APTI, Day 11 – Drive to Periyar

I had been frustrated on the previous day while driving by and missing countless opportunities to take gorgeous shots of the tea plantations. When our guide finally did stop the driver so that we could take some photos, it was in the absolute worst spot for taking a picture, a low dip with a small hummock of tea trees in the background. But we did get a group photo!

So I was relieved on this day when the driver, in the absence of any annoying guide, stopped the car on two or three occasions at excellent view points. As it turns out, he had a far better concept of what makes a good landscape picture than our misguided guide would ever have. (On the previous day, the guide had asked if I wanted to take a picture of the bull elephant through the trees. Given that I could barely see him with the naked eye, and given that we were in a rocking boat which would make the use of zoom a nightmare, I declined.)

Tea Plantations Tea Plantations Stone fence posts

Tea plantations

Tea plantations

Stone fence posts

On all our trips throughout Kerala we always seemed to be traveling either just as Children were heading off to school or just as school was getting out. In rural Kerala, most children walk or ride bikes to school, so the roadways would be lined with school children, all in spotless school uniforms. For Canadians, used to seeing rag-tag random kids going off to school, the site of spit and polish left quite an impression. Obviously mothers and dads spent considerable time making sure that their young ones were properly preened before sending them out the door, or accompanying them on their way, as was quite common also. Girls with immaculate hair, often adorned with Jasmine flowers was one thing, but even the boys were all slicked and looking more like so many ring bearers going to a wedding than school boys as we would know them. Our guide in Cochin had stated that education was a very big priority in Kerala, which had a 98% literacy rate, and the roadside parades of uniformed school children seemed to bear this out. This was even more impressive, since most schooling in Kerala is handled by private religious schools, not public education, so parents are paying tuition for their little ones to attend. So it was not uncommon, in a small rural community, to see a stream of children heading in one direction in one colour of uniform being met by a stream of children heading the opposite direction in a second colour.

Before we arrived at Thekkady, our guide stopped a few times on the way to point out the various crops being grown in the area: rubber trees, coffee, and cardamom. I had never known that almost all spices, and coffee as well, are grown as understory in the forest, requiring the shade of the forest to thrive.

He also stopped at a small spice garden, an information centre of sorts, where we took a short tour to learn about the growing and processing of spices, as well as the medicinal qualities of other plants in the naturopathic system of Ayurvedic medicine, for which Kerala is famous. I was a bit put off by the place, especially since these people were obviously friends of the guide. I was pretty sure that he was getting a little kickback for bringing the white folks to the doorstep, but he had proved to be an excellent driver in all other respects, and the information on spices was valuable enough, I suppose. As for the naturopathic claims that such and such a plant oil, when rubbed on the forehead, increased memory, I took with a grain of salt. But I forget which plant it was.

The drive on this day was somewhat less gruelling than the drive to Munnar, so we arrived at our hotel by 2:00 or 2:30, in time to get a late lunch (the norm on our trip) and to fit in a swim in the evening. Our driver came back to the hotel at 4:00 to pick us up, but when we found out that it was for an elephant ride, we graciously declined and spent the rest of thea day lounging around and trying to get our digestive systems back in order.

Our hotel lacked the amazing views our digs in Munnar, but it made up for it in its basic appearance and amenities. We took advantage of the laundry service to re-charge our luggage with clean clothing. We swam in the pool. We walked to the nearby shops and bought souvenirs.

Our hotel pool Our stylists have been surprising and shocking clients for years. Jack fruit stand

Our hotel pool

Ya pays yer money
and ya takes
yer chances.

Jack fruit stand

On our arrival, I had noticed what looked like rather large, black sacks hanging from huge bamboo “trees” across the road from our hotel. Since we were on the third level of the terraced units, we had an uninterrupted view of these tree tops. At first, thought that these must be large hanging birds nests, similar to those built by baltimore orioles and other such birds. After a while, however, I noticed one or two of these hanging sacks stir and unfurl slightly. They weren’t birds’ nests; they were bats, huge frigging bats. They were so big that they bent the branches on which they were hanging. I haven’t yet been able to determine the exact species, but lying on our backs in the pool at night, Steven and I watched them fly overhead and estimated their wing span to be at least two feet, probably more.

When we had approached Munnar several days earlier we had heard horrendous screeching and squawking coming from the forest at twilight. At the time, we had assumed it was some kind of bird. After two nights and mornings spent across the road from these bats in Thekkady, though, we knew differently. As the sun sets, the bats become more restless, and the screeching begins. Then, at dawn, as they return, the tumult resumes as they jockey for prime perches within their bamboo resting place. This racket makes it considerably hard to sleep in in the morning. Later, we would encounter the same bats on the evening of our houseboat tour. Unfortunately, I was never able to get any still pictures of them. Either their perches were too far away, or the dim light made it impossible to freeze them in flight in the evening. I did, however, get some video of them in their perches in Thekkady.

Bats at Periyar

Since the land across the street was actually part of the Periyar Tiger Preserve, it wasn’t surprising to find wildlife so close. Monkeys, also wandered onto the roof our hotel. Having said that, monkeys thrive much like raccoons and skunks do Canada; they flourish in urban environments just as well as they do in the wild. We saw monkeys at the Red Fort in Agra, in the middle of a city of two million.

While filming the bats, I was distracted by these guys on the roof of our hotel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *