With its Edakkal Caves, homestays with tree houses among the coffee plantations, Wayanad in Kerala provides a soothing alternative to weary tourists, write Hugh and Colleen Gantzer
We are perched in a soaring tree. It’s a gulmohar tree thirty-five feet above the forest floor, in the midst of a coffee plantation, deep in the highlands of Kerala’s Wayanad. There is every comfort. There is a mini-fridge; a combination safe; a coffee-maker; a TV with its own DTH dish; a Milano shower unit, which offers a choice of overhead sluicing, hand-held spraying, or multiple drenching from six jets, all at the pressure and temperature of your choice; and all other trappings of starred living.
Though the planting fraternity might know it for the excellence of its coffee, to the travel world, Kuppamudi’s Tranquil is renowned for its homestay with Victor and Jinni Dey and Ajay and Nisha Mathulla. This venture was so successful that they, and the owners of these 400 acres, decided to take another leap forward. They built their tree houses.
In this late afternoon light, everything glows gold. Victor, a planter all his life, loves wood and it shows. Everything is either made of wood, or concealed behind wood, or is a product of wood. A living branch backs the dressing table and then stretches over the bed like the shaft of a guardian angel’s wing. The other extends out of the floor of the bathroom and goes out through the roof. The most serene part of this very peaceful place, however, is its balcony. From the bedroom, clear acrylic French windows give uninterrupted views of the forest and access to the balcony. There are wicker chairs and tables to complete your travel diaries while a cool breeze stirs the feathery leaves of the gulmohar tree framing the horizon-reaching view of the estate. There’s a delightfully Daliesque fence around the balcony-verandah made of gnarled and polished coffee wood. A little bird has just hopped over from the fence and is busy picking up crumbs from the tea table, quite unafraid. Another bird is puffing out its blue chest and singing a passionate love song to its dowdy mate who fluffs out her feathers in appreciation.
One can see more flocks of its cousins while driving towards the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. There, after a strenuous climb on a difficult, boulder-strewn, path lie the Edakkal Caves. Unless you have a very good sense of balance, do not attempt it alone. And if the rocks have been glazed with rain or mist, do not attempt it at all. Humans seem to have an irresistible need to build their most revered shrines in the most inaccessible places, almost as if it would be divinely improper to make the path to salvation easy. And it does seem that the Edakkal Caves have all the appropriately difficult obstacles to qualify for shrine status.
Here, according to archaeologists and anthropologists, when mankind was very young, our unknown ancestors had etched strange furrowed designs into the rock faces of their homes. One looks hard, trying to make sense of them. We couldn’t, at first. Then the sun lanced through the mouth of the cave and the petroglyphs assumed a strange three-dimensional effect. One could make out the outline of a woman. She was holding up her hands. In the dead centre was a fearsome-looking man in a strange headdress. He reminded of someone or something we had seen recently. And then it hit both of us at the same time. We were looking, through the tunnel of countless centuries, at a shaman arrayed in all his fearsome splendour.
That was many millennia ago, but today, as we write this in the gloaming in our tree house above the forest, that age does not seem to be so far away. We’ve lit a candle, not because we have to but because it seems to be more appropriate to the setting. We’ve drawn the nylon mesh screens across the entrance to the balcony so that the breeze can blow through, but the strumming, humming, insects stay out. In a little while, we’ll leave our high lair and walk across, through the coffee and the pepper to join the family at dinner.
Ah! A firefly must have flown in from the forest before we shut the screen doors. The moon has risen and is flooding the room with quicksilver through which the firefly’s flashes are like a tiny, bobbing, beacon on a luminous sea. Perhaps such a play of light and shade inspired the etchings in the Edakkal caves with frenzied bare bodies dancing, intoxicated by the chants and drums of the shaman and the full-moon spreading a net of magic out of the Neolithic sky.
Or perhaps these are only the fantasies of our minds, charged by the silence and the wonder and the bewitchment of this tree house in a forest in Wayanad.
Accommodation: Tranquil, Kuppamudi Coffee Estate, Kolagappara P.O. 673591, Sultans Battery, Wayanad, Kerala.