Author: Priyanka Singh Rana
Photographs: Priyanka Singh Rana
I check my watch as our train pulls into Kochi. It’s nearly 4 am in the morning. We grab our bags and, in spite of our best efforts, a much awake two-and-a-half-year-old jump onto the platform. It is pitch dark as our cab leaves the city for Kumily, a little plantation town perched on the hills near the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Thekkady, Kerala.
It is a long drive that I have taken almost after ten years and so this trip is a chance to revisit an old memory.
The darkness lifts as our cab winds its way up towards Periyar. The early morning is shrouded in mist and a somehow comforting stillness. Our tot finally dozes off. Soon, sunlight filters through tree plantations and shimmers over expansive tea gardens.
We jog our memories to name the trees and the big, bright clumps of flowers growing pell-mell all along our route. We pass several settlements, and everywhere the gardens are brimming with beautiful orchids, roses, champas, lilies, and vines of all description.
To me, the clumps of flowers seem like vibrant bouquets, strewn about as a grand welcome and I cannot help but smile in return.
The mist follows us to Kumily. It envelops us as we finally get out of the cab and make our way to our little wood cabin at Hills and Hues. The boutique resort is nestled atop a hill overlooking the Periyar reserve on one side and the Sahyadri mountains on the other.
The path to our cabin is lined with fruit trees, such as papaya, guava, and sapodilla. There are even the more exotic avocado trees and passion fruit vines. There are coffee trees, pepper vines, and even cardamom plants spread all over the property.
A rustic wooden bridge winds along the property, connecting its six rooms. Our cabin sits above a canopy of trees, giving it an almost tree-house feel. It commands an arresting view of the Sahyadris and the sweeping emerald valleys below. As I take in the view, I feel my tiredness melt away just like the morning mist.
After a lazy day spent lounging on the terrace, we walk up a steep path that leads to a hiking trail around the property. We find a rocky spot and sit down with steaming cups of masala chai the staff have thoughtfully arranged for.
We linger till the sun sets over the Periyar reserve and the hills around it, bathing them in its kaleidoscopic light. My new experience of Periyar is turning out even better than memory.
A chance chat with the manager and we come to know that the resort also houses a goat shed. On his invitation, we accompany him the next morning to a tiny wooden shelter. It has about 6 goats and two kids just a few weeks old. With one whoop of joy, our toddler promptly settles down with the baby goats and refuses to leave their side.
We manage to disentangle them after a lot of coaxing and then watch as the staff milk the goats. They offer us some of the fresh sharp-tasting milk, which eventually winds up in our coffee. After this, visiting the goat shed almost becomes a daily ritual.
After two days of haunting the property, we decide to do some touristy things. We begin with a rambling ride through a cardamom plantation on an elephant, some boating on the hauntingly beautiful Periyar lake, and end with a spice shopping spree.
The next day, my husband decides on a guided trek through the Periyar reserve. I decide to do my own exploring. The road to the resort passes through a tiny hamlet set amid coffee and pepper plantations. I head down there with my tot in tow. We pass small houses lined with hedges of red hibiscus. Some have little sheds for cows and goats. Some have chickens running about in enclosures.
Nearly all the villagers grow coffee trees. Many of them are laden with sweet-smelling white flowers or berries. Some villagers have picked the ripe, red berries and laid them out on the side of the road to dry. Besides coffee, these dwellers seem to share a love for flowers, which grow in profusion around the houses. Fruits and vegetables grow in abundance. Even our resort has a tiny vegetable patch for their kitchen.
As I walk back, I think of my last trip to the Periyar region. Maybe it’s the season, but I find the place is still growing on me.
About the contributor:
She’s a writer and editor with 13 years’ experience in the media industry. If not writing or editing, you can find her with a book or with her 3-year-old daughter. You can connect with Priyanka at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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