Monday, 25 July 2011
Wild times in Kumily
Sorry it has been awhile (we did suspect that internet access mayn't be so readily available in the out back) So a few posts to come to update you.
We left Varkala on a bright sunny morning in a big posh 4x4 and a driver called SABU! Cool! We had been admiring the acting talent of 50s/60s child actor SABU the elephant boy before we came out here so it was great to meet him in person and see he'd grown a moustache and ditched the pachyderm for a real vehicle- VROOM!!
He took us on the 6 hour wonder ride to Kumily (a crap town near to the super cynical outdated Periyar Tiger reserve- though we didn't know this at the time!) The journey was awesome and at (57 quid a bargain) Aircon comfort as we passed small towns full of character and witnessed the State's agricultural staples of Tapioca, Pineapples, Cashew Factories pumping smoke out across banana and palm forests and then the climb higher past miles and miles of rubber plantations and finally into spice country - cardamon and tea. Sabu stopped at a fab cafe for us to taste some real Thali curry and enjoy the view of mist shrouded, dripping forest slopes.
After 6 long hours we drove into a messy little wild west town, bustling with rickshaws and people and noisy with the competing sounds of horns, the call to prayer at local mosque and the rather tuneless bell of the local catholic church.
Long story short we ended up bagging ourselves a jungle view room at the Green View Guesthouse of 750 rupees per night (about 10 quid) It was large and had balcony and wait for it.... HOT water!! Turned out we needed the hot water as the temp up there had plummeted and the hot and sweaty nights in Varkala were soon a distant memory.
Our laid back host turned out to be a kind of Indian Bill Oddie (only thinner!) He knew loads about local birds and wildlife and soon Simon was well in to sitting on balcony whilst I took my afternoon beauty nap, ticking birds off in the Collins Book of Indian Birds and confessing that to him it was a giant I Spy Book-style game!
We spied: Purple backed sun birds, scarlet minivits, laughing thrush, magpie robin also languor monkeys, white monkeys, flying foxes.
The first afternoon we walked into the sh*th*le that is Kumily. Sorry Kumily but for the average westerner it really leaves a lot to be desired - ESPECIALLY beer! It was pretty much pouring with rain and the hotels were all catering to Indian tourists and had great taste in fringed curtains and velour and no taste in beer and also no guests! Finally found an empty hotel restaurant where we were served warm beer by baffled waiter at great cost.
Later we discovered a restaurant called the Spice Garden and sat alone in there for the evening eating pretty fine Paneer Butter Masala and supping a few cold ones. (The beer here is Kingfisher and has quite a high glycerine content which I am finding leave my eyes bloodshot and head pounding after only two pints which has been about the daily maximum intake to be fair)
So first night we were in bed by 9pm. The first day we took a rickshaw to the outskirst of town and were dropped off at the foot of a mountain lane- we proceeded to clamber up that for a few hours stopping to photograph red whiskered bulbuls, mynah birds (not mynah at all - really impressive) and desperate but failing to catch (photographically speaking)amazing butterflies with swallow tails and not far off swallow size!!
On reaching the top of the hill we were caught by a chap who introduced himself as George Battyman (an unfortunate handle some may feel) but nothing of the batty man with our George Oh No sir! George, despite his shabby sarong and shirt and a look of a man who enjoyed the odd palm toddy, informed us that he owned not only the tea plantation on which we stood but most of the tea in Periyar and further tea in Munnar. He was married with two children and earned 8000 rupees a year so for him life was great. He kept pointing at various points N, S, E and W and saying Yes Yes Battyman. Bless him for the blarney- when we finally shook him off he turned away and said this my home and wandered into a one room shack (probably for a snifter) This not before trying to sting Simon for 100 rupees for a trip up someone else's watch tower and the BS life story!
That night we ate at a romantic Italian place! Well it advertised as Italian. Simon had wait for it Paneer Butter Masala and I had spaghetti with grated laughing cow cheese on it (wouldn't like to be the one to clean the grater after that!) We were in bed by 8pm.
Next day we were determind to get into the Tiger Reserve despite what anyone said we could do it single handedly (the tours were designed for 8 people and so it would work out very expensive for 2- I don't think there were 8 people staying in the town to be honest!!) We had to pay 7 quid each to just enter the park! For Indians it is only about 20p so when Simon said to the guy "Two please...... both Indian" I had to laugh. The guy looked a bit astonished but then saw the funny side as he pushed a few miserable rupees change at us!!
The Periyar Tiger Reserve boasting that it is oldest in India (not necessarily a great thing since it clearly hasn't reviewed its eco-tourism policies or attempted to bench mark with more modern enterprises or look at new thoughts on eco tourism in donkeys years) Basically all we were able to do was walk a couple of miles down a road to the lake where coach parties of Indian tourists are herded on to triple decker ferries to just within toppling capacity (and that only since a bad year when two capsized and 45 tourists were drowned)
For Si and I we were happy to be wandering along looking into the trees and spotting birds and monkeys. Annoyingly, despite huge signs banning horn tooting and overtaking and loud music the taxis, autorickshaws and private cars and jeeps as well as buses and coaches completely ignore this and traveling at great speed overtake hooting like crazy and scaring anything remotely interesting deep into the jungle. At one point we were quietly watching some interesting birds when a small car with a squeaky wheel pulled up and slowly followed us as we walked along clearly trying to see what we had been looking at before the idjit scared it off.
We had a good walk out of it though and were out for about 4 hours. We saw monkeys, Languors, deer and the Malabar squirrel which is huge and great colours and has the ugliest face! That night we ate at the Spice Garden again, drank two beers and were in bed by 7.30pm (well 9 then!)
We had decided to move on the next day and arranged another taxi to take us on what turned out to be the greatest most stunning journey across the cardamon mountains and higher and higher into tea country and the Munnar Hill Station (between 5 and 8 thousand feet) A three and half hour journey of 102 kms into God's Own Country.
Writing this from Fort Cochi internet cafe and need a Masala Chai now so going to sign off and leave you in finger chewing suspense about Munnar! Did they find luxury digs? Was there beer flowing from every mountain spring? Were their sleeping brows kissed softly by the early morning sun as it climbed over the tea covered mountain passes and entered the lacy curtained window of their golden Boudoir each day? Is Jo the world's most sarcastic individual?... Come back soon to find out folks......