As a part of my tour with the media group of the Kerala Travel Mart 2018, held in Cochin, Kerala, India from Sep 28th-30th, 2018, we sojourned for a couple of days in the tiny town of Kumily which is located in the Cardamom hills in the district of Idukki in Kerala, India.
This highland region is well known for its cool climes and makes for a popular tourist destination. It is also a land where spices abound and one can find a vast range of them being cultivated and sold here.
It also has the Periyar National Park in its vicinity, which is known to be a tiger and elephant reserve.
During our two day stay at the Spice Village, we visited the nearby attractions of the Periyar lake, a local Spice garden, tea plantations and rubber estates.
We also had the pleasure of viewing a Kathakali (a well known Indian dance form) performance and a very skilled display of Kalaripayattu, the local martial arts.
Come visualize the experience through my lens and story.
Comely Kumily –
Kumily is this quaint little town in the highlands of Idukki district. It is the border town between Kerala and the Theni district of Tamil Nadu.
Due to its proximity to well known tourist attractions, it teems with hotels and resorts ranging from budget categories to 5 star luxuries.
It is also an important hub for the trading of spices and most of the shops in the the town sell fresh, organic spices that are bought in large quantities by tourists and traders.
It is also known for its spice garden walks, tea and rubber plantation visits, wildlife sightings, trekking and boating.
Periyar National Park and Lake –
The Periyar National Park spans the 3 districts of Idukki, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta. This is known as an elephant and tiger reserve area. There are only 40 tigers here and apparently none of them want to be seen because I have heard that they are rarely spotted :-D.
Elephants and most other wildlife of that region like Indian gaurs, Wild pigs, Deer etc, are also a matter of luck and not always guaranteed to be seen.
The Periyar lake lies within the sanctuary area and is a popular medium used by tourists to attempt to spot wildlife via the boat cruises that ply at fixed times. This is an artificially created lake that came into being a century ago, with the construction of the Mullaperiyar dam.
The boating is conducted by the Kerala Tourism Department along with the Forest Department and there are no private players here.
There are boats of various sizes depending on the number of people in a group and all boats follow fixed timings starting from early morning to late noon. The duration of the sail varies from an hour upwards and tickets can be purchased at the entrance counter or pre booked online at the Periyar Foundation website.
One can also opt for guided treks within the jungle, where the chance of wildlife sighting is probably higher.
The Aranya Nivas, an authentic jungle lodge located within the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, provides an option to stay. This belongs to the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC Hotels and Resorts).
The KTDC Lake Palace which was earlier a palace of the King of Travancore, is another luxury resort and is located on an island on the lake. The only access to this resort is by boat.
We boarded the bus at Kumily that brought us to the jetty at the lake.
Our sail was at 9.30am and lasted 90 minutes on the Jalasundari. We were not very lucky with wildlife spotting but we did enjoy the scenic beauty of the forest along the banks.
A couple of highly shy Indian gaur and 2 Terrapins (a kind of turtle) were all we got. You have to really strain to spot the Gaur in the photo below … or as I would pun in hindi – Gaur se dekhiye 😀 (look carefully)
The cormorants were some consolation however, with several of them visible in the nests high up in the many dry trees that project out of the lake like sentinels. These trees are the remnants of the forest that was engulfed by the waters of the lake when it was first created.
The Spice Farm –
Kumily abounds with farms that grow every imaginable spice and even cocoa, stevia, vanilla etc As far as possible there is an attempt to grow pesticide free produce if not totally organic.
We visited the Spice Farm, Thekkady that is owned and managed by 2 brothers Thajudeen and Suhail. Suhail (who also speaks French) took us on a very interesting guided tour around a small portion of the 18 acre farm which he informed us, was a 100% organic farm.
We gathered valuable information about cardamom, pepper, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, all spice, nutmeg, cocoa etc. we had the pleasure of viewing the plants up close and clicking pictures for our memories.
