I am writing this at the table outside the house where we have spent the last nine days in the hills of Coorg. I will not be able to upload it until we reach Mysore tomorrow evening because there is no internet access- or indeed phone access or indeed mains electiricity here. It is quarter to four and the late afternoon sun is warming my back. There is a constant background hum, which we at first assumed must come from some sort of pylon until we realised that it stopped in the evening and in fact- there are no pylons about- so it has to bees. From the volume of the hum there must be thousands of them but they must be high up in the forest canopy because I can only see butterflies and the occasional dragonfly. As well as the bees there is the sound of the little stream that Martha is dangling her feet in whilst she reads a book. Alfie and George have gone off wth a couple of little boys they have met to look at the chickens and the goats.

We have been staying on an organic coffee and spice plantation called The Rainforest Retreat, which has a few cottages and tents for visitors to stay in: we have a cottage. The father of one of the little boys who Alfie and George have gone off with comes in the morning and the afternoon to set a fire under a big copper urn in the bathroom to heat the water for washing. We spend a lot of time in London making anti-social (perhaps even illegal) bonfires in our garden, so to have one as an essential part of the household routine has been a daily delight to Ben abd the children- who have made the most of the opportunity to fiddle about with it and poke it wth sticks. In fact the climate here is so mild that for a couple of evenings- after it had rained, quite hard- we even made a fire in the cottage. It has rained around tea time almost every day, which has been lovely. The coffee was just starting to blossom when we arrived and it has bloomed and finished whilst we have been here. After a couple of days Ben and I woke up before the children and went to sit outside to enjoy the early morning calm- Ben pointed out that it sounded just like the “Soothing Sounds of Nature” cd that I once experimented with playing the children over breakfast in the futile hope that it might make getting them to school in the morning less stressful, and I had been thinking that it smelt just like an expensive candle: you know you are having a quality experience when you realise that it’s something that can be packaged and bought for money.

We have been on several long walks into the surrounding countryside, which is everything you could hope for from a jungle: gigantic trees, enormous hairy spiders, woodlice the size of toy cars, dragonflies in sports car shades of red, blue and green, tropicla flowers and epiphitic orchids festooning the trees. One walk took us to a sacred grove with an ancient temple painted in purple and orange emulsion and covered in the kind of monsters Alfie draws. Another walk ended at a little river full of tadpoles and little fishes where the children paddled and made little hillocks of sand.

Coorg is home to several settlements of Tibetan refugees. There are peopled by monks in robes of burgundy and orange- drinking cocoa cola and sending emails from internet cafes. We visited a complex of buddhist temples, just as impressive in many ways as the Dravidian temples we have seen so much of throughout Tamil Nadu. Certainly their blood thirsty demons were just as appalling and their Gods and Godesseses just as nubile, all depicted in marvelous technicolour paintings all over the walls.

 The burden of trying to feed the children things they will eat using only what you can buy in a remote rural town was admirably shouldered by a kind lady called Anu, which was a tremendous relief for me. Everything else was organised by a lovely French lady called Ingrid, leaving us free to sit about reading and chatting. The cottage was also supplied with a Monopoly set- a game we have never played at home, in fact I can’t imagine us ever having time to play it in London- but we have had three or four games of it in the jungle. It turns out I am rather brilliant at Monopoly- ruthless and valliant in my investments- Martha and Alfie were still keen to play despite the discovery of my unforseen talent. George was less keen though he often joined my team just as the game ended so as to be one of the victors- probably making him the best and most strategic player of all of us.

Tomorrow is the first of April and just a week until we come home. I am excited to see Mysore and its famous palace and really looking forward to returning to SEED to say goodbye to our friends. When we leave Mysore we will return to Mahaballapurum to revisit the things we were too baffled by the newness of it all to really take in when we first arrived. I am so glad we have had this last nine days of shade and calm to contemplate what we have done, and think about how to continue our journey when we get back home.

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