Trekking, Kathakali and Kalarippayattu

We booked a guided mountain trek for this morning, starting from Green Spaces.  Adeed, our guide, met us at 9.45am and off we set.  We went up to our usual view point, as always lots of cloud cover but definitely a clearer view.

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It was reasonably energetic as there is no flat ground anywhere and we were able to walk through the Pallivasal Tea Estate as we had a guide with us and some of those slopes are incredibly steep.  Great respect for the tea pickers who work on these slopes everyday.  Adeed told us that a tea picker works from 08.00-15.30 and gets paid 350IR (£4.31) per day and then earns an extra 1IR for every kilo of leaves picked, they expect to pick 100-150kg per day so daily take home pay  can be 500IR (£6.16).  They are better off than the cardamom workers who get paid a flat rate of 350IR per day and that’s it.  Apparently a lot of the tea pickers come from Bengal as not enough young Keralans available for work as they tend to leave to earn their fortune elsewhere.

We had a brief rest stop to drink water and eat Indian baby bananas which taste very different to our normal bananas. Shortly after we were given long sturdy sticks to act as walking poles – slightly worrying as to what was coming next.  We opted for the ‘less steep’ forest route to get us to the top of our designated mountain, God alone knows what the steep route would have been like!  We definitely needed our sticks, I also needed a helping hand from the guide here and there as the route was very narrow and slippery in places.

The view from the top was impressive, albeit with the persistent cloud cover.  Adeed served us biscuits and cardamom tea, which much to my surprise was delicious with a delicate flavour.  Even Mr L like it, we’ll be buying some of that to bring home.

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After a short rest we started the walk back on a different route, a bit slippy at times but not as steep going down as the up was.  Most of the route home was through cardamom plantations which are all owned by local farmers, unlike the tea estates of which almost all come under the control of Tata.  There are only 2 other small tea plantations here in Kerala which are non-Tata owned.  We had one more rest stop with more cardamom tea and Indian crisps which are thinly sliced banana that has been fried and actually very nice as they don’t taste of banana!

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We got back at 14.00 at the same time as the rain arrived.  We were hot, sticky, sweaty and grubby after our 5.5 mile trek so it was showers and lunch before heading out again at 15.30 with Adeed, this time he was driving his tuk-tuk.

We were off to Punnarjani for some Indian cultural entertainment. The first show at 17.00 was Kathakali and if you arrive early you can watch the make-up being applied to an artist.  Incredibly detailed and takes ages.

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Kathakali is a highly stylised Indian classical dance drama performed by skilled artists.  The artists have to undergo several years of hard core training and the art is a skilful combination of literature, music, costume, elaborate face make-up, acting and dancing.  The idea is (as far as we understand) that each character’s mental quality can be understood by his or hers costume, facial movements, hand movements and body movements. It was very clever, entertaining and amusing.

We had to move into a different theatre area where we were sat in a round looking down into a ‘pit’ where we would watch Kalarippayattu.  Kalarippayattu is an ancient traditional martial art that originated in Kerala, described as the mother of all martial arts.  Many of the techniques of this martial art were later adapted into martial arts like karate, Kung-fu, judo etc.  The Kalarippayattu practitioners are required to undergo several years of rigorous practice to build up the courage, and fitness of mind and body.

We watched martial arts fighting using swords, shields, daggers, sticks.  There were also demonstrations of yoga, acrobatics through flaming hoops, and all manner of highly risky manoeuvres involving fire.  Again, very clever, skilled and entertaining.  Our day was completed with Adeed driving us back, a 40 minute bumpy tuk-tuk ride.  An excellent day.

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