Travels across Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka by bus

Posted: February 7, 2011 in India
Tags: , , , , , , ,

We left the delightful yet scorching Kochi and started the first of many planned bus trips through the varied landscape of South India. We hadn’t expected South India to be so enchanting. The journey from the coastal tropics of Kochi winds its way through gently undulating hills and onto the higher hills of Kerala. The landscape is gorgeous, trees roll by interspersed with fields of lush green grass and fine smelling crops. The bus is incredibly slow as the asthmatic engine crawls up the steep hills with clear anguish. Clouds of foul smog belch out from the exhaust in stark contrast to the beauty of the natural world.

Whilst we were intoxicated by the sights and sounds of Keralan countryside, we were appalled by the evident lack of respect for nature of its otherwise wonderful inhabitants. At every corner, in every nook and crannie and in every roadside stream, lay piles of rotting, squalid rubbish. The degradable rubbish we can accept even though it taints the horizon but the miles of plastic wrappers and bottles sadden your soul. It baffles us. The Indian people are incredibly friendly and the dominating religion, Hinduism, preaches love of nature yet the people think nothing of throwing an empty plastic bottle out the window of a bus as it chugs along. It’s not even deliberately selfish, they just don’t have a concept of environmental protection and they don’t link their actions with the side effects. Education really is the key.

Tiger, tiger burning bright

Kumily was our first stop as it lies on the boundary of the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. This is South India’s most popular wildlife sanctuary, covering 777 square km and including huge stretches of serene lake and forest as well as healthy populations of elephant, leopard, tiger and sloth bear. A veritable cornucopia of nature’s finest for the discerning eye.

We stayed at the quaint Mickey’s Cottage and were well looked after by the attentive and caring owners (she was the classic hot older lady – don’t tell Muneeza!). We only had 1 full day so headed to the popular Ecotourism Centre to sort our wildlife extravaganza for the next day. After hasty discussion, we opted for the nature walk in the morning, joining up with a friendly Irish couple, and a river boat cruise in the afternoon. With little to do in Kumily at night, we crawled into bed and enjoyed a brief chat before passing out early.

We met Richard & Carol at the park entry gate at 06.45 and took a rickshaw down to the departure point for the forest walk. It started intriguingly with a river crossing on a makeshift log raft that barely floated. Watching Muneeza try to balance as she made her way to the seating area, edging along slippery beams, was too good to be true. We spent the next 3 hours being guided through the forest by a friendly Keralan. Whilst we spotted limited wildlife, as is often the case, the walk was really enjoyable and took us through the early morning mist, surrounded by the waking calls of legions of birds and the rich scents of clean air and abundant flowers. After the smog of the bus, it cleansed the soul.

We chilled in the afternoon and caught up with the usual email procession. Early afternoon we headed back to the park and this time walked down to the lake front. The walk winds for 4km through the forest and you suddenly realise you are alone and wild animals could be anywhere. In reality, most animals steer well clear of humans but still the fear and excitement that rises up when you think that a tiger could be round the corner is heart-pumping.

The river boat trip was super chilled though we had to wear these ridiculous life jackets for the entire journey, making it difficult to move in the cramped seats. We lucked in, seeing 4 wild Asian Elephants bathing by the lake shore. Interestingly, we discovered that Asian elephants are smaller and have much smaller ears than their African cousins. Well, interestingly for us. You can take it either way.

As with any wildlife trip, you are left wanting more. And so it was that we left Kumily wishing we could spend a few more days in search of the elusive tiger but equally looking forward to our last stop in Kerala in the land of tea.

The tea fields of Munnar

Munnar sits at an elevation of 1,524m and has the perfect climate for tea plantation; hot and dry during the day with soft breezes floating in across the hills and cool at night with regular rainfall. Described by the Lonely Planet as scruffy, we found it a great place to spend the day.

We only had an overnight stop, so gladly took the offer from the rickshaw driver of an afternoon trip out to the tea plantations and echo point, a spot along the road to Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary. The afternoon passed in a pleasant daydream, driving through rolling hills covered with tea plants. The air here is so crisp and the valleys so clean that the smells dominating your senses are incredibly fragrant and uplifting. Having been accustomed to the strong smell of vehicle pollution in Northern India, this was a pleasant change. Ironically, despite being the tea capital of India, it’s the only place we didn’t have any chia.

