Walking in a tea plantation, surrounded by the aromatic leaves, we watch women pluck them. Not one of them turns as we stroll by, such is their concentration. Or maybe they are simply used to visitors like us! We have walked in tea plantations before, but I have been promised that there is something different awaiting me.
We are at Wayanad, and for two days we have wandered over the district, unearthing its charms. Traversing the usual tourist circuit, we have had a glimpse of our ancestors at Edakkal caves, a brush with spirituality at Thirunelli Temple, and a tryst with wildlife at Muthanga forest reserve. This is our last day at Wayanad, and we are looking forward to what it brings.
The tea estate is our first halt. We leave the roads and walk along mud paths deeper into the estate, and catch the first glimpse of the forest which lurks behind. This is a protected area, so we will not be entering the reserve, is what we are told. However, in the midst of towering teaks and dense foliage, the line blurs somewhere. It feels like we are inside the jungle, not somewhere at its periphery.
As we tread over leaves fallen on the rough path, bird songs are the only sound we can hear. Out of range of human noises, even my son is strangely quiet. We can hear a gurgle of water, and our guide smiles. “We have almost reached” he says. A sharp turn, and there it is - a narrow stream passing through the jungle, hidden from prying human eyes. Basking in its shallow pools, we are barely aware of the passage of time, but it is getting late, so we pick ourselves up unwillingly and head on. There is more to experience!
We head uphill to another plantation, this time within a resort. The river flows here too, and, between two trees on either side is tied a rope. My son’s eyes gleam at the prospect of ziplining, and I watch with bated breath as he slides over the rope with ease, reassured only by the security of the safety harness he has been told to wear. Running back from the other side over a bridge, he excitedly screams “This is awesome! I want to do it again!” and so he does.... again.. and again... and again!!
We have been travelling along the river the whole day, but we haven’t had enough of her yet. “Wait, Madam” says my guide, when I ask him if we can go to the riverside again. Our impatience is obvious, and his smile tells me that he has something interesting lined up for me!
Leaving our car by the side of a hut, we walk, once again amidst bushes taller than me, and suddenly, there she is – the river, in all her glory! On the bank are two boys, each by the side of what appears to be a raft made of a single layer of bamboo. “I can’t ride on that!” I exclaim, and smiles break out at once. “Don’t worry Madam!” they reassure me. “You won’t fall off. Besides, we have life jackets too.” While my son enthusiastically boards the raft, I climb aboard grudgingly, handing over my camera and mobile to my guide for safekeeping.. ‘just in case’! And we float down the river, our raft guided by a pole handled adroitly by the young boy.
“I am doing my MBA” the boy rowing our raft says, and we talk about education as we wind our way amidst the mangroves. My son is bored by our conversation. He doesn’t want to sit on the raft. He wants to swim. “Swim along with the raft” says the boy, and my son is thrilled! He jumps into the water and swims along, screaming for us to slow down when he tires, sometimes holding on to the iron rod which holds the raft together, and floating along. It is incredibly peaceful down there, on the river. There are people bathing or washing clothes, but they seem to blend into the landscape. It is we who stand out, with our city dweller’s excitement, which makes them smile.
This article was originally published in The Hindu Traveller on the 21st of July, 2013. Click here to read the original article.