I knew we were getting packed lunches today but I always worry that I’m not going to be given enough food and I’ll wither away and die in minutes, so we got up especially early to get our overpriced park entry tickets and get some breakfast in our faceholes before we went to the border hiking. I love local restaurants when they’ve only just opened and don’t have much made up yet and the lady doesn’t speak great English so you just nod at whatever she says is available and wait with anticipation. Today’s mystery breakfast was a pile of some manner of thin noodle thing and a chickpea in gravy sauce to pour over the top which the receipt said was called kuda. I approve of this noodle/kuda mix. I wish to have more of it in my life. I would’ve taken a photo but by the time I’d remembered to do so I’d already wolfed most of it. This is generally the reason I don’t take as many food photos as I should do.
Anyway. We rocked up to the cabin that Satheeth had shown us the previous day where we were issued with these weird looking cloth boot type things which we promptly put on over our shoes. Nope. You’re meant to take your shoes off first, put the cloth boot things on then put your shoes back on over the top which, if you think about it, makes a shit load more sense. Turns out they’re anti-leech guards and a guide helped me tie them. He pulled the string, looked and me and asked, “Tight?” I nodded and tried not to wince too much. Maybe they work by cutting off the circulation to your lower leg so the leeches would have nothing to suck, even if they did manage to latch on. Yeah. Clever.
Then we were handed a bottle of water each and a paper bag containing two boxes of nommage, an apple and a little juice carton. Yay, sustenance! We weren’t gonna starve to death after all. The group to guide ratio on the full day border hiking walk is pretty epic, they aren’t taking any chances. There are wild things out there and it wouldn’t look good if the tourists were eaten, gored or trampled by one of them. That’d fuck business right up. The maximum group size is six and there were me and Théo, two German ladies and a Swedish couple, then there were two park guides and a forest guard who had a distinctly reassuring looking rifle.
The first part of this walk takes you through a tribal hamlet. The Keralan government gave a load of land back to the tribal people so that they could live within the Periyar Tiger Reserve, and they’re allowed to use the park for fishing, gathering firewood and collecting honey etc. A guide told us there were about 500 families living in the reserve. They grow a lot of pepper an’ all, presumably for their own use, maybe to sell too. You can actually eat this straight from the vine, our guard pulled some of the tiny green balls off and put some in his mouth and chewed them, then offered them to us. I politely declined. I mean, I like pepper as much as the next chick, but usually ground up and on on something. The vines are planted at the base of supporting trees which they grow up and latch onto with these freaky looking alien tentacle thingys, and they really do grip well. If pepper decided to take over the world triffid style by grabbing onto humans and taking over their bodies I don’t think there’d be much we could do to stop it. Eventually you cross over a large ditch which separates this hamlet from the rest of the park, and it’s this ditch which is meant to keep the beasties out, though I doubt any manner of ditch would be much deterrent for anything that resides within the reserve and has massive teeth, claws and a healthy appetite for flesh. Short of a ditch full of something more dangerous than a tiger. A ditch full of angry kittens maybe. Now that’d be pretty terrifying by anyone’s standards.
Well we were wandering along, getting on with the walk as the guides pointed out various plants and trees and piles of elephant shit, when the bloke with the rifle randomly said to me, “You look very athletic. Maybe you will fight the tiger.” I figured it was a slightly more polite version of the “you look like a man” comments I often get and told him that if he showed me one tiger, I would fight it, pretty safe in the knowledge that with only 45 tigers in the whole, massive reserve, I wasn’t gonna have to get my boxing mitts out any time soon. Shortly afterwards we came across three wild elephants! How fucking cool?! They were up a small hill behind some trees. It was so awesome, we were so genuinely lucky to be so close to them, not that you can tell much from the photos which pretty much just look like an expanse of grey behind an expanse of green. We watched them for several minutes as they destroyed vegetation to stuff into their faceholes, then they spotted us and one of them trumpeted and we fucking legged it like the adventurers we were.
The man with the rifle sidled up to me, grinning, and said, “You are very brave. Maybe you will only fight the tiger and not the elephant.” See? This is what happens when Britain colonises a country and teaches everyone sarcasm. And I bet you wouldn’t be so fucking brave either if you got verbally threatened by an elephant and you weren’t brandishing a firearm, matey.
This food we’d been given then. Breakfast consisted of pastry. Lots and lots of pastry. I don’t think I’ve ever consumed so much pastry, cake and bread in one day, never mind in one sitting before. There was a big, star shaped thing, a little cake, four slices of western style bread (which, in India, is usually sweet enough to be classed as dessert anyway) with some jam and butter and, just to add a savoury flavour into the mix, a cucumber and tomato sandwich. A sneak peak at lunch revealed something covered in icing sugar (which turned out to be a strange thing with cardamon in it), another fucking cake, a croissant and a jam and peanut butter roll. There was also an amazing chapati wrap filled with some manner of awesomeness that wasn’t going to work on expanding my cavities as soon as I bit into it. If I had a dentist they’d be judging me right now. To be fair, you couldn’t accuse them of under-feeding us, but what they were feeding us was type II diabetes waiting to happen.
