Kerala, Part 3: the hills

Up to the cool ridge of the Western Ghats.

After our visit to the backwaters, we headed inland and uphill, to the cool ridge of the Western Ghats. Although we stayed only one night, we took a boat safari through a tiger refuge, watched demonstrations of Kerala martial arts and traditional dance, toured a spice plantation and a tea plantation, and rode elephants. Read on, and check out the photo gallery!

We finish our elephant ride in the hills of Kerala. David, Mara, Andy, John, Pam.

Kerala is a narrow state, wedged between the Arabian Sea and the mountain range of the Western Ghats.  This mountain range is the spine of India, stretching from Mumbai in the north all the way to Kanyakumari at the southern tip (see part 1).  On the plane trip from Bangalore, we followed this range southward toward Thiruvananthapuram, and I was struck by its rugged beauty and by how remote and untouched they seem to be in many places. In this region, these hills reach at least 5000’, with some peaks above 8000′, and I was amazed to see some areas above treeline, with only grasses growing at their summits.  The roads were incredibly twisted and narrow, and it took several hours for us to wind up past the coconut plantations, through the rubber plantations, and over the hilltop tea plantations. At right is a photo of a rubber-tree worker, and of the boys wandering through tea fields at the top of the Ghats.

We stayed at the Treetop Hotel in Kumily, just a few km from the Periyar Wildlife Refuge [location]. We spent the afternoon on a boat tour of the refuge; although we hoped to see their famous resident tigers, we made do with sightings of several herds of deer and buffalo (there was no guide, so I’m not actually sure what type of animals they were).  We spent the evening watching a demonstration of an ancient form of martial arts – indeed, Kerala claims to have invented martial arts – and then short demonstration of the Kathakali traditional dance form. 

twirling flaming batons in a demonstration of Kerala martial arts.

On our way out of Kumily, we visited a spice plantation – where we had a fascinating introduction to the many spices grown in Kerala, and saw the rest of the plantation riding on an elephant. An hour down the road, we visited a tea plantation and toured the tea manufacturing operation.  It was amazing how many steps it takes to wash, dry, ferment, chop, dry, and sort tea.  To heat the furnaces that dry the tea, they burn old rubber trees.

John, Mara, Andy, and Pam at the Connemara tea factory in the hills of Kerala.

At one point we stopped at a roadside shop for snacks and a bathroom break.  Ashok (our driver) asked me, “where is youngest boy?”  We both saw Andy at the same time, down the hill alongside the building, exploring and picking up interesting rocks.  I heard Ashok mumbling about whether there might be a dog; as he turned to ask the owner if there was a dog, we suddenly heard a loud bark and saw a dog lunge at Andy.  Startled, Andy fell and rolled down the hill. Ashok and I ran to get him. As I picked him up and dusted him off, Andy’s first words were “well, that was stupid.” He didn’t cry until a few minutes later, back up at the roadside; while the shopkeeper and the other customers fawned over him, Pam tried to find any wounds. Andy was scared, but unhurt. [I was thinking back to all those rabies shots we had taken, and thankful that the dog bite hadn’t been worse.  The trip could have taken a very different path at this point.]

I enjoyed the Kerala hills! Check out the main photo gallery and the gallery for the spice tour.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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