Uravu Bamboo Grove

Our next stop in Wayanad was staying in a beautiful and cosy Bamboo Cabin at Uravu Bamboo Grove. Uravu is a social enterprise which focuses on using natural resources. They employ local people, training them in creating bamboo products to sell. One of Uravu’s latest ventures is the Uravu Bamboo Grove where we stayed. It’s a very remote area with stunning views and a charming village life style.

The cabins are all eco-friendly, running on solar energy. We were able to take part in eco-tourism activities such as a village walk where we were taken on a guided walk around the rural village.

The biggest industry in the lush region of Wayanad is farming. Everyone uses small gardens or patches of land to grow crops for selling. We were able to see pineapples growing, rubber plantations, rice paddy fields, coffee plantations and pepper plants which grow by winding up trees. Our guide cut open a round, hard fruit and white liquid began pouring out, he explained that it is used to make chewing gum. We saw fresh nutmeg which has red string-like bands across the seed, also used in cooking. We were able to taste allspice leaves and cardamom leaves and many other fruits and plants which we had never heard of.

Pineapple

Pineapple

Red Flower

Red Flower

Rubber Trees

Rubber Trees

Pepper

Pepper

Pink Spotted Leaves

Pink Spotted Leaves

Fresh Nutmeg

Fresh Nutmeg

We learned a lot about the resourcefulness of this region and how nature can provide us with so much. Hibiscus flowers are used to help purify boiled water. Natural loofers can be found on plants. Sticky plants can be used to make children’s toys like temporary jewellery and bubble blowers. Jackfruits, bananas and coconuts can be cut from trees, at any time of the season, and cooked in various ways.

Coffee

Coffee Plant

Coffee Pom Pom Flowers

Coffee Pom Pom Flowers

I was obsessed with them!

I was obsessed with them!

We could see how the tour supported the community as we were taken to a local tea shop for chai and tried some deliciously sweet halwa. We were also taken to a wooden elephant maker’s house where we could watch him work and purchase his creations. Later, we went to a local’s house for a delicious and varied lunch, served traditionally on a banana leaf. It included jackfruit seed curry, a sweet rice-pudding like dessert and some segments from the biggest grapefruit I’ve ever seen, much of it grown in the host’s garden.

Lunch

Lunch

This was from a massive Grapefruit

This was from a massive Grapefruit

Varnishing

Varnishing

The Finished Product

The Finished Product

The following day we went on a guided hike up Chembra Peak which is 2050m above sea level, although it is not possible to climb to the top without special permission. However, the three hour trek was quite difficult and steep. Our guide kept asking to take my camera to take photos of us. It became quite comedic as he began telling us how to pose. He didn’t quite understand why I wanted to take some photos of just the landscape.

#pose

#pose

Mountain Views

Mountain Views

We reached the small heart-shaped lake at the summit of our walk, it was kind of heart-shaped anyway. The views across the mountainous plateau of Wayanad were stunning. It’s green and peaceful here and we are very much enjoying discovering this unfamiliar climate.

Tea Plantations on Chembra Peak

Tea Plantations on Chembra Peak

Sideways Heart-Shaped Lake

Sideways Heart-Shaped Lake

Chembra Peak

Chembra Peak Views

Video of Piercing Festival

After realising I had quite a bit of footage from our amazing experience at the Murugan Piercing Festival in Perettil, I decided to make this short edit.

Homesick

I never really understood the term ‘homesick’ before. I understood the idea of missing a person, but, I didn’t really consider myself the kind of person which gets sick from missing ‘home’ that much. Despite the fact I’ve moved around a bit, wherever I’ve lived; Pembrokeshire, Lancaster, Glasgow or staying in London or with Joseff’s family, they’ve all had the qualities of ‘home.’ This is something I’ve only realised in the last couple of days; that what I consider to be ‘home’ are small, familiar things which seem irrelevant until you notice they’re gone.

