The Minister’s Mansion – Kanthalloor – Part 2 – Activities

This is a 2 part series that is continued from Minister’s Mansion, Kanthalloor-An Overview

Kanthalloor and its surroundings are a part of the Shola evergreen forest ranges and the rugged terrain provides scenic beauty in the form of waterfalls, mountain views, eucalyptus forests and the wildlife that they hold within.

In addition, the vast range of organic and exotic fruits, vegetables and flowers grown there, make for a very exciting time for lovers of such produce.

 

At the Minister’s Mansion – 

The Holiday homes here, usually do not provide more than the stay and food. For those who would like to relax, the rooms and porches are good enough.

The only entertainment would be by way of the very welcome camp fire that can be arranged at night. Sitting around the warmth of the crackling flames, watching the sparks fly and chomping on some tapioca chips (that you should have bought from Thangaselvi at Udumalpet :-D) is a delightful experience.

For any other activity, one can contact the manager Sree who will give suggestions and make appropriate arrangements for the vehicle which is charged according to the trip. The charges are Rs 750 upwards.

Please note that Off roaders (jeeps) are driven on mountain trails which are bumpy and may not be suitable for those with back pain and other such problems. Alternate cars may be requested for, when trips do not involve off roading.

Surrounding activities and sight seeing –

Kanthalloor –

The Shola forests are defined as tropical montane (mountainous) evergreen forests, and their vegetation is unique and belongs to the southern montane wet forest variety (wiki).

The undulating mountains are cloaked with the evergreens and the conical tops of the eucalyptus that dominate the hillside, create a predominant pattern that is lush and soothing.

Anamudi which is the highest peak in South India, is a part of these ranges.

Trekking or even driving in an off roader vehicle to observe the view from the mountain tops, is an experience not to be missed.

Chandru, our driver and guide

 

There are watch towers in certain places, that one can ascend to obtain a stunning view of the surroundings.

In Kanthalloor and surrounding villages, farm houses and orchards grow a wide range of exotic fruits, vegetables and flowers and visitors are welcome to tour the private gardens for a small fee and even purchase the produce and saplings.

Apples as well as several varieties of Peaches and Plums are grown here. There are also Pears, Cherimoya (soursop), Persimmon, Strawberry, Blackberry, varieties of Guavas, variety of Bananas, Litchis, Tree tomato, Jamun, Black Sapote and the very rare Brazilian tree grape (Jabuticaba) and many many other exotic fruits.

 

Passion fruit grows unbridled here with local wild varieties as well as a special Mexican one.

 

Likewise, organic vegetables like Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, Cabbage, Purple cabbage, Cauliflower, Carrot, Beans, Tomatoes, Turnips, Fennel etc can be found.

The garlic here is very famous for its flavor and one can find it hanging in bunches in every little vegetable shack. After hearing so much about it, I thought that such an important vegetable deserved to be seated on a chair 😀

 

This place is also called the apple village of Kerala and the organic produce is purchased by hotels from big cities in Kerala like Cochin and Calicut.

Home based shops and small businesses also sell jams, preserves, sauces and wines made from some of the fruits.

A wide range of exotic flowers are also grown here and there are some gardens dedicated only to flower farming and are a stunning sight to behold.

Kanthalloor is also famous for the cave temple of Lord Rama and his footprints are supposed to be etched on a rock within the temple. One does not have access to the inside though. A statue of Hanuman at the entrance is skillfully positioned to appear as if he is supporting the entrance of the cave. Pooja takes place only on certain days at the temple and prasad is offered to devotees. Please check pooja dates and timings if interested in attending.

Marayoor –

The lower lying regions of Marayur too offer their variety of vegetation like sugarcane and one can interact with the farmers at the family run units and view the jaggery making process that Marayur is famed for. The sweet water from the mountain streams used for irrigating the sugarcane fields and the traditional extraction and preparation method, is what is supposed to enhance the flavor of this particular jaggery.

Dense Sandalwood forests cover many acres here and we were told that visitors are currently not permitted to enter the cordoned off forests or even visit the sandalwood depot or processing factory.

