[fusion_text]IMG_1035Having enjoyed five days in the city of Madurai, we were treated to a special excursion into the mountains on Friday December 12th. Our destination would be Kodaikanal, where we would receive a tour from Bala on the Palni Hills Conservation Council and then trek into the forest with Vijay.

Our fearless leader, Dr. David Willis, had taught at the Kodaikanal International School some 30 years prior, so he had fond memories of the place and even ran into his old colleague Dr. Clarence Maloney who has written extensively about South Asia.  We stopped in at the Palni Conservation Council and had some toast and tea. Then we were shown around the place by Bala, who had an extensive knowledge of the botanical efforts of the council. Next, we headed into the garden to learn about the various local plant varieties. Upon entering, Bala looked down at Sekar’s open-toed sandals as he stood on the soil between the plants, and whispered to him within my earshot, “There may be leeches.” Overhearing this, Claude Cloutier from Canada reached down to the ground, picked up a squiggly black worm-like looking thing, and asked “You mean, like this?” That’s all Sekar and I needed – we were OUT of that garden like a shot out of a cannon! The rest of the group happily listened to Bala as they walked through the garden for the next 30 minutes or so. The thought of having a leech or two sucking my blood out of our feet was sufficient deterrent for Sekar and I, and we watched from afar as the group nodded their heads and reached down to touch the foliage as Bala shared his botanical knowledge.

Next on deck was the hike through the forest, something I had been quite looking forward to having desperately been missing my exercise regime in India.  Vijay met us at the Palni Council and took us to the bottom of the hill where we would begin our trek up into the forest. A small stream was running along the bottom of the forest, and two women were out washing their clothes in it (see photo below). We set off into the forest, and as we entered into the trees Vijay explained we would need to keep our voices down in order not to scare the gaur (also called Indian Bison, they are a large ox-like looking animal that stands 2 meters at the shoulders), the leopard, or the flying squirrels we could otherwise view.  We then spent the next two hours quieting trekking through the forest and did at one point catch a distant glimpse of the enormous gaur quietly eating grasses.  The moss on the trees was a beautiful and radiant burnt-orange color (see photo below), which really stood in beautiful contrast to the forest greenery. This hike was just what I needed to balance all the city noise like the constant car honking and the feeling of the ever-present movement of people going from one place to the next. ?What a lovely day we had in the forest hills!

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