Date: 19 April
Location: Our balcony, Rangerwood Nature Palace, Periyar, Kerala
Notable sightings: some of the cast of the Jungle Book, heffalumps
I have two stories for you, both of which involve some level or nudity. If that doesn't interest you, you can skip to the bit about the elephants at the end.
First, an Ayuvedic massage, a Keralan speciality. After handing over 1000 rupees (about $AUD20) I was shown into a big stone room with a massage table, a shelf full of exotic looking oils, some terrifying contraption in the corner, and a little Indian lady. Her first command: all off. Even bra? Yes, ma'am. Even underwear? All off ma'am. While I stood stark naked in this room, eyeing off the contraption in the corner, she busied herself with preparing oils, seemingly totally indifferent to my Western awkwardness. Eventually, she turned her ministrations to me and tied a 'loin cloth' around me. Imagine a string of detal floss around your waist, with a few sheets of toilet paper between your legs, all put into place by a little woman getting up close and personal. My inhibitions suitably obliterated by this process, the treatment itself was excellent and involved the dripping of oil from a suspended bowl onto my 'third eye' (you have not felt bliss until you've felt this), an oily head massage, a full body massage and then 10 minutes in 'the contraption' which turned out to be a single person steam bath, out of which your head stuck at the top. I came out a (oily) new woman.
The second experience is more awkward. While waiting for a bus in the hotel lobby I, wearing a maxi skirt and a scoop neck tee shirt, lay down on one of the couches. I was vaguely aware of some hubbub at the front door but, as there is always hubbub aplenty in India, I ignored it. A few minutes later — to my complete mortification — a lady staff member who spoke English had been summoned to tell me that I had to sit up as lying down showed too much cleavage and it was attracting a crowd. I'm still cringing. The funny part is how this lovely lady phrased her advice: “Madam, your organs are showing.” I'm cringing and lolling at the same time.
Oh, an another lol experience: yesterday was Good Friday and there was no alcohol available for love nor money in the little jungle town of Periyar, beside the Periyar Tiger Reserve as it was a dry day by law. Unphased, the proprietor of the local food shack (straw walls and everything) served ice cold 'tea' in opaque teapots. Lovely notes of hops and barely flavours.
Finally, on the elephant front. This morning we got up at the crack of dawn for a jungle walk in the national park. Half an hour in, we were lucky enough to see a family of elephants having breakfast in the savannah. It was…. I really can't describe it. Magic. The ranger kept us all at a safe distance as the matriarch elephant apparently loiters in the foliage and will charge if threatened. We also managed to spot a hornbill (Zazu?) and more monkeys than you can count. Sadly, no tigers but something to come back for. Have learned that the phrases 'cheeky monkey' and 'holy cow' are more than just idioms in India.
After breakfast we spent some time at an elephant centre. I had mixed feelings about this but, thank god, the elephants seemed well treated and almost so revered by their masters. And, as Sid pointed out, they're supporting a whole community. We fed and bathed the elephants and I was even treated to a drenching elephant shower by a 28 year old female elephant called Lahksmi. I won't do it again but have to admit that it was a fun experience. (Photos to come from my SLR camera.)
I'm starting to have muderous thoughts about my roommate but she's just handed me a gin so she can live another day.