We are back birding

Trip Start Jan 11, 2013
Trip End Jul 10, 2013

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Where I stayed
Jungle Bird Homestay Thattakad
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of India  , Kerala,
Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Get comfortable, this is a long one (said the Bishop to the actress!).
Exhaustive enquires suggested that we needed to get to Ernakulum station to pick up the bus to our next destination, Thattekad. So, next morning, after a cozy lie-in we asked our homestay owner to get us a tuc-tuc to said bus station. Lucky we did as he pointed out that we would be much better off going to Vytalli Junction; a little bit further and 30 rupees more (40p) in the tuc-tuc but from where there are regular, and more importantly, direct buses...phew!
And so Fort Kochin disappeared in the rearview mirror as we headed to Vytalli Junction. The mad city traffic meant it took us over an hour to get there and it was hot, hot, hot. We arrived at the station and sought out the customary miserable travel advisor chap and after some confusion he told us that we needed to go to Ernakulum as there were no buses to Thattekad from Vytalli!
And so Fort Kochin appeared on the horizon as we headed back towards the city and our original destination of Ernakulum. Two hours after leaving the homestay (and another 70 rupees!) we were 5km from our start point and waiting for our bus to Thattekad.
After a half-hour wait, 2 hours on a bus and another half-hour in a tuc-tuc we were there; 80km in only 5 hours...the world just seems to get more accessible every day!
The reward for our somewhat arduous journey was a fabulous homestay which gave us a real taste of local life, smashing people, some great stories, and some excellent birdwatching.
We are greeted by some American woman (introduced thus only because she may well read this...hi Janet) and shown to our pleasant room in a really lovely house. Although we were well off the beaten path now it would subsequently transpire that we had been to this house before!
Four years ago when we were last in India, our bird guide Sudheesh had brought us on a 3 hour diversion to see a bird; that's right, just one bird. On the way to see this bird, the Sri Lankan Frogmouth, we passed a very nice house which Sudheesh proudly proclaimed to be his parents house; we then proceeded to see the bird a little further up the track. This bird is rare, very difficult to find and fabulous so we were happy with the diversion.
And 4 years on, here we were staying at his parents house. This story has more chapters though...
Janet, the lady who greeted us had first come here about 8 years ago whilst travelling and found a mud hut where they asked if they could stay. The family welcomed them in and showed them some  warm Indian hospitality.
Gireesh, the elder brother of Sudheesh, lived at home and had just returned home having failed his law exams. Funding someone through uni here is no mean feat. The parents had somehow managed to send their older daughter to uni and as a qualified nurse she had, in turn, funded Gireesh; that's how it works in India...we could learn from that!
One day Gireesh was sat outside the house wondering how he would make a living when two birdwatchers happened by and asked him to show them the local birds. He assured them that there were few birds but they insisted and he took them round the local forests for the day. He showed them the trails and they showed him the birds which he had a knack for finding by following their calls. Then they gave him 250 rupees for his day's work...exactly what his Mum demanded from him for one month to live at home! His eyes were opened to a new opportunity and he set about learning all the birds and their calls.
As you can see there's a lot to this story, but in short, encouraged by Janet and her husband John (yes, Janet and John..ho-ho!) Gireesh returned to uni and re-sat his exams and the family began catering for visitors, all the while learning about the birds.
Sudah (the Mum), Gireesh and his wife Sandia now run the homestay out of their lovely home, built on the plot of the mud hut. It's an inspirational story. Gireesh guides for 3 hours in the morning then goes to court, coming home late in the afternoon and guiding for another 3 hours; he works tirelessly and smiles through it all!
Sudah also knows the birds well and guides when she's not cooking for 20 to 50 people who visit the dormitory next to their house, or working at the local school as a teaching assistant, or cooking for guests! Every evening she would sit with us after serving us dinner and fall asleep at the table (at about 9.00pm)...she is one hard working woman.
Gireesh is a ridiculously gregarious and lovely man and we were made absolutely welcome in their home. Janet and John were on about their sixth visit and are part of the family. They made us a pineapple crumble and we loved them (not just for the crumble!). Gireesh humbly declares he owes everything to Janet and John. It's a cracking story and Sudah talks of opening an orphanage one day. Maybe John should have made us humble pie rather than pineapple crumble!
We met a fascinating English couple who were also staying and had a lovely time here for 3 nights. We took 3 photos, all of the family, it's that kind of place...you can't record emotion in pixels. Thanks to them for a wonderful experience...that's exactly what travelling is about.
Next stop Munnar...
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My Review Of The Place I Stayed

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