When we were planning our trip to Kerala, I have to confess that I did have some doubts about Stanley Wilson Tours - despite all the excellent reviews on Trip Advisor, it just seemed too good (and too cheap) to be true! After numerous emails from the very patient Stanley, I felt reassured and we went ahead and booked a night at Jasmine Villa, followed by the three day two night tour to the tea plantations, and later in our trip, a night on the houseboat in the backwaters.
We were met by one of Stanley's drivers at Kochi train station and driven to Jasmine Villa which is located about five minutes by rickshaw from the old town. It is a lovely clean and spacious family home, and our bedroom was a good size with a HUGE king (superking??) size bed. We had dinner that night with the other guests who were staying at the home - every dish was absolutely delicious and there was more food than we could have got through in a week :-)
The next morning we had an early start to begin the Munnar/tea plantation tour, and met our driver for the trip, Albert. We really enjoyed his company throughout, he was friendly, flexible, and gave us lots of help and advice, can't speak too highly of him :-) We were driven for about 2.5 hours to see the elephant washing at Kodanad - and wished we hadn't bothered getting up early for it. Three elephants with their legs chained together were led down to the river - the sight of the chains upset me but I reasoned it was better than an animal of that size charging through the crowd.....however, when the elephants got to the water, the men with them started pulling at their ears to get them in the position they wanted, and hitting the backs of their legs with sticks so they would kneel down. I was absolutely disgusted by this, and found the sight of such beautiful majestic animals being publicly beaten incredibly distressing. (Later on, we spoke to other tourists who had felt the same way, so I really hope that word gets out and people stop visiting the place - I would highly recommend to Stanley to delete it from his tour plans)
When we got back to the car, Albert saw we were upset, and told us he knew somewhere where we could ride elephants. I was very dubious after seeing how poorly the animals had been treated at Kodanad, but said we would have a look at this place (this was not on the itinerary so we were very grateful to Albert for taking us "off piste"!!). He took us to the elephant camp at Eruttukanam, Munnar - and we were very impressed. The mahouts (elephant trainers) there communicate with the animals using their eyes and voices, and although they carry sticks, they dont touch the elephants with them, and even stop halfway round the ride to give the animal a drink. Riding the elephant was a wonderful experience and really restored my faith after the unpleasant morning at Kodanad. We really enjoyed the rest of the tour, which included a trip to a spice garden, visiting the top station (its worth paying the extra few rupees to go beyond the barrier and do a longer walk to better views), spending some time in Munnar town, and going to the tea museum.
The accommodation during the tour, Misty Green View, is in a stunning location with views down across a valley of tea covered hills :-) We were allocated the room on the basement level of the house, which was good in that it is the only room with a direct window out to the view (the rest have communal balconies in front of them) - but not so good in that it was opposite the kitchen, and seemed to be where the drivers gathered in the mornings, so we were woken around 6 - 6.30am every morning whether we wanted to be or not! Fair play to Robin who spoke to the drivers about chatting outside our window after they did it on the first morning...they were a bit quieter the next day....but it seems Keralans are just morning people and we are just not ;-) While we were staying there I decided to take advantage of getting a full body massage for a fraction of english prices....Albert very kindly drove me into the village and waited around while I had a blissful hour and a half at the hands of a local masseuse....then drove me back to Misty Green View. All in all, a fantastic few days with so many incredible and unique experiences packed in, and great value for money.
Later in our trip we did the houseboat, which was just fabulous - incredibly peaceful, beautiful scenery, and a cosy comfortable boat staffed by skilled, friendly but un-intrusive crew. The food on the boat was some of, if not THE best, of our two weeks in Kerala -and as everything you eat in India is delicious, that is high praise! Even thinking of the prawns, the egg curry, the tomato fry and the aubergine curry is making my mouth water now. The chef is so good we offered to dump our clothes and take him home in our suitcase.....sadly he declined.
I could write a lot more about all the things we did, but you can see the tour itineraries for yourself on Stanley's website, and experiencing them is something else altogether. Suffice to say I would highly recommend booking through his company - the level of service, flexibility, and knowledge are second to none, and the memories made in the few days under his care will last a lifetime.
Thank you Stanley, Jasmine, Albert, Robin, Madu, and everyone else who helped to make our trip amazing :-)
Kate and Neil
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