I can’t forget the simple, serene slowness of my time in Kerala. I can’t forget the houseboat ride on the backwaters gliding by colorful houses, watching schoolchildren walking slowly along the paths to their homes, women and men fishing from their front porch for the evening’s meal, young men training in their long sleek boats, gliding in to dock as the sun slowly sets, being served freshly-caught fish, sipping coconut milk, and watching the colors shift and fade.
In the morning after a perfect breakfast, a long winding drive into the mountains took me to a place called Spice Tree. After unpacking, I joined a small guided group for a gentle hike through cardamom forests and up onto a stone scarp to see the ancient dolmens, neolithic tombs made by people who left no other mark. A view over the entire Bison valley and another more dramatic sunset rendered us speechless in the cool and quiet hike back to Spice Tree.
I woke early to catch the sunrise and was handed my packed lunch (in a bag made of recycled newspapers), as I would be missing breakfast in order to go on a guided bike ride just outside of Munnar.
We rode along a single-lane paved road winding through forest and up into tea-covered hills. As we stopped, so that my guide could explain more about the three hours and 35 kilometers that we would be riding, I heard a whistling in the dense forest, somewhere above a crystal-clear stream.
My guide paused, stood still, and pointed up. The whistling continued. It was a rare bird called the Malabar Whistling Thrush. The English used to call it “Schoolboy” because it sounds very much like a young person whistling an aimless tune. We stood spellbound for a good while.
The only rush I experienced in Kerala was when a report came through of wild elephants up by the lake – I had let Enchanting Travels know this was my deepest wish to witness.
We raced our bicycles through the Munnar traffic (which might look like chaos to others – but when you’re riding through it as fast as you can it all makes sense) and got into the car with my driver ready to go. A mother elephant, her one-year-old baby, and sister were yanking wads of grass from the meadow below. We were the first there, so it was quiet enough that I could hear their occasional soft sounds.
Within 20 minutes, however, there were tour buses and the fence along the road, high above the meadow, was filled with people who, like me, my guide and driver, were grinning and pointing, trying not to disturb the elephants, as they whispered: “Ana! Ana!”
That night I enjoyed a vigorous Ayurvedic massage and heavenly steam cabinet with a view of the valley from the open window, and then a swim, followed by a masterful Keralan meal – and then magical Keralan sleep – like no other.
My plan for the last day was another early-morning bike ride through a different kind of forest, then another massage, steam cabinet, swim, and a fantastic meal. I read, I wrote, I went slow and kept quiet.
I booked a third trip with Enchanting Travels and asked to end it again with a houseboat and three nights at Spice Tree. Though I had a completely different set of experiences, owing to it being in a different season, it was just as magical as I remembered, to be on Kerala time again.
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