Now that we’ve been here a little while, the mix of excitement and anxiety has worn off a bit. Moving around constantly and finding it difficult to relate to people we meet can sometimes be hard. Don’t get me wrong, I love the new experiences and learning about different ways of life. I love the adventure, but, I’ve also learned that I do miss the mundane aspects of home. I miss being in one place, I miss chocolate, I miss my bed, my dog, my sofa. I miss TV. I miss the comfort of familiarity.

I love it hear in Wayanad, it’s so peaceful and the places we’re staying are so comfortable and interesting. One thing which surprised me was that the lack of wifi, which was at first so tranquil, triggered this feeling of homesickness. I’ve realised that something as simple, and supposedly useless, as scrolling through my Facebook feed and seeing the innocuous posts had given me comfort and a sense of connection to home. This was an interesting revelation for me and has made me see my personal online activity, and the potential of social media, in a different way.

I think another thing which brought on this sudden bought of longing for ‘home’ was that whilst staying at the Jungle Retreat we became friends with a couple our age from London. Although we had seen many British people before, staying in such a small and remote place meant that we talked more. They were friendly, laid back, lovely people. Although, even with kind people, it usually takes me a while to warm to someone when I first meet them. But, in this case, suddenly finding people that were having similar thoughts to you and similar reactions to experiences was comforting. People that just understood. It’s hard to explain and I guess it just does come down to culture and communication in the end. Something so simple like being able to share a joke.

I love seeing all these new places and learning new things. And, of course, everyone we’ve met, no matter where they’re from, have been kind and valuable people. This hasn’t made me want to go home or to never travel again, it’s just made me realise what home means to me and encouraged me to value it. I’m surprised at myself, but, also glad to know and understand myself more.

Jungle Retreat Wayanad

We’ve just spent 3 nights at the Jungle Retreat Wayanad. It’s hands down the best place I’ve ever stayed.

Sunrise

We travelled up to Northern Kerala via train (sadly not spacious with AC this time) and then took a taxi out to the state of Wayanad. It is a mountainous and green region, compiling of small villages, jungles and nature reserves. The extremely steep and windy roads getting here were difficult for my stomach to bare. The whole area is on a 700m plateau. As we drove deeper into the jungle, everyone else was driving jeeps. We discovered something much worse than bumpy dirt tracks; roads that have once been tarmacked and since mostly eroded away. With sometimes up to a foots difference between the tarmac and the ground we slowly eeked along. We were really relieved to arrive.

The retreat consists of 3 small wooden cabins and an outside eating area. The buildings look out on to a small expanse of flat land which has a natural watering hole. After this, the hilly and dense jungle begins. We could see Brahmagiri Peak in the distance. We were now in the jungle and the retreat had electric fencing to keep out the wild elephants, or try to anyhow; there had been an elephant break in the night before our arrival.

Brahmagiri Peak is a very special mountain in this area. Aside from the small villages, there are also ancient tribes which still have communities deep in the jungle. They live without electricity or fencing to protect them from the wild elephants, bears, tigers and leopards. There is a 5,000 year old temple just below the mountain. The spot is said to have been chosen by Lord Brahma who, while travelling through the sky on his Hamsa (Indian goose), descended on the area due to its beauty. Upon landing, he recognised the idol of Vishnu in an Amla tree (Indian gooseberry tree). Brahma requested that Vishnu bless the waters of the nearby river. Vishnu obliged. Therefore, it is believed that the water that flows down from Brahmagiri Peak to Thirunelli temple washes away all sins. The tribes people worship the mountain, the river, animals and all nature. The Keralan Government has done well to stop poaching in the area and to keep the jungle natural and intact. Some of the local tribes people are involved in sustainable tourism which uses their services as guides, washers or famers/watchers of the land.

We realised how used to the heat we’d become when it was a freezing 20ºC in the mornings and evenings, definitely jumper weather. The food served at the retreat was varied and delicious, 3 big meals a day, looking out on to the watering hole. We realised why the meals were so big when we began taking part in the numerous activities they can arrange for you.

