12 October 2013

Kumily Thekkady, Kerala, India (22)

After a brief rest in our hotel Green Forest, Thekkady, we headed to the Mudra Cultural Centre for a display of the Kathakali Show. Kathakali means story-play and is a dance drama which originated in the 17th century in Kerala. The elaborate costumes take ages to put on and if one arrives earlier at the show, you will be able to view this practise. Unfortunately, I did not take my camera as I thought the extra fee was IR 200 - it turns out this was for video only! Artists are trained for 6 years in this form of dance and they can start training from 10 - 12 years old. There are 9 basic expressions used to convey the feelings/emotions and these were demonstrated. Anger, love, sadness, fear, joy, happiness, excitement - all emotions have to be acted out with only facial expressions and hand movements. The lady rolled her eyes every which way to the drum beat and it was hysterical to watch - I did not realise that eyeballs could move in time to music and so rapidly from side to side or up and down! Hand gestures are known as Mudra and are common throughout Indian dance. Two different types of drums plus cymbals make for an exciting beat to all this silent action. A non-dancer also sang, mournful yet very much part of the performance.

Truly something very different from anything we have seen before - as in all cultures, the various forms of local dance such as Maori, Greek, Spanish are always so interesting to witness.
Supper in the hotel - Vegetable Korma for me as it was not supposed to be hot and a capsicum dish for James. Well, what I thought was a red pepper was actually a chilli so burn, burn, burn!!! We ended up swopping food. I should have stuck to my first choice of veg moussaka!
The electricity supply in India can be rather erratic and the lights go off at the most inconvenient times. I got up during the night for the toilet and half-way to the door, the power went off. Total darkness in a new room so I was frozen to the spot with a bursting bladder. Thankfully, the lights came on fairly soon afterwards.
The weather is much cooler here yet there are still hundreds of mosquitoes. They seem to love me, they set me on fire in an most unpleasant way and I hate them! Biting through socks or shorts is no problem for these horrid little pests. Mosquito rage has me in its grip - does anybody know what their beneficial use is? I certainly cannot see the benefit of these blood suckers.
Saturday dawned clear so no rain, thankfully.
Our first excursion was a trip on the Periyar Lake within the Periyar Tiger Reserve. I have my doubts that there are any tigers left but they do have elephants. Foreigners are charged IR 300 to get into the park, whilst locals only pay IR 25. It's a huge difference and rather unfair? Perhaps 50%  or even 100% more would be acceptable. So rather a rip-off. As usual, there were only about 5 Westerners on board - the rest all Indian. They are certainly tourists in their own country which is fantastic.
The cruise on the lake was lovely except for the smell of diesel  from the engines. We were allocated seats and were not allowed to stand up during the journey. Life jackets are compulsory since a bad accident approx. 4 years ago where 35 people died. The boats were always over-crowded and this contributed to the fatal accident. Since then the government has regulated the number of passengers and life-jackets must be used. This lake is man-made and there are still many dead trees in the lake. How they have not rotted away is incredible. The scenery around is of forest, forest and more forest so it unlikely that many animals will come down to drink unless it is very hot. We did spot a baby elephant, some deer and birds nesting on top of the dead trees.
One can also do jungle treks, night treks etc if staying in the area a little longer.  Th e tourism department has various accommodation options plus one right in the middle of the lake! Apparently, this needs to be booked at least 6 months in advance as it is very popular.
Next came an elephant ride. Whilst we are very used to elephants in either Addo Elephant Park or Kruger Park, South Africa neither of us has ever ridden an elephant before. Elephants have featured in Indian mythology for over 3 thousand years and so it seemed fitting that we ride on this gentle Indian beast. Ganesha, the elephant headed Hindu god is the god of good luck and prosperity and don't we all require that? Elephants are used in special Hindu celebrations and many temples have their own elephants. Forestry operations still use elephants.
The elephant camp that we visited has 3 trained elephants, a male and 2 females. They listen so very obediently to their trainers who don't use force, only verbal commands. Our ellie kept wanted to stop and browse but he got called back  the path! Shame! They can eat whole bunches of bananas, skin and all. Apparently, they don't enjoy peeled bananas. With funny pink ears and hairy backs, this ride was something special. Luckily for me, I have been exercising in the pool these past 3 weeks so I managed to get my leg over and across the very wide back of the elephant. Without those stretches, I think I would have torn a muscle - you know how wide an elephants back is????? I am very proud of  myself that I could sit astride an elephant's back without a problem! James battled!
Such a fun time - 30 minutes was just too short! A very cheeky sms came from a friend who wanted to know if the elephant will OK after having to carry my weight. D and L, come and try it so that I can laugh!!!!! Loved the sms though - " Is the elephant OK?" Bloody cheek! To be honest, I have put on weight in India with all the delicious food. The buffet suppers are the best - one can try various dishes and go back for those one truly enjoys. Dreamers in Alleppy has also been so good - really tasty food without being hot curry.
Next stop was to a sample of spice plants and a spice shop. The chap was very informative and gave us much information about various plants. Indian has so many different spices which are used for all sorts of ailments from diabetes to jaundice, to high blood pressure or cholesterol. Our guide is a qualified mechanical technician, looking for work. Sadly, it seems that persons with tertiary education cannot always get jobs locally in their fields.
A cyclone is hitting the East Coast of India (Bay of Bengal) and hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated. Luckily, India is so big that we should be OK on this side in Kerala. We hope so.
© Judelle Drake

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