Wednesday, January 19, 2011

South Part 3

I'm just gonna keep on rolling and posting. It's not an especially busy time, so I want to get caught up fast.
Place number 3 was Thekkady. Thekkady is about 100 kilometers away from Munnar, but it takes nearly 5 hours to get there. It's still up in the hills, but in terms of elevation it's quite a bit lower than Munnar. It's dry and hot, but not too hot, and you can see mountains in the distance. Surrounding the tourist-oriented town are lush jungles and traditional villages.

Thekkady was not my favorite place (that honor is given to Munnar and Goa), but the things that we did there were definitely the best. We left Munnar quite early and made it to Thekkady by the early afternoon. Thekkady is famous for its spices. So we went to an elephant-riding zone/spice garden in the late afternoon. We walked around the garden (which isn't really a garden, it's just basically spices growing in the forest). After that, we all took turns riding on elephants.
Elephants are just awesome. These are the Asian elephants, of course, which are known to be not as large as their African counterparts, but they are still very big (bigger than they look in the picture) and intimidating, what with their thick hides and flailing trunks. These guys were very well-trained though. I felt a little bad for them. It seemed like they could be leading much more interesting lives. Still, I enjoyed it. The best part, however, was when we all were led to the elephant's bathing pit and were each given an elephant bath. It was an experience. It also provided me with perhaps my favorite profile picture of all time.
That evening, we dried ourselves off as best we could and attended a Kathakali show at the same place. This facility seemed to be a combination of a wide variety of entertainment. Kathakali, which we sort of learned about in AP Lit while reading The God of Small Things (another excellent India book to read), is a very ancient, traditional song and dance style of storytelling. In our particular show, there were two male actors that were ridiculously made up, one to look like a woman. There was a man singing what was presumably the story in maybe Malayalam (Kerala's widely spoken native tongue) or Sanskrit (the Indian equivalent of Latin). In our tale, a studly warrior-king caught the eye of some sort of demon, who disguised himself as a seductive woman and failed to attract the attentions of the king. The demon then revealed himself to be Blackbeard and had a dance fight with the king before having his ear sliced off.
Kathakali is an experience.
The next morning we got up early and went on a jungle hike through a tiger preserve. Nobody saw any tigers. But the guide said that in four years of taking folks on jungle treks, he had seen tigers four times. I suppose it was too much to expect that we would provide his annual sighting. It was still a lot of fun. This is the kind of thing I like, walking through some beautiful outdoors, looking for wildlife, trying to be quiet enough to photograph deer and birds and monkeys and things.
That afternoon, we went to an Ayurvedic massage session and we were given a long, very traditional massage and steam bath. It was exceedingly pleasant. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Thekkady, which is a nice place to do this because it has a lot of tourist oriented shops. Also, it had a coffee shop. With filter coffee. This was a terrific discovery. The coffee that you can find in India is really overly sugared. Not my style. But this place was cozy in a Blue Monday kind of way, and you just don't find these kind of places in India. Made my day.
That night we went to fighting show in a kind of battle pit, surround on balconies above by excited tourists. It was kind of like a wrestling arena. 7 highly trained athletes had these very fast, incredibly choreographed battles with all sorts of exciting and dangerous weapons. They also jumped through rings of fire. It was really cool.
So that's Thekkady. Post 4 coming up soon.

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