Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

(Written in Kumily -- February 10th)

En route to Periyar -- Western Ghats

Well, it's not exactly true about the bears and the lions, and a slight exaggeration about the tigers.  There are a few Asiatic lions left in India, but not in this neck of the woods, and to the best of my knowledge there are no wild bears; there are a handful of tigers in the Periyar Wildlife Reserve near here, though, but I didn't actually manage to spot any.  (I'm pretty sure they spotted me, though.)  I did see wild elephants, though, which is more than enough!!  And monkeys galore; monkeys are always amusing.

I travelled here yesterday from the homestay in the Kerala backwaters, about a 6-hour bus ride over bumpy, winding mountain roads.  We're at a higher altitude now, so the weather's a bit cooler and not as humid.  In the best Indian fashion, this place has not one, not two, but THREE names:  it's variously referred to as Kumily, Thekkady, and Periyar.  Kumily seems to be the most commonly used name to reference the town, so I'll refer to it that way.

It's a tiny place, essentially just one big loop with a lot of shops and ayurvedic treatment places and a scattering of hotels and restaurants.  It's a lot more relaxed than any northern town I encountered; efforts to entice me into a shop to buy things seem a bit half-hearted at best. 

Some of my group have ventured out for ayurvedic massages or elephant rides, but I've opted to chill out instead on the hanging wicker chair on my hotel balcony.  The sun is glorious and, while the weather is not so stiflingly hot as down at sea level, it's still warm enough to make me lazy and languid and disinclined to move very far.  I'm going out later for a tour of a spice plantation (it's big business around here, and the town smells delightful with the aroma of cardamom and ginger in the air), and tonight to a performance of the local martial arts, but until then I think I'll stay right here.

Maybe it's because I got up far too early this morning that I feel so lounge-y.  We set out at 6:30 a.m. for a trek through the wildlife reserve; they bill it as a great place to view tigers, but I figured our chances of spotting the beasts must be pretty low when we set off on foot with our guide not carrying any kind of weapon at all.  (Surely, if the tigers were going to be lurking around every bend, they'd put us in a jeep, or something?)

There's only about 46 tigers in the reserve, spread over a vast area, so you do have to be extremely lucky to see one.  We did spot some bison, though, along with monkeys (possibly my favourite animal, ever); the highlight, however, was glimpsing a small herd of wild elephants through the trees.  We couldn't venture very close, as there was a baby in the group and mama elephant would probably have charged us.  Running away from a enraged 2-tonne mother elephant bent on defending her young'un is not an experience I need to have, so I was happy to keep my distance!

Last night was entertainment of a different kind, at a performance of the local dance form called "Kathakhali".  It's more visual storytelling through facial expressions and hand gestures, than dance; the costumes are incredibly elaborate and the makeup colourful.  The actors/dancers were very expressive in their movements and expressions (all parts were played by men, even the female roles), but I don't think I'd have followed the story on my own; helpfully, however, they had provided a synopsis in English of the tale from the Ramayana (one of the sacred Hindu texts) being presented to us.

We move on tomorrow to Varkala, a beach town on the coast where our tour ends.  (And where I get to spend my, er, 22nd birthday!)  The group splits up from there:  the Americans Philip and Nathan (father and son) head home to New Hampshire, Claudio goes back to Italy and Sam to the UK, Shona (from Ireland) down to Trivandrum to a yoga retreat for a month, Brishay and Jonny (from Scotland) to Kovalam for a couple of days before catching a flight to Sri Lanka, and Sophie (the Aussie) to Munnar in the hills.  Rachel (US), Susann (Swiss) and Debbie (UK) are hanging out in Varkala for a bit as well, so we may all look for a place together after the trip ends.

After that, I'm on my own in India -- I think I'd have been terrified by the prospect had I stayed in the north, but here in the south I think it's manageable, as life moves a bit slower and much of the overwhelming chaos has disappeared.  I'm thinking I'll spend a couple of weeks in Varkala, do some yoga and maybe have an ayurvedic massage, then back up to Kochi for a few days.  From there, maybe back to Goa -- by night train if it's possible -- for a couple of weeks on a different beach (Anjuna, perhaps), before flying from there to Delhi to catch my flight home.

I'd originally thought I'd go further south, to the tip of India, before working my way back up the east coast through Puducherry and Chennai, but you know what?  I'm not that ambitious now.  It's been a long and eventful year, and I've seen and experienced so much that I think I just want some quiet time to process it all, before I have to head back to reality.

Unless, of course, I forget to come home.  If you don't see me back in Toronto by the beginning of April, you'll know I'm stuck on a beach somewhere in Goa, watching the sun set and getting my hippie grove on.  Peace, love and flowers, all!

No comments:

Post a Comment