Monday, June 24, 2013

More about Munnar (and the goats!)

The following day, our first stop was Ernakulam national park, where we were on the lookout for the the endangered and semi-tame Nilgiri mountain goat. In the 19th century they had been hunted down to a herd of only 100, but they have sprung back thanks to intense conservation efforts. To my understanding (which is a bit of filling-in-the-blanks), these species of goats had not been hunted much before that time, thus, they had not developed a fear of humans necessary for their survival. We did discover they were definitely not very shy! Like most of the area, the park was situated in some very striking scenery, and mist swirled continuously around the nearby mountaintops. 

While seeing the goats was awesome, the experience at the park was not so great. We were pressured into purchasing a 5k trekking tour in addition to the 1k walk that was standard with entry. Obviously, this was at a much higher price, partly because they added 'service fees' that were, conveniently, not listed on the pricing sheet. The tour in the park was, frankly, quite bad. Our tour guide was only interested in shortcuts (maybe we walked 3k total at a push), and there was a definite language boundary. It seemed like the only information he could provide was the fact that the park is 94 square kilometers and there are 2000 wild goats. And he provided these facts over and over again. If you tried to ask other questions about the goats feeding habits, the other wild animals in the park, etc., the answer was always “94 square kilometers.” To be honest, it was a bit comical. (A quick look at wiki later on answered a bit of my questions and revealed these animals are genetically more similar to sheep than other wild goats.) However, the price of entry and the hassles of the 'tour' was well worth it, because we did get to spot many of the gentle beasts, an exciting moment to say the least. (As Jon said, this is probably the closest he will ever be to an endangered animal in the wild.) So, let's focus on the best bits now, the scenery and those cute little goat faces!!

The park is also home to the Nilgiri flowers, which bloom once every 12 years. We couldn't have been much farther from seeing the blossoms, as the next season is due in 2018. Interestingly, the indigenous people who lived in the area counted their age and other important life events according to the Nilgiri 'calendar.' The photos of the flowers covering the mountain do look really pretty, and I bet it would make a spectacular sight.

After making friends with the goats, we headed off to some waterfalls...joining about half of India there!  It was a bit of lively fun to watch the families splash about, while others seemed to use the time for a bit of introspection. 

We then spent some time soaking up a few more views until the clouds rolled in. Apparently, we had been really lucky, as it is often overcast at this time of year. So hooray for that! After a few hours of sight seeing, we lazily coasted back to the city centre...our driver always cut the engine on the downhill trips, which was good for gas prices, good for the environment and good for us because it led to a more relaxing pace and a quieter journey!

That evening, we partook of the mediation on offer at our hostel, which was quite nice and relaxing. The accompanying chanting took me aback somewhat, but I was able to suppress my giggles...for the most part. Our last day in Munnar was a bit lazy, which helped us recover from the stress of getting to Kerala (which wasn't entirely minor) and our early morning tours. After sleeping in, we planned our exit before heading off to a tea museum, where—much to our complete shock—Jon discovered he was, in fact, a fan of tea. Cardamon tea to be specific, which is pretty delicious. It was interesting to see how they make it, and we both have an appreciation for how labor intensive the tea making process is.
Tea break!

After we strolled back to our guesthouse, Jon stopped to get a shave and his first Indian head massage, which described as, “being slapped around the head by an is old man, but in a way that is much better than it sounds.” We then booked a room for Kochi and headed off to dinner at our favorite restaurant in town with Chris, an outgoing German guy who was staying in the room next to us. After a few drinks at a bar farther outside of town, we headed back home to pack our things for our departure the following day. As sad as we were to leave Munnar, I was somewhat relieved to leave our guesthouse. Unfortunately, there was a faulty pipe fitting in the shower that meant a steady (and super smelly) stream of air from the drain filled the bathroom. It was enough to give one Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. On that note, I should probably stop talking now.

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