How We Made Our Package Tour of India Not Suck

How We Made Our Package Tour of India Not Suck

“Where are we stopping now?” I asked.

“We’re at The Super Awesome Fun Park,” Jessica answered.

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah, for 300 rupees we can bounce on a trampoline.”

[Hand smacks forehead]

I’d reunited with my favorite on again, off again travel partner Jessica, and her friends Lyric and Dhaak, for a three day tour of two cities in Kerala, India.

Packaged tours are not at all how I like to see a country. But, I was feeling travel weary, so the thought of someone else being in charge of me for a few days had some appeal.

Our tour would start in Kochi and take us to Munnar — a hill station with beautiful mountains and tea plantations.  Along the way we were promised various “natural wonders” and “cultural sites” – words that definitely struck a fair amount of tourist-trap fear in my heart.

Our driver, Sebin, met us at our guesthouse in Kochi on the first morning. He seemed nice, but a little withdrawn and quiet as we made our way out of the city and slowly started climbing into the mountains.

Then the “tour” portion began.

We started off by stopping at two “waterfalls” that trickled more than fell.

“They’re bigger in rainy season,” Sebin reassured us.

We were then treated to a visit to a chocolate shop and “herb garden” which looked reminiscent of the gardening center at Home Depot – plastic planters, bags of mulch, and a few wilted flowers. We unanimously declined to pay the two dollars to walk around. Next, we stopped at a “flower park” which also looked like the Home Depot gardening center and also costs two dollars.

After a few hours of this – and one stop at the Super Awesome Fun Park, where no one bounced on the trampoline – it became increasingly clear that we’d paid for a tour to places where we could pay more money to see things that had nothing to do with India.

We finally arrived in Munnar and were dropped off at the nameless hotel packaged in with the tour. Sebin promised to return at 8am and left us in our cold, damp rooms to alternate between shivering and wallowing in regret. (Ok. The hotel wasn’t THAT bad, but it was just totally devoid of character, warmth, or anything that might have reminded us we were in another country.)

The following morning, we woke up smelling like mold and resolved to reclaim our time in Munnar. We took a glance at the day’s itinerary and quickly told him we wanted to skip anything that was a shop or had Super, Fun, or Awesome in the title.

Our first stop of the day was a nearby dam. It looked exactly like you might imagine a dam to look. Water on one side, no water on the other. Well done, dam.

India, Munnar, tour, hill station, Mattupetty Dam

It was a cool morning with a little bit of drizzle, but luckily just next to riveting river blocker was a small, wooden tea stall. Our order of three masala teas resulted in a flourish of pours and steam and whistles, as the man put together our drinks in tiny paper cups.India, Munnar, tour, hill station, Mattupetty Dam, chai, masala, tea India, Munnar, tour, hill station, Mattupetty Dam, chai, masala, tea

After the first warm, spiced sip we immediately ordered another round.

Optimism instilled, we loaded back into the car and Sebin told us our next stop would be Echo Point, where we could…. yell and hear our echo. We were skeptical, but Sebin, for the first time, actually seemed genuinely excited and possibly might have even smiled.

India, Munnar, tour, hill station, Echo point, Kerala

We arrived at a river with a small sandy bank. Sebin, almost giddy, led us down to the edge and gave an unabashed shout at the top of lungs — which was immediately returned in echo form. We all burst out giggling and clapped our hands in delight. For some reason, this was the absolute most entertaining thing that had happened in days.

Sebin was smiling. We were smiling. Everyone was shouting their names. Eventually everyone was also shouting PENIS. Some serious bonding was going on.

We asked where we were going next and Sebin gave a little sideways glance and answered with The Tea Museum.

Oh, Sebin. I thought we were making progress.

There was no way we were going to a tea museum as we assumed it would look like Home Depot and cost two dollars.

“No,” Jessica replied. “We want to go a toddy bar.”

Toddy is the local, home brewed alcohol made from palm trees and served in small houses or rooms just off the road. Indian men congregate there from morning to evening and we decided this would be a great chance to see into local life … and of course, try a bit of toddy.

Sebin half smiled and thoughtfully asked, “Tea museum and then toddy bar?”

“Toddy bar.”

“No musuem?”

“Toddy bar.”

“Ok. (long pause) Do you want to go to my toddy bar?”

“YES!”

We turned off the main road and climbed further into the mountains.India, Munnar, tour, hill station, tea plantations, KeralaIndia, Munnar, tour, hill station, tea plantations, KeralaIndia, Munnar, tour, hill station, tea plantations, Kerala

Thirty minutes later, we pulled off next to a wooden shack perched above a river. Inside were two picnic tables with painted dividers and three or four Indian men enjoying glasses of opaque, white toddy.

Sebin hugged the men and ordered a pitcher for us. We took our first sips. It tasted a bit like sprite and soda water, and smelled like rotten eggs. We held our noses, finished our glasses, and ordered another pitcher.

India, Munnar, tour, hill station, tea plantations, Kerala, Toddy, toddy bar

India, Munnar, tour, hill station, tea plantations, Kerala, Toddy, toddy bar

India, Munnar, tour, hill station, tea plantations, Kerala, Toddy, toddy barIndia, Munnar, tour, hill station, tea plantations, Kerala, Toddy, toddy bar

Sebin had a glass with us and talked about his friends and life in Munnar. Then we ordered another pitcher. Then another. Then we were all besties. (Sebin smiling caught on camera!)

India, Munnar, tour, hill station, tea plantations, Kerala, Toddy, toddy bar

Lyric asked Sebin where the bathroom was, he made a face, and said he’d take us to his house just down the road instead.

We met his parents, got a tour of his house, (peed), ate some fruit from his backyard, and made his mom pose for a few awkward pictures – basically, for the first time, we saw a tiny slice of real life in India.

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And that, in my opinion, was the actual Super Awesome Fun.

 

2 Comments

  1. I laughed out loud while reading this! Oh Sebby… xoxoox

    Reply
  2. the echo part of the story made me laugh out loud!! such a typical “touristy” experience. glad you eeked some authenticity out of it. as you would….. :)

    Reply

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