Kicking it off in Kerala! (Munnar, Thekkady, Wagamon, Allapy)

So I’m currently writing this sitting on a houseboat and drinking out of a coconut cruising the backwaters of Kerala. Pretty rough, I know. (FYI – no longer on the houseboat, just in my first wifi zone since then).

The morning Beth and I left we made a snap decision to meet up with some mutual friends (thank you Taylor Brown!) because their itinerary sounded pretty freaking awesome (ahem, HOUSEBOAT). Even better, one of our new travel buddies, Rignam, has been living in Delhi for the past couple of months and is far more familiar with the customs here than us, the fresh off the plane tourists. Without even leaving the Delhi airport, we hopped on a flight to Cochin!

Day one included a stop at Athirapilly Waterfalls and our first experience with the incredibly friendly and curious people of India. We were flooded by groups of schoolchildren who just wanted to take pictures with us and know our names. This was a tad overwhelming, but mostly because the only sleep we’d had in the previous 36 hours had been on an airplane (on a side note, Etihad Airways is a very real and very nice airline). Mostly I was just overwhelmed by their kind and sweet personalities! They laughed pretty hard when we told them our names, apparently the names ‘Julie’ (our other travel buddy) and ‘Carolyn’ are truly hilarious!

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From there our driver Shafiq whipped us to Munnar (and when I say whipped, I’m serious. You think Highway 401 is crazy, try driving in India!) We pretty much collapsed that night, grateful to be able to sleep horizontally.

In Munnar we visited an elephant tourist attraction. In hindsight, I sort of wish we hadn’t because it didn’t appear that they treated the elephants all too well. Live and learn.

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That afternoon we went to Erivakulum National Park, which took us high up into the hills to some pretty spectacular views. Again, we were more of a tourist attraction than the actual place, becoming the subject of many cell phone photos. We all seemed to be equally curious of one another.

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On our way to the park we stopped at Echo point, where we laughed at the plethora of paddleboats and ran into a very familiar image…

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The drive to Thekkady the next morning was absolutely amazing. There are tea plantations EVERYWHERE in Kerala! We’ve been lucky to drink some delicious tea, cardamom being my favourite so far. The hills are truly majestic (my new favourite word, used by Rignam in our itinerary). We stopped at one point to take some pictures and I was just about moved to tears.

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In Thekkady we went on a ‘jeep safari’ which took us to the top of the hills and through the backroads of the villages. We met a wonderful little girl named Ringy when we stopped at one point. She was very sweet and introduced us to a teensy little puppy!

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We also visited a tiger reserve, but all we saw were some crazy monkeys. We’re pretty sure the one that started swinging from Julie’s pants was rabid so that was the end of our walk in the tiger reserve.

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Surprisingly we returned that night for a ‘night trek’. Despite being joined by some ladies who just didn’t understand that a night trek is NOT a photo opportunity, we enjoyed the walk and saw deer, bison, porcupines, and a mommy and baby elephant taking a drink from the stream. The place we stayed in Thekkady was gorgeous, the Konark homestay. Very clean and very friendly owners, with a view of a field filled with animals.

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On our trip from Thekkady to Wagamon we had the most impromptu, genuine experiences so far. What started as a quick stop to photograph a tea estate on the side of the road, turned into a several hour experience of meeting, greeting, and dining with the families that lived and worked there. They were so generous offering us freezies, lunch, and tea, and again this sparked another photo op, both groups capturing the moment. The boys were particularly friendly, helping us back down the hill, holding Beth’s hand, and perhaps trying to hold some other things while taking photos… The children were very cute, our favourite named Dominic who wore a shirt that said “I’m not always this bad… Sometimes I’m worse!”… this proved true in his lack of hospitality for Beth, scowling her down and ripping from and throwing to the ground the dish towel that she was using to dry her hands (hey parents, sound like someone you know? – Here comes trouble!). The ladies were sweet and the men very friendly. We left feeling glad we’d moved off the beaten track.

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That night we stayed in a “resort”… and I use that term lightly. It was owned by a friend of Rignam’s roommate, and was apparently “not open yet”. We think it more likely that it had just closed… Anyways, the view was spectacular and we watched a pretty swift sunset. Beth and I didn’t see much of Wagamon as my stomach didn’t agree with the food we were served at the tea estate. Live and learn, again.

The morning we got on the houseboat we had to get up pretty early because of a taxi strike that Shafiq had been telling us about for a couple of days. We whipped over to Allapy where we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before hopping on the houseboat. Now, we’ve been cruising the backwaters eating fish fry, drinking Kingfisher beer, and generally relaxing. It seems that we’ve gone into full vacation mode – we went all out when we stopped for snacks. While I won’t be able to post this for a while, I wanted to get it all down while it was fresh in my mind. Now please excuse me, I have some sunning and drinking to do!

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Some awesome things about Kerala…

1. Tea – I already mentioned this but there are literally tea bushes covering the countryside. I also love the way they brew and serve the tea. It’s rich, milky, sweet, and spicy, all at the same time.

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2. Beautiful flowers, everywhere. We could really use an expert with us, as we often wonder what kinds they are but never look it up. So far I’ve recognized hibiscus, bougenvalia, morning glory, and hydrangeas… but it’s very possible that the flowers were actually none of those things.

3. Spice and coffee plants grow on the side of the road. Our jeep safari guide kept jolting to a stop to pick them for us to smell (people love to have you smell things in India).

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4. The men wear lunghis (sp?). For lack of a better description, they are essentially a sarong for men that is acceptably worn in lieu of pants throughout the Kerala region. They can be worn either short or long, and seem to come in handy as napkins and handkerchiefs! Rignam snagged one from our houseboat captain, and has declared that they are not as comfy as he expected.

5. The people are friendly and so welcoming. We haven’t seen a ton of tourists in some of the more rural areas we’ve been in, so as you can imagine we cause quite a stir when we show up.

General observations…

India is just as rich and beautiful as I’ve heard. The sights, smells, food, people, places, animals, fabrics, colours… so much is so different from our way of life at home. It’s hard to believe it was just a few days ago that we left the polar vortex! The amazing thing about India is the variety of landscape: already we have traveled from the mountains, to the beach, to rice fields. I can’t wait to keep exploring! I have taken hundreds of pictures so far, and would post many more if I could. Stay tuned for more!

What do you think?

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