Eight hours on an overnight government bus is about as much fun as being repeatedly kicked in the arse by an angry donkey wearing cramp-ons and causes a similar amount of buttock pain. It wouldn’t be so bad but I’d clearly decided to get to Kumily the difficult way, the sane way being to catch a train from Varkala to Kottayam then a bus from there to Kumily. But nope, fucktard here wanted to catch the 20:15 bus from Trivandrum which is about as logical as trying to get from A to D via S. Buuut it’s done now. I stumbled off the bus at 3.30 on Saturday morning, hoped to whatever deity was awake at that hour that Google Maps hadn’t lied to me about the location of Vedanta Wake Up! and shuffled off to collapse into some manner of bed. Here’s the first thing you notice about Kumily though, it smells fucking amazing! Most of the shops are spice shops and the smells coming out of them are enough to make you want to go and burying your face in the sacks of whatever they had on display. I’d have slept in them given half a chance. They were even open at that hour which made getting from the bus station to the hostel in a strange, new town way less scary than it would have been should the streets have been deserted and spooky and full of packs of dogs eyeing up the stranger and licking their chops.
I located my hotel easily enough, was shown to the dorm room by a bloke who actually seemed to enjoy working night shifts where I promptly passed out. So when I finally woke up I met my room mate, Théo, and we went for a wander towards the Periyar Tiger Reserve which is actually walking distance from the town centre and not a massive jeep ride which is what I was expecting. We were looking for the office where we could ask about treks and all that good stuff that I think are a good idea at the time until I’m up to my knees in mud or am required to walk down a steepish hill without the aid of a stick. Or a zip line. Or a rickshaw. Or anything else that would enable me to avoid having to admit that I can’t walk down steep hills.
Ok, so, fun fact, the office isn’t actually inside the park. It’s a way back from the park entrance in a building that I’d like to think is easily missed if you don’t know what you’re looking for. They need some fucking neon signs outside or something. Buuuut by the time we found this out we’d already splashed out ₹450 each for foreigner’s park entry so we carried on towards the end of the road, dutifully photographing monkeys along the way. We found out from a bloke who lived in the park because his dad drives a boat on Periyar Lake that the black monkeys are called Nilgiri Langurs, and the white monkeys with the red faces are macaques.
We found out all on our own that the macaques like to steal things from humans and stuff the things they steal into their faceholes. Not the hard way, I know better than to try and own anything edible when in striking distance of a macaque. We watched a one armed macaque nick off with someone’s bottle of 7-Up, unscrew the top and proceed to use its one good arm and a foot to drink it. Another of the little buggers tried to steal a 2 litre bottle of something bright orange from an Indian family and when they wouldn’t let it, it bared its teeth and got all agro. Seriously, they love the sugar. It’s like monkey crack. The bins have to be covered with cages but if someone fails to close it properly they raid the rubbish and you’ll get a lovely photo of a monkey, chilling on top of a bin, nonchalantly eating a sandwich.
Basically, this part of the park exists so you can stand in a queue for an hour to buy a ticket for a boat ride on Periyar Lake. It’s bloody Saturday init. You completely lose track of days on the road, every day is a Saturday when you’re travelling, except today was an actual Saturday which meant the park was saturated with tourists which meant if we did want to take the boat ride we’d have to queue forever. To be fair though, we’d already decided we fancied a spot of bamboo rafting and all I really wanted to look at were the lake twigs, the remains of trees that were in the way when the river was dammed and the area flooded to become the lake. We didn’t need to do both.
This area is also home to one of the most terrifying buildings I’ve ever seen; a snack/souvenir shop in the shape of an angry tortoise. I’m not knocking their choice of animal, I’m sure it’s a fine and relevant choice of species, but did they have to make it look like it wanted to eat my face? There are hotels here too and quite nice ones at that, and nice hotels mean a legal way to purchase alcohol, albeit at inflated prices because when Kerala got all kick-arse on liquor licensing and closed most of the bars and liquor stores, they didn’t have the heart to deprive the slightly rich of their ability to get pissed up, and hotel restaurants and bars are generally open to the public. We fucked off the idea of the boat ride and went and got ourselves a Kingfisher instead. A much better use of our rupees, one feels.
Anyway, we left the park and found an office inhabited by a very friendly tuk tuk driver called Satheeth who gave us the prices of the activities we wanted to do, explained a bit about them then drove us up to head office to see if we could get booked in. We fancied some border hiking which is basically a massive walk through the park for the day, and a full day bamboo rafting excursion. The former we could do tomorrow, the latter on Monday. Here, Kumily, just have all of my money! The lady in the office explained where we needed to be at 8am both mornings and I stared at her blankly as my appalling sense of direction took her perfectly good English words and turned them into some manner of garbled nonsense. Thank fuck for Satheeth! He took us to the starting point for the border hiking tomorrow, showed us where we needed to be and explained that the bamboo rafting was basically a straight line from the park entrance. Oh, and none of the activity fees include the park entrance either, you have to buy that separately, both days, for the foreigner charge of ₹450. Yes yes, I know my bank account isn’t going to have a breakdown, but seriously, you try being in India for three months then parting with anything over ₹300 without wincing.
Théo had his little heart set on watching some Kalarippayat, the Keralan martial art, and clearly Satheeth knew just the place. Seriously, if you need any help whilst in Kumily maybe just call him on +919961970845. If you want a massage, he can recommend a place. Want to do one of the government run activities in the park? He’ll take you to the office or make the enquiries for you. The man is a legend. But anyway, this martial art. The place he took us to charged ₹200 a head so we booked in and headed down in the evening to put some fighting into our eyeholes. It began pretty well. They started by doing a “worship the master” routine which involved lots of moves that I reckon I could do after a few beers, then they had some fights, pitting men with different weapons against each other. They showed how a bloke with a piece of cloth could beat a man with a dagger. Then how a bloke with a big stick could also beat a man with a dagger. So maybe stop choosing the dagger, hey guys? You suck with it. The fights were clearly choreographed, but quite well for the most part though some of the endings were blatantly staged. The first defeated dagger man lay patiently on his front as the victor tied his arms behind his back. The second offered up his leg so the man with the stick could essentially tie the poor fucker in knots. After a few fun to watch battles, the performance descended into circus. Yeah, it was cool, but I think both of us wanted to see more fighting.
Blokes did some back flips from the side of the arena as the compère told us it was “death defying, hair raising, incredible” in the kind of bored monotone which said he did this every fucking night and was utterly over it. There was some fire spinning, a fella jumped through a couple of burning hoops, someone showed off their skills with a sword and then a staff, then two staffs, then there was a lot of waving around of a horrific looking weapon that consisted of three long strips of flexible metal attached to a handle. Yeah nah, I would not want to wander into the living room with a cup of tea whilst my flatmate was practicing that move. The lights seemed to flicker a bit too whilst they were waving them around at high speed. Orrrr that could have just been the Indian electricity board. Who knows?
I’m not gonna lie, both me and Théo were in bed proper early that night. I muttered some excuse about not getting good sleep the previous night and he agreed to the same excuse as we flicked the light off before 10pm and crashed out in our respective bunks.
Kumily, Kerala, India
Stayed at: Vedanta Wake Up! Kumily Town Center