No idea where we are now! This isn't a direct result of travel fever but our current stop-off is known simultaneously as Periyar, Kumily and Thekkady. There is a 'pedantic' difference between the three and it is right by the border with Tamil Nadu. Given the ongoing conflict with the infamous dam (see last blog), we are hoping to be safely deposited this side of the border tomorrow and safely collected the other.
Wildlife rules in this place (whatever it is really called) but plays by its own elusive rules. On our 3 hour forest trek we didn't see much - the occasional leech (a true delight), bisons' footprints, grey monkeys, beehives and honeycombs as well as a huge wasp nest. However from our homestay we were treated with the sight of 5 big black langur monkeys feasting on trees and threatening to clamber on to our balcony for more feasting (and pilfering). Also tonight the streets were ablaze with a plague of giant flying ants; they only last a few hours and come out about once a year so weren't we the privileged ones?!
Prior to here it was Munnar - tea plantation land which is surrounded by exquisite landscapes, lakes and waterfalls. Apparently it produces better tea than Darjeeling and Assam put together but the best of the batch is exported. Next time you fancy a cuppa check the small print of the box to see if Munnar features.
Like everywhere in India just a handful of people seem to rule the roost. The biggest tea plantation in Munnar is owned by a company called Tata who also manufacture cars amongst other large scale ventures. The plantation is run a bit like John Lewis Plc as 97% of employees are shareholders however its previous colonial owners gave out salaries in special currency which meant that people didn't abscond. A clever ruse which comes to light only at their museum (one of oldest in India).
Our first forest trek here was a bit more revealing and dangerously slippery. Highlights included sightings of the deepest leopard scratches you could imagine on trees and tiger footprints in the mud. As a hill station it sure was ccccold at night so we whiled away one evening at a Kalarippayattu show. Dating back to the 12th Century this is a forerunner of martial arts and extremely exacting. The levels of fitness and dexterity needed are extraordinary - it involves gymnastics, poles, huge swords, bare hands and daggers. I couldn't turn down the offer to have a trial down in their pit afterwards and exchanged a few rusty Tai Chi tips for some sword slaying techniques. Maybe I will come back home fighting fit after all!! A bit dirtier, a bit lighter and very much looking forward to a plate of my mum's cooking.