At Marayur, one can also take a trip into the past, right back into eerie prehistoric times and view the mystical relics called Dolmens that have undauntedly withstood the ravages of time and its related factors. These are megalithic vault like structures built using flat stones as walls and covered by a horizontal stone for the ceiling. They were supposedly used as burial chambers but there are other theories that say that they were not tombs but shelters built by sadhus, which is why they are also called Muniyaras.

A majority of these dolmen are believed to have been destroyed by lack of maintenance and understanding of their historical and archaeological importance but the Anakottapara enclosure maintains a few of these stone structures and charges a tiny fee to enter and view them.

Munnar –

The route to Munnar is a stunning canvas of tea plantations that blanket the hillsides, forming patterns that mesmerize the eye and one cannot have enough of gazing at the expanse of green from  6000 ft above msl (mean sea level).

Tea factory tours are available for those who are interested in learning about the process.

Munnar has its own share of tourist attractions and one can stay in Kanthalloor and do a day trip, if one does not want to particularly stay in Munnar.

Waterfalls and Dams –

There are several waterfalls like the Thoovanam, Karimutty and Lakkam and many others that one can view, some from afar and some up close.

There is also the Amaravathi dam and crocodile farm near Udumalpet and also the Mattupetty dam in Munnar.

Wildlife sanctuaries –

The wildlife sanctuaries and national parks like the Chinnar wildlife sanctuary and the Eravaikulam national park, also provide an opportunity for safaris and trekking.

Several endemic species of flora grow in the forests of this region. The Neelakurinji flower blossoms once in 12 years and drapes the entire landscape in its burst of blue. Last seen in 2006, this year is the lucky 12th year, when the hills will be set ablaze with this phenomenon between August and October 2018. This is also a great time to visit Kanthalloor for the rest of the fruits, so do not miss this if you are interested.

As for fauna, the important animals that are known to inhabit these sanctuaries are the Indian gaur, Malabar squirrel, loris, elephant, tiger, leopard, various kinds of deer, common langur and the endangered Nilgiri Tahr that hides away in the safety of the higher slopes of the Ervaikulam park. This park was closed to public when we visited in mid April and the sign board cited the ‘calving season’ as the reason (probably meaning aggressive mothers).

The Chinnar forest is also the natural habitat of the Indian star tortoise and there is a sanctuary where rescued tortoises are released into and monitored for their safety. We were told that the sanctuary was not open to public.

 

My adventures – 

Since we reached by lunch time on day 1, we rested a bit after our meal and then in the evening we were taken by jeep to visit a couple of fruit orchards. The Rainforest was our first stop, barely a km away from the Minister’s Mansion. The sight of all the beautiful fruits and vegetables drove me silly with excitement 😀 and we were given a few samples of strawberry, passion fruit, tree tomato etc to taste. They even have a lovely white horse that waits patiently in its stable, complete with saddle et al, for children to ride on.

Pear blossoms

 

 

 

Thoppan’s Orchard and farm is another very interesting place that we visited. George Joseph who runs the place, is a very knowledgeable and enterprising person.

He has planted and nurtured a mind boggling variety of vegetables and rare fruits including the Brazilian tree grape (Jabuticaba) with its fascinating grape like fruit that grow right off the trunk, giving it a strange bubbly appearance.

We also bought several saplings here, which were expensive but selling fruits and saplings seems to be the main income and a lot of hard work and expense does go into maintaining the plants.

After this we were taken to a lemon grass farm which is situated high up on a mountain, thus also offering a fabulous panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and villages in the valley below.

At dusk the sky turns a rare pink moments before turning dark and is quite a sight to behold.

Crude looking Lemon grass oil extraction units exist on these farms and we were explained the process of steaming the dried grass and crushing it to release the oil. It was pitch dark and we had to depend on the light of the phone (see even a non functional phone has its uses 😀 ) to view the operation. They also sell the oil, the fragrance of which is made use of in cleaning material and other non edible purposes.

Scarecrows seemed to be very popular here (and though out all the villages) and there were 3 of them in just one farm.

The caretakers also sell fruits and vegetables in a small shed on the mountain but we did not buy any here.

Having had a long day, we decided to turn in early that night.

