Thursday, January 22, 2015

India 2015 Kolorful Kerala : Day 4 - Of Elephants & Kathakali

You are at - Jotaro's Blog / Footsteps / India 2015 Kolorful Kerala / Day 4 - Of Elephants & Kathakali     | Jump to Day 1&2 / Day 3Day 5 / Day 6 / Day 7
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India 2015 Kolorful Kerala : Day 4 - Of Elephants & Kathakali
Periyar - 9th January 2015
I am beginning to enjoy the cool weather at the hills of Kerala. We ended the previous day at the Dreamcatcher Resort in Munnar. Today we will still be in the highlands, travelling from Munna to Kumily for an elephant ride and then onwards to Thekkady for a visit on a lake-boat cruise to a wild-life sanctuary in Periyar National Park.

This is page 3 of a 6-page blog, click on the respective titles below to go to other pages :
 - Kolorful Kerala Day 1 & 2 - Of Spices, Tea Valleys & Cool Hills.
Kolorful Kerala Day 3 - Of Tahrs & Kalaripayattu.
Kolorful Kerala Day 5 - Of Kerala Backwaters Houseboats.
Kolorful Kerala Day 6 - Of Fishing Nets & Mosquitoes.
Kolorful Kerala Day 7 - A Dahl Shopping Day.

We woke up to a nice surprise - our chalet at the Dreamcatcher Resort is at the fringe of a jungle and surrounded by tea plantations. And on top of that, the chalets were built like tree houses! Are we having a pleasant dream at Dreamcatcher?
The previous evening, we had arrived late at night and could not see all this, so this was really a pleasant sight to wake up to. I had stayed in Ubud, Bali surrounded by rice paddies (... see blog), now here I am in a chalet clinging to tall jungle trees surrounded by green tea bushes!

That lofty tree-house chalet with a spectacular view of the rolling plantations (shown in the previous photo) was not our abode. Some would pay the USD300 per night for that chalet's view. We had to be more realistic, the one shown above was where we stayed. It may not be that high up a tree but the semi-glass walls all round gave us a good view of the jungle too.

We decided to check out from the resort a couple of hours later, giving us time to walk along the terraces and among the tea bushes and enjoy the place more.
Breakfast was at the top-most floor of the resorts main building. We slowly ate as we admired the surrounding greenery and enjoyed the cool morning fresh air.
(Click here for a nice photo gallery of Dreamcatcher Resort).

After soaking up the uniqueness of the place, we reluctantly left and headed off for the day.

From Munnar, we headed for an elephant ride at Kumily; en route we made an unscheduled stop at one of the many churches in Kerala. After lunch it was a boat ride at Periyar Lake to view the tiger reserve around the lake. Will we be lucky enough to catch sight of those large Bengal Tigers?

A little while after we left, we were stopped by a guard at the Tea Company Junction.
Oops! In our euphoria over the place, we had forgotten to settle the bill for the previous night's dinner. Through the guard's mobile, we apologized mentioning that it was unintentional and asked whether we should return back to the hotel to pay up. After some talk between our driver, Prakash and the hotel management, it was agreed that we hand over the payment to Prakash who will then hand it over to the guard. Some protocol to follow here, Prakash will be the witnessing middleman in the affair. Hopefully, they will not black-mark us as we liked Dreamcatcher and may yet return for another stay.
While this was being done, I noticed a tower at the junction (see above photo). It was a three-tiered tower, about thirty to forty feet high with statues of the Virgin Mary at each of the tiers. This is something I noticed while we were driving across Kerala, at many prominent junctions towers like this can be seen. Most are dedicated to Jesus and Mary, while some are dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua.

About 44 km. down the Munnar-Kumily Highway we made an unscheduled stop to visit a church. There are many Catholic Churches in Kerala; at almost every other kilometre they can be seen sitting prominently on hill slopes beside the road.

Inside, the altar alcove was not elaborate but it was pleasant looking with a picture of Jesus's Sacred Heart.

Outside and Indian man was patiently painting a statue of St. George slaying the dragon. Look closely and you will notice that this statue has an Indian-looking face complete with a curling moustache.

Continuing or drive to Kumily, we notice this lady doggingly cycling up the slopes of the road. Being an avid cyclist myself (... see AhPek Biker blogs), I could only admire her in taking those long steep and winding roads. She has guts as traffic here was dangerously zooming pass the many bends and vehicles were consistently blaring their horns.

The girls had some guts too. At Kumily, we went for an elephant ride around a secondary forest. The helpers, from Tusker, the company operating this ride, helped them up the elephant from a tall tower. It's two person to one elephant and both riders sit astride the back of the elephant. It's not that uncomfortable, but we had to hold on tight as the elephant rocked and swayed while it made its way along the uneven jungle pathways.
On a trip two Jaipur two years back, we rode on elephants too - up the battlements of the Amber Fort (... see blog). There they had baskets on the elephants' back for passengers to sit in; it's more comfy that way.

