Munnar

Men with chainsaws again cleared the tree from the road, and a few smaller cars began to sneak by, their passengers holding the power line up while the driver navigated underneath. Someone held it up long enough for us to squeeze through, and we were on our way again. A few miles down the road, traffic slowed yet again, though not to a standstill. Everyone crept by a truck before speeding up again, and the reason became clear in an instant.

The entire top of the truck was crushed, including the driver’s seat. A cut-up tree lay on the side of the road. Nobody was inside anymore, but the “oh my God” that involuntarily escaped Cassie’s lips described the severity of what must have happened to the truck’s occupants. As we turned to look at each other, all our faces held somber expressions except the driver’s. He was giggling.

The forest became less dense and we began climbing. The driver’s every attempt at passing was a maddening reprise of the previous day’s antics, and our nerves frayed further. We all agreed we’d be better off with Bharath driving, and he offered to drive. The driver of course replied, “No, no, no!” but Bharath became adamant. They traded off and Bharath took the wheel.

The road’s condition deteriorated, and the already bumpy ride became bumpier and curvier. Both Cassie and I were green with nausea, praying we’d complete the trip without needing access to one of India’s glorious public bathrooms. We did. Five hours after we left Thekkady, we rolled into Munnar and checked into our hotel.

I still wasn’t feeling well, so Bharath and Cassie headed off to see a dam in Munnar while I rested in the hotel room. By the time they got back I was feeling better but Cassie was feeling like she needed rest. Munnar also had a kalaripayattu show, so we traded places and she took a turn being bedridden while Bharath and I went to see the martial arts display.

We summoned the driver and got into the car. We had him ask directions before we went anywhere, and rolled down the road into town. Munnar has four roads. We came into town on one of them, turned onto the next, went several kilometers outside of town before turning around and heading back into town. Then we turned onto the next one, went several kilometers outside of town, and turned around to head back into town. Finally, we turned onto the last road in town, and the cultural center where the event was to be held was right there. In the middle of town.

Shaking our heads in disbelief, we went inside to catch the show. A dimly lit room with stadium seating surrounded a dirt pit. A muffled voice came over a loudspeaker, and I knew it was speaking English but couldn’t make out the words. Rows of swords, shields, metal staffs, and other weapons lined the inside of the dirt pit. Bharath was visibly excited. He’d wanted to see this for a long time.

The performers came out. They were shirtless and clad in black and red pants. Music rang out over the loudspeaker and they moved in unison in a tribute to the gods before erupting into motion. Swords circled in the air and met with deafening clangs the metal shields of the opponents. Displays of athleticism and choreography filled the next hour and we left with smiles on our faces. A good show.

We went back to check on Cassie and she was feeling a bit better so we decided to try to find SaravarBhavan, a supposedly very good restaurant in town for dinner. We asked our driver about it. “Server number one?” he replied. “No: Saravar Bhavan!”

He asked directions from the hotel front desk clerk and nodded his head confidently. “Okay, okay, okay!” We piled in the car and drove to town. The familiar perplexed look appeared on Abin’s face. He rolled down the window to ask directions. A man carrying an umbrella provided a very detailed set of instructions and we rolled off. Still unable to find it, he rolled down the window and asked another person. We continued driving and, still unable to find it, we again crossed paths with the first man we’d asked directions. He spread his arms in exasperation as if to say “what the heck are you doing? I told you exactly where to go!”

He started explaining again and Bharath implored him to just get in the car with us and show us where to go. He did, and we enjoyed a delicious meal: the first solid food I’d had since getting sick. Cassie caught a woman trying to take a picture of her from another table, using her husband as cover. When their eyes met they both erupted into laughter, Cassie at the hilarity of the moment and the women in embarrassment at being caught.

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