On Day 2 we were given a choice of going on the 3 hour night safari that starts at 6 pm or doing the trip that morning at 6 am. We chose the latter because we felt that daylight would be more conducive for photography of the animals that we optimistically hoped to see 😀

Our trip was by the jeep that the manager had arranged and as per rules we were to stay on the main road and not enter the forest trails.

Spotting wildlife is not that easy without entering the woods but we were at least lucky enough to have peacocks in the wild, strolling fearlessly inches from the jeep and some even crossing the main road with more alacrity and courage, than I cross my roads in Bangalore 😀

This beauty was an amateur photographer’s delight. Posing patiently until we got it right

 

An Indian gaur lurking in the bushes and a wild boar grunting nonchalantly by the roadside, were our main sightings.

A large reddish squirrel (I think it was the Malabar squirrel) and a Langur cradling its baby, completed our safari. Both of these were too fast for the camera.

After 1.5 hours we stopped at  a tea shop and had some fresh dosas right off the griddle before heading back to the Minister’s Mansion.

The ride back was uneventful for animal sightings and all we had were a few more peafowl along the way.

We saw a few tribal people heading to a temple festival and we were told that they lived in protected settlements that outsiders were not permitted to access.

We stopped at the entrance of the Karimutty waterfalls, where the Star attraction, literally, is the huge sculpture of a Star tortoise.  Within this lies an Eco shop that is run by the Eechampettykudi Eco Development Committee (EDC) and the proceeds of the sales go towards supporting the families of the EDC members. Items like jams, squashes, honey, pickles, sandal oil and other souvenirs and forest products are sold here. Information about guided treks and other activities can be obtained from the people in charge.

Making the most of our morning, we also visited the Annaikottapara park where the Dolmens stand forlornly on the open mountain. There is a very clean washroom facility here. There is also a net in the middle of nowhere and I found it ironic that while there was no internet that I desperately needed, there strangely was an actual net in the middle of nowhere which did not seem to have any particular use 😀

Since it was en route, we also stopped at one of the jaggery making units that was run by a family. There are many such units along the road but our driver cum guide Chandru, decided on this particular one.

Since I have an eternal Ghanna ki Tamanna (desire for sugarcane juice), sipping on the juice of absolutely fresh off the fields crushed sugarcane and listening to the story of the jaggery making process by the lady of the house, was an ideal end to my morning’s sojourn.

The sugarcane juice is extracted and strained and boiled in gigantic woks fueled by firewood. On reaching the right viscosity, the thick syrup is then poured into wooden moulds embedded in the floor and allowed to cool and set. Then it is scooped by hand and rolled into balls and stored in sacks for sale. They also make a variant that is infused with ginger and cardamom. We bought the jaggery at Rs 100 a kg for the flavored one and Rs 100 per 1.5 kg for the plain. The sugarcane juice cost us Rs 20 a glass.

The lady used a strainer and a steel jug to fill up the juice straight from the crusher. She then poured it into glasses which we drank from.

If one does not prefer using their utensils or if one wants to carry the juice with them, then it is a good idea to take your own strainer, vessel and glasses/bottles.

We then went back to the home where a breakfast of puttu and idiappam awaited us.

Since there was so much to cover in 3 days, we did not waste any time and proceeded by jeep to the famous Rama temple where we were lucky to view the pooja and proceedings that take place only on certain days and times.

From there we taken to the top of the mountain, which is also a trekking trail. We preferred to go by jeep due to a shortage of time (yes that is my excuse 😀 ) En route the steep and winding trail, we went past a temple in the middle of nowhere that Chandru called the Vyatakaran temple. Recognizable by the numerous Trishuls jutting out of the ground, this appeared to be quite a mysterious place.

The view from the top of the mountain that Chandru called Oththa malai was truly wonderful and would be worth it for those are agme enough to trek. I understood that Oththa meant lone or single and referred to the view of one of the peaks that stood out by itself. I might be wrong but that was the best that Chandru could do 😀

On the way back he took us to the vegetable fields in the nearby village of Puttur where we bought carrots and beans that were plucked in front of eyes and sold to us.

