South India 2019: Kumily

We rode a train from Trivandrum to Kottiyam and then continued to Kumily by bus.  On our pleasant train journey, we chatted with our seat neighbour, a woman returning home to Ernakulam.  Disembarking in Kottiyam we joined with a Swedish woman to continue on to Kumily.  We tuktuked to the bus depot, found the bus, bought food and were soon on the road, twisting and turning up into the Ghats.  I sat behind the women, squished into the window by my seat companions.  My phone erupted several times but in the crush and sway of the bus I could only note that the number looked like that of the woman we’d met on the train.  Then I looked down at my electronics bag and  realized my sketchbook wasn’t there.  I texted back.  Through an exchange of texts I found out that my sketchbook, pencil case and a notebook had been found and handed over to a conductor who was going to hold it all for me at Ernakulam Station.

sketchbook with a drawing of our Marari Beach Homestay
Drawing of Marari Beach Homestay

Relieved, I relaxed and enjoyed the scenery as we climbed into the hills. We were met at the bus station by Binu who drove us in his tuktuk to his Periyar Green Homestay, located on the outer edges of Kumily.  As we admired the vegetation surrounding the homestay the sun edged down into the gathering massive clouds.  By our last day a bit of rain fell, just in time after the coffee harvest.

Clouds over Kumily, India
First Signs of Rain

Periyar Green met and surpassed all our expectations.  We were surrounded by lush foliage and the sounds of birds.  The more we looked the more plants we identified: coffee, papaya, cardamon…

hammock at the Green Periyar Homestay
Relax and Drift

Kumily’s located at the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.  We walked a few minutes to the end of the road and then up to a viewpoint where we could look out to the east, over the plains of Tamil Nadu far below us.

View to Tamil Nadu from the hills of Kumily, India
View to Tamil Nadu

Once again we’d booked based on reviews and Binu and his family at Periyar Green lived up to their reputation.  Before opening his homestay full-time Binu, Kumily  born and raised, worked as first a guide and then as a jeep driver.  He knows all the places and people and set us up with a couple of tours.

The first was a morning tour of the Green Park Spice Plantation.  A guide led us along paths lined with plants and trees, identifying and providing info for each.  I noticed the plantation’s use of companion planting, recycling of waste, water conservation and bees!  The smallest bees I’ve ever seen: about the size of a mosquito.

pepper at the Green Park Spice Planation, Kumily, India
flower at the Green Park Spice Plantation, Kumily, India
Flower & Leaf
Bananas and Flower
Flower & Fruit
greenery at Green Park Spice Plantation, Kumily, India
Flower & Not Flower
Innovative Palm Climbing Device at the Green Park Spice Plantation, Kumily, India
Innovative Palm Climbing Device

We were given a quick demonstration of a simple but brilliant device for climbing palm trees without hacking handholds in the bark. The climber lifts one foot and attached trunk strap at a time, climbing a couple of feet with each movement.

Later Binu dropped us at a tea plantation for a ramble along the paths.  Few landscapes are more photogenic than tea plantations.

tea plantation, Kumily, India
Tea to the Top

The next day we went on a guided walk in the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary.  We knew the chances of seeing any elephants or tigers was chancy.  However, fellow guests at the homestay had seen elephants on their tour.  And we do love a good walk.

morning mist at Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, India
Morning Mist

The morning mist was lifting when we arrived, disembarking from a mini bus with most folks heading for the short boat tour of the lake.  We were a small group, accompanied by two guides and a protector-against-wild-beasts who toted a large gun.

walking in the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, India
On the Trail

We saw elephant sign…

elephant dung, Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, India
Kinda Fresh Dung

and tiger sign…

tiger claw marks on tree in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary
Kinda Old Claw Marks

But no elephants or tigers in the flesh.  We did see gaur (aka Indian bison), wild boar, mongoose and a variety of birds. The walk and the bamboo raft paddling were good fun and exercise (we all napped after lunch).  Low hills, the lake and retreating mist sprawled out around us.  The lack of motor noise and the abundance of animal sounds provided a relaxing antidote to the high energy of populated India.

paddling a bamboo raft in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary
Serenity on the Water

Moving as silently as possible through the forest with our guide, going from spot to spot checking on elephant sign and spooking the occasional gaur, I felt the presence of the elephants.  We saw dust and mud bowls where they’d rolled and huge footprints in the soft earth near waterholes and the lakeshore.  However, as former kayak guides, Sue and I know the chances of seeing wildlife on a tour can be spotty.

The closest we got to wildlife were some Langur monkeys, at the park centre.

Langur Monkey Catching Morning Sun at Perrier Wildlife Sanctuary
Watching the Tourists

Back in Kumily I went on a spice buying spree.  I’d sat in on dinner prep and instructions given by our hostess to a fellow guest, a Dutch chef.  When he left I continued attending dinner prep and took notes, including lists of spices.  I was also becoming addicted to masala chai and its many flavours.  Binu put together a list of spices for me and off we went to Lords Spice Super Market.  Binu helped choose the quality and quantities, chatting with the staff who rounded up samples and then packaged all my purchases.  I now had enough spices to fill one of our backpacks.

food preparation at Green Periyar Homestay, Kumily, India
helpful staff at Farmers Spice Market, Kumily, India
Lords Spice Market Staff

We were only stayed in Kumily four nights but the experience lingers,  especially when I use those spices.  Although the beaches of South India are very appealing it’s the hills and thoughts of long walks in the (slightly*) cooler green world that call out to us for a return visit. (*we did suffer a bit of heat exhaustion after the trek, even though we wore hats, drank water, etc.)

A huge part of our happy experience in Kumily was our stay at Periyar Green Homestay.  Binu and his family provided not only a beautiful place but a wealth of information and a warm welcome.

hosts at Green Periyar Homestay
Binu and Family

When it came time to leave we decided to take a bus towards the Cardamon Hills, to see more of the highlands, before turning back down to the coast.  A narrow, twisting road took us through the mountains.

road between Kumily and Munnar, India
The Road

Along the way we saw evidence of the destruction from the 2018 monsoons and subsequent flooding.

Landslide in a Village on the highway from Kumily to Munnar, India
Landslide in a Village

Because of dangerous water levels in the huge reservoirs water was released causing more damage downstream.  Below is a photo, snapped from the bus, of the imposing Idukki Dam, one of the largest arch dams in Asia.  (The Idukki Dam did not release water but the two other dams on Idukki Reservoir did.  An excellent Reuters Graphic report describes and discusses the impact of record monsoon rains and the reservoir water releases.)

Idukki Dam seen from a bus
Idukki Dam
view of shopping centre near Ernakulam, India
Back to the City

We arrived back in Ernakulam in the late afternoon.  My thoughts turned to my missing sketchbook, which was hopefully waiting for me at the Ernakulam Station.