We started our trip in Chenai, which used to be called Madras. It's a city in the throws of modernisation. Many of the historic buildings, with their colonial history, have been pulled down to allow the city to grow. It's like a massive, messy building site, with no apparent order to it. But there is still evidence of older times, with small bastions of a more traditional past.
Bangalore was much the same, with booming high tech industries side by side with open air markets, garage silk weavers and slums.
Trains still carry a millions upon millions of people across India every day. We took one from Bangalore to Mysore. It wasn't the chaotic experience I was expecting. The stations were spotlessly clean and people were polite and friendly. We even had our own allocated seats, where stewards delivered us a delicious vegetarian lunch.
Mysore has a very long history of rulers from the same ancient royal family. They even survived the British Empire. Strongly Hindu, Mysore Palace gives you a vision into their strictly religious lives.
Next was a drive up into the Western Ghats to Ooty. Famous for tea and it's British colonial influences. Plantation owners and British civil servants rubbed shoulders here. The farmers were developing their tea gardens, while wealthy government officials used to decamp to the hills to escape the heat and disease of the large cities. Planters built railway tracks to help export the bales of tea down to the cities and their old steam trains are still in use today. The other legacy of colonial times are the English style houses and gardens. It's all rather lovely! Like going back to the Home Counties in the 1930's. Genteel and pretty.
Tea was imported to this area by the British, after a blight had wiped out the coffee plantations. The plants were smuggled out of China. As tea bushes needed more sun than coffee, the jungle had to be cleared by hand to make way for the tea gardens. A determined group of planters, many from Scotland, had a massive influence on this area. Benefits that are still being felt.
Most of us drink tea, but how many of us know how it is made? A trip around a tea factory was really fascinating. It took us through the tea being lightly dried after picking, being chopped and ground, then dried, fermented, then sorted. The driers all run from huge wood fired furnaces.
Toddy is a Kerala tradition. Coconut palms are tapped for the juice flowing to the flowers. This naturally ferments within a couple of hours to produces a slightly vinegary, slightly fizzy coconut flavoured alcoholic drink. The local men have this to start their day, along with spicy beef fry.
Coconut Lagoon was our destination on the Backwaters.
To get further into the Backwaters we had two nights on a beautiful converted rice barge. Watching the sun set over the Backwaters is a gorgeous experience.
Around Cochin there are hundreds of churches and cathedrals, from the huge and magnificent, to small local churches, packed with their congregations in bright traditional clothing. It's a strange, but exotic combination of cultures.