There’s that scarecrow again 😀

We then returned home for a typical Kerala style lunch that we had asked for, complete with red rice and traditional vegetarian curries.

After lunch, escorted by Palaniamma the domestic help, we visited a flower farm which was a 10 minute walk from our rooms. This place again takes a nominal charge from visitors and has a water body, a little cottage and several gorgeous flowers growing on the hillside. This is a must visit for flower lovers.

They also grow some fruits like peaches (which she called Pikkis), bananas and Red guava (where the entire plant and fruits are red). They were also growing red beans and white peas and they had harvested them and left them to dry.

Evening brought the discovery of yet another nursery cum store quite next to the Minister’s Mansion where the owner helped us indulge in more retail therapy that included tree tomato squash, jamun wine, strawberry preserves and many more saplings.

Besides many other fruits, he also had mulberries and a New Zealand guava with intensely red flowers and something called a table lime that looked tiny but peeled like an orange.

The day had been literally fruitful and since everything closes early in the village, we went back to the room in anticipation of the bonfire that we had been promised. Shivering in April ? Well that’s my kind of summer 😀

The warmth of the crackling flames helped me tolerate the 14 deg c (let me call it 10 deg c :-D) temperature and we were offered the option of a non veg barbeque. Since everyone else was vegetarian, we decided to forgo the BBQ and stick to the dinner of Kerala parotta and kurma.

On Day 3 we decided to go to Munnar, since was said to be an spectacularly scenic drive.

En route of course, my perpetual quest for fresh toddy kicked in and on inquiring, we were guided to a licensed toddy shop in Marayur. Fresh toddy comes to this center at 9 am from where people can buy it in bottles. Being summer, the toddy had already begun to ferment. Hence I made do with merely tasting it. I was told that in the cooler months to come, the toddy would remain sweet for a longer while.

The distance to Munnar is 60 km and would take nearly 2 hours on the winding mountain road. Besides, it is impossible not to be tempted to stop frequently and click pictures of the breathtaking views.

We set out early soon after breakfast and drove through Marayur and past its acres of fenced off sandal wood reserve forests. After Marayur, the landscape changes into rolling hills and valleys carpeted by thousands of tea bushes that form a pattern of little green cushions as far as the eye can see. Bright red Poinsettias that border the tea estates show up in rich contrast and make for a delightful view, along with the lavender of the jacarandas of April.

En route we made a stop at the Lakkam waterfalls where there is a nominal fee to view the falls that are a few meters away, hidden behind a flight of stairs. Trekking is also a possibility here.

Despite not being the rainy season, there was sufficient ‘falling’ to please the visitors.

The drive to Munnar is not something to be missed and if one is interested, there are tea factory tours that can be availed of but we did not have the time.

In Munnar we shopped at the Kannan Devan outlet where tea, chocolates, spices, jams and honey are sold. After an uneventful lunch, we began our return to Kanthalloor.

That evening being our last, we again got into a frenzy of buying and again overdosed on the passion fruit, peaches etc 😀

Make sure you buy fruit that is mature enough to ripen. Some of the peaches etc that we bought were still immature so they did not ripen. Nevertheless they were stewed in orange juice and joyfully consumed back home 😀

Dinner was an early affair since we planned to leave for Bangalore by 6 am on the 4th day of our holiday.

Conclusion – 

As you can see, there was a lot to do and there was a lot left undone. Though it might seem like a quiet holiday, there is enough to fill your time in the nicest ways.

The Neelakurinji will bloom in August 2018 and we will have our own Valley of flowers in South India. What better reason does one need, to go back ? Of course the trees will be laden with pears and the rest of the fruits that were not ready in April and we also cannot wait to check out the upcoming restaurant at the Minister’s Mansion.

So will you come with me to paradise ? Watch this video by Kerala Tourism and be tempted. Be very tempted !!!

 

For bookings and further information click here

For more pictures see My Facebook – The Minister’s Mansion-Part 2-Activities

Apr 9th-12th, 2018

Pl Note – This assignment has been carried out by me, in collaboration with The Minister’s Mansion. The information in my narrative is based on the inputs that I received from the client and also from my personal experience.

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