Papathy Shola – The Butterfly Forest

Papathy Shola, locally meaning the ‘Forest of Butterflies’ derives its name from being one of the areas for the annual migration of large numbers of butterflies – the word shola denoting the local name for high altitude cloud forest. This patch of high altitude rain forest  is located on the  slopes of the Western Ghats mountains near the British-era tea town of Munnar.  Nestled  at an altitude 5200 feet above sea level, these forests lie  South of the famed Mathikettan Shola National Park – another high altitude rain forest, recently notified as a National Park due to its significantly high endemism in both flora & fauna.  

By October, rain-filled clouds bring copious rainfall to many areas on the other side of the Western ghats along the Tamilnadu border. This is ideal time for breeding of large numbers of butterflies and they fly up to migrate in their tens of thousands to the moist areas of Kerala’s mountains & plains. Most notable are include Dark Blue Tiger, Striped Tiger, Common Indian Crow and Double-Branded Crow . The migratory Butterflies leave the Ghats before the South-West monsoons starting in June. This is the annual migration that passes through this Papathy Shola aptly named ‘Butterfly Forest’ to the people of the  Kerala side of the border.

There are also a good number of mammals that can be observed within the canopy of the forests – small mammals like the Malabar Giant Squirrel, Bonnet Macaques and  Muntjacks to large species like Indian Bison (gaur bosus) and the Asiatic Elephants. In addition, there are large numbers of birds, many of them endemic like the Kerala Laughing Thrush, Nilgiri flycatcher, Black & Orange Flycatcher, the White-bellied Treepie  and the Malabar Grey Hornbill. A walk through this living forest is indeed a naturalist’s delight.

Best time to Visit:

The best time to visit this area is from August  to May

Related Information:

Kalypso Adventures offers Butterfly Forest trek with naturalists to this forested region, which is a great way to explore this area. You can see more details about the program using the following link: https://www.kalypsoadventures.com/itinerary/rainforest-trek-at-munnar

Carbon Efficient Travel in India

Carbon Efficient Travel in India

A changed world has come knocking at our doorstep. And no one can ignore it this time. The last couple of months have been a period of soul-searching and introspection for individuals and businesses world over. The pandemic and the lockdown that followed it have urged us all to question attitudes and beliefs. At Kalypso this has reinforced our faith in nature. There is more than one example to prove that this lockdown has given the earth a breather. The air around us, our mighty rivers, our cities and hills have all seen resurgence in the span of two months. We therefore have now begun to deliberate on how we can contribute towards maintaining the momentum of this resurgence. Our deep commitment towards conservation practices has meant that we do not just recognise the need for change within ourselves but also ensure implementation of the new normal. We are now focusing on a new set of Carbon Efficient short duration Travel products in India.

Nature Tours and Carbon Efficient Travel in India

Kalypso Adventures has the heart and soul of a nature-lover. We believe we work best when we work with nature…when we engage with nature as a friend and well-wisher. Therefore, our new initiative Kalypso Natventure (Nature+Adventure) focuses on Carbon Efficient Travel for all. We aim to facilitate day tours for travellers both international and local who want a break from the normal touristy itineraries. Our efforts to make it an enterprise that offers value for the customer’s money have borne fruit and so we are confident that it will interest the genuine eco-tourist.

Kalypso Natventures introduces nature to the novice and the veteran through unique adventures.  Our twenty years in the tourism industry has helped us to have a singular perspective on Carbon Efficient Travel. Our itineraries are all risk-assessed as always by our expert guides to make them totally safe and worry-free for our adventurers. Besides being innovative in concept they also take you closer to nature than you can ever hope to be.

Carbon Efficient Travel India

The current travel restrictions being in place, Kalypso is now open to domestic travellers but we believe it is ideal for any responsible traveller who prefers to linger at a destination and is keen to be part of less-polluting active holidays. Our itineraries are aimed at bridging the gap between the interests of a domestic traveller and that of an international traveller

Kalypso’s policies on responsible tourism have been our core strength and we don’t just draw pride from these policies but inspiration. We have always been focused on development of local destinations which in turn boost local populations and economies. By promoting local homestays and tents, local produce, food and employees, we have managed to create a harmonious environment that is self-sustaining.

At Kalypso we believe in venturing into paths that are less trodden. As part of this we identify and encourage less-explored areas. The Kalypso team has been very diligent in discovering new locations that highlight the quintessence of various geographies.

