Thursday, December 1, 2011

Trekking with leeches

Leaving Fort Kochi we headed to Periyar Tiger Reserve hoping to see wild life. Our trek started at 08am with the giving out of anti-leech socks by the guides. These lovely socks were made of thick cotton and pulled on over our socks prior to putting on our shoes. They then covered the total lower leg up to your knee where they were securely tied to prevent the little beasts from crawling into your pants! The guides also powdered our shoes and pants with tobacco to discourage the leeches. When there is rain in India there are thousands of these leeches in the wooded areas, seeming to fall out of the trees. We all had them on our clothes and had to keep doing leech checks throughout the day. And even then, when we took off the magic socks , there were lots of little leeches  waiting on the tops of our shoes, trying to sneak in.
                                                 Anti-leech socks, a new fashion statement

Part of or trip was by bamboo raft, where you sit on long bamboo branches that are tied together. Two men paddle at the back.. The passengers sit with their legs in a small amount of water as the middle of the raft is under water. Given that it rained for the entire eight hours we were out, we were all soaked, and of course the animals we hoped to see were all seeking shelter from the rain. So apart from lots of leeches and a huge scorpion that Pierre almost stepped on, we did not see any tigers or elephants. But we did see lots of elephant poo which is hard to miss!

                                         Bamboo rafting in Periyar Tiger Reserve

Periyar Tiger reserve has about 40-50 tigers living there. They have started to increase in number since a ban was placed on hunting them in 1971. However there is still poaching, as tiger parts are apparently of great value to some Asian peoples and fetch high amounts of money. Periyar Lake where we walked is a man-made lake, a result of the British flooding the land over 150 years ago. One of the hotels in the reserve was a former hunting lodge. One can only assume that hunting was good in this area that  abounds with wildlife. We saw huge deer with antlers, called Sambor, very similar to the Canadian moose. In fact. if it were not for the elephant  droppings, barking deer and the occasional wild pig or monkey, one would think we were canoeing in Parc du Mont Tremblant.
                                          Blue scorpion in attack mode with tail up
The area around there is rich in spice, rubber and tea plantations. Driving back to the coast we passed huge plantation estates with large homes, very different from other areas of this country. the price of commodities has increased drastically and these landowners are raking in the profits.

Our last few days have been spent in Varkala, a wonderful beach town that is still trying hard to resist the tourism boom that has hit India, although hotels are going up in most places. It was wonderful to swim in the Arabian Sea and to soak up some sunshine. The ocean on this coast is treacherous with wicked undercurrents, so swimming is done with caution. The beaches here are segregated, lifeguards preventing any male locals from coming to ogle the sight of white bathers in skimpy suits. Given that at local beaches, only men swim and in their clothing at that, this precaution is understandable.

                                         The Beach at Varkala, Kerala
We end out trip in Pondichery, and as a token to this former French protectorate and my French readers: je vais ecrire ces derniers mots dans la langue de Moliere. Il s'agit d'une ancienne colonie francaise qui a conserve son alllure distincte. On se croirait sur la Mediteranee. Croissant et cafe au dejeuner, gendarmes portant le kepi des legions etrangeres, architecture Francaise etc. Il y a meme des Indiens qui jouent a la petanque!
Adios, le voyage ce termine.
                                    Varkala sunset/  coucher de soleil sur la mer d'Arabie

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