Being in nature again away from the hustle and bustle.
Day 1 - Getting to Periyara
A dream for many people is to see a tiger in the wild so this is what the 6 of us set off to do when we headed for Periyara, South India's most popular wildlife sanctuary (777 sq km with 46 tigers!). From Kochi, there is only one public transport option - the local bus. Having seen the local bus, we hurriedly tried to think of another way of getting there and Sheeba (our guesthouse 'mom') suggested that we hire a private car to take us. Sold!
So we set off that morning with our driver (still packed to the brim though as there were 6 of us plus bags in the Land Cruiser). The journey started of okay but got increasingly worse - the roads and the driver deteriorated in direct proportion to each other! The first problem was that there is no main highway to get to Periyara so you have to go through a million little towns. This would usually not be a problem except here it means that there are so many objects to hoot at consistently which doesn't exactly make for a pleasant drive. Add to that the roads are in terrible condition - very narrow with no shoulders, bumpy and full of potholes. And then we hit the mountains for the last stretch which meant getting stuck behind loads of buses and trucks and overtaking on multiple blind corners - scary at the best of times but just that much worse when your options of going to the side are either into the mountain or off the side of a very large cliff. Of course hooting all the way.
Nevertheless we arrived in one piece to our new home stay and quickly set off for a walk around the town, Kumily (which is a few km out of the reserve) in search of some lunch. We found a spot with a good view still serving lunch, the Jungle Cafe, and most of us had a decent lunch with the exception of Greg and Shaun who missed the lesson about always ordering local and ended up with the worst sandwiches ever. What was hilarious though is that they offered us beer - which was rather exciting for everyone (except me as I've still managed to avoid drinking beer all trip) being that it's so rare to be able to order alcohol in a restaurant here. Okay that part wasn't hilarious - what was funny is that they served it in individual teapots for everyone (many places don't have licence s so they have to serve it on the sly!).
V and I then set off in search of a massage (we had been having withdrawal symptoms since Thailand) and ended up at a dodgy-looking place across the road from our guesthouse that came recommended. It was an aryurvedic (meaning 'life science') massage which is a traditional Indian massage and it was a very interesting experience - definitely not for the timid as we had to strip down completely and the massage basically involved getting tons of oil rubbed on (which we are still smelling days later!) and then finishing off in a 'steam bath' which was basically a little wooden box that you sit in with just your head poking out and if that's not claustrophobic enough, they put a blanket over your head! It was very relaxing and invigorating though!
Dinner that night was at Chrissie's next door which served some excellent pizza and not-so-excellent lasagne - and the best milkshake of tour (of course only jammy b***** Al got to have one and then they ran out of milkshake stuff!). Rounds of our favourite card game finished off the evening before they kicked us out at 10:30 pm as the whole town was shutting down again. Even I'm struggling to get used to these early finishes!
You can view our photos here:
Day 2 - Exploring Periyara
It was another early start for the team as our jeep picked us up at 5:30 am for our Periyara adventure. And it was freezing! It seems strange to have 'cold' and 'India' in the same sentence but Periyara is up in the mountains. So there we were all bundled up in our open air jeep ready to see some tigers! We did get an early morning giggle though when we arrived at the park gate as the driver informed us that we had to pay a fee if we wanted to use our camera. Shaun was incensed by this and asked why and our guide replied that it was because of the government. Shaun thought he said because of the Germans though (??) and was cursing them - the rest of us were laughing too much to correct him!
As soon as we got into the park, our driver excitedly stopped the car and pointed out… some deer… on top of a hill… several km away - hmmm, not quite what we had in mind for our big adventure! We tried to politely tell him that being South African, deer didn't quite excite us and we just wanted to see the big stuff. And then he stopped again to show us… some elephant! We were excited about this until we realized that all we could see was the back of one baby elephant in the far distance.
So probably the best thing we saw on our game drive were the squirrels which were much bigger than we had seen before and some had three different colours on their belly. The park itself was incredibly beautiful though and it was stunning to see it come to life as the sun rose. It was a very different park experience to what we are used to also as instead of large open savannah spaces, it is wall-to-wall jungle and forest so no wonder it doesn't exactly make for easy tiger spotting.
After our game drive we stopped for breakfast and as we were sitting around eating our veggie dal etc., we were informed that we would be setting out for our trek next. We looked at each other in disbelief as we were all under the impression that we had signed up for a jeep and boat safari day. Apparently we missed the small print of a 3 hour trek through the forest! Luckily Shaun had convinced me to wear my trainers that morning but the others weren't so lucky as they were all in slops!
So out in the forest we set with our intrepid guide. It was a beautiful walk through the trees even if some of us city slickers - read Alistair Herriott - didn't appreciate it fully all the way. At this stage, we weren't quite so sure whether we did want to encounter a tiger after all and we were a little nervous after being told that they also had several different types of snakes- but we didn't have to be worried as it was mostly trees with a few waterfalls along the way.
After lunch, our guide took us out on a paddle boat to another small waterfall and then we headed back on the jeep for home. A brilliant Indian dinner at Hotel Aryani completed the day.
For the record, apparently spotting a tiger in India is extremely unusual. We had been really hopeful as March and April are apparently the best time of year to spot them - but after speaking to several of the guides, we learned that most of them had only spotted a tiger once or twice in their lifetime of growing up in the area! Another sad statistic we learnt was that there are apparently only 1,400 tigers left in India and they are nearing extinction world-wide- the world would be a sad place without these magnificent creatures...
You can see our photos here:
Lara + Leise