Our think-tank has developed carbon efficient activities at substantially reduced costs while effecting following guidelines:

  • Implementing excellent level of safety standards
  • Training our experienced team of local guides
  • Using minimal motorised support
  • Planning round trips
  • Replacing packed food with freshly prepared local snacks and meals
  • Increasing the group size by daily departures for day tours
  • Using destinations with good public transport connectivity

Travel and the history of the human race are closely linked. Kalypso recognises that travel enriches human lives at almost every level. We therefore feel compelled to contribute to the aspirations of the indomitable traveller whose wandering feet cannot be stilled by the vagaries of a pandemic. In fact we endorse the intrepid itinerant who is responsible enough to take all mandated precautions and who is ready for adventure in a safe atmosphere.

Check out our Carbon Efficient short duration activities from Kochi: https://www.kalypsoadventures.com/activities/natventure-tours-in-kerala

When a non-cyclist cycled with Kalypso

Verina Henchy, a self-confessed non-cyclist, fighter and survivor of battles with her arteries, nature- lover and dreamer of unrealised cycling journeys…and then she encountered E-bikes! Read about her experience in her own words below:

“My name is Verina Henchy, I’m 60 years old and I consider myself to be a non-cyclist and yet I’ve just cycled 320 km through Tamil Nadu, Southern India with relative ease!

I can of course ride a bike.  When I say that I’m a non-cyclist,  what I mean is that cycling any distance, especially in heat, is an overwhelming experience bringing little joy and a great deal of difficulty.  In particular, hills have been so hard and so daunting that I have always been beaten by them almost at the starting point.  Recently diagnosed heart disease has gone some way towards explaining some of my difficulties but even after having 2 stents fitted just a couple of months ago, my general fitness level has still left me struggling with even gentle exertion.  This is all before I discovered E-bikes!

I have been a regular supporter of the bi-annual HEAL India charity bike ride, supported by Kalypso Adventures for the past 12 years but I have cycled less and less each time to the point of complete non-participation in 2016 and non-attendance in 2018.

I actually purchased my own E-bike about 18 months ago (2018)  because I was thoroughly fed up with being a bikers ‘widow’.  My Husband, a keen cyclist will disappear on his bike for  hours at every opportunity and having no hope of keeping pace or distance with him I used to stay at home feeling some resentment.  With my E-bike, I found that I could not only keep up with him on the ‘flat’, I found definite advantage on hills on when faced with a headwind!  After several longish rides with him, I had a sense that I might be able to join him again in India for the 2020 HEAL India cycle challenge and with an E-bike perhaps even finish the whole course which would be a first!  I contacted Kalypso Adventures to ask them if they could source a bike for me and in true Kalypso style I was told “no problem”.

Kalypso is a company with a strong commitment to Eco Tourism so their approach to my request has been both experimental and collaborative.  Working with local engineers they have been experimenting with batteries and frames to make bikes that are suitable for the Indian terrains.  E-bikes have heavy frames because the batteries can weigh 4-5 kilos and the charge life needs to be sufficient to cover long distances.  The components need to be sufficiently protected to ensure that they are not effected by the dust and sand roads and the pedal assistance needs to be sufficient to give help when needed while keeping cadence comfortable.  I write this section as a complete non technician……there is plenty to read on line if you want to fully understand how these bikes work and how to choose a model that works for you!

We arrived in Pondicherry in early January and to be honest, I was very anxious indeed.  What if I still couldn’t manage?  Would everyone think I was ‘cheating’?.  Would the battery last? The bike work?.The heat overwhelm me.?…..I was scared!

Did I manage to complete the programme? YES!  Was it a challenge? YES! An electric bike certainly takes the strain from pedalling but because of the size and weight required to carry the battery there is still considerable strain on your back, wrists and feet not to forget the saddle soreness suffered by all who take part.  Did I ever feel overwhelmed? NO!  I used a moderate level of pedal support throughout knowing that I had additional levels of support if needed so I was able to challenge myself to the max without ever feeling that I might over exert.  Did I feel a sense of achievement? HELL YES?  Was I cheating? ABSOLUTELY NOT.  I feel strong, fitter, toned and exhilarated.  These feelings only come after exercise!

So if like me you are a non-cyclist, with support from Kalypso and the HEAL cycle team, you too could take part in the HEAL India cycle challenge or any other challenge of your choosing.  It’s as easy as falling off a bike!”

