South Tour: Chinnar, Munnar & Thekkady – Rain clouds not reflective of our moods

28 Nov

In spite of the incessant rain and our inappropriate footwear, our two-hour trek was an enjoyable one.

NR. THEKKADY: Let’s play the good-idea-bad-idea game:

Trekking though the jungle in sandals? Bad idea.

Climbing a precarious-looking steel tower in the rain? Bad idea.

Feeding wild monkeys Parle-G’s? Bad idea…but well worth the risk.

We spent half the day at a wildlife sanctuary in Chinnar on Friday (26 Nov), but we hardly saw any wildlife. True, you could see elephants and buffalo on the hill across the river (if you had 20/20 vision), and yes, we saw tracks that definitely belonged to elephants, but as far as it came to seeing mammals in their natural habitat, we had to settle for monkeys.

Deep into our hike, we approached the Chinnar River, which separates the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Getting there had been surprisingly uneventful – compared to the paths we’d tried to climb in Ooty, the ones here were easy to navigate. It was raining, however, so most of the hike was spent with my head down. And I probably should have worn socks, although some sported footwear even less practical than mine.

The monkey we saw by the river was the first and only animal to approach us. In fact, monkeys have been the only wild animals with the courage to approach us. We’d run into some earlier, and each time they’ve willing accepted our Parle-G’s, crackers and fruits. Even though a monkey once came two steps from passing through our open bus door, members of our group always light up with glee in the presence of monkeys. The reactions are similar with cats and dogs, as most of us come from cultures where such animals are pets, not pests.

I was struck at several times on our trek by inexplicable poignant moments. They usually occurred when we were too tired to talk, when little could be heard but the soft patter of rain and our dull footsteps. Even from the tall steel tower, our views weren’t spectacular – it was more what I couldn’t see than what I could. There was no doubt that something had been there ahead of us.

Yesterday I rode an elephant.

Riding an elephant is one of those things that you shouldn’t go to India and not do, like eating chapatti for dinner and visiting the Taj Mahal. My ten-minute ride was unremarkable and devoid of any unusual happenings (although two French tourists did take pictures of us). Our elephant carried Michelle [Germany], Anaïs [France] and me a few hundred meters down an asphalt road for five minutes, turned around, and took us back.

I was asked what it felt like to ride an elephant. My answer?

“It feels like I’m riding on an elephant.”

The experience is about what you’d expect from such a creature. Elephants walk slowly, trundling along at about five miles an hour. We swayed a little from side to side as one massive hind leg was placed in front of the other. Our elephant also had much more hair than I’d expected. The ride was enjoyable, and the Rs. 150 was well-spent.

It was just another first-time experience that this tour has given me.

Just because I’ve grown used to having new experiences, however, doesn’t mean I enjoy them any less.

29 Nov

An already crowded traffic situation got worse when a bus got stuck in the only small passage.

An already crowded traffic situation got worse when a bus got stuck in the only small passage.

NR. ALLEPPY: Yesterday was the most boring day of the tour.

We braved the rain to visit a spice garden, saw a traditional Kathakali dance this evening, and waited in line for a boat ride through the jungle – only to be turned down at the ticket counter.

On the bus ride to Thekkady, the crowded roads became even more congested than usual. Just seconds before our bus was to pass by, a ten-meter tree fell across the road, presumably because of weight from the incessant rain. As our bus was at the front of the long queue to pass through, we all had a good view of the effort to clear a path. Dozens of people got out of their vehicles to help, and within minutes they’d cleared a path thin enough for small cars to drive through.

That initial effort was wasted, however, when a small bus tried squeezing through. The ground was too muddy for it to gather any traction, so traffic once again came to a standstill. We could only wait for an emergency vehicle to come with a machete and clear more room. After 20 minutes of tree-climbing, picture-taking, cable-avoiding, branch-chopping and leaf-dragging, the road was once again clear – the only casualties two power lines to which I assume (and hope) the power had already been cut.

Most of the remainder of our journey was spent asleep. I passed out on my bed at 9:30 that night, too exhausted to write.


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