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Thekkady, Kerala India: Periyar National Park

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We arrived at Greenwoods Resort in Thekkady around 12:30pm. It was a very short yet safe drive from Munnar thanks to Mr. Tomy. Beautiful scenery played a leading role the whole way. The south has this mesmerizing visual appeal everywhere you turn, almost makes you dizzy trying to capture it all. Greenwoods was one of those few "splurges" for us. It cost $120 a night so we obviously had fairly high expectations. And in the past, those high expectations have often lead us to disappointment so we'll see how this one goes.

When we got out of the car, we were warmly greeted by employees waiting at the top of the stairs. One was holding a candle like figure that was burning, which was supposed to release positive vibes, and the second was holding necklaces made out of cardamom spices, which were gracefully put on us. Almost like getting lei'd in Hawaii. Check in time is usually 2pm so we were a bit early and our room wasn't ready yet. While sitting in the lobby waiting, we were brought dry ginger coffee, which was surprisingly tasty, and cold wash cloths to clean our face, which was very refreshing. So far, we were loving this place. The little touches they provided to make us feel special were appreciated. And to top it off, we met a couple from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. At my last job with AEG and the LA Kings, my largest and most favorite partner was the tourism board of Alberta, Travel Alberta, so I had the privilege of visiting their province over a handful of times. What a beautiful place it is, summer or winter. Talking to this lovely couple made me miss my co-worker Therese and my friends over at in Canada. We sure did create a lot of wonderful memories over a four year period.

Around 2pm our room was finally ready. We dropped our bags off, settled in, enjoyed our balcony for a while (you know, the normal routine) then we decided to walk around the property to get a lay of the land. Our first impression was that the grounds were nice but not $120 nice. Jade Munnar had way better eye candy in our opinion. Before this trip, I was kind of a hotel snob. I always wanted a brand name (not necessarily a Ritz Carlton level but maybe a Westin level), new sheets and towels everyday, a fancy restaurant and top notch service. However, that has changed and for the better. The bigger hotels just don't tickle my fancy anymore, at least not in India. They are kind of stale and the rooms have no personality to them. Homestays, AirBnBs and boutique lodging are definitely the way to go. I find they provide a more intimate, personalized, memorable experience (unless you are Khem Villas, then its worth the money).





While walking around Greenwoods, we came across an area that housed rabbits, chickens, ducks, cows, turkeys and other animals.




But the best thing about this hotel hands down was that their coffee shop was a tree house high above the ground. It was about 4pm at this point so we decided to carefully walk up the twenty steps made out of bamboo, slowly make our way across the bridge suspended in mid-air only being supported by thick rope and eventually enter the rustic cafe sitting comfortably in a tree. Very unique. It was here and then, that Vinny sparked yet another admirer. I don't know if it's because he's white or because of his all over the place hair or because of his natural good looks but men love him in India. They stare and they smile. At first, I couldn't tell if they were laughing at him but I am pretty certain now they are in awe of him. And I don't blame them. He obviously caught my eye five years ago as well. The treehouse coffee guys name was Shaji. He was so sweet and so gentle. Although he paid absolutely no attention to me and only had interest for Vinny, I still really liked him. Instantaneously, we all became friends.








Later in the evening, we watched a documentary the Periyar National Park put together to inform tourists about the various activities we can do while in Thekkady and some of the wildlife that exists all around. Followed by that, a young girl studying local dance at the University performed a traditional routine for about thirty minutes. Her elaborate makeup, clothing, jewelry and exotic moves were super captivating and entertaining. We ended with dinner at the hotel. Very low-key, which is what the south is all about. Go slow my friends, go slow.

The next morning I woke up as sour as a Lemonhead. When we first checked in, they said we could make activity reservations anytime we wanted with very little notice. So we took their advice and attempted to book a bamboo rafting and trekking excursion last night for this morning. They said it shouldn't be a problem but they would call us around 7am to confirm. At 7:15am, I still hadn't heard from them so I was proactive and rang them, only to learn there was no availability. I acted like a spoiled brat not getting the toy I wanted for a few minutes and then got over it. We quickly realized that unless you are going into the Periyar National Park, which costs 450 rupees per person each visit, there really isn't much else to do in Thekkady. And we didn't want to pay that fee twice. Super disappointing but we decided to look at the glass half full and took advantage of being in a city that really forced us to do nothing for the first time in five weeks. And the rest of the day we did just that, nothing.

However, it wasn't as relaxing nor as productive as we would have hoped. The power literally went out every ten minutes for a few seconds at a time and the front desk couldn't even give us a good reason for it. Each time the power went out, the air conditioning shut down, the lights turned off and we were signed out of WiFi. Then it would all turn back on again. Then it would all turn back off again. I know it sounds minor and annoyingly nitpicky but I'm sure it would get on anyones nerves after about fifteen times. We fully understand and support a resort being eco-friendly and wanting to conserve a lot of energy, but this made absolutely no sense. Turn off the power for a handful of consecutive hours or during a certain peak time in the day, but don't turn it off so frequently. I feel like that actually uses more energy than not. Oh well, moving on. After a handful of hours, we were both going crazy having not left the room so we decided to get some fresh air and say hi to Shaji in the treehouse. Coffee around 4pm has become part of our routine when possible. But Shaji makes it extra special.

