El-EEphants ‘n Paradise

The road from Munnar to Thekkady is simply magical.  There are acres and acres of meticulously manicured tea plantations that hug these hills. Immediately it blows your mind to think of the amount of work that’s needed to maintain these trees. Traveling from one town to the next on a single road, there isn’t one view that beats another. Every now and then we see a parade of women in the field trimming the leaves and generally working their asses off.

We stopped in a tea museum that explained much in a couple of hours. That’s where we found out that the women fieldworkers are actually shareholders. They have a vested interest in maintaining these fields. Wow. The leaves are picked every 7-10 days. That explains the pride, care and attention that they have towards their plantations as well.

This would also explain why the area looks so organized and clean. The residents all work for the plantation which provides them with everything. The State boasts of 100% literacy rate as well. Everyone has an opportunity to work and succeed. It really is wonderfully self-sufficient. Their lives are a hell-of-a-lot better than most. The plantation gives them their homes, daycare, work, play — everything. It’s clear to see that Google copied this model of paradise.

Abi, our driver, organized the scenic route through paradise as well. The distance to Thekkady was going to take just over 3 hours and, (if you can believe this) I started to grow bored of its beauty. (I know, I know…I am a fickle bitch.) We decided to make a little pit stop ‘to take tea’. I wished I would’ve taken more pictures because this place was great. I loved it because it had so much fun associated with it. You could order tea, food, fresh fruit, soaps, books – you name it. It was a microcosm of the area. Plus on their walls, they had pictures of elephant families in the hills. Heavy sigh. Elephants…..

Didn’t matter where we were, I just couldn’t get my mind from scanning the countryside for those pesky elephants. I even mentioned that to our driver, Abi. He immediately shot back that seeing an elephant would be “very bad ‘Mee-sus’”. (That’s what Abi called me, Mee-sus.)

When I asked Abi why he was against seeing the elephants, he said that if we saw one, it would be a rogue. A rogue means that 99% of the time, it’s a really aggressive and pissed off male that’s been fucking thrown out of the herd. If we saw one, we’d have to stop the car, roll up the windows and wait it out until he left. This process could take up to a couple of hours in the sweltering heat.

Okay. Well fuck that. I’ll stop looking. Sheesh. Plus I found out that while there are still wild elephants roaming in Munnar, Thekkady boasts of housing the ‘rescued’ elephant population.  Well, I guess we were out of danger of being squashed by King Kong elephant here.

Just under four hours, we got to our next destination. The translated name of our hotel was “Elephant House” and it was beyond terrific! What a class act! We were greeted by the General Manager of the hotel. She offered a cool drink and a bite to eat while we sat and were told about the hotel and the plantation it was on. Spectacular is an understatement! I had booked the cheapest room in this fabulous place. It was clear that only the price was cheap because everything else was true luxury! We had a very quiet day as the plantation manager gave us a private tour of the property.

The GM had a back story too. She was Finnish and had moved here 13 years ago with her husband and never looked back. She came and reinvented herself and lives this fabulous lifestyle. I asked her if she understood the native language. She said that she did and asked me not to tell the staff. She preferred ignorance than deal with petty issues the staff had.

The next day, I had a date with the real natives – the elephants. We were up early to go to the ‘Elephant Junction’. It was a really exciting morning because finally I would get to see the elephants up close and personal. By 10am, we were riding ‘Ramba’, a rescued elephant with a nasty ripped ear. Her human companion offered to let us bathe her at the end of the ride! When tickled behind her ear, Ramba would shake her head and when her nose came close to us, she’d gently ask for food… She was absolutely childlike. What a riot!

Honestly, that experience was b-e-y-o-n-d incredible! I became a kid again. My laughter came from a dark pit deep inside me that was long forgotten. When I started, well—it was like unleashing a torrent of pent up emotions. I just couldn’t stop. I know that I must’ve looked like a moron but I couldn’t have given a rat’s ass. Even now, as I write this, I am getting a little choked up. It made me feel decades younger to have this connection with her. This one isolated moment was like a lifeline that reset my life on a different happier path. Something in me was set free and I felt incredible.

Google might have gotten part of the recipe right to keep their employees happy. I just think that, if it doesn’t involve elephants, they’ve missed the point completely.

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