Responsible Travel in India

A need, a commitment and The Promise

For centuries development has meant depletion of natural resources. Abraham Lincoln pointed out almost 2 centuries ago that one “cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” And so it has come to pass that the development sans responsibility in which man has indulged, over the last two hundred years, has brought us all to a situation where we can no longer evade it.  For as Sir David Attenborough remarked, “Surely we have a responsibility to leave for future generations a planet that is healthy and habitable by all species.” Kalypso agrees. Responsible travel in India has been our deepest credo from the first days of our existence.

When Responsible Travel began for Kalypso

Kalypso has since inception recognised and been mindful of Kerala’s image as a tourist destination that encourages Responsible Tourism. Kerala is a treasure house of opportunity for the nature lover and those mindful of sustainable practices. Nineteen years ago when we set out on this journey, we were clear about one thing which was that we wouldn’t harm the land and its people in anyway.                                                             

Today we still stand firm on that initial belief, but we have added some layers to it by affirming that Kalypso will also help in any and all ways. And so helping to preserve the environment which is our karmabhoomi (operational area), engaging local population and businesses –  all of who form our extended support team, and identifying potential to be trained into our fine, sharp guides, drivers and cooks has been the core of our belief system. 

The need

Across the world we see the destruction that the unrestricted race for development and wealth creation has wreaked on the earth’s resources. In Kerala, a thin sliver of land crisscrossed by 44 rivers, interspersed by backwaters, bordered by ancient mountains on one side and the sea on the other and blessed with two seasons of luxuriant rain, nature and the preservation of its precarious balance is of utmost importance. We see the effects of rising sea-levels, global warming and depredation of forests almost at our doorsteps. Kalypso has always recognised the need for continuous and sustained action to ward off the wolf at our door.

The commitment – Responsible Travel in India

At Kalypso we acknowledge that the best way for us who are in this industry, to contribute is by affirming principles of responsible travel in our everyday actions. Hiring local, using local businesses, encouraging zero-carbon-footprint generating activities like cycling, kayaking and trekking, following LNT practices, reducing single-use plastic, creating awareness in the local population about conservation…the list is endless!!

We have from the outset chosen our guides and drivers from the extremely under-privileged backgrounds of the local milieu. With two years of preparation – etiquettes, language, cultural awareness and sensitivities, and training in professional areas, we see a different individual with a can-do outlook on life who is ready to take himself and Kalypso forward. To underline this we have a few stories to tell – of Francis who used to be an auto-rickshaw driver. And whose gambling debts led to him selling his auto-rickshaw and having hit rock-bottom when he came to us. Today, thirteen years later, Francis is our senior-most guide and popular tour leader and has travelled across India and Sri Lanka. Then there is Anoop, another case in point who started out as a farmhand after high school. When he drifted into Kalypso, his keenness in birding was soon spotted and encouraged. Anoop has developed into a highly-rated naturalist who now leads birding and wildlife tours across India. Each one of our staff is a similar story with just minor variations. This is the transformation we aim at. We intend it to continue.

The Promise

Across these 19 years of existence we have set goals and targets towards responsible travel and achieving them along the way has always given us moments of quiet satisfaction. Now in recognition of the urgency of the hour we aim to aspire higher. Kalypso in our attempt to make a difference in our world promises to henceforth focus on cutting out single-use plastic and discovering and promoting hitherto unknown destinations. Promises have been our forte. We are good at keeping them.

Kalypso believes that travel transforms lives. Responsible Travel enhances lives. Our faith in Responsible Travel in India is therefore reaffirmed every day.

SAFETY ASPECTS – KALYPSO ADVENTURES

Management Profile

Kalypso Adventures is run by three ex-Naval officers who have diverse qualifications and experience. Commander Sam T Samuel, the Managing Director, is a Naval pilot with over 4000 hours of flying experience and a qualified Interviewing Officer of the Defence Services Selection Board. Commander Thomas Zacharias, Executive Director, is an Electrical Engineer, a wild life enthusiast and a nature lover who has enormous experience in the wilderness. Commander Madhusoodanan, Director-Training, is a Deep sea diver (qualified from US Navy) and has undergone a ‘Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation’ training capsule conducted by the American Heart Association and the ‘Master Medicare’ course (essential first aid for ships without doctors) approved by Director General Shipping. The experience and knowledge of all the three officers are leveraged to the maximum in establishing and maintaining safety guidelines and practices.