That night we attended a Kalaripayattu performance, which is the oldest form of martial arts and has its roots in the prehistoric ages. Kalaripayattu is just another major contribution that India has gifted the world. Per the legend, this 3,000 year old art form was created by Sage Parasurama, the master of all martial art forms and credited to be the re-claimer of Kerala from the Arabian Sea. Kalaripayattu originated in ancient South India and is not only about learning self-defense, but also helps you gain a sense of discipline in your daily routine. It helps you get fitter, and be stronger both mentally and physically. And these guys sure were fit.






Our second and last full day in Thekkady, we were able to do the five hour trekking and bamboo rafting adventure we attempted the day before. At 8:45am, we took a tuk-tuk to purchase our tickets into the National Park, then we drove over to Bamboo Grove where we were to meet for our excursion, which cost 1500 rupees each. These kids were on a school field trip and begged me to take a photo of them. So cute.


There were eight people total in our group - me and Vinny, three young twenty year olds from Australia, a young Indian couple and a solo young Indian guy. A very classic, almost hard to explain in words kind of moment, happened in the very beginning. Our guide started walking, didn't tell anyone to follow him and never looked back. We all just assumed it was time to go so we trailed behind. About five minutes in, he randomly veered off to the left, entering a home. Didn't say anything like wait here or I'll be a minute. Gotta love the communication. Definitely made the experience more suspenseful. When he finally came out of the house, he was holding a shotgun. Yes, a shotgun. Ummmmm what kind of animals were we planning to see that we needed a shotgun for protection? Again, no explanation. This should be interesting. Keep on moving.


For the next hour and a half, we walked through the National Park, surrounded by nothing but nature. Taller than tall trees, lush greenery, exotic birds, and a few endemic creatures to Periyar. It was a very soothing atmosphere.





Every now and then we had to cross these manmade bridges to get to the other side and it was always a gamble whether you would make it or not. But luckily, it was just a fear and never became a reality.


When we finally arrived at the water, we boarded our bamboo boat. This was pretty neat and extremely relaxing since all we had to do was sit back, stretch out our legs and enjoy the ride. It was so quiet that you could vividly hear the water splash against the bamboo, as if it was a light drizzle on a tin roof. Or the birds chatting up a storm hundreds of feet away.





After about twenty minutes, we got off the raft and walked around a little island where elephants usually roam solo or in packs, towards the water for drinking and bathing. But unfortunately, we didn't see any up close.



We did however find a ton of their footprints that would put Shaq's shoe to sham. They were massive. I think I could fit at least three of my feet in their one.



The guides slowly lost faith so we headed back to the main land we originated on. I kept singing the song in my head from Pocahontas, "just around the river bend". And of course, when we touched down, they started freaking out because in the very far distance, on the same small island we just came from, they saw a wild elephant. It was hard to see with your own two eyes so I took my camera, zoomed in as much as I could and randomly starting firing off photo after photo. If you look deep enough in the image below, you can see it miles away on the left. You might have to put your glasses on for this one. Kind of cool but not as cool as if we were face to face.


On the walk back, we saw some big bison and some little bison chilling out and grazing the fields. What did the father say to his oldest boy when he left for college? Bye-son. HA! Sorry, I love cornier than corn nuts jokes.



And we saw a bird that only exists in the Park...


And a squirrel that looks very different than all the others...


And our guide talking on his cell phone, in the middle of the park, next to his shotgun...


And the friendly workers who help keep the path safe and clean...


It was around 3pm when we returned and you know what that means - it's almost coffee with Shaji time! While walking over to the treehouse, we randomly stumbled upon an elephant in front of our hotel. Totally normal. No big deal. So of course we had to grab a photo with her and she sure was a funny character. Right as we went to touch her trunk, she folded it up as her way of smiling for the camera. And it got me to smile real big as well (although I do look a little special). Seeing an animal of this size walk freely on your hotel grounds just seems odd but we'll take it.



The turkey was out for a mid-day stroll as well...


Quite possibly the best thing about our Thekkady experience happened late this afternoon while sipping our coffees and talking to Shaji. Since he loved Vinny so much I figured I would get a photo of them together so we can always remember him. He happily and willingly said no problem. He then asked if we could send him a copy of the photo. How cute is that? He too wants to remember Vinny (keep in mind, I don't really exist). So we told him to write down his email address but when he handed Vinny a small, ripped off piece of paper, it had his mailing address on it. His mailing address in Thekkady, with four parenthesis, five lines, no zip code and no numbers. You could imagine how confused we were when we saw this. It turns out, he has no email to forward it to and no phone to text it to. One has to appreciate his simplicity. Vinny now has a pen pal for life, assuming this address is written correctly and the post office actually deliveries the letter.



In a nutshell, we were not overly impressed with Thekkady or Greenwoods. Neither were awful but neither were outstanding. Maybe it's because we just came from Jade Munnar for nearly half the price, or maybe because we already saw a stunning National Park in Ranthambore, or maybe because we were there for too many days, or maybe because we felt based on our own personal preferences it was overpriced. However you spin it, we were ready to move on to our next city. As with everything, there were a handful of positives still. Fresh pressed juices at every meal (pineapple, watermelon, mixed fruit, etc.), our late afternoon coffee dates with Shaji in the treehouse, an excuse to be extremely lazy for a day, the martial arts performance and the bamboo rafting were all pros that somewhat outweighed the various cons.

Tomorrow morning we are driving to Alleppey, which is our fourth and final city in the gorgeous state of Kerala.

Since Mahatma Gandhi was one of the most preeminent Indian leaders, I leave you with one of my favorite quotes by him. "Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony".

Now go practice happiness