This post is a continuation of this.
Going to sleep tucked into a warm blanket, crickets chirping into the night and the wind humming a soft lullaby in the trees is good. It’s even better to wake up with the sun gently kissing the cheeks, birds singing and celebrating a new morn, and a low mist welcoming you as soon as you open the door. The door opens into a semi-paradise, valley down below, thickly wooded, the only inhabitants in miles around being the caretaker of the guest house. The sun starts its slow journey overhead, the mist evaporating fast over Vagamon. Breakfast is a typical Kerala dish idiyappam doused in thick coconut milk. Fluffy appams and a coconut extravagant vegetable stew follow.
A plan is hatched to cover the sights of the land. Thekkady, 70km up and downhill towards the south is our destination for the day. The road leads as it has for the past two days through sea-like tea estates, leaves and branches trimmed to look like slow waves rolling in; past small rivulets, cool and fresh, waiting for feet to be dipped in. Slowly making way for settlements and finally a large junction filled with boards exhorting tourists to patronize various services including elephant safaris, boat rides, ayurvedic massages and variety of other touristy splendours. We follow signs to the Periyar Tiger Reserve, Thekkady (one by-lane looked exactly like the road leading to Baga Beach, minus Titos) and finally arrive at a huge arch marking the entrance to the reserve.
Tickets in hand, camera batteries checked, caps firmly pulled down against the rather strong winds we occupy front row seats on the upper deck of the boat which will take us on a near two hour splash inside the reserve. Tall ghosts of trees stick their dead arms and heads out of the water, drowned since the river first flowed into the dam. Now they serve as perching posts for egrets, kingfishers, cormorants and storks hungrily scanning the rippling waters for potential prey. Since its May, the banks are also slightly exposed, small expanses on which turtles sun themselves, scurrying to the water as soon as a group of wild hogs appear out of a bush, porcine snouts sniffling for morsels in the undergrowth.
Further down we spy a shy herd of chital. Keeping a watchful eye for predators they nibble at the grass ever ready to make a dash. The sighs of delight and cries of “How cute!” are routine for them I guess, as they pose for a group of intrepid water safarists, me included. Suddenly there is cry from the bottom as one clever kid in the midst of all the ‘oh ah’ing over deer spotted an elephant and its child. Quite a distance away, the pachyderm escorted its ward gently through the tall grass disappearing for some time, before reappearing on the top of a slope and then vanished from sight. Elated to have seen a wild elephant and baby we continued down the river eagerly waiting to catch sight of the largest wild bovine, the Gaur. The wait was much lesser than expected when after taking a right at a blind curve, a knoll appeared, the entire mound of green being chomped up by an army of gaur, a helmet of hard skin tapering into two large trumpet- like horns above jaws continuously masticating the grass into cud. Most of these large Taurean characters stood chewing ignoring the boat, some eying us suspiciously wondering why we were all gaping at these massive chunks of meat. I am willing to consume anything in terms of meat (atleast once) as long as the meat in question is not from a group of animals going extinct. The gaur I believe is on that list and will be off my menu. Envisioning a porterhouse cut from a fellow domesticated bovine cosuin grilled to a T we head back to the guesthouse and Vagamon. An uninspiring yet nourishing vegetabe/chappati/rice laden table is set for us. Dining done I rest in the cane chair put out overlooking the same misty semi-paradise like valley, now ominous, the wind whispering among the tree tops, images of silent leopards lunging out of them in my mind. Horrifying contemplation over, I snuggle into the blankets,crickets clicking away a lullaby in Morse, Morpheus leading me on to his land.
More to follow...