Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Monsoon rains and elephant trails...24.5 hours of road adventures in Kerala.

This past week, fellow volunteers Anja and Nicolas along with our friend Senti, decided to take a brief time-out from Pondicherry and visit the neighbouring state of Kerala.  After the 3 hour taxi ride, dodging honking trucks and buses, we soon made it to Chennai for our one hour flight to Trivandrum.  Another 90 minutes of quieter albeit potholed, chicken-playing, hair-raising taxi ride, we arrived in our first destination, Varkala, a small village set on the steep red cliffs overlooking the Arabian Sea.  Finally gone were the honking horns of traffic, replaced with the peaceful natural sound of waves breaking against the rocks. We spent our first day meandering along the cliffs, enjoying the view, the shopping and the great choice of food, occasionally taking shelter from the rain storms that swept in from the sea and over the cliff bucketing us with rain.

The next morning we left at 9am for our 3.5 hour taxi ride to Allepey for a day and night cruising the backwaters on our very own houseboat, Lake’s Legend.  Our memories of honking dodgem taxis was soon replaced by the gentle hum of the boat’s engine and the lapping of water against the side of the boat.  We laid back, relaxed and watched the Keralan life pass by around us only moving to the table to eat the delicious Keralan food the staff prepared for us. Fried fish, fried coconut, rice, chapati, mixed greens, dal, fresh pineapple and my favourite, fried sweet little bananas.

After arriving back into houseboat port once again in pouring monsoon rain, we waited the “five minutes” for our taxi .  An hour later our taxi arrived and we set off on the 5 hour hot, slow, steep, winding and seriously pot-holed climb to Thekkady for an adventure with wildlife.  Slow it may have been, but the scenery was beautiful.  Tea, rubber, cocoa, pineapple and coffee plantations and more waterfalls than you could count on two hands.  After arriving in yet more monsoon rain, we settled into our accommodation, had a late lunch and in the early evening, watched a demonstration of the Keralan martial art form, Karali.  I even volunteered to join in the six man huddle as one of the martial artists incredibly leaped over all of our backs into a forward roll.

Next morning after a quick cup of hot sweet Keralan coffee, we set off on our jeep safari into Periyar Wildlife Reserve at 5.30am.  After the fastest but bumpiest 1 hour drive over the worst potholes I have ever seen, we made it to the reserve. With our multi-skilled driver, navigating the road and spotting wildlife at the same time we saw the black monkey, squirrel, wild bison and macaques.  And then we saw it, unmissable, on the road.  Freshly laid, huge, elephant poo, marking the trail of the wild elephants that had recently walked the road we were now driving.  As we continued along the road, we eagerly scanned the forest around us, hoping that maybe we just might spot a wild elephant or two.

After chowing down our Western Indian breakfast, both idly with dal and chutney and fried eggs with toast, we slipped into our leech socks and set off into the pouring monsoon rain.  For 90 minutes, we trudged through the jungle in the pouring rain, more leeches wriggle-hopping over our leech socks with every step.  We were still on the trail of elephants.  We walked past their scratching tree and the pile of mud they used for their mud baths but after an hour of walking through the mud, puddles and streams  in the rain and stopping every 10 minutes to sprinkle salt on the leeches on our feet we all agreed to take the shorter trail that lead back to camp. No elephants to be seen this time.

From Periyar we drove 5 hours, back past the tea, coffee, pineapple and coco plantations to Fort Cochin.  The sky may have pelted us with yet more monsoon rain but we didn’t let that dampen our spirits.  We visited  historic St Francis Church and the Chinese Fishing Nets where we were invited by some of the fishermen to take shelter with them. Then it was time to head back to Pondy.  A 90 minute drive to the airport and one hour flight and we landed back in dry, hot Chennai.  One last 3 hour drive and we made it back to Pondy.  We may have spent an ambitious 24.5 hours in taxis and experienced torrents of monsoon rain but we still loved our time in beautiful Kerala and recommend it to anyone, monsoon time or not.

Until the next adventure,
aka Gypsy K
you can read more of my adventures here....


 Backwaters, Allepey

Church on the Backwaters, Allepey

Anja, Nicolas and Senti relaxing on our boat 

Giant leap and forward roll by Karali martial artist...that's me in the purple wrap in the middle

One of the waterfalls we passed on the way to Thekkady

Getting ready to go leech-walking

Chinese fishing nets in Fort Cochin

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