Leaving Periyar and heading to Alleppey, we drove down the side of the mountain with lots of winding curbs until the road opened up to flat land filled with rice patties. This is the backwaters of Kerala, where water from the Arabian Sea mixes with the many branches of the Periyar river. Here, everything is at sea level. Our next leg of the journey was by a houseboat. It was different from what you might expect entirely mostly made from bamboo other than the hardwood hull.
It was spacious enough though with two rooms and a large common area to eat and enjoy the ride. The cruise took us through the Pariyar estuary and was home to many birds. At one point we watched a heron swoop into the water and come up with a fish. There were also kites, egrets, ducks, and the ever present kingfisher. The kingfisher is quite a sight to see in flight as its luminescent blue color flickers with a spot of white on both wings as it flies. Another new mammal sighting as well this was a treat as it is the largest of all flying mammals the famous vampire bat. The bats wingspan must have stretched 2 feet as it swooped right over our boat. Along the water were narrow strips of land that was just enough to build small homes. Our driver mentioned that they were typical Kerala style homes and some of their features may be used in our exhibit. After a short walk through a small backwaters village where we were tempted to buy tiger prawns for dinner we cruised a little further. Once anchored, we had dinner, mostly vegetables, dal, and local Kerala rice. The rice is worth mentioning because we both agreed it was the fluffiest rice we had seen. We then settled in for the night trying to escape the mosquitos that congregate near the waterway.
Sunday December 12, 2010
B- After returning to our port in the houseboat we set off for the final destination of our trip. The journey took about 5 hours and was over a very busy road. Eventually we made it to Trivandrum the capital of Kerala. After checking in to our hotel we quickly returned to our driver who had contacted our guide and were off to see a local botanical garden. Of the many fine trees the highlight was a hundred year old rubber tree. It had been planted by the British and was very large. I should mention that Kerala is a very large natural rubber producer and we had seen many rubber plantations in the last two days of travel. In the garden was the Napier Museum. This was the only building built in Kerala specifically designed to house a museum. It was built by one of the ruling kings and was built in the hindu-sardonic form of architecture. This construction draws from both traditional Hindu and Muslim forms. Much of India had been ruled by both at one time or another and the people have adopted this particular style due to this fact. The museum housed a collection of some of the finest Hindu sculptures from 12 century onward. We received an excellent explanation of the deities and there many forms. All of which can be very confusing even with a guide.
J: We also visited a small palace (well, no palace is small, but compared to the ones we have seen throughout the trip) with grand views of the temple nearby. Unfortunately, the temple was under repair and covered in scaffolding, and foreigners are not allowed to enter inside.
On Monday, our last day here in India, we spent the day wisely. We had originally planned our itinerary so that we ended up in Trivandrum, home to Kerala’s Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute, about 40km outside of town. This garden is not open to all it seemed, as we had to fill out an application to view the gardens (and cameras are not allowed!). We were given a guide who was finishing his studies here at the research institute, though he did not speak much English. He showed us around the property, visiting many of their collections such as the large outdoor orchid collection (lots of unique Vandas) and the bonsai Ficus collection which had a few different cultivars we had never heard of. We also visited their medicinal garden, and they were displaying different plants together that would have the same medicinal purposes. One of the plant groups was displaying what is called dasamoola, a mixture of ten different plants that is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicines. Some of the interpretive signage recognized the fact that medicinal plants are diminishing in Kerala for multiple reasons, and as the first step to conserving such plants, it is the garden’s mission to educate the public on why these plants are so important and how to use them. Today has been the hottest day on the trip so far, and we were dying in the heat and humidity after an hour walk around the property. But our guide tells us there are two other sections to see! He says they have about three hundred acres of land here. Whew.
TBGRI’s mission reads “To advance knowledge, enjoyment, utilization and conservation of plants through excellence in biodiversity research management, plant product development, horticultural displays and educational programmes.” The Research Institute hosts graduate students from all over the world, and is in charge of the National Gene Bank for medicinal and aromatic plants in India. The botanic garden is also the largest in all of Asia, boasting over 50,000 accessioned plants, covering 3,500 species. It also has the largest fern collection in Asia, and even walking through this collection in the open outdoors, I could smell that particular ferny scent. We were mesmerized by one fern in particular, the electric fern, that shimmered blue around the edges in the sunlight. It really did have an electric look to it.
Well, we had about a few hours before we had to head back to the hotel to pack up, so we went to the beach! We travelled to Kovalam, which is pretty far south in the state of Kerala. We could tell it was a very touristy spot, and rightly so, because the beach was beautiful and the Arabian Sea was warm, even at this time of year!
Well, we have travelled over 2,300 km, seeing beautiful southern India from its highest peak to sea level, and we are now headed home to rest! Our flight leaves at 5am, but we will be at the airport long before that. We have a long 25 hour trip home, see you all very soon!