 

Safety Framework

Our safety procedures are based on three major aspects:

  • The safety procedures laid down by reputed international organizations
  • Knowledge and Experience of the ‘Kalypso Team’
  • Knowledge of local population

 

Certification

Since there is no agency in India who is authorized to certify companies involved in such activities, we follow the internationally laid down procedures modified to local requirements. The risk assessment and various other procedures are carried out in accordance with established international practices such as BS 8848, the British Standard for adventurous activities.  We conduct activities for internationally reputed organizations like ‘Raleigh International’ (www.raleighinternational.org) and ‘World Challenge’ (https://weareworldchallenge.com/uk ).

 

Risk Assessment

All activities undergo thorough risk assessment at the conceptual, planning and implementation stages. Periodic reviews of processes are carried out based on experiences and feedbacks.

 

Our team systematically identify and review risks at various stages to ensure those things, activities, situations, processes, etc. that cause harm to people or property are controlled. This procedure is carried out by a member who is experienced and familiar with the activity.

 

 

We have different ways to assess risks, depending on the type of activity undertaken. Even though there are many risk assessments tools and techniques that can be used, we follow the method that best matches our situation. In all cases, the risk assessment is completed for an activity before it begins.

 

Steps involved are:

 

  1. Identify hazards and their potential for causing harm.
  2. Rank hazards by priority.
  3. Determine hazard elimination or risk control measures.
  4. Eliminate the hazard or implement risk controls.
  5. Measure the effectiveness of controls.
  6. Make changes to improve continuously.

 

Casualty Evacuation

Casualty Evacuation is an aspect integrated into every activity we conduct. Suitable vehicles are kept stand by, and location of nearest hospitals are identified.

 

First Aid

First Aid Bag is a part and parcel of the equipment and is available at the camp as well as at the location of the activity.

 

Hospital

For our camp at Suryanelli, the Harrisons Malayalam Clinic, and a private clinic at Suryanelli town are at 15 minutes drive. For other locations, we ascertain the information of nearest hospitals.

 

Equipment

Most of the equipment we utilize (including our kayaks, cycles and life jackets) has been procured from reputed international and Indian suppliers.

 

Water activity

Water activities are conducted under the supervision of qualified personnel with quality safety equipment. Personnel can participate only with life jackets. A Kayak is kept standby as an additional precaution.

 

Elephant Protocol – Shanthanpara To Chaturangapara Trek

1 All groups to trek to lunch point ( Near Check post)

2 Before reaching the lunch point at Kazuthakulammedu Tea shop, enquire about presence of wild elephants in the region

If elephants present, follow 3.

If not present, follow 4 onwards.

3 Trek till lunch point, transfer to check point and trek to camp.

4 Brief elephant protocol and maintain Staff Position

5 After lunch near check-post, trek as usual to Chaturangapara Mettu

6 Cas-evac team to remain at check post till group reaches foothills of Chaturangapara mettu.

Staff Position & Communication: 

Local guide – 60 meters ahead of the group

Support guide – 30 meters ahead of the group

Kalypso Trek Leader – With the group

WC Leader – Back of the group

Constant communication from local guide to Kalypso trek leader

 

Common Briefing before entering Elephant Prone Area

  • Elephants can hear and smell us from a far distance, more than 3 kilometers.
  • However, eyesight is not more than 60 meters.
  • Don’t use flash, if you get a chance to take photograph from a safe distance.
  • Reduce the noise and be silent.
  • Stay as a group.
  • We will avoid getting close to the elephants.
  • Be ready to run by loosening the buckles of the backpack.
  • In case if you see an elephant very close, leave your bags on the ground and run downwards (downhill) and hide behind any bushes or objects.
  • Leaving the bags on the ground will divert elephant’s attention and it will come to the bags first and you will get some time to react.
  • Take the group to a safe area and inform the driver for evacuation.

Success at 16500 feet!!

At Kalypso we have always taken pride in our guides, but this day  is extra-special…for, a bunch of our boys have just completed their mountaineering course at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and all of them have graduated with A grades!! Roger, Satheesh, Raja and Shinas – you have shone for us today!

The 28-day course involving rock, snow and ice climbing is arduous but exhaustive. It empowers the student to participate in any expedition that ventures upto 7000feet. The field training at the institute’s scenic base camp behind them, the Kalypso quartet finished the course with the tough climb to the peak of Renok at a height of 16500 feet.

