We gave up waiting for room service and helped ourselves to breakfast and an extra jug of coffee to take with us in the car. Ann filled her flask with the thick South Indian coffee that is almost a meal in itself. We managed to get away by 7.30 after a few worrying moments wondering what could have happened to Thulasi as we hadn't seen him at all during the time we were here. He actually arrived right on time smiling ‘Good morning’ and dressed all in white.
The morning was hot, terribly hot, and the temperature inside the car soared even higher whenever we had to slow down or stop. We tossed more tennis balls out the windows and enjoyed watching the stunned expressions on the faces of those who found them. We posted some cards when we stopped for a break at a dusty little town called Tirunelveli. It was still very, very hot and extremely dusty as well. We walked only a short distance up the road to stretch our legs. The oppressive heat bore down on us from the clear blue sky. Later, back on the road, we saw a truck carrying cows, packed top to tail like sardines in a tin. We passed through an area where the hills were dotted with hundreds of wind generators for power "moving by the different wind forces." It seemed strange to see modern technology working side by side with people still using the ways of their ancestors which have been in use for hundreds of years. Large clay pots packed in straw were layered high on the back of a bullock cart. We passed an enormous cement factory, one of the largest in India, and the car was filled with fumes from the trucks coming and going from the factory. Our journey took us as far as Nagercoil, much further south than we had expected to go. We then headed back north towards Kovalam. Pooliyurcurichi ? how's that for a name to write on an envelope! Our lunch stop was at Itorapuram. We had delicious mango juice freshly mashed and the most revolting fish that we just couldn't eat.
Thulasi made a detour off the main road and took us to a most beautiful palace near the township of Thuckalay. We drove out through the town and down a very narrow rutted road through the rice fields. Padmanabhapuram Palace. We decided that it came second only to the Taj Mahal for perfection. It was so peaceful and serene, set within high walls surrounded by lush tropical growth. An excellent guide showed us around the palace. The roof tops were huge, covered with either wooden shingles or tiles made from the local clay. The ceilings and columns were intricately carved from teak and rosewood. The floors were all of highly polished wood, smooth and cool to walk on. Rows of wooden slats set into the walls allowed air to circulate throughout the rooms. The royal ladies used to watch dance and music performances from a latticed room above the Dance Hall. Where the builders of the Taj Mahal had excelled in the use of marble, this palace equalled their effort with the exquisite perfection of their woodwork. The palace was spacious and cool with lovely courtyards, crushed granite pathways and luscious plants in large red pots. A young man asked me to take a photo of his family while his wife looked embarrassed and the tiny daughter, a little apprehensive. He wrote his name and address in my book and I promised to send him a copy of the photo. From high up on the roof, we could see smoke from a fire in the hills beyond the fields behind the palace. We were all looking forward to the end of this journey as the day has been very long and so much hotter than anything we had previously experienced.
On arriving in Kovalam, we couldn’t find the hotel and neither could anybody else. After forty minutes driving and walking around asking people if they knew where it was, we finally found it – and immediately wished we hadn’t. It was situated on the far side of the headland by the lighthouse, a spot quite a distance from where we had wanted to stay. We were very disappointed as we were looking forward so much to staying in Kovalam. Our room was like a cell with no view, no hot water and no third bed. We were offered a filthy mattress on the floor. When it appeared in the doorway, we told the boy to take it away immediately and to bring us a proper bed. One finally arrived and we managed to arrange ourselves as comfortably as we could. There was only a pokey little window but thankfully an overhead fan. There were no clean towels, no help from the shifty-faced manager, half the food on the menu didn’t exist and what there was, was barely edible. We tried to get things improved and even contacted the agent who turned out to be utterly useless.
We left the manager who continued to wring his hands and do absolutely nothing and walked down to the beach. It was very beautiful but sadly, even late in the afternoon, was plagued with crowds of touts.