Sunday was a relatively slow day, which was just fine with us. Periyar was one of the few locations on the tour where we had no guide, so we were left with the guidance of our driver, who, although his English was sparse, had proved capable enough in the days before. Our itinerary said that we would be going on a boat tour of the tiger reserve in the morning, so we were a bit surprised when we ended up at yet another spice garden tour, this one complete with the elephant ride that we had tried to avoid the day before. For me, this was the second time that the driver’s behaviour was somewhat suspect, for we had come to gather from his familiarity with a number of folks in the town that Thekkady must be his home stomping grounds. Obviously, he knew the elephant ride people rather well, which gave me pause, as did the 350 rupee price tag for the elephant-borne version of the spice tour. Nevertheless, Irene expressed some interest in the pachyderm version, so we went with it anyway.
No sooner had we approached the beast than our “guide” commandeered my camera and proceeded to take countless photos of our little sojourn, not returning the camera until the tour was finished. It was, without a doubt, the most “touristy” moment on what was, to begin with, a rather touristy tour. I felt certain that these photos would emerge at some later date to bite me in the ass, perhaps at my retirement or my funeral. I can hear the eulogist now, “Cal was not only adventurous, but also fun-loving. Why, here he is in India riding on the back of an elephant.” This narrative would, of course, be accompanied by one of those tragic Powerpoint slide shows, the type which I have railed against in my years as a teacher, each slide with a different, senseless transition; some annoying inappropriate noise; and, alas, some spinning text.
The things I do for my wife.
When we had expressed some mild surprise at the change in itinerary, our driver and the person at the elephant ride counter had assured us that we would be better served by an evening boat ride in the preserve, as more animals would be out at that time than in the heat of the morning. This made some sense to us, and it also meant that we had a good portion of the day to ourselves, since out little tour on Dumbo had only taken up a half an hour of the morning. We took advantage of this time to wander deeper into the streets of Thekkady.
As we walked the streets, we encountered a new phenomenon. Young children would come up to us repeatedly, hold their hand out, and say, “one pen?” It took us a while to make out what they were saying, and then a few more moments to determine that they must have been asking for a penny. Thekkady, with its many Ayurvedic massage centres and naturopathic clinics, is a rather touristy place, so foreigners are not an uncommon sight here. We determined that this must be a sort of game among the little tykes, to approach a foreigner and ask for “one penny.” We didn’t have any Canadian coin on us to test out this theory, but from their demeanour, which was usually boisterous and cheerful, we knew that they weren’t begging, so this was the only thing that made sense. When we said we were sorry that we didn’t have anything, they would run away giggling, fired up with the adrenaline that it must have taken to muster up the courage for the initial approach. We encountered the same behaviour once or twice again as we traveled in Kerala, always with the same good-humoured tone.
Later in the afternoon, our driver drove us to the Periyar Tiger Reserve, where we were scheduled to take a wildlife sightseeing boat tour. As we lined up for the boats, we began to have some reservations about whether or not we would see – much less be able to film – anything. The boats were crowded, two-tiered affairs. Get an aisle seat on the bottom deck, which was enclosed, and you might have to be content with the oohs and aahs of the other passengers, because you certainly wouldn’t be able to see very much.
In the end, though, we were lucky enough to snag upper deck seats at the side of the boat, which provided us with the best views possible as well as the opportunity to steady our cameras on the railing of the boat. For this, my investment in a ten dollar mini-tripod proved more than worthwhile.
This is probably a good time to interject with a sidebar. Admission to most monuments and sites in India is very inexpensive, and in our case, was covered within the tour costs. However, almost all sites we visited also had a “camera” charge which was not always covered by the tour. This could be anywhere from 25 rupees for a digital still camera to as much as 300 rupees ($7.50) for a video camera. Essentially, this boils down to a “foreigner tax” since most Indian tourists cannot afford cameras. That’s all fair enough, but it was sometimes difficult to judge whether this expense was worthwhile, especially since it was not uncommon for photography to be limited to the grounds only (which was the case in several museums and palaces). A word to the wise: don’t spend the money for the video camera charge at the Taj Mahal; you only get to step about ten meters inside the main gate and then you have to return to the desk and check your video camera before proceeding to view the Taj.
Having said that, spending the money at Periyar was definitely worth it, especially since the higher zoom level on the video camera allowed opportunities for pulling in the distant animals on shore. In all, we saw wild boar, bison, various deer, otters, monkeys, cormorants, and other water birds. Alas, no tigers.
A Video Tour of Periyar Tiger Reserve
(Please keep in mind that most of this video was shot at maximum zoom from a boat that never stopped moving and turning. And then, of course, there is the usual “youtube” degradation of quality.)
On the way back from the tiger reserve, we noticed an entire commercial district on the opposite side of our hotel which we hadn’t examined yet, so we spent a good portion of the evening exploring the shops in that part of town, then had a late supper.