Posts Tagged ‘Trekking’

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

December 27, 2010

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.


Click to enlarge


South Tour: Ooty – Can it get any more bea-Ooty-ful?

December 21, 2010

24 Nov

No, this was not taken from an airplane. Both my feet were firmly on the ground when I took this picture.

OOTY: My expectations for this hill station were high.

My head is in the clouds.

There’s just no better way to put it: it’s Ooty-ful here.

Brii [Canada] and Jordan almost threw me off the bus yesterday, my puns were so bad. But how could I resist? Every day of this tour I keep thinking I’ve seen the most beautiful scene of my life, and every day the views get better.

The tragedy of yesterday’s bus ride wasn’t that the other students made me take off both my shoes and a sock for those puns, but that I chose the wrong side of the bus to sit on. As our vehicle wound its way up the hill, one side consistently featured a noticeably better view than the other. As I was sitting on the left, and the panorama was usually on the right, I ended up taking more pictures of nearby trees than the valley below.

Then we reached the top, and I realized I had nothing to complain about.

From the bus, I saw a building with a nice view of the surrounding hills. “I’d like to live in that house,” I said.

That “house” turned out to be the lobby of our hotel.

The rooms sit below on the hillside like overlapping cottages, and each has a spectacular view of Ooty and the hills that surround it on each side. We’ve spent the last two nights eye level with the clouds. As the bus pulled in next to the hotel, our glee and excitement was greater than any other spot on the tour, save perhaps our embarkation in Nagpur.

Yesterday we made our way up one of Ooty’s hills. The thin air, sub-15 (C) temperature, and some residual food poisoning combined to make several of us tired and out-of-breath. The higher we went, the more students decided to go back down. The roads turned into trails, and those trails turned into narrow, cramped, passages. RK made us climb more slowly than we wanted to, and for good reason – in some spots, a misstep could have caused a painful tumble into the tree trunks below.

By 5 p.m. we were nearly at the top, but because of darkness we had no choice but to trek back down. The clouds would have obscured the panoramic view anyhow.

When we woke up this morning, the view from our hotel room had vanished – nothing was visible outside but white mist. It reminded me of my trip to Chicago in March with the other outbounds and inbounds from District 6490. Three of us bought a half-price ticket to the top of the Hancock, the city’s third tallest skyscraper. The air was the same then as it was this morning: nothing more than soft, slow-moving white mist. This time, however, the view that was being obstructed was of the South India hills, not the Midwest USA’s largest city.

Most of our day today was spent enjoying the views and each others’ company. We visited a tea factory which gave us great insight into the drink’s creation, saw another botanical garden, and exhausted our legs with half an hour of paddle- er, pedal-boating.

Nothing, however, will top the views from the highest peaks in South India.

After all, how can you top being on top of the world?


Click to enlarge