On our first full day there we went on a 14km trek up Brahmagiri Peak. Dressed in our trainers, carrying our water and pack lunch, we began the walk in the shaded trees. We had a young tribal guide of about 18 who didn’t say a word to us and stormed ahead, wearing his flip-flops and carrying nothing. Through the course of the walk he warmed to us slightly and told us his name was Vishnu. He didn’t speak much English and generally kept his distance, stopping and waiting for us, but moving off before we got too close.

As we rose higher the views across the Western Ghats became increasingly beautiful. We saw giant malabar squirrels and beautiful butterflies. Joseff also spotted deep scratch marks on tree trunks from tigers, about 7 feet off the ground. About 3km from the top, the trees cleared. We then began the steep, unshaded climb to the summit. Fortunately there was a cool breeze every now and then, but the sun was getting hotter.

Giant Malabar Squirrel

Tuk-Tuk Passing By

Rhesus Macaque

As mountains do, the peak would seem to be in one place, but when reached, another, higher climb would present itself. It was hard work and our rest stops increased. Reaching the top, of course, made it all worth it as we took in the stunning views.

The Walk Back Down

We also went on a couple of early morning safaris. On the first one we saw; wild boar, spotted deer, gaur, peacocks and vultures. On the second, our list was added to with; super cute mouse deer, large samba deer, a distant bison and a heard of 8 large elephants through the trees! Also on the way to this safari we had seen 2 large elephants, a baby and a pregnant elephant by the side of the road. It was so exciting to see these magnificent creatures in the wild. All of the rangers and jungle dwellers have the upmost respect for the animals.

Seeing elephants in the wild was really our main goal and we were so pleased to have been able to see them on several occasions. Joseff was the king of spotting animals and, thanks to the amazing location of the jungle retreat, we were also able to spot animals from the balcony of our cabin. We saw many more spotted deer and giant squirrels, rhesus macaque and grey langur monkeys,  many birds such as herons, red-whiskered bulbuls and crested serpent eagles, and a mongoose right next to our cabin.

On our first day Joseff had spotted 2 elephants in the distance up on the mountainside and we were able to watch them through some binoculars. That night an elephant came to the watering hole, we could faintly see him in the dim light from the watch tower. Because it was so dark, what we could mainly do was hear him. It’s funny that wildlife watching is mainly about what you saw, but hearing the wild elephant drinking and splashing in the darkness was really special.

Another time we had some more thrilling hearings was during a ‘Jungle Awareness Trek’ which the retreat’s nature expert took us on around the watering hole and surrounding jungle. We were taught how to track animals by spotting footprints, smelling and looking at how trees and bushes had been moved. We saw some tiger tracks, a large female and also some tiny cub tracks. We had been walking for about 5 minutes when we heard something a little above us on the hillside. It was big, an elephant. It came closer. We could hear it flapping it’s ears. Our guide quickly moved us along as he explained that that was a warning signal and sign of irritation. This was the animals’ land and we didn’t want to disturb them.

We were then standing and watching some monkeys when we heard a deep, low growl from behind us. We couldn’t see anything through the dense trees. Our guide quickly started running away and we all followed. It had been the warning growl of a tiger, calling it’s cub. This was a pretty freaky experience. But, as our guide explained, the animals don’t want trouble, as long as you’re with a trained expert and respect the animals you should be safe.

Standing out on our balcony later, we saw a flash of a tiger trying to take down a deer. She failed and we watched her slink off into the distance. Seeing a tiger is extremely rare and we hadn’t even expected to get a sighting. Our guide was ringing all his friends to let them know we had seen it!

Later that evening there was a sunset like no other I have ever seen. It stretched across then entirety of the sky, making everything, including our skin, a vibrant pinky/orange shade. We were sat on our balcony drinking tea, enjoying the view, when an elephant began walking out to the watering hole. It was later followed by 7 more of its heard and we watched them drink and bathe. As the light faded, fireflies began circling our balcony.

Sunset 1

We feel so, so, so lucky to have had so many wild animal sightings. Although, many of them were too quick or in too much darkness to take worthy photographs. Staying in such a peaceful place, truly amongst the wilderness has been amazing. I’m really pleased that we are spending the next 3 weeks in Wayanad and am looking forward to the mix of tranquility and excitement of the wild.