TRAVEL: OUTLOOK TRAVELLER/NORTH MALABAR












Photos Credit: S. Satish Kumar





North Malabar:
Beyond the backwaters
Sheila Kumar








How much can you have of a good thing? A true blue Malayali sets out to bust the beauty myth, and fails


Whatever was Outlook Traveller doing, sending a Malayali into the Malabar hinterlands? Most ‘Mallus’ suffer from a surfeit of natural beauty and now view the backwaters, the ‘kettuvalam’ boats, and the rampant verdure with a sardonic brow. Factor in our intrinsic cynicism, the inclination to seek and find hornets in paradise, and what you get is not exactly the gushing travel writer.


It didn’t help matters any that the photographer Satish and I had had to set out from Bangalore rather late in the day. As a result, we trawled the ghat roads in begloomed darkness and going down into the plains again, reached the Kadavu Resort exhausted and famished, around 10 pm, not having been aided by any signposts to the place. We were shown to our pleasingly appointed cottages, whereupon I collapsed the moment I hit the bed. Somewhere on the fringe of my fast-fading consciousness I registered the fact that I was being sung ceaseless lullabies to, by cicadas, frogs, night jars, and a veritable army of nocturnal creatures. Surprisingly, it wasn’t too bad a serenade. And it was a recurring leitmotif all through my Malabar sojourn.
Up just before dawn the next day, drawing open the curtains of the cottage, I took a deep breath and forgot to release it for a while. Because there it was in front of me, the river Chaliyar, upon whose bank the Kadavu Resort (‘kadavu’ is riverside in Malayalam) stands. In the pale pre-dawn light streaked with fingers of pink, the Western Ghats rose like distant monoliths in front of me. The broad swathe of water, wreathed in thin mist, gleamed like a huge sheet of bevelled glass catching something of the silver-grey skies; out in the middle, there were two catamarans poised like a still life.


And so it began, my brief but complete enthralment by the river. Ironically, the Chaliyar was not at its prettiest in this season because of the mud-melt from the Western Ghats; I was told it was a deep green gleam at all other times, complementing the palm groves on either bank. All the cottages in the resort (equipped with just about every mod-con you can think of), the suites and rooms overlook the water. And from the boat-shaped ‘Uru’ restaurant, you get a positively panoramic view.



This riverside resort is just the place to go with a small pile of books to read, a notebook or two to write in, for some quality time with your inner self.

Mid-morning, we were out on the river, now transformed into a fluid collage of sheer glass, the waters catching and throwing back the sunlight across the length and breadth of the river. The boatman, a laconic soul, tells us how the Chaliyar, 20 metres at its deepest point, was a major waterway before buses plied the road. Satish is charmed by the glimpse of a delightfully lopsided stone jetty, by the rust flash of a Malabar squirrel in a tree on the island we are circling, by the men in the catamarans who are dredging up sand from the riverbed. Me, I try not to stare at the dead crow, the dried coconut husks, and the used condom floating alongside. It is in the nature of the Malayali to notice such things.


By noon, the Chaliyar is like a sluggish brown anaconda. I roam the resort taking in the ozonated pool, the Jacuzzi, the gym, the Greek-style amphitheatre. Satish goes for an Ayurveda massage and comes back beaming with somnolent satisfaction. I luxuriate in the lovely coffee to be had here (not surprising, because Wayanad next door is the state’s coffee country)—rich, fragrant, thick and dark as sin.
By late evening, the river has changed colour again, and now glints steel-grey, with elongated wefts just under the surface, as if a resident Nessie is lazily swimming the length of the river. The catamarans have gone, the ghats are obscured by haze but I see a brace of white T-shirted boys rowing in perfect synchrony, like boatmen training for the snake boat race at Alappuzha to be held a few months on.



Then, of course, there is Wayanad, up in the hills, just an hour or so away by road. Almost every conceivable inch of these mist-wrapped undulating hills have coffee, and spices like pepper, cinnamon and cardamom growing on them, all of it hedged by lush rainforest that stuns the eye with its varied shades of green. Tourist attractions abound; there are hotels and resorts aplenty but the two most well known are the Vythiri Resort and the Fintser Hills Treetop cottages. The latter is under repair right now but for those who want to try the Me Tarzan-You Jane experience (and believe me, it doesn’t get more basic than this), you can e-mail fintser@hotmail.com.

The Vythiri Resort, memorable for both its incredibly bad approach road as well as the incredibly beautiful white-throated stream that runs through it, has been taken over by a European consortium, Serena Spa, and will shortly have a state-of-the-art water treatment: herbal steam baths, a plunge in the outdoor pool, massage pavilions smack in the middle of the gurgling waters, a ‘marma’ room, the works.


Whatever was Outlook Traveller thinking of, sending a Mallu into the rainforests during the rains? Well, it was inspired thinking, let me tell you. It proved that Kerala still holds some surprises up her green sleeves, surprises that can get under the skin of even a beauty-hardened denizen of God’s Own Country.




USEFUL FACTS
Getting thereCalicut is the most convenient city to access the Wayanad region, which lies to its east. Several trains from Mumbai stop here (Nethravati Express; Rs 1,763 on 2A). It’s also well-connected by road.
Where to stay
Kadavu is located outside Calicut. Tariff: Rs 3,390 for Superior AC; Rs 3,870 for cottage/suite (all on AP; rates valid Apr 1-Sept 30). Ph: 0493-720570/720027; web: www. kadavuresorts.com. Vythiri Resort offers back-to-nature luxury. Tariff: Begins Rs 1,250 (MAP). Ph: 0495-761-236/7; web: www.vythiriresort.com. Fintser Hills, situated in Vythiri, is an eco-friendly hotel, with ‘tree-top’ rooms with all basic facilities. Access to tree houses, 86 ft high, is by an indigenous cane elevator. Currently under renovation. Tariff: Rs 5,000-7,000 (AP) for two. Email: fintser@hotmail.com. Tranquil offers a pricey home-stay in an old-world bungalow in Sulthan Bathery. Tariff: From Rs 11,000 (AP) for two. Ph: 0493-620244/620180; web: www. plantationhideaway.com. Other plush, new hotels in the Wayanad area include Greeshmam Resort in Lakkidi (Ph: 0493-655716-20; email: mhmcpt@md3.vsnl.net.in) and Green Gates Hotel in Kalpetta (Ph: 0493-602001-4; web: www.greengateshotel.com).


What to see

The Jain temple of Kottamunda, 20 km from Kalpetta; the Chembra peak (2,100 m), 14 km west of Kalpetta. There are the Begur and the Wayanad sanctuaries; Pookot lake, 5 km south of Vythiri; and Edakkal caves with prehistoric carvings dating back to 3000 BC (12 km from Sulthan Bathery).





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