By Naren Pradhan
I was so excited when the train started to come to a halt. I looked out the window, and what I saw was a vast wonderland thick with trees, bushes, and other greenery. When I caught a glimpse of the land, I immediately knew that I was going to love my 3-day stay in Thekkady, Kerala.
I was on a holiday in India with my grandparents for my summer vacation, and on August 13, we took a train to Kottayam in the district of Thekkady, arriving the next day. My grandparents told me to expect a beautiful mountainous region in the clouds up in the Western Ghats range, a land full of sparkling turquoise waters, gigantic tropical trees, and plants bearing all sorts of spices, medicines, and fruits. And when I got there, I was surprised to see how right they were.
After our train arrived, we took a long (114 kms) car ride through the hills. It was a majestic sight, trees and greenery blanketing the hills with snow-white waterfalls streaming out like precious liquid pouring out of a mystical fountain of nature. A few times, we got out of the car to see some of the sights up close. Once we came to a small rubber plantation, where we saw the sap of the rubber tree slowly pouring out of long cuts into coconut containers, which would later be taken to a factory, where it would be refined. I even got to pull out some of the hardened rubber and stretch it in my hands!
After that, we stopped at one of the many waterfalls of the range. Around here, waterfalls come in all shapes and sizes, from small streams flowing down a smooth stone wall to raging rivers tumbling down a carefully but naturally carved hillside. This one was one of the latter. It was a wonderful pathway of sparkling white water flowing out of the forest above into a serene pool, looking as if god himself had taken time to clear a path for these falls. This car trip took four whole hours, but it was definitely worth it.
Finally, we made it to our destination, the Aranya Nivas, a small but luxurious forest hotel. The special thing about this particular hotel is that Jawaharlal Nehru himself stayed here, so we were eager to come here. After we settled in our room we went downstairs and had a meal fit for a king. We were ready to go to our first activity.
My grandparents and I took a short car trip to the Elephant Junction, a farm and nature preserve containing lots of trees, spices, and over a score of elephants. The great thing about this particular trip is that we got to see all of it from the back of a massive elephant! After we mounted the magnificent grey beast, a man on the ground started to lead the elephant, and the ride began. It was a bumpy ride, but we got to see the forest from a high point while the elephant walked. I loved it of course, but I don’t think my grandparents will ever want to repeat the experience! After that, we got to feed the elephant and watch as it crunched up a small pumpkin and a whole cucumber.
The next day, after a hearty breakfast, we got into the car again. This time we were going on a tour of the farmland in the hills. As we drove, I noticed the many bushes covering the hills we passed. It turns out those bushes contained tea leaves, one of the most valuable plants in the world. And that was just the beginning. Soon, the three of us came to a spice garden, where we got a complete tour of spice, medicine, and fruit-bearing plants. There was tea, pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, coffee, cacao, jackfruits, bananas, papayas and much more. There was even a plant that is made into a medicine that can improve memory. I bought that of course! The land is full of riches in the form of plants, and if it were up to me, I would call this range the Rupaiya (Money) Mountains.
That wasn’t the end of our tour. We headed over to a forest museum. There, we saw the preserved remains of all sorts of animals, including snakes, rats, flying squirrels, and deer, even an elephant! But perhaps the best part of all was when we came to the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The border was a small unpaved path on a cliff bordering the Tamil Nadu Valley. There, the three of us climbed a tall watchtower, where we could see the entire valley while feeling the wind in our hair. It was a magical experience, one that I will treasure for a long time.
We were to leave in the evening the next day, so all of us had to savor our last excursion the most. This time, we were going on a boat ride from our hotel through the Periyar River to the Lake Palace Hotel. We boarded our boat in the early morning before we could have any breakfast, but it was worth it. As we drifted along the river, we saw that it wasn’t just a body of water, but a submerged forest, with the tops of gigantic dead trees poking out. Who knows what was below those turquoise waters! Throughout the trip, we saw several jungle animals, including turtles, cormorants, bison, and more elephants.
Finally, we came to the Lake Palace Hotel. This was a fitting name, for this hotel was once a forest palace of an Indian king who used to keep an eye on the forest and prevent over-hunting. And what a palace it was! There were high ceilings, expertly painted walls, ivory ornaments, and a balcony from which you can see a large part of the lake surrounding the island, and the forest beyond. I actually got to eat breakfast at the king’s table and sit on his bed! Some people were even staying here as guests. We didn’t, as there were only six rooms, and it was too far above our price range.
As we drifted back to our own hotel, I knew this would be the last part of our short vacation, so I savored every moment and took in all the beautiful landscape around me. When our boat got back, we ate a light lunch, packed up and said goodbye to our wonderful hotel and its marvelous employees. We got into our car, and as we drove along the hills once again, I took one last good look at those beautiful green hills. Finally, my grandparents and I boarded the train and headed back to their home in Chennai. We all were extremely sad to leave this undisturbed paradise. In my heart, I know that someday I will return.
Naren Pradhan is an 8th grader at Thornton Jr. High. His interests include piano, soccer and Runescape.