‘Youth is so wasted on the young’. I cannot agree more with the truth in this statement. Whereas years ago, twinsets and pearls dignified our graceful mothers and funereal black adorned our sweet smiling grannies, we are no longer burdened or held back by the boundaries of numbers. And Facebook is awash with quirky quips about people defying social expectations to live life to the full, and with not a thought wasted on what others will think… And this was the spirit Dr. Anne and I took with us on our last trip together, visiting Thenmala near the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border.
A last minute meeting Dr. Anne was unable to escape meant we did not leave Trivandrum until well after lunch and arrived at our destination early evening, which left us only Sunday to explore the area. We managed to organise our taxi for the next day – buses would probably take too long – and found a cheap and cheerful place for the night to recharge our batteries for the adventures lying in wait.
Things did not get off to a good start as our pre-arranged auto rickshaw lacked punctuality. As we had no time to lose, Dr. Anne -clearly of the same stock as me and rather short on patience- immediately set upon organising alternative transport. But by the time our replacement car arrived, our first driver turned up as well having found a car, rather than using his auto rickshaw… It was a sensible move, but, as Dr. Anne argued, he had not answered his phone to let us know what he was up to, so he was given short shrift and left standing by the roadside… We did feel bad though, because his explanation that he had had no mobile reception was a very plausible one.
Our first port of call was the Urukunnu Pandavanpara Sree Shivaparvathy Temple, an ancient Hindu temple perched on a huge rock overlooking the neighbouring mountains and river. Luckily the trek up the ‘hill’ did not start from the bottom; our chauffeur took us about half way and then accompanied us to the hill top. With lots of huffing and puffing and being grateful we were attempting this at the crack of dawn whilst it was still cool, we hoisted ourselves up the roughly hewn steps, rocks and boulders to reach the naked crest. And as this was a temple after all, we had to leave our footwear at a reasonable distance from the building and brave the gravelled surface barefoot. Although the ‘temple’ itself was rather underwhelming, the views of the surrounding hills were amazing and certainly worth the effort to get to the top.
Next on the list was a visit to the Palaruvi Waterfalls. We had already seen a fair few waterfalls on our previous trips, so what was one more added to this? On our way, we passed the famous Thenmala dam where the resident troupe of monkeys added interest and entertainment to stunning backdrop views.
The Palaruvi, literally meaning stream of milk, is one of the most picturesque waterfalls in Kerala, and it did impress when we finally got to it after walking through some dense jungle paths. Surely, my favourite part of the waterfall was the bathing place, a secluded area where a narrow cascade of tumbling fresh water offered the opportunity for a shower ‘au naturel’. Of course, Dr. Anne and I were ready to take advantage and had no qualms about joining the men and boys who were swimming, splashing, photographing groups under the water deluge, some more dressed than others.. However, Indian modesty nipped our ambition in the bud. We were indeed allowed to have our own shower, but not until all the men had been removed and chaperoned to a more private area.. ‘Why?’ we wondered as neither of us had any intention of baring it all. We had not brought our swimming costumes, and somehow did not feel like going down into our undies under the watchful gaze of the security personnel who ensured no illicit photography was taking place… So, fully dressed we waded across the water and balanced on the rock to get drenched under the waterfall – but no pictures allowed. Dripping wet, but with big smiles on our faces, we found the changing rooms and put on yesterday’s clothes and moved on to the next attraction.
Thenmala has recently been developed to become an ecotourism destination in India, promoting wildlife and nature treks, hikes, night camping and an adventure park amongst its advertised attractions. It was a pity we only found out when we arrived in Thenmala, because both Dr. Anne and I would quite happily have joined a group of hikers to traverse through the jungle. In the event, we only had time to check out the adventure park. With just about two more hours to fill, we directed our driver to the park and joined the twenty-something Indian youngsters in search of some thrill. We scaled the heights of the Comando Net and crossed the pond by Flying Fox – not too sure about the safety of the safety buckles but I thought that the water would break my fall in the event of a mishap. Our boat ride was hijacked by the park attendants who needed to disentangle the operating ropes of the Flying Fox (thank goodness, this was AFTER we had had our go). We left the mountain biking and rock climbing to the younger generation and took to the elevated walkway.. as by then we were running out of time and still had to get back to Trivandrum and beyond.
And in the true tradition of all my travels with Dr. Anne, after a smooth journey to our destination, the homeward leg dragged on and on involving several bus changes and waiting, and waiting for the next bus to turn up. But on the upside, I had by then not yet experienced the pleasure of being with 15 travellers in the back of a jeep intended for 6 people at the most… Five men squeezed in the front of the jeep, six people crushed on each of the benches inside, infants squashed on mothers’ laps and the rest… Others perched their bottoms on the back flap, or stood on the back bumper and hung on for dear life whilst the driver was clearly in a race to his journey’s end. I was glad to have found a seat inside…