They also have a store where these pure spices are sold. One interesting product sold here is the all natural stevia sweetened chocolates both in dark and milk variants, made from their produce. Also try their candied ginger which uses jaggery instead of sugar. One can also order the products online.
They also run a home stay close to the farm and the guests at their stay are also given a complimentary tour of the farm.
They can be contacted at Thajudeen – +91 9447023755 and Suhail – +91 9746888795
Kathakali and Kalaripayatu –
The town of Kumily has a few centers where evening performances of classical dances and displays of the local martial art forms are held. One such well known place is the Navarasa Kathakali center which shares a compound with the Kadathanadan Kalari arena.
These shows are popular with tourists who throng in large numbers to view some of the authentic art forms of Kerala that they would perhaps otherwise not be able to have access to.
Tickets are available at the entrance counters or can be pre purchased online from the Periyar Tourism website.
Kathakali is a form of dance that depicts stories and is said to have originated in the 17th century. The performers are characterized by their elaborate and seemingly torturous make up and costumes that take up to 3 hours to apply on.
It derives its name from Katha meaning story and Kala meaning art.
We were taken through the various emotions like sadness, joy, sarcasm, anger etc, signified by hand movements and facial expressions and this was then followed by a dance performance. It was amazing to discover that the main performer was a 85 year old male (donning the role of a female). He is a well known Kathakali maestro.
A narrator guides the audience through the presentation, explaining the various facets of the art and describing the stories that are being portrayed by the artistes.
At times our narrator was a bit too fast and the accent was difficult to follow but the visuals were a delight.
One can have their picture clicked with the obliging performers after the event.
This is one of the most ancient forms of martial arts and dates back 3000 years.
The Kadathanadan Kalari center is built in the form of a viewing gallery where the audience is seated at a higher level and has a clear view of the performance in the arena below and is also safe from the flying swords 😀
We were treated to a fascinating display of sword skills and jumping through fire hoops by the skilled performers.
Rubber estate –
Rubber estates can be found around the area, though nowadays the cultivation is said to have slowed down due to the latex fetching lower prices due to the production of artificial rubber. Our guide explained the process of tapping the trees to obtain the sap called latex that is processed to eventually yield rubber.
The trees are characterized by their slim trunks and wispy tops. They start yielding latex after the age of 7 years and continue to be productive till around 30 years, after which they are chopped and new trees planted.
Incisions are made in the tree trunk with sharp instruments and a cup is attached to receive the latex. Protective plastic covering is used as a rain guard and other impurities. A worker can slash 100 trees a day and an average daily produce of latex is 200 gms per tree. The season for tapping is December to March. In summer there is no activity since due to the heat, the yield of sap is much lower.
The latex is then collected and sent to the rubber factory where it is processed into sheets of rubber.
The wood is a soft variety and used in making furniture or packing cases. Rubber wood furniture is recognized by its pale creamy color and strips that are joined together by glue.
Tea plantations of Pattumalay –
The tea plantations of Pattumalay lie 25 km from Kumily. Pattu-malay translates to silken hills, most likely referring to the velvety green cover of thousands of tea shrubs.
There is an imposing church of the Franciscan brothers and the St Francis ashram high up on a mount flanked by tea plantations.
Little roadside shops here, sell handmade soaps and teas of many exotic and unheard of flavors.
The Pattumalay tea factory belonging to Harrisons Malayalam Limited, is one of the largest here and also has a small retail outlet opposite the church where various kinds of unusual teas are sold.
Getting to Kumily –
Kumily is almost equidistant from Cochin and Madurai airports that are both around 100 km away. Taxis are the best way to get to the town from the airport.
The journey by road is a scenic uphill drive past rolling hills bearing rubber and tea plantations and numerous waterfalls.
It has a bus station that is connected to some major cities.
The nearest railway station is 50 km away in Rajapalyam, Tamil Nadu.
On this trip I was hosted by the Kerala Travel Mart Society and partnering hotels, as a media invitee and I thank them for the hospitality. My narration is based on the inputs I received from various sources as well as my personal experiences.
Sep 22nd-29th, 2018