cater to the tourists. We had a fruit drink, with something that was either frothy sweet-lime or frothy orange juice, squeezed and frothed right in front of us. I also noshed on a big bunch of chunky orange carrots (washed in mineral water). They were sweet, and amazingly fresh, since they had been in the ground that morning.

We also saw the botanical garden, planted in the nineteenth century. November is the off-season, so the tickets were at a deep discount--even the non-Indian price. Most of the flowers weren't blooming, but there were still some lovely flowers. The topiary was worth seeing too; there were hedges sculpted into squirrels, elephants, and mice. We wasted half an hour trying to get lunch in the town, but left the seedy hotel restaurant after seeing their hygiene standards. Probably a good thing; the service matched the quality, and they had been out of nearly everything on the menu. I went to the shop next door and bought some Lay's potato chips to eat instead.

We traveled through some dense rain forests. The moisture hits the mountains and falls as rain. The rain stays mostly on the western side of the Ghats. That area is supposedly one of the most ecologically diverse areas in Asia. For us, the mostly-nocturnal wildlife was still sleeping, so we didn't see many animals other than monkeys. We passed through a Eucalyptus plantation too; I wonder if there are Indian koalas? It rained for a few hours; not a hard rain but a softer, steady rain. The rain was refreshing to us, because it helped cut the heat.

We didn't know it, but the rain had washed out several roads that weekend. So we went up, and back down, at least three extra mountains. Each mountain takes at least an hour to traverse. There are winding roads that zig-zag back and forth across the mountainside, around some perilously tight bends at the top, then zig-zagging back down. The rain had raised the creek levels. Our trusty little Indigo car forded a couple creeks, mocking the larger vehicles stuck by the side of the road.

That night we pushed on through Tamil Nadu. In Kerala, we'd seen many signs in English. In Tamil Nadu, everything is in Tamil. The Tamil script is not Devanagari; it's a bunch of loop-de-loops that reminds me of Korean. Our limited Hindi was useless there. We ate supper at a hotel; some delicious ginger fish, and South Indian buttermilks with ginger and green onions. Michael also charged up his laptop during dinner, since his presentation was the next morning and we wouldn't be getting to the hotel until late.

As the hours wore closer to midnight, we were glad to enter a well-maintained Indian toll road. We weren't sure how close we were to Pondicherry. We saw signs for Chennai. I was hopeful for a bit when I saw an ambulance marked Pondicherry; we later passed it, parked at a roadside hotel. Several hours later, we left the smooth, well-lit highway, and went on a rickety road toward Pondicherry. Michael worked on his presentation. I dozed a bit, as much as the potholes would let me. Even late at night, Indian roads are active. There were women carrying big metal water-jars on their heads, walking down the side of the road in the dark. The men were relatively few, mostly bicycling, or driving camels or donkey-carts.

We finally pulled into Pondicherry around 4 AM. The theoretically eight-hour trip had taken Seventeen hours. We gratefully thanked our poor driver and went to the hotel.

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