As, is generally the case, guidebooks tell you what others like to see. But, if you’re looking to see things slightly off the beaten path, you need enough time to explore, or a contact on the ground to make recommendations and to help prioritize possible activities.For our travels about Kerala, Jenny provided that on-the ground, local perspective. And without her help, Athripally would never have made our list. Not listed in either of our guidebooks or online, Athripally forms the gateway to a popular Keralan national park where elephants and tribal people roam free. Our favorite resort of the trip, Rainforest, sits nestled amongst the trees overlooking a nearby waterfall just inside the park’s entrance .
Upon arrival, the staff greet you with fresh coconut juice and allow you to venture onto the grassy overlook with waterfall views in the distance. With check-in details settled, you then file to your well-designed room where all needs are tastefully met without being overdone.
With a couple hours to spare, we made our way to the infinity pool, overlooking the falls. We read our books poolside as we passed the time until our evening nature safari. Since the area is barely developed, there were plenty of birds chirping in the trees and a nice breeze whispering amongst the leaves. Welcome to Athripally–our most relaxing stop in Kerala.
After a couple hours of reading and relaxing by the pool, we were met by our afternoon safari guide. We (he, G & I) piled into the front seat of his jeep and were off. First, we made a rather strange stop at his family’s roadside convenience shop to say hello to his family. His dad graciously offered a popular fried snack and a cup of tea as his young bride made her way to extend her greetings. We’re still a bit baffled by that experience as it’s not an advertised activity on the safari, but after the tour we chalked it up to the proud novice guide wanting to offer an encounter with the locals. It was appreciated, nonetheless. And next, we ventured to see nearby cashew plantations, to touch “touch me nots”–timid plants that wilt immediately when touched only to spring back to life a moment later. And to see the area’s numerous falls up close. While the falls were calm during our visit, the fall monsoon swells the pace to near Niagara scale. As we romped about the rocks near the falls making our way ever closer for that perfect photo opportunity, we were thankful to be visiting during the safe, dry season
The guide stopped along the way to point out vegetation (the spices and such we’ve introduced in previous posts) and native wildlife. Amongst them, a black squirrel, samba deer, civit cat and an owl. Around dusk, we took the 4WD jeep to visit a local tribe. But, while these folks are advertised as “tribal”, we were surprised to see that they were western clothes, buy rice and other supplies in town, tool around the man-made lake in PVC and metal boats and attend school with the local townspeople. The only thing that makes them different, in our eyes, is their choice to live without electricity and running water. But, this doesn’t seem to impressive as many folks in Mumbai seem to be living the same way by necessity without being designated “tribal”.
Regardless, as we visited the tribe a elephant’s nearby trumpet sent us on a boat ride around the like with our guide and the young tribesmen. Our nervous guide kept a lookout for elephant trunks signaling an elephant in the water below. But, to no avail. Though, we did see Samba deer and Bison in the distance. Apparently, the young tribesmen that paddled us about will be matched up to females from one of the other 17 Keralan tribes at age 18. Their brides will be chosen largely due to their age and gene pool at age 15. The match is made remotely without their meeting. The bride and groom meet each other for the first time on their wedding day when a ritual is performed and the bride leaves her family to join her husband’s tribe.
After interacting with the tribespeople, we were back on the hunt for elephants and another passing jeep put us hot on their trail. A family of 10 elephants with 2 babies was 10 minutes’ drive ahead. But, unfortunately, dusk was upon us. By the time we made it to the elephants, the sun had receded and we could merely see the reflection of their single eye with our spot light(you can’t see more than one eye at once), torn bamboo and other vegetation giving signaling their recent ravaging, and hear their nearby tromping and chomping as they ate their weight in bamboo. So close!
Our disappointed guide was reluctant to give up on the hunt. Insisting that we continue. Only after multiple requests from G&I that we begin to make our way back in the pitch black night. We finally arrived at the resort 1.5 hours after the intended return time. Afraid we had missed the gourmet dinner included in our stay, we were relieved to find that they had waited for us. With only 9 rooms on the premises, one missing safari-goer makes a bit difference. So, we had an incredible meal (one of the best on our trip) with the sounds of wildlife in the distance.We had an interesting conversation with one of the members of staff. Apparently, he’s about 22 and is in negotiations with the father of a potential bride. This gentleman was very refined, handsome, speaks perfect English and is quite sharp. We were surprised to hear that he was having some difficulty in negotiations because he works for a private company rather than the government. Through him, we learned that Indians see government jobs as the most lucrative and secure. Very telling for their culture, I think.
Regardless, we were then off for our slumber. The next morning, we woke early in order to fit in another AMAZING meal at the resort before heading off on a hike to the waterfall below. Along the way, I broke my favorite travel sandals (bringing us to a total of 3 clothing casualties for the trip), but a short 15 minute hike brought us to the falls. I abandoned by broken shoes on the bank before we hopped about on the large stones to make our way to the perfect photo opp (despite my lack of make-up). After a few moments, a large group of Indian men with a single little girl in tow made their way to the falls and decided they wanted to be in the photo, as well.After our hike to the falls, we were on our way back to Cochin where we would catch our flight back to London.