Kerala, India: Exploring the jungle-side like locals

After our warm welcome in India while on the backwaters of Kerala, we were rested and ready for what the country had in store for us. Through all of our travels, on only one other occasion did we get the opportunity to spend our time with a local family truly immersing ourselves in the culture surrounding us. Now that we have done it twice, we agree, this is definitely the way to travel. Yeah, you might miss out on the resort style luxury where the staff caters to your every whim. And you might miss out the privacy of having your own hotel room stocked with a mini fridge of beer. But in exchange, you gain a deep relationship with your hosts, the generosity of strangers treating you like family, and personal exposure to the local lifestyle. Yes, this is the way we like to travel.

We were invited to Kerala by our friend, Jit. Jit moved to the States to work as an engineer, which is how he and Jason first met. We spent a lot of time with him eating Indian food in Mississippi while we chatted about how different our two countries are. He promised me that once he was ready to get married, he would invite us to attend his wedding in India. A few years later, he upheld that promise. So, despite our pre-planned trip to Europe at the same time, how could we say no? We shortened our Europe trip and made time to visit Jit and his family for his upcoming nuptials.

Jit had a whole agenda ready for us. We were just along for the ride. Most of the time we had no idea where that ride was taking us. The ride started by Jit’s brother, Jipin, and cousin, Manu, picking us up at the houseboat dock and taking us to see the ocean. Technically, we saw the Laccadive Sea, but we thought it was the Indian Ocean, and we were ecstatic to mark another ocean off our bucket lists.

We then took a long scenic ride through the jungle to Jit’s summer home in Pathanamthitta where his family was waiting for us with lunch. After meeting the family and settling into our cozy room, Mom had lunch waiting for us on the table. Dad sat with us while we ate and the ladies served us. The conversation was quiet, probably due to the language barrier. Also, it was a little awkward to have everyone watch us as we ate. But the food was delicious! And it just kept coming. As we finished up our meals, the men in the house begin to eat. This is when we first noticed that we were the only ones eating with utensils. The rest of the family ate with their right hand. Suddenly, I understood why everyone was watching us eat. We must have looked so strange eating with forks, and I know they went through a lot of effort to find forks for us in the first place. Once we (as the guests) were done and the men of the house were done, the women ate last. It was very traditional and very different then dinners back home. Jason and I were stuffed.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing at the house before Jit and Manu took us on a drive of the country side. We drove through the jungle keeping our eyes out for wild elephants. We stopped for a short hike to a waterfall where we met some more locals that we followed up to the top. A nice dip in the water was refreshing and worth the steep hike up.

We then visited Manu’s home and met some of his family including his pet cows. His family was so happy to see us. They fed us snacks and tea, and I even got a beautiful necklace as a gift.

We never spotted any wild elephants. So, Jit and Manu took us to an elephant sanctuary that next morning. Once again, I came face to face with these massive lovable beasts.

Then, Jit and Manu took us to visit his mom’s family home. We visited with her parents, sisters, and nieces. They showed us the massive garden they kept in the neighborhood. It wasn’t the type of garden I am used to seeing here in the states. This garden was wild, thick and full of every fruit and vegetable we had tried in India so far. Mangoes, bananas, coconuts, peppercorn, even coffee beans! And of course rubber trees. They showed us how the rubber was gathered from the trees and processed right there in the backyard. We had a wonderful traditional lunch served on a banana leaf before we headed out for the next stop on the agenda.

Next, we stopped at a local stream where we rode a little round boat through the jungle. The ride was serene and perfect for the nice weather outside.

After more driving through the jungle-side, we ended up at Jit’s dad’s family home. We saw the house that Dad was born in. Then we walked to a local Hindu temple while the family attended church. We watched as they prayed to their gods. That next day Jit would be married to a beautiful woman who was waiting for him in Trivadrum. Two families would join. They had a lot to be blessed for. And as I watched this beautiful family gather under the temple roof and pray to gods I did not know, I couldn’t help but be amazed. I thought of my own family back home, my mom, my dad, my sisters and brothers. I thought about Jason’s family and how they are now mine too. And I thought about the family that Jason and I were creating at that moment, the baby growing inside my womb. In that moment, I whispered a prayer to my god, thanking him for reminding me of the faith we can find in family.

Until next time,

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