We believe that our Team Kalypso occupies a singular position in that they regularly undergo refresher training in their core professional areas like rope skills, natural history, wilderness medicine etc by the best in the field. They have also received at various times, certification from pioneer institutes like HMI, Red Cross etc.

Kalypso believes that the spirit of adventure is what has kept mankind going since the beginning of Time. Today as our young adventurers receive their honours, we are satisfied we are doing our bit to keep that flame burning bright and strong.

Congratulations, Team Kalypso!

Trekking – a blessing in each step!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hiker thinks – “and into the woods I go to lose my mind and find my soul” – Kalypso hopes to handhold such travellers in their explorations in our part of the world.

For we believe trekking offers these benefits:

Fitness: Climbing hills, rock-hopping and hours of following trails give you a whole-body workout, improves strength, agility, cardio-fitness, and aids weight reduction. Who would want to work out in the close-confines of a gym after an oxygen-rich forest environment!

Reduced Stress: It has been scientifically proven that “exposure to nature can counteract the negative effects of stress and anxiety.” The single-minded focus required in trekking helps to cleanse the mind of clutter and focus it on the positivity of the beauty around.

Social and cultural impact: Trekking in a group fosters lifelong friendships and encourages acceptance and tolerance. Sharing memories and conversations engender deeper understanding of cultures. Trekking to history-rich sites, wildlife and birding destinations give a unique perspective on ancient cultures and the eco-system of different places. The unavailability of social media in the wilderness reorients your   priorities in life.

We exhort the youth to trek with us and “be lost in the right direction.”

 

Pedalling the 3-peaks – A tale of grit and fitness

It is said that our dreams await us on the other side of grit. The refusal to give up and the determination to persevere bring our dreams alive. Add to this the camaraderie of Kalypso’s guides, their superior fitness-levels, and their quest for adventure and the beautifully laid-out 3-peaks route which is also one of the most challenging routes and you have the perfect cocktail of a thrilling adventure.

Why the 3-peaks?

At Kalypso, we pride ourselves on our attitude towards adventure. Not for us rash, irresponsible forays into the unknown. Our adventure tours are all well-researched and planned as far as routes, safety practices, weather and ecological issues are concerned. But beyond that adventure is in our hearts. Our search for newer and more eco-friendly avenues for adventure is an ongoing one. 3-peaks cycling tour is the result of just such a search. The tough route, the scenic landscapes, minimal carbon footprints, the hectic schedule all contribute to making this a unique and exhilarating experience.

3-peaks challenge – the route

4 days of tour, about 650kms of roads that came in all types –flat, undulating, steep climbs and descents, narrow, tarred, muddy-stretches and the vagaries of weather – all met with equanimity of spirit. This group of cyclists with varying levels of skill and experience – a couple of rookies, and some with mid-level expertise too in their midst, were led by the experts who had done it all before.

Flagged off from Kochi on the 1st of July 2019, the group of 10 set out first to Suryanelli near Munnar – a distance of 152kms and one which boggles the mind by starting at sea level and ending at an altitude of 5103ft. After braving the city traffic in the morning to reach the hills with its clean, crisp air and serene greenery was an energising tonic for our cyclists. A night of deep sleep later, they set out again, this time to Kodaikanal in the neighbouring state 164kms away and at a height of 6725ft. All along, the roads were tough and unpredictable, but the breath-taking sights beyond egged them on, they said. The tea and spice plantations, the green that seems to never end, the wet, slick roads all combine to create an atmosphere of magic. The next day saw them pedal off to Valparai at a distance of 170kms and a descent of 3937ft. The waterfalls that take one by surprise with their sudden appearance, the blue outline of the mountains in the distance merging with the azure sky and the ever present winding roads – evocative memories captured by smart-phones and human brains! The fourth and last day of the tour saw the group make their way back to Kochi from Valparai – a distance of 167kms. Followed by rivers and reservoirs, cycling past lush forests and plantations, our unwavering team finally arrived at Kochi to a warm welcome.

Kalypso guides and a few tales

This was not intended as a competition. There were no prizes, no winners. But the sheer nature of the event, the scope, the naturally competitive spirit of the boys and their innate love for adventure made them all set targets and achieve them. The wayside stops for a hot cup of chai or refreshing lemonade and a spicy snack, the banter and the impromptu races on deserted roads merely added to the spirit of the ride.