The hike was all together really interesting. I learned that cinnamon comes from the bark of a certain tree and that cocoa also grows in this region. That’ll explain all the homemade chocolate shops in town then. I learned when we found some porcupine needles that porcupines in the reserve are preyed on exclusively by leopards. Leopards are clearly fucking insane. If I were some manner of big cat I think I’d want my snacks a lot less likely to impale me. We found a fuck tonne of elephant tracks which served to highlight just how massive they are, and I felt much better about the running away earlier, and we even stumbled upon some tiger pug marks. They pointed out trees that a tiger had clawed the shit out of, apparently to mark its territory. Tigers don’t like it when other tigers encroach on their patch. Tigers, it seems, also have really fucking huge claws. If I were a tiger, I’d probably stay away from other tigers as a matter of course, at least until I could work out a way to replace all of my claws with really big knives.
During the walk we left the forest and walked uphill to the grasslands where the sloth bears hang out, munching on ants and termites. We didn’t see one though. I believe they’re quite dangerous, I’d love to see one but maybe from a distance whilst hiding behind the dude with the shooty thing. The views from up here are incredible. Kumily looks like a tiny little toy town from the hill and you can clearly see the towering eucalyptus tree forests. I have no idea why there’s so many of these trees, the guard told us they were imported but he didn’t tell us why. There seemed to be a lot of random stopping too for reasons none of us could ascertain. In the grasslands they all sat down and chatted amongst themselves, and some grass sniffing and head wobbling later they lead us to another part of the hill for some more views, then back down the hill the way we came.
There are shit loads of Banyan trees here and they pointed a lot of them out telling us they were two trees and you can generally tell the two trees apart, explaining how they work. The Banyan tree is a parasite tree, it latches onto a host tree then sends down roots which grow eventually suffocate the host tree. The ones they pointed out, they told us were Strangler Figs. Ok, yeah, those are what I saw a million of in Australia! Later on I was chatting to one of the guides and he told me that there were a lot of different kinds of parasite trees. I asked him if you could call all parasite trees Banyan trees, but that there are many different kinds of Banyan, such as the Strangler Fig, and he said that was correct. At some point I’ll see what Wikipedia says about this. Ever since a tour guide told me that South America’s earthquakes were caused by the oceans either side of the continent I’ve always been dubious about what’s actually fact and what’s just something their grandma told them once. I do find Banyan trees really interesting though. Yeah, they’re the serial killers of the tree world, and one day maybe the whole bastard forest will consist of nothing but Banyan trees, but at least they look pretty whilst they’re suffocating the life from another tree ay.
These guys have an amazing knack for finding stuff to look at though, from Malabar Giant Squirrels (which are basically like normal squirrels, but on steroids) high up in trees to creatures that had tried their hardest not to be spotted. We were ambling along when one of them stopped and pointed out a snake in a small tree. I couldn’t even see it at first, it was so well camouflaged. We stared at the tree until I realised where he was pointing. How the actual fuck did he even see that bad boy in the first place?! He said it was a dangerous one, a member of the viper family, so I let him take my camera and get the photos in, especially when he pointed out it wasn’t sleeping, only relaxing and its eyes were open, because I’m pretty sure that snakes can move a lot faster than me and I’m not sure my insurance covers me for harassing wildlife. They insisted on pointing out massive spiders too and couldn’t understand why I was even scared of them if they didn’t contain venom that’d melt my eyeballs or cause all my skin to fall off.
“It is not poisonly,” one guy assured me. “If it bite you then maybe you get some rash, but you will not die.” Erm, yeah, that still sounds pretty fucking poisonly to me, dude!
But anyway. This is classed as a “hard trek” but it’s not actually that bad. My feet hurt by the end of it but that’s probably more because I have shit feet, and bunions which consider throbbing and dull aching a viable pasttime, and trainers which I’m absolutely terrified of trying to do Everest Base Camp in because they seem to have a penchant for trying to mangle my tiny toes. There’s a nice, big break for breakfast and a lengthy lunch break too by the lake, plus all of the random stops where you start to wonder if the guides have gotten lost or something. But they delivered us back to the cabin in one piece and we hobbled back to town where Théo went in search of food that wasn’t a bread product and grandma here pretty much just got as clean as she could be bothered getting with bucket hot water, and crashed the fuck out.
Kumily, Kerala, India
Stayed at: Vedanta Wake Up! Kumily Town Center