Apologies for this long gap in my blog. I have been overcome by the sights, sounds and smells of India and the lack of easy internet access during our travels precluded an up-to-date report. Although I’m actually on my way to Toronto, I think I will continue to share the Indian adventures. So, back to Kerala which must be one of the most verdant states in India. We wanted to see something of inland Kerala, and were lucky to find a small tour company run by Stanley Wilson in Cochin. For the princely sum of around $220 for two people, we had a car with a driver for three days, lodging and meals in a beautiful homestay within a tea plantation near Munnar in the Kandan Devan Mountains for two nights, and a 3 hour boat ride in the backwaters between Allepey and Cochin. How lucky is that?
Our driver, Thankappan spoke fluent English and knew the area well so all we had to do was sit back and enjoy. He was a fount of information and would take us for lunch to places where you ate off a banana leaf. Dressed in a white chauffeur’s uniform while driving us around during the day, he would change into his lunghi in the evening with the addition of a jacket and tuque after sunset as he felt it to be cold in the mountains at around 25C! Lunghis are worn by men in south India and I must say they are a graceful and practical garment, much more elegant than shorts.
Our journey started with a visit to an elephant training camp where we saw elephants being taken down to the river for their bath. While the older ones couldn’t wait to lie down in the water and have their backs scrubbed, the younger ones had to be coaxed or forced to get immersed. Sorry if I do go on a bit about elephants but the more I see of them, the more I like them and here in India, they are trained to do all sorts of things. They transport people including soldiers traversing the jungle, work in timber camps, and participate in temple ceremonies. Driving through the counryside into the mountains, we saw lush forests of flowering trees, coconut and areca palms, spice plantations comprising, pepper, nutmeg, cardamom and vanilla and rubber plantations. It was lovely to feel the temperature dropping to a comfortable level as we climbed and easy to see why the British used to leave for the hills during the hot season.
As we got higher up, vast areas of tea estates came into view laid out in geometric patterns. Our homestay was a joy to be in. Aptly named ‘Misty Green View’, it did indeed have a wonderful view overlooking the valley and being in a tea plantation, we were able to see how tea is grown and picked. The tips and topmost leaves are picked by hand and the tips, which are leaves that haven’t opened yet, are the most valuable and used for white tea while the young leaves are used for green tea. The lower more mature leaves are cut with shears to make black tea and, sorry to tell you this folks but the sweepings left on the factory floor are used for regular tea bags!
I had never seen tea flowers before and they are really very beautiful.
We could have stayed in the mountains for days but all too soon, it was time to embark on our mini backwater trip. Another relaxing and laidback experience sitting in a ketuvalam (rice boat) watching life on the water. A more exciting trip in the early morning I’m told as you see children going to school by boat, vendors selling produce and so on. It would have been nice to stay overnight and chill but sadly, we did not have the time. I would definitely like to visit Kerala again!