"We travel not to escape our life, but to stop life from escaping us"
Our taxi drive waves to the man in uniform standing at a big metal gate and he swings it open to let us pass. We step out and are greeted immediate by Sharon who takes us to the main building for a glass of fresh lemonade as our bags are taken to our room. On the way we meet Vikrum who is carrying on his fathers dream of turning a once baron piece of land into a beautiful yet natural place to stay. Looking at what it is now, the dream is alive and healthy, because it feels like we're in an oasis and we're definitely going to make the most of it.
The jungle hut is one of the oldest accommodations in the area and already from the customer service and the beautiful surrounding I can see why it's kept going from strength to strength. We pass the kids area with tree house and trampoline and up for our lemonade. A tour of the main area let's us see the games cupboard (which both my girls loved) and the swimming pool (also a huge hit) and then we sat down for a delicious lunch.
Post lunch it's time to check out the room. Down to hut 5, a small building with a wrap around veranda. Opening the door the cool AC is a welcome break from the dry heat outside and we lay our bags down as the girls jump on the bed and check out the bathroom. The room is simple but has everything we need and we love it!
Over the course of the next two days we take tours (temples and tigers) and enjoy the included meals at breakfast lunch and dinner. Each meal is tastier than the last. A mix of cuisines from traditional Indian to lasagna. Malay chats with us in the dinning room and gives advice on flavor combinations to try. Relaxing while the girls make the most of the games cupboard, Sharon sits down with us and talks about the area and how they source all organic and pesticide free veg for their cooking. Her love for the area and the jungle hut family are apparent in the the way she talks about it lovingly.
By the morning of our last day we've climbed into the tree house, taken a dip in the pool and eaten more delicious meals than I can describe. The girls say goodbye as do we and we hop in our taxi to Mysore almost sad to be leaving such a friendly beautiful place. I think the jungle hut is a pretty special place and the people there are amazing, if you come to southern India and miss the it, you're missing out, in a big way!
We scoot along the platform looking for the station masters office as the light from sunrise peeks across the platform in mettupalayam station. Handing him our ticket its confirmed we have no reserved seats, so into the unreserved line we go and wait to be huddled into our train carriage.
We had intended to book our tickets ahead of time but lack of a stable wifi connection had made that almost impossible. So now we hit and hope with unreserved and get into the Nilgiri Mountain Train Railway (called the toy train due to the cog system used during the assent up the mountain). I place my bag on the scale as a man adds weight to see how heavy it is. Then go into the parcel office to get the bag onto the train as our seats are to tight to have it with us. Bag tagged and taken, I head back to our carriage.
The train creeks and shunts into life and we start to move. Houses give way to amazing vibrant greenery. Which in turn gives ways to long deep valleys dotted with tea, waterfalls and the odd dwelling. Slowly but steadily our train picks its way up the mountain side over bridges and through tunnels. The carriage is packed, with every seat taken and a few people standing. At every turn of the track people lean towards the windows to snap a picture or just admire the view.
We stop at stations and take 5-10 minute to stretch legs, buy snacks and look at the views. Some station are overlooking rivers, others full of monkeys and even one station seeming to balance on the edge of the valley side as it drops away behind. The train whistle sounds and everyone loads back onto the train, snacks and cameras in hand.
Mettupalayam to Coonoor offers us amazing scenic landscape then changing gears and heading to Ooty we pass through towns and villages stopping only quickly for people to hustle off the train. After a while the train eases into the station and we pour out and down to the parcel carriage to collect our bag. Lucy waves goodbye to the train driver and we pick our way through the crowd and into the station. What a fun experience and a beautiful ride.
'Sploosh' the front and rear punters plop their bamboo poles into the water and we push away from the bank. The river is quiet and the as we glide past lush green banks of palm and mangrove and past clam shell fisherman. We are on our back water tour, but we aren't in Alleppey we're in Vaikom. Around 30km south of Cochin and 30km north of Alleppey lies Vaikom. Vaikom offers the same backwater experience but without the crowds. As we glide away from the
As we glide away from the bank our guide introduces herself and talks to us about the area and the history of the 250 year old man made canals we are traveling on. We drift between the banks which are dotted with house and the odd tributary stretching into the undergrowth. After a while the canal opens up to reveal lake Vembanadu, the largest lake in Kerala. Across the water we can see boat moving in and out of Alleppey and in the distance a ferry crossing the waters. Our boat eases right and hugs the bank of the government backwater area and before to long we are slowly pulling up at the village of Chempu.
Our guide walks us around the village and explains how they make rope for soaked and dried coconut husks. We stroll through the spice plants and back towards the water where we sit in a small open sided building to have lunch. Served on a banana leaf the traditional south India lunch is going to go down a treat. We all tuck into to the meal and sit back after full and happy.
Back on the boat and we make our way through the tightest canals yet. A brush against a mangrove on one side, then slide against a palm filled bank on the other and we are back out into the main canal. Pulling back up at the bank we thank our tour guide and the hard working punters and head back to the road to jump in our van back. So, if you are going to Alleppey to name drop it as a destination the keep on going but if you want a peaceful, uncrowded and authentic backwater experience then maybe check out Vaikom, you won't be disappointed.