Hill station of the Raj

I was really looking forward to Ooty, the most famous hill station in South India. It was established by the British Raj in the early 19th century as the summer headquarters of the government. The most scenic route is on the miniature railway, awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2005. However, that involved a waiting list for a 05.20 train from Coimbatore, so we sacked it off and picked up a cheap as chips local bus instead. The bus journey was pretty spectacular as well, with winding roads taking sharp and hair raising hair-pin bends through the mountains. We arrived slightly dizzy from the spiralling turns and glad the bus made it intact.

It was in Ooty that we failed to make the most of our time, through lack of planning and really poor advice from the locals. The day we organised ourselves sight-seeing went well, culminating in a walk up to Doddabetta Lookout which gives views across the valleys of Tamil Nadu. It was, however, Day 2 that proved frustrating. We wanted to spend the day and night in Mudumulai National Park, recommended to us by a friendly chap on the bus. Apparently it’s a good place to spot tiger and blank panther, the most elusive of the big cats in India. We tried in vain to book tours and the visit to the Wildlife Warden’s Office in Ooty was less than useless. We found out we could stay in the park in Government run accommodation but couldn’t trek or take safaris. So what was the point of staying there?

Finally, with a certain reluctance, we booked my nemesis, a group tour that included Mudumulai. We left early on 5th Feb and had the most boring day of our travels. The tour spent the first 6 hours visiting the dullest places, including a much hyped tree park that had more litter and sh&t than trees. Finally, at 16.30 we reached Mudumulai and made it on to the last park bus to go wildlife spotting. The bus crawls along a 15km stretch of park that is off limits to private vehicles that can only travel on the main highway. The trip revealed a lone elephant but otherwise was fruitless. Annoyingly, the earlier bus, which we were meant to be on but missed due to arriving late, witnessed the apparition of the black panther. To say we were gutted would be a gross under-statement.

We were dropped off just before 21.00, nearly 2 hours late. The driver asked for basksheesh and I hopped out before I let loose with much deserved abuse. I’m trying to reign in the anger and abuse and maintain my newfound calm. How long will it last?

In the lap of the kings

We had another brief stopover in Mysore and turned out we were right not to spend more time; not that we didn’t like the town but there are more interesting places en route.

Mysore is steeped in history though. It was the capital of the Wodeyar maharajas and it contains many remnants of royal heritage, none more impressive than Mysore Palace. The hawkers on the approach to the palace are enough to put anyone off but we’re now used to it and a friendly smile and bold “muhje nai chahiye shukriya” (I don’t need any thanks) seems to do the trick. Annoyingly you couldn’t take a camera inside the palace and you have to take your shoes off, so we emerged 1hr later with no photos, dirty feet and R400 lighter of pocket. After a few obligatory tourist style snaps outside, we hit the local market to find Muni jani some bangles. My girl loves her shiny, shiny jewellery – that’s why I call her Magpie.

We closed out our time in Mysore with a slap up meal at a local cafe we found earlier in the day. For a princely R100 (only $2) we had amazing thalis and a few drinks. It blows my mind the prices charged in tourists restaurants for the same food; when you travel, you need to hunt the local shacks and get stuck in. Often the food is much better and far cheaper and the owners appreciate your popping in.

So the charming towns of Southern India have drawn to a close and now it’s off to the big city noise and chaos of Bangalore. Hope you enjoyed the update, drop by and say hello.

love jamer & muneeza x

  1. sammi says:

    You know your writing seems to get better and better with each update. You do realise that with the level of detail you go into, you’ll have nothing new to tell us when you get home. But don’t let that stop you from updating this blog.It’s all I have to entertain me on my train home.
    Really glad that you are still enjoying it.
    See you soon,


    • jamerguk says:

      Hi Sammi
      Thanks for the kind words, more encouragement to fuel my narcissism! Glad you are enjoying the blogs. I’ve found that staring at someone the whole way home on a train can be quite entertaining; you can watch their range of emotions as they try to work out what kind of sick weirdo you are. Don’t worry, the judge has cleared me of any wrongdoing, your sis is safe….
      Love to Justine, Cyrus and Dayyan, look forward to a catch up on our return

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