Adventures in a South Indian town lonely planet’s never heard of

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Palms of paradise

There I was, sitting on my bus from Mysore to Kalpetta, a small town situated somewhere between Kozhikode (Calicut) and Mysore. Suggested to me by a friend (thanks Priya!), I decided to venture well off the beaten path to explore some of India’s beautiful natural landmarks.

My bus somewhat resembled a schoolbus, but instead of glass in the windows, there were just bars. Some natural air conditioning! We bounced along for three hours, keeping me on the edge of my seat as we weaved in and out of rapidly oncoming traffic at a good speedy pace.

Driving along this wide road, we passed some small villages and settlements, separated by farmland and coconut tree plantations. At one of these hubs of civilizations, I saw an interesting scene: monkeys sitting quite close to the small stone houses and an untethered wild boar. I’m not sure what the boar was doing there, but it was certainly cool to see!

At another point, an open plot of farmland was being upturned by a farmer guiding a plow pulled by two oxen. The further we moved away from Mysore, the more frequently I began to see herds of animals: goats, cows, a donkey here and there, being guided by their herders, who mostly consisted of women clad in bright fabrics.

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Some wandering bovine friends

As we passed through a nature preserve, I spotted a few monkeys sitting by the side of the road. When the bus was stopped for inspection, a few more curious souls clambered through the tree branches nearby to see what the commotion was about.

Kalpetta itself was a very small town. After spending a few weeks living and traveling in South India, I’ve come to this conclusion: most of the small towns are like nodes along a main arterial road/highway connecting cities.

Kalpetta was just this: lots of shops, little bakeries, fruit stands, tourist homes, hotels sprung up along the main road. A symphony of patchwork construction, bustling with schoolchildren, goats, the occasional cow walking ON the road with the other vehicles, shopkeepers, auto rickshaws, bicycles, mopeds, motorcycles, cars, buses, trucks, women and men going about their day. I felt like an ant in the middle of a well-established ant trail.

I stayed in a lovely homestay with a family who not only made my stay very pleasant, but also offered to show me around the area. So, together with the family’s nephew, we set out on a “motorcycle safari,” to visit some of the local natural landmarks.

First on the list was Chembra peak. The travel itself was not without excitement. I sat on the back of the motorcycle clutching the rear hand-holds for dear life. The best/worst part was going up the winding road leading up the mountain. As nearly every turn was a blind one, we honked each time to give warning to the unsuspecting autorickshaw, motorcycle, or car zooming around the corner…But we were rewarded with spectacular views of vastly stretching tea plantations.

The hike up was lovely, and not too long. Apparently during the rainy season, leeches come out and attack people’s feet, but luckily it was pretty dry and no creepy crawlies were detected…The peak itself isn’t accessible for hikers, as there are many rare orchid species and medicinal plants used in Ayurveda that grow at that altitude (our seasoned guide explained).

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A view from above

As a consolation, we did reach a cool heart-shaped lake that contained very tiny and very hungry fish – when I held onto a cookie with my hand submerged in the water, they swarmed, vying to take chunks off of the cookie (and my hand, which was less crumbly than the cookie, luckily for me).

Winding further through the small rural roads, we also visited Soochipara falls– a beautiful waterfall amidst many scenic tea plantations. An easy walk compared to the morning hike, the falls were a popular destination for many tourists – many braved the cool water to take a bath in the waterfall.

This awesome journey and stay in Kalpetta was followed by a much less pleasant 9-hour bus journey back to Cochin, but I’ll spare you the details. In the next few days I plan to join my Kerala friends for a road trip through South India. Keep your eyes open for some more travel stories, this time we will again be off of the beaten path for sure! 🙂

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Airport Monk

Airport Monk

Steel wings have brought us here

We wait, amid the luxury and splendor

Peruse, they say, these treasures hold the key to happiness, they lie

The web subconsciously invites me into its elegant illusion

One glance breaks the carefully crafted mirage

Gliding past me I see true elegance hidden in simplicity

The dark cloth of Japanese robes, no Hermes no Gucci

A monk in this airport passes by designer clothes,

Showing the true gaudiness of this web of illusion.

I wrote this poem about a chance encounter that left a deep impression on me when I was traveling back to the US from St. Petersburg through Paris. Catching a glimpse of someone who appeared to be a monk of the Zen tradition in the Charles de Galle airport lent sharp contrast to the face of materialism and consumerism. It was one of those moments when you feel a shock of inspiration run through your body.

To me, the simple traditional Japanese clothes seemed so much more beautiful than any of the silk scarves or soft leather shoes in the wildly priced designer stores lining the airport hallways. For some reason, it felt comforting to see this figure – almost like leaving a polluted city and seeing the dewdrops of the countryside.

countryside dewdrops

countryside dewdrops