At journey’s end

Not all completed the ride. Some had to stop riding somewhere along the way. But that instead of diminishing the tour, only serves to underline its spirit of resilience. For they will be back the next time. Kalypso believes in the endeavour. From the hours of preparation to the actual start and then on the ride itself, the hard work, responsibility and love for nature on display drives us on in our pursuit of adventure with a responsible soul.

When Kalypso hosted the Kerala Blog Express 06 – 2019

Journeys and destinations are inextricably linked. Every journey we believe has to have a destination, and every destination, it is accepted is attained only by traversing the complex paths of a journey. Modern journeys though have undergone certain transformations. The purpose, the takeaways, the understanding have all been enhanced by the use of technology and so we have journeys that are easier to envisage, plan and document. Every traveller today has a story to tell which they do in more and more innovative ways. And so were the travel-bloggers born…that group of inveterate travellers who make no bones about the fact that for them journeys and destinations merge to form experiences and memories. A relentless search for epiphany defines them.

What is Kerala Blog Express?

Wordsmiths, idea-peddlers – individuals with an eye to look beyond the apparent, and see lurking truths. In modern parlance they are the digital media influencers, travel bloggers, vloggers, photographers, and lifestyle-bloggers. The Kerala Blog Express offers them a unique opportunity to explore and experience Kerala, God’s Own Country as the department of tourism, Kerala organises an online blogging contest every year and 25-30 of the winners from across the word are then hosted by them for a period of two weeks.

The group is taken by bus through the length and breadth of Kerala and utmost care is taken to ensure that their experiences are organic and genuine in nature while guaranteeing safety throughout. The bloggers then share their real time experience with their followers through various social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

KBE season 6 in 2019 replicated the success of this venture that began 6 years ago. Past participants have attested to forming new BFFs and having epic experiences. KBE is and has always been a fantastic opportunity for the world to see Kerala as it really is and for Kerala to present itself in all its multifaceted splendour to the curious eyes of the world.

KBE and Kalypso – where do the twain meet?

Relationships are forged on trust and mutual respect. And so it was when Kalypso was handed over the steering wheel of the Kerala Blog Express mid-journey. Setting out from Kochi in this edition of the Blog Express, on the Trip of a Lifetime bus, the group of expert bloggers wrote about, photographed and video-shot their tour sharing their thoughts and experiences with the world. Kalypso introduced them to sides of adventure and responsible tourism, important aspects of Kerala’s State tourism policy.

The journey and the travellers

We began our stint with the Kerala Blog Express 2019 by taking this group of 30 cycling from Kainakary in the Kuttanad region which is the rice bowl of Kerala along village roads and rustic fishing villages, to Nazreth Church, 15 kms away. From there on the backwater magic held sway and the group was taken kayaking from Nazareth village which meant 5 kms of the surreal where only distant bird-calls or the quacking of a team of ducks broke the silence and a gentle breeze was a constant caress on the coconut palms.  Kerala’s verdant beauty and its maze of waterways they found could be mesmerising.

The next leg of our journey with the bloggers saw the scene shift to the Western Ghats. Kalypso’s picturesque camp at Suryanelli played arena to their two day wonderful stay. Stiff backs and aching limbs notwithstanding, the bloggers were soon up to their active best upon reaching. The brisk mountain air, the lush green surroundings and nature at her wild best were all it took to rejuvenate tired bodies.  The exotic appeal of the campfire too proved irresistible. The morning saw them scale the craggy Phantom Head Peak to soak in the magical sunrise over the butterfly forest and the afternoon saw them setting off on their Trip of a Lifetime to their next destination.

Playing host to this group of young travellers who have been everywhere and seen everything was besides being a privilege also an experience that we at Kalypso will remember and cherish for a long time to come. Memories we know will linger for quite some time…whether it is Alex Chacon that Travel Vlogger and motorbike adventurer  playing mud football in a slushy village playground, or Alex Outhwaite falling in love with the tea plantations and the winding roads in between or Jonny Melon who expertly selfie-d even while kayaking or riding a bicycle on Kerala’s muddy village roads or Michael Gerber who fell in love with the sunsets and the tea plantations of Kerala or Nelson Mochilero, digital creator and compulsive traveller like all the rest of them, encountering for the first time the magic of Kerala’s backwaters and waterfalls…we could go on  and on about each and every one of them…the passion with which they embrace travelling, the special place nature has in their itineraries, their totally open and honest outlook…like how Kerala sees herself –truly human by nature

What an incredible time we at Kalypso had! Being activity partners for Kerala Blog Express and Kerala Tourism has been a terrific experience in itself and each season fills us with a sense of achievement and pride.

