In the morning we flew to Madurai. This is what the land looked like as we descended:
The earth is red, and in many places the vegetation is sparse and scrubby. Rocky hillocks rise abruptly out of flat plain. I have flown over Tamil Nadu and into Kerala before, and each time I have felt the abruptness of the change: Tamil Nadu vast, dry, red -- it has fields, rice paddies, orchards, but they appear to be clinging to the surface of a hard land; then, cross the ghats - the low mountain range which runs up the western side of India - and BAM! Kerala, green, lush, abundant. Both landscapes have their own beauty, but Kerala's is more obvious.
This time we landed in Madurai, a temple city in the south of Tamil Nadu, and drove up the hills and into Kerala. (Here's a map. We started from Chennai, which is shown in blue, right on the northeast coast. Madurai is more than halfway down, more or less in the centre, and situated at a crossroads: a real heartland city. We drove west, through Theni, and just across the border into Kerala.)
Thekkady is 150 km from Madurai. The drive took 3 1/2 hours, most of it through flat plains – rocky outcroppings, fields, plantations of coconut, grapes, sugarcane; many small villages. Village temples, some of them protected by large painted sculptures of warriors on white horses.
In several places farmers had spread out hard cobs of millet on the road, to be threshed by the cars driving over them. Parts of the road were thickly lined with shady trees, their trunks painted in black and white warning stripes.
At one small village, a small procession emerged onto the road: about ten people. One man carried a red umbrella - tall, dome-shaped, intended to symbolise royalty or divinity. Behind him a woman carried two decorated brass pots on her head.
Later we passed another mini-procession in a larger village: a drummer, a couple of men in horse costumes, prancing.
The hills rise directly out of the plain. The ghat road ascends abruptly, much more steeply and directly than on the road to Coonoor. The road is less travelled than the road to Coonoor, which is often like a roller coaster ride, with cars flying in both directions on the same narrow track. A beautiful drive through forest, with views of green hills and valleys.
A few tiny villages are strung alongside the road. At Kumili village one leaves Tamil Nadu and enters Kerala by driving under a bar which extends across the road. This is where the hotels and resorts begin. In five minutes we were in Thekkady.