TREKKING THROUGH BENEVOLENT MOUNTAINS
When the mythology of Northern India’s sensorial overload becomes reality, head for the southwestern hills of the Western Ghats. Hiking this extraordinary mountain range, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, reveals a very different India -- one where there’s time to absorb a gentler authenticity and a rural hospitality.
As one of the world’s “hottest hot spots” for biodiversity, The Ghats is home to more than 7,000 species of flowering plants, as well as hundreds of different birds, mammals and amphibians. Perhaps this is why the Ghats are also known as Sahyadri, Benevolent Mountains.
A highlight of any visit to Kochi must be a Kathakali performance, an OTT stylized musical of sorts (percussion only) where actors express emotions through extraordinary facial expressions and equally expressive make up and costumes.
Onward and Upward
There were ‘the Technos’, a couple decked out with wearable wizardry to measure altitude, steps, miles, kilometres, heart rate, sugar levels and blood pressure – all important considerations considering our age-group. The grey-haired half-marathoners were built like graceful whippets and climbed the ever-ascending trails with enviable ease. The New Zealand retirees were hiking their way around the world and after 40 years as an Emergency room nurse, her relentless stride was long and purposeful. Mr. Yorkshire was raised in the Swales and Dales, and the Alps had obviously shaped the calf muscles of the Swiss participants. I was a shadow of their vitality.
Such are India’s incongruities. In Yellapetty, a blue-painted, Christian church blasts out pre-recorded messages of faith on every hour from 5 am to 9 pm. 4-year-olds sing “Alabama with a Banjo on my Knee” in perfect English. Cornflakes are served with warm milk. White bread is baked with too much sugar, and bedside switches often turn on hot water in the bathroom and invariably, nothing at all.
If time permits, make your way to Thekkady. Besides rising at dawn to scout for dholes (wild dogs), gaur – the world’s largest bovine (the huge black males push 2m tall), and giant squirrels at Periyar National Park, Thekkady is the only venue to see a Kalaripayattu demonstration. Regarded as the oldest and most scientific of all martial arts in the world, the masters and students perform in a sunken pit and, armed and dangerous, they virtually fly through the air as if in scenes from the film: Crouching Tigers, Hidden Dragons. Only these antic don’t involve any special effects.
But isn’t that India? The illusion of special effects earthed in the reality of spectacular color, tradition, flavors and hospitality? Only in Southern India, they’re packaged within some very benevolent mountains.
PHOTOS by Chris McBeath:
1.Chinese Fishing Nets, Cochin
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