February 16, 2012

The India Group goes on Safari

This last weekend, the LMU group in India traveled to the city of Kumily, and visited the Periyar tiger reserve.

We left for the tiger reserve on Friday night, after finishing our work here in the crèches (day cares).  Although we expected a 3 hour drive, it was actually a 4.5 hour drive, and we arrived in Kumily, the city on the edge of the tiger reserve, at almost 11pm.  The funny thing was that our driver, Mubarak, was able to call ahead, figure out where we were staying, and as soon as we rolled into town, we were greeted by both the owner of the guest home where we were staying and a tour guide.  They whisked us over to the guest house, gave us hot tea and bananas, and helped us to figure out how we wanted to spend the weekend. 
The guest house was great.  They had hot showers, breakfast was included, they brought plates of papaya up to the room, and had a pretty setting, close to the town.  They were also incredibly friendly.

Since we were arriving so late on Friday night, it wasn’t possible to arrange any of the major safari trips for the next day, so we scheduled an elephant ride, ayurvedic massage (ayurveda is an ancient Indian medical practice), a trip to a spice farm, and a watched  Kalaripayattu  (traditional and ancient form of martial arts in southern India).  We planned to visit the tiger reserve for a jeep, walking and boat safari on Sunday.
Our program on Saturday started at 10am, which gave us a much needed chance to sleep in, have breakfast, and relax before we got started.  Our tour guide from the night before arrived with a driver, who he said would accompany us for the entire day.  We were taken to ride the elephant, where they were expecting us.  The four of us shared the same elephant, a 35 year old male named Mattie.  For $6 each we had a half hour ride.  The guide took our cameras and took many pictures for us.  Then, Shawna and Clare decided to bathe the elephant, and then, be bathed by the elephant!
Next, we headed to the ayurvedic massage, for a 75 minute massage and steam bath.  The massage was done in a very traditional Indian style, and was fairly different from the normal deep tissue massage in the US.  They used a LOT of heated, scented oil, beginning by pouring it over our head and neck, and then working it into every other part of our body.  We were beaten (sometimes feeling like tenderized meat), kneaded, and rubbed for an hour, and then put into small chambers with only our heads exposed, and steamed for another 15 minutes.  We were towel dried after, but each of us felt and smelled like the oil.  In fact, for the rest of the day, everyone we met knew we had gone for an ayurvedic massage because of our oily hair!

We had lunch at a fantastic restaurant, sitting on the 3rd floor amid the tree tops, enjoying perfect weather, and eating lasagna, salads and fruit.

Then, we headed over to a spice farm for a tour.  The region that we were in (the district of Kerala) is well known for producing spices, coffee and tea.  The farm that we toured was beautiful, very green, and had tons of plants in their demonstration garden.  We saw pepper corns growing, and learned about the four varieties of pepper (black, white, green and red) and how they all come from the same plant.  We learned that bay leaves and cinnamon come from the same plant; we saw coffee beans on the plant, and being processed and dried, mounds of pepper drying, cardamom, all spice, and many other great plants.

 All surrounding a little lake and processing plant.  Our guide was knowledgeable and told us all about the plants, their use in ayurvedic medicine (nutmeg for sleep, etc), and how they were processed and grown.  The tour was free, but after we went to their shop and bought some of the spices we had seen being grown!

Black pepper being collected and dried.

We then headed back to our guesthouse for a shower (to remove the massage oils!) and quick nap before going to the martial arts show.  This had been booked in advance by our tour guide, because the shows tend to sell out.  It was a combination martial arts show, with sword/shield fighting, spears, and also an acrobatic show, with flips, jumps through burning hoops, and back bends.  At one point, we thought we might all asphyxiate from the fumes of burning kerosene, from the burning batons and hoops they were jumping through. 

 Here’s a youtube video from the show we watched: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3xgg1JfU3g&noredirect=1

After the show, the girls did some shopping in town, picking up some nice souvenirs.  After dinner, we called it a night because our safari left at 5am on Sunday.

A jeep picked us up promptly at 5am and took us to the park (about a 45 minute drive).  Once in the park, I was surprised at how fast we were driving, and how few animals we were seeing.  It turns out that the driver was not really an animal guide at all, but really just a driver- instead of doing a jeep safari (as is common in Africa) he was more intent on getting us to a camp inside the park, where we met a guide.  However, he did point out a giant tree squirrel, and we did park at one point and take a 20 minute hike where we saw beautiful vistas and some wild buffalo.  

Early morning view in the park.
The camp in the park had a small tourist center with information and bathrooms, a pavilion for meals, and a beautifully landscaped yard with flowers, bushes, trees and it was set on a small lake.  They served us a nice, traditional Indian breakfast, buffet style.  Then, we met our guide who took us on a 2.5 hour hike.  

Unfortunately, the hike was just around the little camp, and everyone else was also hiking in the same area, so we saw many other tourists, at least for the first half of the hike.  It turns out that the camp is next to a very tiny little village and farm/cardamom plantation, which is fenced off from the rest of the park.  So, there wasn’t much chance of seeing any of the 1,500 elephants in the park (we didn’t expect to see any of the 45 tigers), and no chance of seeing deer either.  Our guide later told us that he sees an elephant about once a month!  Still, it was a beautiful walk, with great weather, and great scenery. 

Paul had bought a field guide to birds of southern India the night before, and we managed to spot and identify several very colorful, interesting birds, like a common kingfisher and some bee eaters.
After the walk we relaxed by the lake, enjoying the scenery, and then ha d a nice, traditional southern India lunch.  After the lunch the tour was scheduled to do a ‘boat tour’ which was an hour long row boat trip around the little lake.  The tiger reserve in general contains an enormous man made lake, and big boat tours on the lake are a famous part of the eco-tourism there.  Obviously,  the row boat excursion on this tiny lake bordering the camp is not what we were expecting.  In order to save time, and try to get back to Kodaikanal at a reasonable hour, we skipped this part of the tour.  Instead, we went on another, shorter walk, and got some great views from the hills.

Monkeys in the park.
We then drove back to our guest house (keeping an eye out for elephants on our way back through the park, but no luck).  We passed through a large tea plantation as well, which was very pretty.  
Once back in town we tried to meet up with a driver that we had arranged the night before.  Unexpectedly, however, another driver showed up, saying he was the friend of the person we had negotiated with the night before, and that he would take us to Kodaikanal for the same price, etc. that we had agreed on before.  This was corroborated by the other drivers in the area, but it was still a surprise.  It turns out that his driver was born and raised in Kodaikanal, and whenever anyone wants a ride from Kumily to Kodi he gets the referrals.  In fact, he had spoken to our driver, Mubarak, the night we arrived, and he knew all about our late arrival, where we were staying, etc.  Word gets around fast.

He seemed to have a bit of a temper, and was incredibly protective of his car (slow driving over the many pot holes), but he was nice and we had a smooth, comfortable ride home.  Overall, it was a great trip, and we all had a lot of fun.  The safari was a bit of a missed opportunity- the place we went didn’t offer very good odds of seeing many animals, but the scenery and experience were still very good.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow. Looks so fun.

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