Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Of Misty Hills and Leeches

The last weekend had been quite different from my so many previous ones. I journeyed. I know that's nothing special but people who know me near would stare back hard if they hear that right. I'm so used to the coziness of my four walls that travel means back pains and unknown beds. The destination was the impressive hill town in Tamilnadu called Valaparai. The little town nested among cloud kissed mountains and thick lush forests is also famous for its blood sucking leeches hiding among rich green flora and fauna.

After the night work on Friday, Saturday morning at One’ clock, I found myself rushing home to prepare some tit bits to eat on the way. I had bought some freshly cut chicken pieces in the evening which was then fried and a lot of carrots, onion, tomatoes and cucumber to cut for a salad. In 3 hours all was packed, the chicken into 2 casseroles and all the salad into a big container.

As usual everyone was late and this time even the booked Tempo Traveler was late. We had planned to start at 4:30. Suddenly as I waited impatiently with my fully packed bag and the eatables I felt sleepy and cherished my ever inviting bed. I just wanted to snug in and sleep as usual late into the day. I cursed the friend who invited me, the mosquito circling me and myself for agreeing to join them on this long unpredictable journey through steep winding roads and dangerous animals.

Soon, we were all locomoting towards our first destination - Athirapally, around 80 kms from Kochi, perched high above in the Sholayar forest ranges on the fringes of Kerala's famed rain forests. We picked up the pr-ordered packed breakfast from Chalakkudy and hunted for a calm stony waterfall bed. The breakfast concluded with a photo session with smiles and all the fancy cooling glasses out. Suddenly everyone wanted to be photogenic. Our next stop was in an open space near some short scintillating waterfalls in the thick green forest towards Sholayar. Out came the glasses, the Vodkas and the Brandy's. Out too came out the towels and the colourful lungies. Perched on the depressions created by the refreshingly cool water now flowing over us and the breathtaking forest around us we started the drinking binge. Soon the Antakshiri and the laughter followed. I guess the leeches saw us happy and they stuck. Quietly they stuck and soon they were everywhere and on everyone. Mysteriously the leeches ingest blood with the help of anti-blood clotting enzymes in the saliva and even if they are removed, the blood keeps oozing out. Anyway, a lot of salt sprinkling later everyone settled down.

Afternoon saw us in Valaparai, our hotel- Hotel Green Hills. Once we reached the hotel, with stinking and dirty bathrooms and everything from the walls, floor, sofa cushions, bed spreads, and pillow covers being so unclean and a few cockroaches in the corner of our room, all we wanted was to check out of the hotel right away. But our tiredness saw us running for the shower and an hour of sleeps delight. A hotel like this in a place where nature’s pristine beauty is all around – what a contrast!

The night disappointed us by pouring down buckets of water. Valaparai is called the Cherapunji of the south. The rain soon stopped. We had hoped a campfire but the rain and the forest officials posed a challenge. The wild animals were more important than the fun we could have had so we humbled and huddled on the terrace of our hotel for a night of Antakshri and clanking glasses.

Next day, we all woke up to the sound of trumpets and drums. A temple stood just a stone throw away from the hotel and Sunday was typically a marriage day. After 5 marriages it was time to rush into the cold bathrooms for an equally cold water. A refreshing breakfast followed and we were on our way to check out Valaparai.

A few regular tourist stops later we were back into another of those inviting and enchanting water ways. The whole country side is punctuated with large and small waterfalls that gurgle and splash down the mountain side. The water was colder in Valaparai. We lay and relaxed back in the splashing and gushing water till afternoon till the call of the hunger evoked us. We got and dried in the sparkling sun. This was heaven. But soon something else happened. Lying 2 hours in the rushing water had its effects. The shivering feet could no longer hold me upright. Despite keeping each step carefully, I slipped and fell not once, but twice! I fell the first time and got up immediately. And again fell right away! That got me a little scared but many hands grabbed me and guided me to the warmth of the vehicle. Valaparai awarded me my first bruise this year, a trophy on my forehead but I definitely didn't regret it. Curious faces peeped and wanted-to-be-doctors applied dettol and band-aid. Soon all the excitement died down and the prayers started going to the cab drivers who painstakingly made their way back to Kochi through one of the most dangerous high ranges in South India. Matters were made worse as the heavens opened again and it bucketed down. Nevertheless, we reached Kochi back safe at 12:30 amid rain and all that welcoming traffic and civilization which we tried to escape a day before.

The charm of the nature cannot be described by words, the empowering mist kissed cloudy mountains, the enigmatic forests, those gorges overhung with trees, the enthralling waterfalls and those mysterious blood sucking leeches make Valaparai not just calm and sweet, but something wild and natural.

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