Monkeys, Leeches and Elephants (Day 9 and 10) May 8, 2011 by Amanda Stergianos From Madurai, we headed 4 hours towards the green hills and spice plantations of Thakkady. We stayed in a lovely – and for the first time in India, what felt like an eco-friendly resort (www.hoteltreetop.com). It was wonderfully clean (phew, and phew again!), well run and just a lovely setting up on the hills away from the hustle and bustle of towns and cities. We had a room with a view over the tropical plantations and a little way away, a hammock between two palms, which is such a nice way to just stop, think, and catch up (note to self, next house try install a hammock). When George and I woke up at 7 am after our first night there, we heard the girls had already woken up and were downstairs on the hammock. I walked out my room to talk to them from the balcony – and could see that a troupe of monkeys were but 20 meters away. I called the girls to rush inside (as I knew they’d panic if surrounded by monkeys) and it was a race who got to our room first! (every man was for himself, poor Nina had to take 3 steps at a time to get to our room door with the male leader hot on her heels). Lots of squealing panic! Tony, our guide happened to hear the commotion and came up to our room to make sure we were safe, but what a wonderful experience to get so close to these animals that can really make me laugh out loud. They are so human and animated, like the mother and baby relationship, and the greedy adolescent. In the end we shared a few bananas and grapes with them and then they disappeared back into the morning fog. I have to remind myself (having grown up in South Africa) that while it was not a first for me, for the girls it was an exhilarating experience to engage with a troupe of wild monkeys. After our own hearty breakfast (by now we are getting quite used to Samba and Iddly which is veg curry and rice fritter) – we headed to Periyar National Park, home to 42 tigers and an abundancy of other wildlife (we saw wild deer, black monkeys and giant squirrels) . We were given special anti-leach socks – which tied around our knees – but nothing could have prepared us for just how determined these things really are. They suck onto your shoes and make their way up your legs in search of bare skin in order to suck your blood. To get them off we had to dust them with snuff powder. The leach socks did the trick, along the powder and with flicking them off, but George put his rucksack down on the footpath for a nano-second and they got on there, and then onto his back – and got stuck in! Pretty revolting creatures, but an adventure all the same. There is still a belief that they can cure people with “thick blood” Never mind the tigers, watch those darn leaches! In the afternoon, we headed to a privately owned estate of an elderly gentleman who has 6 beloved elephants. After the previous disastrous trip to an elephant camp, we hassled our guide to make sure that where he was taking us was not going to be heart wrenching or supporting any form of cruelty with tourism. I am pleased to say these were well looked after animals, that had a balance of work and rest – and they seemed content and relaxed. After a short ride, we got to the fun part which was to give Shanda the elephant a bath. She was sleepy and content to get scrubbed with brushes by 3 very enthusiastic future zoologists! The bathing session ended up in a game – where Shanda was hosing them all down – equally enthusiastically and with admirable accuracy! It was an experience of a lifetime, one that will be etched into their minds forever. All in all, a most eventful day where Tatiana came face to face with nature Leaches climbed into her trainers A rather large monkey sneaked up on her from behind and grabbed her hand to get to her bananas – she had an apoplexy! While on her elephant ride, the elephant sneezed but directed her trunk backwards so it hit Tati bulls eye in the face.