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The bus reached Kottayam at 03:30 when the conductor woke us up from deep sleep. Hoping to get refreshed we ordered tea from the tea stall, but it tasted bland.. damn!
It was raining a little and formed small puddles all over the bus terminal. There was nobody in a position to tell us about the bus.. so it was a bit frustrating. Finally found one bus driver sitting in his idly parked bus:
Me: Excuse me, Do you know when the next bus for Thekkady leaves?
Driver: Makes a clueless face. I realize that speaking complete English sentences is not required
Me: Saaar (A colleague instructed me to address strangers by calling them ‘Sir’ (not the usual ‘uncle’) but pronounced in a Mallu style), Thekkady bus. When? (with gestures)
Driver: Rattles something in incomprehensible Malayalam, speaks to a passenger. I think he is consulting
Me: No Malayalam. Please English
Driver: 5 o clock
Me: Thanks. Thekkady reach when?
Driver: 8 o clock
Me: Bus start Kottayam?
Driver: No, Kochi going.
Ok I quit. Next person
Me: Saaar, Thekkady bus when?
Person: Bus go, 4 o’ clock, go fast. And points to a bus for Kumbli. lafda…
Me: Kumbli no, Thekkady bus where?
Person: Kumbli, Thekkady neighbour. Indicates with gestures that these are adjoining towns.
Clearly I have no clue what’s going on.. so we just went with the flow.
From the beach to the forest
Grrr.. There was no driver, and it was dark inside that bus! But, after a while, that bus did leave for Kumbli, the bus terminal 4 km away from Thekkady. It started getting cold and windy in the morning as the bus breezed through the hilly roads passing through dense forest. We rented a room near the Thekkady forest entrance.
Breakfast, aka tiffin
|Dosa and Ayurvedic water|
Piping hot dosas, steaming idlis, spicy sambar and coconut chutney. Foods such as these formed a part of our daily breakfast, which is referred here as ‘tiffin’. Note that tiffin is not available after 10 or 11 am, after which the lunchtime begins. A cup of hot coffee or tea in the typical large white china clay cups is a must after this. You’ll also find ‘red’ ayurvedic water being served in the mornings.
In the afternoon we ventured inside the forest to Periyar lake formed due to the dam on river Periyar. KTDC (Kerala Tourism Development Corporation) arranges a 90 minutes boat excursion inside the lake, which offers a breathtaking view of the entire region. During non-monsoon season, they say, it is possible to spot wild animals too. We were not very lucky in that respect.
Sorry state of affairs
KTDC and Forest department arrange the boat ride inside the Periyar lake. These boats are ill maintained and one can see oil slick at different parts on the lake. Also the roof is ineffective as it leaks from unexpected points, so be careful with the camera. There are neither any dustbins nor any rescue floats on the boat Finally, the boat is filled beyond capacity, which clearly means that if there are no legal tickets, there is still a way in.
Is everyone educated and informed here??
In the evening, we went to the Kumbli market for light food but ended up having a heavy meal. The food here was (obviously) somewhat different from the coast. The town is just a tiny mesh of roads around the main bus stand. There is a lot of Tamil influence as the border is only 5 km away from here – so you see lots of bilingual signs (none of which were intelligible to us).
Kerala is really an educated state. There was some communist political leader speaking at the bus stand and a decent crowd gathered to hear him. His speech made no sense to us due to our inability to understand Malayalam. However, we did distinctly hear words like ‘US’, ‘crude oil’ and stuff. Incredible it may sound, these politicians were talking about world topics and people were listening! Imagine such a thing happening in Maharashtra!!
The village has narrow roads dotted with a number of cottages and residences that proclaim ‘home stay’. These places offer good rooms (at high prices, aimed at the foreign tourist) for long durations. There are a number of shops selling spices and other overpriced stuff (again aimed at the foreign tourist) It started getting colder after sunset. Rains accompanied with cold winds made it quite exciting to go out for a stroll at night.
All three of us being (smart, talented, etc..) engineers, that night we had lenghty
arguments discussion over some topic and tried to model some equations to solve the problem we were facing. After lot of mental masturbation, the issue was settled!
Tourist destination Kerala
At every moment you will note how tourism has influenced the state. It appears that people are convinced of the equation between tourism and prosperity. At all the places, the common man is extremely helpful and polite. At times people will talk amongst themselves before giving you directions. Even the government staff (Bus, KTDC etc) was courteous enough with information to help us plan. Yes, the language problem exists, but broken english will surely work. Infact, the townspeople take pride in conversing in Hindi too! The people are genuinely warm and hospitable. No wonder it is one of India’s most famous destinations.
When I was in a bus in Trivandrum, a lady walked over few rows to our seats and brought her little daughter with her. “My daughter speak Hindi” she said, prompting her daughter to talk to us. Then this other time people wanted to take pictures with us. And anyone we spoke to wanted us to make sure we visited their village because it was really beautiful. It was so funny and everyone was so sweet and genuine! 🙂