Monday, October 26, 2009

Thekkady: Jumbo safari = 100% natural rip-off

The elephant safari promised a ride on elephant back “through 100% natural forest”. What we got was a ride on an elephant through a 100% cultivated cardamom plantation. For someone who has been reared in 100% plantations all her life, I was 100% super let down. So much for my envisioning us chancing upon an angry tiger who’d then send the elephant scurrying in terror with little old me clinging to its big ears for dear life.

All I did was cling on for dear life. I found myself seated right atop the elephant’s shoulders which wasn’t comfortable at all, especially when “Rooba” ambled down slopes. All I could do was pray that Ducky would grab my jeans if I fell down headfirst. 100% wishful thinking. He’d probably grab the camera first to capture the moment before hooting with laughter.

Nonetheless, despite the disappointing environment, I was cheered up by the prospect of being able to interact with the gentle four-legged giants. We fed them and patted them, amused with their names: Rooba, Shankaran Kutty the tusker and the little rascal whose name I have now forgotten. Someone doesn’t have an elephant’s memory, that is for sure.

The highlight of the trip was when Shankaran Kutty showered a squealing foreigner who’d opted to bathe him with water, twice. 100% natural shower. At least somebody got their money’s worth.

Thekkady: Acco, food and service

Aranya Nivas is one of the Kerala tourism (KTDC) resorts located within Periyar Wildlife sanctuary. The others are the frightfully expensive Lake Palace, located bang squat in the middle of the Periyar lake, and the budget resort Periyar House. Would I recommend Aranya Nivas? Absolutely. No second thoughts about it, although it can do your wallet some damage. But then, with tourism being its mainstay, Kerala is bound to be expensive.

The staff is amazingly polite, helpful and very pleasant – everyone from the restaurant staff to the reception staff ooze congeniality. We were greeted at the desk with a free room upgrade to a premium suite, which meant total privacy, wooden decor, muted lighting, large bay windows, plush comfy bed and sofas (not to mention a “love seat”), large bath tub and shower, complimentary bath accessories including bubble bath – yes, I was a happy, contented woman.

There’s a clean swimming pool for use by guests only. In case you’re wondering, it offers you total privacy from the lecherous eyes of the local men folk who frequent the reserve purely to gawk at women, although it is in full view of some of the guest rooms and the dining room.

Now the more important aspect: food. Breakfast and dinner (usually buffet) are included in the room tariff. Breakfasts included a large spread of western-style eggs and toast with watermelon or pineapple juice as well as more Indian fare like pooris, Kerala-style puttu, dosas and more. Dinners offered good non-veg Kerala-style food as well as suspicious-looking Indo-Chinese fare. Note: No booze apart from beer is served here so it’s best you carry your own if you can’t do without. Even the beer is available only in a slightly dingy-looking room (“beer parlour”) with a barman and morose fish in an aquarium for company.

Ravi (pronounced more traditionally as “Ray-vee”), the KTDC guest relations officer, was efficiency personified. As soon as we arrived, he took out one of his many brochures, informing us about the various adventure activities and sight-seeing possibilities in the area. This was not going to be a lazy holiday I soon realized as we enthusiastically signed up for the bamboo rafting and eight-hour jungle trek, elephant safari and the more mundane boat ride on the river. Ravi took care of everything – all we had to do was show up at the appointed hour and he’d have the tickets, guides and everything ready. He was also a big help getting our daily passes (mandatory for anyone visiting/staying in the reserve) updated.

The reserve is closed at 6pm, so the area is absolutely quiet and peaceful after the crazy crowds have finished with their boat rides and left for the day. Aranya Nivas is a stone’s throw away from the edge of the lake, but the compound is locked up once darkness falls – whether to keep the elephants out or troublesome humans in is anybody’s guess – so there’s not much chance of a midnight walk around the area.

Aranya Nivas contact details:
For reservations (advance booking is a must): 04869 321930 (Thomas)
Address: Periyar Wild Life Sanctuary, Thekkady, Kerala - 685 536