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Published: August 10th 2017
After a very early breakfast of croissants and omelettes, we set off for a forest hike in the Periyar wildlife park, one of the largest national parks in India. It is set high in the cardamom hills and is home to many species of animals and birds including sloth, tigers and elephants. As we were visiting in the monsoon season, we knew that our chances of spotting wild life were limited, but we set off feeling optimistic.
We were kitted out with leech socks to protect us from the leeches that are particularly prevalent in monsoon season. The five of us headed off into the forest led by a park ranger as a guide. Unfortunately, he wasn’t very talkative or proactive and it was more a case of us stopping him to ask him to name the birds we could hear and the pretty flowers we spotted. The day was very wet and humid, and the path was hilly. We spotted some deer but apart from that, they only other animals we found were leeches, and there were plenty of them!
We did see some tribal people out to gather honey from enormous honey combs,
but overall the trek had been a bit of a damp squib, particularly after our visit to Bharatpur bird sanctuary, which had been teeming with wildlife.
Our driver was very keen to take us off on an elephant safari where you can ride elephants and watch them shower, but we did not share his enthusiasm. We had all had an elephant ride in Sri Lanka some years before, and since then seen footage warning tourists of animal cruelty. Our driver told us that things were completely different in South India and the animals were well cared for. On this basis, we agreed to visit them but not to have a ride.
I really wish we hadn’t done this, because we soon realised our fear was well grounded. We were encouraged to stroke the elephants and take photographs but all the elephants were in chains and one was swaying in distress. We left as soon as we could and deleted all the photographs. It left us feeling low.
We were then taken for a tour of a spice plantation, which was a welcome distraction from unsuccessful morning. The five of us were
shown around a very organic spice garden and shown how the spices are grown. The beautiful flowers that are grown in the garden are integral to spice production, as they encourage pollination. We saw hibiscus, candle flowers and tiny ornamental pineapples, which were sweet. Our guide picked us fresh guava from the gardens to eat which I haven’t had before. We bought some spices and home chocolate in the shop and I am looking forward to cooking with them.
We enjoyed some much needed down-time after a vegetarian curry and lassi for lunch. It was good to have a couple of hours of for reading and catching up with the blog. At six-ish, we set off for a cookery demonstration at Sherill’s family barbecue and unexpectedly, this turned to be the highlight of our visit to Periyar.
Sherill, his wife and mama pride themselves of welcoming guests into their home and recruiting them to cook the evening meal, imparting the south Indian cookery skills. We were immediately ushered into an outside kitchen, dominated by an enormous open fire barbeque.
We were seated around a table and given okra, beans, pineapple and
onion to chop. It felt like a very communal activity. The last time we had all sat down cooking together was Christmas- and it made me think that I must create more opportunities for us to cook together. We were then taken inside to the family kitchen, where we were all involved with the preparation of many different dishes and bread. Sherill is a natural showman and the cooking was carried out with great pzazz.
We were encouraged in our tasks with his catch phrase ‘mixing, mixing, mixing’ which he yelled in a sing-song voice. Every so often we were invited to taste our handiwork with his chorus of ‘tasting, tasting, tasting!’ The evening culminated with a family meal, where we sat down and shared some of the finest food I have had in India: our sweet and fluffy homemade paratha bread, deliciously rich egg marsala, spicy okra, pungent beans and onion, and barbeque chicken that had been marinated for seven hours. The star of the show was a spicy coconut pineapple curry. It was a colourful and tasty end to an evening of laughter and I would really recommend it to everyone
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