tea anyone?


P1020497because this place literally has mountains of it. a few hours train ride to Fort Kochi followed by a five hour jerky bus ride brings us to Munnar – a small mountain town surrounded by tea plantations. up here the air is cool and fresh and there are no mosquitoes. cows roam the streets. fire flies come out during the night as well as the occasional pulse lightning storm. each morning a song bird wakes us with its complex tune. we stayed in “old town” – a quiet intersection comprised of one restaurant, 2 dhabas and 4 hotels. one kilometer away is “new town” – a noisy, dirty yet picturesque, functional town stacked up along a stream. from there we rented a motorbike (“Parvati’s chariot”) and explored the near by tea plantations and villages. each time we drove by a drying house the smell of chai was near intoxicating. we drove 36 kilometers up a winding road to “Top Station” which overlooked the entire region.

P1020481along the way we met a French Canadian named Nicolas who thought it a good idea to walk the entire distance from Top Station to Munnar in flip flops. his arm and hand had been badly scraped from a motorbike accident five days prior. when operating a motorbike in India it’s very important to follow these three rules: (1) be very very very alert, (2) honk at absolutely everything, and (3) if you’re riding tandem with a girl who weighs a lot less than you and who has no prior motorbike driving experience, don’t let her take the helm no matter how badly she may want it. it turned out Nicolas was staying in the room next to mine. i later learned that he had just quit his job to travel Asia for a year (sound familiar?).

on my fourth day in Munnar my travel impulses beckoned me to Thekkady (aka Kumily) to see Periyar – the second largest wild-life preserve in India. within 20 minutes i had a short but emotional parting with Dani (the remaining member of the multi-culture crew who was actively on her way to France) and was waiting at the bus stand with Nicolas and two travelers from Austria he knew from before. our actual bus didn’t seem to want to materialize but as soon as two additional travelers did we decided to splurge on our very own private jeep-taxi for 2000 rupees split 6 ways (that’s $6.66 per person;). three pretty fucking scary hours later we arrived in Kumily in one piece. “sometimes you just gotta close your eyes and trust the Indian behind the wheel”… ok, there’s a phrase i just coined.

P1020540we stayed in a courtyard of huts with Periyar in our backyard and monkeys that swung from the canopies above. Nicolas and i booked a “boarder hiking” tour for the following day – a guided 9 hour/24 kilometer wildlife hike up a mountain range and across the state line into Tamil Nadu with food and water provided. when we showed up early the next morning we were handed an assortment of bread and one liter of water. luckily i had brought another liter with me. i tried not to let the reality of 2 liters vs. 9 hours hiking in the sweltering heat sink in enough to get in the way of my excitement for seeing real wild tigers and elephants. our tour was lead by a very informative man with a gun. he picked leaves and fruits along the way for us to smell and eat. all the spices one would need to cook a proper Indian meal were growing naturally around us. when we summited the view was nothing short of stunning. unfortunately there were no wild tigers and elephants to be found. being the hot season, most of the animals become nocturnal. however, they sure did leave a lot of scat behind and our guide was not shy about pointing out all the different scats and going into detail about why it appeared the way it did. ie. “this is two-week old scat from a tiger ingesting a deer. their stomachs are unable to fully digest the hide so that’s why it’s furry”… you get the idea. not too long after lunch time (bread time!) is when the effects of dehydration started to become an issue. after that, every time our guide would stop to point at more scat i wanted to kick his face, but i refrained… he was holding the gun after all. somehow we managed to make our remaining half liter last until we reached Indian civilization once again.

that night a celebration was in order. partly because we survived the hike and partly because we actually managed to find a real liquor store. we hosted it in our monkey infested courtyard for 7 travelers. we stayed up late, we played music, we shared our life stories and drank the right amount of Kingfishers.

P1020587the next stop on my journey was the city of Madurai (aka. “the soul of Tamil Nadu”) and it didn’t take any effort to convince Nicolas to join me. i fell in love with this place the moment i stepped off the bus. the streets are narrow and packed to the brim with Indian busy, the food is amazing, and a giant beautiful temple sits in its center. this is a proper Indian city. we roamed her streets for hours, toured the temple grounds, and had drinks with a nice British couple at a random spaceship themed bar we found. i managed to negotiate my way through the train station bureaucracy to book my next passage. i also decided to get a straight razor shave for 30 rupees (60 cents) which was a very enjoyable experience up until the guy decided to pound cologne into my skull and charge me 20 rupees extra. this marks the first time i’ve shaved since i left Seattle. now when people ask me how long i have been traveling i can no longer reply by stroking my beard and saying “this long”.

this is also my first taste of the “real India” i have heard so much about and it has hardened me a bit. this is my first exposure to the poverty and the touts. …and it’s not about the 7 rupees you’re arguing over, it’s about the principal of not getting taken advantage of because your a stupid foreigner. …and when you get your laundry returned to you 6 hours late soaking wet, wrapped in newspaper with a dead cockroach in it, it’s really up to you to wake the right people up and get to the bottom of the matter.

the food in India is something else entirely. each time i look at a menu it makes just a little more sense and every time i order a dish i think i know, it looks and tastes completely different than the last. there are so many flavors here and each time i discover a new one i can’t help but get a little emotional. i have been a vegetarian for over a week now because eating meat here just isn’t worth the hassle. i still have yet to suffer from the infamous “Delhi belly” but it’s obvious my system is undergoing a transition of sorts. “liquid in, liquid out”… hey look, there’s another phrase i just coined.

today Nicolas and i will part ways. he and i think a lot alike which has made traveling with him a true treat. i have a feeling that we haven’t seen the last of him.

tonight will be my first train ride of significant length as well as my first time being alone in India and i am looking forward to both.

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  1. #1 by roarkb on May 1, 2013 - 8:53 pm

    here is the same account told from Nicolas’s perspective… and in French:

    http://niparchitecture.com/2013/04/23/episode-8-beer-bear-beard-bird/

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