 

Travel journalists of the past have evolved with the advent of modern technology and modern sensibilities to the travel bloggers of today. More authentic experiences, more innovative ways of sharing those experiences and more real-time story-telling! And all of this made more memorable due to the amazing palette that Kerala is! We salute the spirit of adventure!

 

45 Days of Cycling And A Maelstrom of Experiences

Since the only impossible journey is the one never begun, putting together the outline of this gargantuan 45 day cycling expedition was simply the first step of a magnificent journey. Commencing from the beaches of Goa and finally ending at Chennai – was there a destination in the midst of all this? Confucius said roads were meant for journeys, not destinations and this tour brought those words to life. For Jacques Carriere &Therese Masson from Canada the seamless flow of landscapes, cultures and people all along this journey was an eye-opener and a definite once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The journey itself

Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher said the journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step. And so we did. But our tale of the incredible journey that Jacques and Therese undertook will also take you pedalling down memory lane, driving off-road into nostalgia and wonder.

Goa and Karnataka

Goa, where the tour began …the allure of its stunning beaches, its susegad attitude, its lip-smacking cuisine…a foretelling of the days to come or a collection of precious memories to be stored away carefully…for its ancient temples and majestic churches, wide gushing rivers, colourful fishing villages and gentle hills were lasting images that even the lingering thoughts of the long ride ahead could not erase.

Jacques and Therese set out from Colva for Gokarna in the south. Reaching Karwar an ancient trading port frequented by Arabs, Dutch, Portuguese, French and the British, the ruins of a mighty fort on the banks of the Kali River reminiscent of a glorious bygone era and viewing life as it passes by from the decks of the ferry while crossing the vast Kali – the tour had begun on the right foot indeed. Gokarna and its pristine beaches can make one wish to linger and after the overnight stay it was on southwards again along coastal roads with the Arabian Sea and the imposing Western Ghats on the other. Past Kundapura and Koppa and their energetic rivers, thick rain-forests and endless stretches of tea, coffee and spice plantations, it is on to Lakkavalli and a jeep safari at its wildlife sanctuary in the hopes of sighting the great tiger, this is Tiger Conservation area after all.  But not before the couple were bestowed with blessings at a local temple – a bit of divine intervention to urge them on. And then it’s on to Chikmagulur the coffee capital of the state of Karnataka on the gentle slopes of the Sahyadri Mountains and the iconic hotel on the hilltop. Mudigere, the next point awaited with its mist enshrouded hills and unspoilt country side. The unexpected came in the form of a working day at a coffee plantation …traditional and authentic coffee processing methods still in use…here, coffee is life…and nothing comes in the way! En-route to Hassan the architecture of the Halebidu temple is astounding. Built in the 12th century dedicated to the Lord Shiva, it is a perfect amalgamation of the limitlessness of human endeavour and imagination. The onward ride to Hassan is through peaceful country roads lined by the ‘flame of the forest’ trees and the occasional banyan. On the following day the ride to scenic Coorg involved a stop at the home of a farmer engaged in sericulture. The tradition of rich silks in India may have found its origins here. The lustrous yarns of handmade silk surely had tales to tell. Coorg is impossible without a detour to Bylakuppe and the Namdroling Monastery one of the largest Buddhist monasteries in India, with a population of about 5000 monks and nuns – a surreal moment in the midst of wilderness and close encounters of the pachyderm kind at the Dubare Elephant Camp! Contrasts of the sublime! The city of palaces, Mysuru waited next with its quiet elegance, frenzied markets and stately universities.

Tamil Nadu, Kerala and back to Tamil Nadu

On day 16 of the tour, it was off from Mysuru to Mudumalai crossing state-borders past sunflower fields and hill roads. The Bandipur Tiger Reserve and jeep safari were the temptations of the day. The renowned hill-station Ooty is perched prettily amidst the Nilgiri mountains, but the ride there from Mudumalai was a true challenge with 36 hair-pin bends on 12 kilometers of consistently uphill road. The tough stretch did sometimes bring the six decades of their lives into focus, but Jacques and Therese also discovered their indomitable selves through this. From Ooty to Coonoor on the UNESCO Heritage train, the next phase of the tour was like an enactment of a fairy tale! The beauty of nature and a magical man-made locomotive – could there be a more poignant merging of concepts? From Coonoor to Mettupalayam and then it was still onwards to the Anamalai Tiger Reserve and Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary that sat on the borders of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Pushing forward to Munnar, and then onward to Vandanmedu, Periyar and Kulamavu, past some of the highest tea-plantations in the world, the winding hill roads are a challenge but the sights alongside them are worth every huff and puff. The tea museum and the traditions of tea, the cardamom hills and Vandamedu the largest cardamom plantation in India, village roads and spice-plantation walks, wayside shrines and Asia’s largest arch dam at Kulamavu, the boat ride on the Periyar and Kalaripayattu, the traditional martial arts display in the evening, even the steaming hot chai at the roadside vendor has a dream-like quality it.

