ON THE ROAD
Hanna and her parents took an elephant ride
PHOTOGRAPHS: HANNA INGBER WIN
IN GOD’S OWN COUNTRY
-ple house. We drove by plantations of tall, skinny rubber
trees and a man sitting at a wooden stand with a heap of
coconut shells piled on the ground next to him. We wound
our way up a mountain with Shiju pointing out the mon-
keys on the road, and my mother always just missing them.
(She finally saw some when we stopped to have
lunch — and was delighted.)
It was raining when we reached our
Thekkady hotel, and my mother and I decided
to wind down with an Ayurvedic treatment. It
turned out to be one of the stranger experi-
ences either of us has had.
We first sat across the desk from a man the
hotel referred to as the doctor. He told us about
the various options and then, without asking us
any questions related to our medical history or
current symptoms, prescribed us our treat-
ment: Oil massages and steam baths.
Two young women collected us and took us
into separate rooms. My masseuse handed me
a small white loincloth to wear. She hovered
above me, with a gentle smile, as I changed.
She then sat me on a cold wooden bench,
poured oil that smelled like honey into my hair
and began scratching my scalp. Then she told
me to lie down on the cold wooden plank and
began the massage. She rubbed honey-
smelling oil on my body and stuck her finger-
nails in my feet. But after about 30 minutes,
the massage began to feel good.
Once I mastered breathing through the steam, she told
me it was time for a shower. She sent me into a tiny bathroom to take a bucket bath and gave me a tiny cloth, which
couldn’t have been longer than 12 inches, to dry off with.
After my massage and bath, I sat in the lobby waiting for
my mother. She emerged, with a slight look of horror on
her face. She forced a smile and whispered: “I think this
was a little too authentic.”
The next day the three of us climbed on the back of an
elephant, went on a spice tour and boated in Periyar Lake,
searching for animals. We didn’t see tigers, but the lizard
and water snakes were lovely.
And then, my mother and I set off for our nature walk in
the wildlife sanctuary. Perhaps we should have known this
was not your ordinary nature walk when the guide insisted
we first put on camouflage leech socks and took us into the
forest via a bamboo raft.
About 10 minutes into our walk, I asked our guide,
Suriya, if he would point out a leech when he saw one so I
could take a photograph. Suriya pointed to my sneakers
and said, “Right there.”
I looked down, saw tiny black worm-like creatures
swarming all over my Nikes, and had a slight panic attack.
My mother took photographs; Suriya wiped away my tears.
After they insisted I gather my composure, we continued
through the forest. Suriya pointed out different plant
species, monkeys in the trees and the remains of a dead elephant. All very nice. But then we came to a creek with no
log via which to cross. Surijay grabbed a wooden pole, stuck
it in the center of the creek and used it to bungee himself
across. My mother and I stared at the water.
“I’ll go,” said my mother with an air of confidence.
“Sure,” Suriya said. “You can try.”
My mother and I gave each other a look. What do you
mean, “try?” What happens if she fails?
My mother stuck the pole into the water. I positioned my
camera. She hopped through the air, missed the side of the
bank, and fell completely into the creek. I stood on the
other bank, partly worried about her, mostly curled over
laughing. But then I had to go. After much mental preparation, I positioned the pole and leaped over the creek.
We continued on our “walk,” and my mother — not happy
but a good trooper — said: “See, it’s good I packed a lot of
The rest of our trip was not quite as eventful, but equally
entertaining. We sailed through Kerala’s
backwaters on a houseboat with lovely
staff who served us lunch on banana leaves
and later joined us as we lit the Chanukah
candles. We stopped at a bank and a fish-
erman showed us live tiger prawns,
weighed them on an old-school metal scale
and then declared, yes, foreigner price!
We spent the end of our trip at the luxu-
rious Coconut Lagoon, a resort in
Vembanad Lake. This hotel was a bit more
geared for Western tourists; they had a
traditional dance performance, yoga class-
es and a cow tied up for photo opportuni-
ties. It was just what my parents wanted:
All in all, we had a wonderful time. It
wasn’t an easy trip. My stepfather refused
to eat anything other than white rice and
the occasional ice cream. My mother
insisted on dragging us along to cooking
classes and a martial arts show — at 7 am.
But what’s a family vacation without some
bickering and the occasional leech crawl-
ing up your leg? ;
Some parts of their visit, including a nature
walk through a wildlife sanctuary,
were a little too authentic for the visitors
Hanna Ingber Win is GlobalPost’s
Follow her on Twitter @Hanna_India.