Now that Zach has explained our actual work at Aravind, it’s time for me to continue talking about our traveling. Two weekends ago, Zach, Jane, and I took an extra day off to tour Kerala.
Our trip began on a Thursday night (6/13), taking a sleeper bus to Cochin, leaving Madurai at around 9 pm and reaching Cochin around 6 am. After checking into our home-stay, we proceeded to the outskirts of Allepey to go on a backwaters tour. We were in a small thatched-roof boat with two women from South Africa. The boat was pushed/steered by two men with long poles, one at the front of the boat, the other at the rear. It was fantastic going on the river, canals, and lake. Some of the scenery was breathtaking. Coming from Madurai, where it has really only rained once in the last 5 or 6 weeks, it was stunning to see a place so green. Sure enough, during our trip it started pouring at one point. Luckily we found some shelter and watched until the rain subsided. They fed us a home-cooked traditional Kerala lunch, which was delicious and so very different from the food in Madurai. We realized Kerala food uses much more coconut then Tamil Nadu food. After our relaxing backwaters journey, we returned to Cochin to spend the night there.
Our host family got us tickets to see Kathakali, a traditional performing art form of Kerala. It was really neat because because the actors don’t speak, and communicate using a variety of facial expressions and hand motions. Before the play started, one of the performers explained what many of the common expressions and gestures meant. Luckily, they had given us the play-script, so we could follow along (somewhat) during the play. In the evening we met up with the South Africans that we had met earlier on the backwaters, and went to a cafe called Oy’s to chat and watch the World Cup.
We met so many fantastic people that night. For all the sights you see when you travel, to me the greatest thing about traveling is the people you meet. For example, the Oy brothers: Binoy and Bejoy. They had the most remarkable stories. Both of them were from the area, and went to Melbourne to do their MBAs. With financial aid and working part-time as taxi drivers, they finished their studies. They even worked in banking for some years in Melbourne. After 10 years of Australia, they wanted to come back to their hometown. So they did. They used their savings to convert their house into a bed n’ breakfast and cafe, and built two other houses as bed n’ breakfasts. It amazed us how they could leave their comforts and jobs in Melbourne and come back. What if the bed n’ breakfast was unsuccessful? What if they lose all their money? Though their business of three years is going well, they remarked that worst case scenario, they just return to Australia (they were dual-citizens) and go back into banking. One of the brothers was engaged. He met his girlfriend, a film producer from New Zealand for National Geographic, in his own cafe. Now that’s fate. Just brilliant people and stories, and we’ve made an effort to stay in touch at least through Facebook.
The next morning we woke up early to go to Munnar. Along the way, we took a detour to see the Kodinad Elephant Training Center. Elephants! We even got to bathe them which was super awesome.
We took another detour to see some waterfalls, apparently a popular place for filmmakers. The falls were somewhat lean because it was the beginning of the monsoon season, but that also meant there were less tourists there.
We proceeded to Munnar, which was just jaw-dropping beautiful. Munnar is famous for its tea gardens, which cover the hills. We took a hike through the tea gardens, slowly taking in the nature around us.
We wanted to learn more about tea and the tea plantations in Munnar, so we went to the Tea Museum. There we saw a mini-movie explain how the British brought tea to Munnar and started the first plantations here. We also learned how over the years with technological advancements and infrastructure, the tea business became big in Munnar. Later a guide walked us through the medicinal properties of tea and how they process tea leaves for shipment. It was all very neat and gave a greater appreciation for tea.
To finish off our trip to Kerala we decided to go on an elephant ride, which was interesting to say the least. It was quite a bumpy ride, and the elephant was climbing an incline, so we are all holding on the harness to prevent ourselves from falling. But it was quite fun, and we even got to feed the elephant pineapples in the end!
As we waited to get on our bus back to Madurai, we thought that was the end of our fun. But then Zach and I realized there weren’t any seats available for us on the bus. So we came standing from Munnar to Theni, a 3 hour journey, with people huddled tightly around us. It doesn’t get any more Indian than that. We came back very tired, but it was an incredible trip. Now back to work as we plan our next adventure!