Day 27 and 28 ventured into the wonderland of Kerala’s backwaters, Alleppey. Going past pineapple farms and backwater villages after leaving the hills and heading to Alleppey where the famed houseboats–rice boats converted into luxurious lodging – waited to be embarked. The other-worldly charm of an overnight stay on board a house-boat was enough to rejuvenate some tired legs and then it was off along coastal roads and coconut groves, a brief peep into a coir factory with the sea and the backwaters on either side of the flat roads to the bustling city of Kochi. This ancient port that traded in tea, coffee, rubber and spices still continues to do so and has an almost eclectic feel with its chaotic traffic, old bazaars, modern shopping malls, Chinese fishing nets and gorgeous sunsets. The guided tour around Fort Kochi included the unique Dhobi Khana, the laundry collective owned and run by generations of a particular community for almost a hundred years. Charcoal heated irons, hand-washed and sun-dried clothes, almost an anomaly in modern times, but a way of living for the 60 odd families involved in the business. In the evening, the kathakali performance – Kerala’s traditional dance form which depicts stories from mythology – made for an evocative end to the Kochi stay. The next day saw Jacques and Therese head out of Kochi through village roads pedalling past rubber plantations towards Athirapalli and its cascading waterfalls, the largest in Kerala and a magnificent sight.

Day 32 meant Kerala was now left behind and it was onto Tamil Nadu for the last phase of the odyssey. Valparai at 3500 meters above sea level was the next stop and this green haven threw open uninterrupted vistas wherever the eyes landed. Riding down the 24 ‘hairpin’ bends on the Anamalai Hills towards Pollachi in the great plains of Tamil Nadu and then the next day through the Palani Hills past sugar cane fields on to Athoor and its thriving farming community displayed landscapes of mindboggling diversity. Next were the temple towns of Madurai, and Tanjore with the architectural marvels of Chettinad in between. The Meenakshi Temple at Madurai, a port dating back to the pre-Christian era and its 14 gate-towers, the palatial bungalows of chettinad, Tanjore’s streets displaying 9th to 12th century stone sculptures, stretched the boundaries of the mind. The eighteenth century Saraswati Mahal Library housing ancient palm-leaf manuscripts and the museum were surely one of a kind!

Day 40 took Jacques and Therese eastwards past the River Cauvery delta and fertile paddy fields to the Coromandel Coast and Tranquebar a tiny coastal town colloquially known as Tharangambadi or the land of the dancing waves picturesque and peaceful now, it was once a busy Danish trading port.

Pondichery with its quaint charm, its French and ‘native’ quarters and Auroville an experimental community and universal city was like the cool breeze that wafted across from the Bay of Bengal. Pleasant and making you want more of it. But as journey’s end is nearing, the undying spirit of the traveller that kept them going all these days urges our intrepid duo and it’s on to Mahabalipuram, its stone temples, the largest rock relief in the world and a UNESCO world heritage site. Day 44 found them transferred to Chennai, where they took the day to let their memories settle before boarding their flight back home on the following day.

Some thoughts to conclude

The best of journeys happen as an expression of an inner urge. This 45–day odyssey too was one such. A shocking family tragedy made Jacques and Therese reassess their life-goals and re-arrange the numbering on their bucket-list. When they contacted Kalypso to enquire about the feasibility of a 2 – 6 week cycling tour it was a long cherished dream. The itinerary whiz-kids of Kalypso offered them a feast in the form of a 6-week tour of south and central India that had till then never been attempted and which promised to be not just unique but also exhaustive. Combining and tweaking shorter existing tours they drafted this comprehensive foray into peninsular India that turned out exhilarating and enriching for our guests. Kalypso hopes they complete their bucket list and wishes them the very best in all their future journeys. And of course we certainly look forward to accompanying them on a few.