It's more difficult for the front rider as he had to lean forward a bit to hold on to the saddle grips and balance himself to the swaying motion of the elephant. Kev, sitting in front, tried to take some photos with his phone-camera but could not, the leaning forward he had to hold on tight most of the time.

There were no worries of the elephant running wild and away with the riders, mahouts walk beside and guide the elephants along. The elephants are disciplined and obedient, and seem to understand the mahout's Malayalam (that's the Indian dialect spoken in Kerala) very much better than us.

Despite the slight discomfort, we thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
Sitting tall atop the elephant, we felt grand like maharajahs of old riding in an elephant procession.

Every once in a while, with a simple Malayalam instruction from its mahout, the elephant will raised it's trunk to pose for a friendly photo. Hey! This elephant seems to be smiling.

Many thanks to the elephants and their mahouts for a wonderful time.

The approach road to Thekkady has several stretches with shady bamboo groves over the road. It looks very rustic, but the town centre itself is busy and have hardly any tree foliage.

2:00pm - We checked into Treetops Hotel in Thekkady for a quick bath and rest before continuing the day. Our stay here will be in two of these colonial tea plantation-style looking stonework bungalows. These are very spacious inside, comfortable and cooling too, makes us feel like those tea planters of days gone by.

Refreshed, we popped over to the nearby Bamboo Cafe which is situated close to a stream with lots of bamboo growing around, hence its name.
This place is famous for good food in Thekkady and is renown for their fishes. The fishes are seasoned in spices, skewered and then grilled in a large standing earthenware pot.

We had this grouper, the grilling in the earthenware pot meant that they are not oily, so it's healthy food!
The fish were very fresh and with it spiced seasoning they were very delicious. Most customers ordered one fish for each. The restaurant also serves other nice curry dishes that goes well with the Jeera Rice that we ordered.
We would have loved to lounge in the bamboo restaurant longer, but we were running late and will have to rush off to our next destination - the Periyar Tiger Reserve!

The Periyar Tiger Reserve is a reserve of close to 1,000 in size, set in the middle of the Cardamom Hills. This is an area where the wild-life and flora are protected. Most protected of all are the Bengal Tigers, of which there are only twenty-four left in a 640 section of the reserve (as recorded in 2008). I keeping my fingers crossed that we will be able to spot at least one of these rare tigers.

We will actually be taking a boat cruise around part of the Periyar Lake, a lake formed by the Mullaperiyar Dam. That's why we were rushing to finish lunch as we had to catch the 3:30pm boat, the last boat for the day. We don't want to miss the boat, do we?
From the car-park, where tourists are dropped of, it was a kilometre walk to the boats which were moored at the banks at the end of the road.

The boat, a two level passenger ferry takes off from this point and cruises about 11 km. around the upper fringes of the lake. Sailing the lake for for two hours, we are hoping to catch view of as many animals as possible.

We did see some birds - hawks, egrets, commorants, kingfishers, etc. As for the animals, we just saw a few deer, one wild boar and were lucky to catch sight of a family of elephants. The elephants, two adults and two calves, strolled for a while on the banks before disappearing into the jungle.
As the animal sighting was a disappointment, so I just sat back and enjoyed the cool blowing wind as we sailed along.

With the cruise over, we headed back had a rest and got ready for our next event - a Kathakali performance. Seeing the many colourful posters and souvenirs depicting this dance, we were looking forward to the show.
We went earlier and managed to catch sight of the actors as they were putting on their costumes and applying the colourful and distinct make-up.

The first part of the show had an actor dressed as a lady showing how facial expressions and arm movements are an important part of the Kathakali dance. Part by part, with flexible movements of his eyes, mouth and cheeks, he was able to display various feelings - love, hate, disdain, satisfaction, disdain etc.
I must learn this expressive style; in future, I can easily express my feeling to my wife without even speaking!

The second part had the two actors acting out a story about a king who was seduced by a demon in the form of a beautiful lady. He finally manage to wake up from the spell and slay the demon.

It was a hectic and interesting day of churches, elephant rides, a cruise on a lake through a forest reserve and ending with a colourful dance performance.
We ended the day with a late pizza dinner before retiring, looking forward to the next day

This is page 3 of a 6-page blog, click on the respective titles below to go to other pages :
 - Kolorful Kerala Day 1 & 2 - Of Spices, Tea Valleys & Cool Hills.
Kolorful Kerala Day 3 - Of Tahrs & Kalaripayattu.
Kolorful Kerala Day 5 - of Kerala Backwaters Houseboats.
Kolorful Kerala Day 6 - Of Fishing Nets & Mosquitoes.
Kolorful Kerala Day 7 - A Dahl Shopping Day.

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You are at - Jotaro's Blog / Footsteps / India 2015 Kolorful Kerala / Day 4 - Of Elephants & Kathakali     | Jump to Day 1&2 / Day 3 / Day 5 / Day 6 / Day 7
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