Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Thekkady: Bamboo rafting and an eight-hour trek
Going on a tiger hunt, I’m not scared...Got leeches by my side, guavas too...
The prospect of bamboo rafting and trekking through areas of Periyar sanctuary that are otherwise off-limits for everyone except forest rangers was a cheering thought. No loud, lecherous camera-toting locals or excitable squealing tourists – just us, a bunch of forest rangers, a rickety bamboo raft, and the great outdoors...
Whatever. Okay, so I thought I’d get lucky and see a tiger. Put it down to fanciful Piscean day-dreaming.
The efficient Mr Ravi introduced us to our guides – rangers from the Kerala Forest Services – and I was immediately mimicking their strong Malayalee accents in my head for future use against certain “fake” Mallu friends of mine.
As it turned out, our trekking group was just the two of us with a young German couple. Ravi told us to don their improvised “leech guards” – khaki stockings that end just around the knee. The prospect of the little bloodsuckers around didn’t daunt me – I’m quite used to extricating them from self and dogs with a squeeze of lime or a pinch of salt (and tequila?) – which is more than I can say for the terrified German couple who thought the things got under a person’s skin like Guinea worms. Tsk.
We set off, traversing the first part of the river on a rickety bamboo raft that looked nothing like the one in the brochures. Our guide excitedly pointed out Touch-Me-Nots. “Oh, whee!” I thought, “this is going to be a whole lot of fun! Touch-Me-Nots?!!” I steeled myself for another “100% natural jungle” type rip-off.
Fortunately, the trek got more interesting as our guide was full of trivia about other flora and fauna as well. The only fact that he erred about was attributing the zoological name of a frog “Rana something-or-the-other” to Rana Pratap Singh, the Maharaja of Mewar (the "Frog Prince" of Mewar?).
My hopes of seeing any wildlife shrivelled as quickly as the Touch-Me-Nots. I had to content myself with heaps of elephant dung in various stages of freshness, an elephant skeleton, a tiger pugmark, a couple of noisy Drongos, a red dragon fly, some tadpoles and fish, a herd of bison (that Ducky quickly shooed away with a well-timed cough), and a fleeting glimpse of an elusive Malabar squirrel.
The Germans, who weren’t very fluent in English, didn’t know what a squirrel was. Pity for them, they will never know – although equally ‘well-informed’ Ducky helpfully told them it belonged to the pig family! (*Snort*)
The German girl looked increasingly flustered, most so when she asked to use the restroom during our stop for a tasteless lunch. The guide very politely pointed her in the direction of some thick trees and bushes.
Although I claim excellent bladder control most times, my luck ran out that day and I sheepishly waddled behind a bunch of bushes myself, keeping my fingers crossed that none of the greedy leeches who came dashing toward me became ‘bottom feeders’.
Towards the last leg of our trek, we trudged back in the hot sun, as one ranger enthusiastically plied us with all the wild guavas we could eat. We reached the last bamboo raft waiting to take us back to our starting point and I cautiously stepped onto it first.
As my rotten luck would have it, a bamboo log gave way and I sank knee-deep into the dark 120-foot deep water. Pure reflexes and an irrational fear of water made me leap to safety in a fraction of a second. If you thought the boats in Thekkady have no safety equipment, try the bamboo rafts!
I was more than grateful to limp back to my room and soak in the tub, gingerly nursing the awful blister on my foot that the ‘leech guard’ had created.