Apart form chilling our in the cafes in Fort Cochi, there are loads of other activities you can do, the first thing Monique organised for us was a boat trip on the backwaters. This is when we realised that tourist group trips really are not for us and the next time they tell us – the bus will pick you up, will be when we politely decline the offer. The trip was great, but our group was a bit crowded. Still, we went for the punting option and it is a much better ride than a motor boat and you get to take in the surroundings a bit more. The trip ended with a small boat ride, that only fits seven people. If we were to do this again, I’d gone for the small boat ride only.
After spending six days in Cochin, it was finally time for us to embark on the trip Monique organised for us. Unfortunately, the day we were meant to leave there was a taxi and rickshaw strike in Thekkady, our first destination so we had to hold on for one more day. We decided to rent some bikes instead and go biking instead. Amazing day and as the traffic in Fort Cochin is not too bad, I highly reccommend doing this.
The next day we finally went. Moniques friend, our driver Soni picked us up from the homestay in the morning. Soni is such a cool character and it wasn’t long until he became our fiend as well. He’s the safest driver we’ve had so far and we had a great time with him while he showed us around the rubber and tea plants on the way. If you’re looking for taxi in Cochi, get in touch with him on +8129420066 or +9048106
Our first stop was Thekkady, a small town on the entrance to the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Here we stayed at Meadow View Inn. A georgeous homestay just on the forrest entrance. The owner Satish has built a great house, with one room on each floor, with a terrace surrounding it, so you have a brilliant view over the animals that venture out of the forest at dusk and dawn.
The first night, Soni took us to the Kalari show. Kalari is a Keralan ancient martial arts form that was abolished during the colonial times, as the British found it too violent. What these performers do is insane! In short it is yoga positions with weapons. Really impressive! These guys are super agile and put on a brilliant show, fighting with weapons. I can totally understand how the Brits must have shat their pants when they first saw this. Turns out later that Soni is mates with these guys, so we met some of them afterwards.
We also went to the elephant sanctuary. Seeing these massively intelligent animals being bossed around by the mahouts made me really sad. It was like watching a human in prison. Elephants have a high sense of awareness and a complicated method of communication. They feel happiness and mourn their dead. At this place they are completely stripped of all their intuitions so that tourists can ride on their backs, mahouts beat them with a stick if they walk too quickly or too slow. So incredibly sad.
I don’t understand the logic of capturing this amazing, wild animal in the forrest and train them into submission. There is absolutely no difference between this or the bears made to dance on hot coal for amusment of tourists, or dolphins trained to perform tricks in pools. I also don’t understand the fascination of the people who go on these rides and finacially support this abuse. People, it’s 2014 we live in the information age and we should know better! If you want to see elephants, go to the forest and support people who are trying to preserve them!
Next day, Monique had arranged for us to go to Gavi, a forest retreat right inside the Tiger reserve. Gavi is beautiful and you get one night accommodation, all food included, a boat trip, a guied trek and a safari trip for £25. Great deal! Not too many people know about Gavi, so not crowded at all. Mainly indian families with small children here, so you’re all alone on the treks. We did the boat trip right after we arrived.
Than we had a few hours to chill out, before going on a three hours trek in the forest looking for elephants. The trek started with the guide showing us some claw scratches on a tree. He explained that these are from a tiger. They do this after making a killing to clean their claws and mark their territory. It is unlikely though that you will see a tiger here as there are 44 tigers on a huge reserve. Still it was nice to hear that the numbers are increasing, so maybe some tiger sights could be done in the future.
Just as we were entering a denser forest area the guide told us that wild elephants can sometimes charge if they’re with a baby, if this happens “do what I do…just run” yes, it was probably around that time that I started hoping we wouldn’t see any until the safari the next day. We were following fresh trails, so did get very close as we could clearly hear and even smell them. However the guide then said that they were now in a particulary dense part where it would be very difficult to run if we had to. He didn’t even finish this sentence before I was on my merry way back.
I was probaly the only trekker with red nail varnish, so this trip hasn’t yet changed me too much. All in all a cool trek and a small preparation for Nepal. Next morning the guide told us to be ready at 5.50AM for the jeep safari.
He didn’t however tell us that he meant Indian time, which is usually at least half an hour later.
The ride was really bumpy, but it didn’t take long before we finaly saw some wild elephants which was really awesome.
We went a little further and saw a few more.
As we couldn’t get any good shots, our safari driver was helpful and went closer to the elephants with Mat’s phone to take some photos for us.
Loved it at Gavi, but it was time for us to travel further to Saaram an art and Ayurveda retreat and say good bye to Soni. Soni, you are amazing and we will miss you!
We’re stayed at Saaram for three nights, definitely too short as this place is a hidden gem. This place introduced us to Ayurveda, which is Indian medicine. The wordd Ayurveda stems from Sanskrit and means something in the lines of Ayur – life and Veda – knowledge. I will not attempt to explain Ayurveda, however I will reccommend all travellers in India to familiarise themselves with it. It is really fascinating, useful and based on the one principle my pharmacist mother has been banging on about for as long as I can remember – “Bolje sprijecit, nego lijecit”, essentially meaning “It’s better to prevent than to heal”. At this place you have daily yoga classes with a really good teacher, who explains a lot not only about postures, but also teaches you meditation and pranayama. I learned a LOT from this old man. You get consultations with an an Ayurveda doctor who examines your mind and body in order to recommend a treatment. You also get daily treatments, or in our case as we were staying too short, lovely oil massages. On top of all this, the accommodation is in a georgeous house, where Jessie the house mother takes briliant care of you and cooks the most incredible Keralan dishes.
Saaram is run by Muriel, who came to India 25 years ago from a small French village. Talk about culture shock! She travelled all over India before settling down to study Indian classical dance. One day her dance group needed new costumes and that is how she met Joe, her Indian fashion designer husbond. They have two amazing kids, Theo and Tilotama who are the typical example of kids who are allowed to be just that – kids without any pressure and whose parents spend a lot of time with them, something not always easy to do in the west. Joe runs the Firefly fashion label – Joe Ikareth and is currently working on some really exciting projects in the wearable fashion sector, that I hope we can talk more about soon. Check him out on www.joeikareth.com
Muriel and Joe are really fascinating, they are the typical arty, incredibly creative couple and I did wonder for a while how they manage to stay in tiny crowded Kottayam where there are no galleries and very few cultural events. I realised their secret is that they creativity allows them to design the life they wish to have for themselves. When Muriel and Joe lack art or creative expression in their lifes they get their artist friends to come over and put on a show together. Our stay in Saaram was the perfect refuge from Indias, sometimes a bit too much in your face, hassling ways. If you are going to Kerala, I highly reccomend coming here. We will definitely be back.
We have now moved on to Sri Lanka where we will be checking out the mountains and beaches for two weeks, we’ve nearly lost all our tans from Goa, so time for a top up! Hello Sri Lanka