So I’m sitting here and watching doomsday movies about climate change and how we’re screwing Mother Earth’s happiness. But I don’t think we’re screwing anyone but ourselves. The Earth was here before we came and it’ll be here long after we’re gone. All the talk of climate change & global warming reminded me of the times spent in cooler climes.
A couple of summers ago, The Missus & I made our way to Amberina in Devala. It’s in an area called the Nilgiri Wayanad. It helps that we take our holidays when most people don’t. So like most places we end up typically don’t have other visitors. Not that, that would ever be the case at Amberina. You see, there is only 3 rooms available there. So that would rule out your average tourist travelling with everyone except their neighbours’ in-laws’ kids. Though the bathrooms could take in those. To say that they’re huge would probably not mean anything in this jaded day & age. But let’s just say that if you wanted to dictate your magnum opus while you’re soaking in the bath tub you could do that. You see, the kind folks at Amberina have very helpfully provided a table & chair in each of the bathrooms.
While this is actually in the Nilgiris, it’s about 70 plus kms from Ooty & Coonoor, the traditional spots that the species Tourista Indis heads for. That rules out the check-list tourists who value quantity over quality. For those who are so inclined, forests of Mudumalai & Bandipur are there to explore. This can actually be a good base for that. The extremely friendly manager at Amberina will help arrange for jeeps if you want to travel and don’t want to be bothered with the driving. A better base to explore the forests would be the sister bungalow, The Northern Hay. It abuts the Mudumalai forest near the Singara power station.
We stayed a long while, but like always, ended up doing nothing more than devouring the excellent food & the fairly eclectic (if a little inclined towards WWII books) library. I joined the manager for a short walk around the estate one day. I was educated about the finer points of tea & coffee growing and plantation life as it is now. While the pretty tea plantations and coffee estates attract a lot of travellers & tourists, he explained about the hardships that everyone involved in the plantations go through.
We did step out to take in the views of Mudumalai one day & checked out the Northern Hay. While it was officially monsoon over peninsular India, we were in the middle of a dry spell. The mist covered & rained out days we spent were a welcome change. It helped that the very polite & efficient staff kept us in good supply of hot coffee.
Amberina can be reached via Gudalur – Thepakaadu – Gundulpete – Mysore – Bangalore. You can get directions to Devala once you reach Gudalur. When we reached, cell coverage was not very strong here. But we were not complaining. Those were 5 days spent lazing and gazing at the views outside, covered in mist or dripping in the rain. And for a while we could forget that all the troubles were over the hills & far away.
So it’s been a while since I’ve been around in the Peninsula and it’s been a long set of journeys to all points due North, South, East & West during this time. And some of these ramblings have taken me to places close to National Parks, reserve forests, forests or just areas where non-humaniod beings are wont to lurk. And in all these times I’ve seen a sum total of about 75 chital and 3 langurs. And going to Fringe Ford in Wayanad added a grand total of a cobra’s ass (or whatever herpetologists call it’s tail).
Considering that the rains that were missing all this while did the good thing and stepped in, I overlooked this total lack of congeniality on the part of the mammalian and avian families. Instead, I put my feet up, and took in all the peace and quiet that Fringe Ford had to offer. While I wouldn’t say Fringe Ford is at the back of beyond, the fact that the last 3 km took about 40 minutes says a lot. And I’m not talking about the 40 minutes it takes to go past Forum Mall on a weekend. It was a jeep ride that ended with 3 on-the-verge-of-vegetating travellers.
Till you start towards Fringe Ford from Talapuzha (yes it’s pronounced the same way rest of India can’t pronounce Kozhikode) and get to the edge of town, it does seem that you won’t be going too far from civilisation. To be honest I’ve been to places that have been further from civilisation than this, (Jainkhan is one, Coffee Valley is another). Somehow, this place makes you feel that you’re all alone. It might be the fact that there is room for 10 people at the most, and that the estate’s structure occupies a very small portion of the 520 acres at it’s disposal or just the fact that it’s hedged by the Wayanad Nilgiris on three sides that makes you feel that you’re now all alone and cosy.
Because cosy it definitely is. Though the rains were not up to Wayanad’s sheet-of-water variety this season, it was drizzling quite a bit with the attendant misty weather. All in all perfect weather to curl up with a warm quilt – and Fringe Ford are generous with their quilts. Since I was the only one driving, the excellent lunch that was consumed mandate only one outcome – a siesta. Not that this program would’ve changed if there were other drivers. Meals at Fringe Ford has to be given it’s proper respect and should be followed by siesta.
I was with the Urban Yogi, and this plan was a last minute one. The only wrinkle in the otherwise perfect weekend was a 11 PM call the night before we left from our booking contact who asked if we were a family or group and how groups go to Fringe Ford and spoil the place. A charge dismissed by our host Mamooty (yes, that is his name). So if you’re booking, the site is Fringe Ford and call Hyderabad. We’d decided to stay on an extra day if we felt like it and just before we nodded off the first day, we ensured that Mamooty was clear that we’re going to lurk an extra day. That evening, after a hot plate of bhajjis with rain pouring down (the one time it did), we decided to re-acquaint ourselves with that salute to Capitalist greed, Monopoly. It was a while since we all played and the official rules were all junked in favour of the Indian version that we’d all played when we were kids. Yogi’s cousin who is at an impressionable age, was impressed by the Yogi to sell some really lucrative real estate which ensured that she lost. The next day when we played again, said Cousin having learnt that the world of grown ups is a screwy one where one can’t even trust cousins any more, extracted her revenge by ensuring that the Yogi went bankrupt.
Besides getting back to board games and reading up – there is a small but satisfying library – there are quite a few treks that Mamooty can rustle up. Mamooty himself is quite a renaissance man. There are furniture and art works that he’s made in bamboo and metal; he is quite the ornithologist, is a foodie himself and manages to run the place. We were assigned a cheerful lieutenant, Shaji, however. He took us on a short trek – which is when the snake almost-sighting occurred – through a thoroughly leech infested area of the estate to a hillock nearby. This one had a watch tower at some point in history, but geography has ensured that there is none now. Shaji told us that the wind brought it down, and though it was made of stone and mortar, the wind blowing there lent credence to that story. He also mentioned the fact that there was a middle-aged tiger that was sighted within the confines of the estate. This was of course after we’d left the safety of the compound. The view from this hillock is quite spectacular and we can see quite a bit off into Wayanad. We also saw bison on a distant hillock. So yeah, you can add those to my animal sightings. Though it seemed kind of like how Columbus would’ve seen America. Not at all.
If it’s not wet, there is a small machan, just behind the compound that you can climb up and watch birds from. Quite a lot of birds make their home in the estate, especially the Malabar Pied Hornbill. The climb to the machan would be slightly on the vertiginous side, but is worth it. However, since we’d gone in the middle of monsoon and it was raining, all we saw was beautiful mist from there.
Since I’ve been going on and on about the place with nary a glimpse of photos, here are some from the other member of the League of Extraordinary Travellers, as I am still too lazy to go develop mine. Be that as it may, since The Missus was not with me this time, another round of food and place appreciation is on the cards. Maybe then I’ll get to see the whole snake. And some chital.