Hmm..., I've been shillyshallying too long thinking about what the first post of the new year should be about. Should I write about the year gone by? Should I write about the projects I'm looking forward to in the new year? Or should I write about a book that I've read recently? Aaah, disease detected, it's my old pet perfectionism rearing its beguiling little head. So this post is designed to break the pattern and get me started off once again.
The day after Christmas, we left on a 5-day road trip. On our way to Munnar, we decided to drop in on a set of my husband's cousins who have been inviting us for a veryyyy long time. Well, we couldn't just 'drop in' on them, mainly because we needed their help finding our way to them. So we got to the 6th Mile junction on the Munnar Highway just 10 minutes ahead of the time the infrequent bus made its way into the forest. This is what we saw:
We were looking up at a pretty rugged road that we didn't feel up to driving. The first few kilometres of the bus ride justified our reservations. It's a real test for your back's health with more ruts than road and a few barely negotiable hairpin bends thrown in for good measure. Most of the road wound through thick jungle and meadows. The forests had a lot of bamboo and we had heard that elephants sometimes came down to graze in plain sight. The road smoothed out after about 3 km and the conductor wanted to know where we wanted to get off. Then we found out that the place name - Mamalakkandam - was not enough. We had to specify the house where we wanted to get off at! Wow!
So we got off in front of the homestead of one of our cousins. I did a 360-degree turn on the spot and could see nothing but hills - both verdant and bare - all around. Later, as we were talking to one of our cousins, my husband asked him how this village came to being in the middle of the forest reserve. It seems that during a particularly bad famine period in the pre-Independence era, the government gave permission to people to clear forests in order to cultivate paddy. That is how Mamalakkandam or literally "paddy fields among great hills" came into being. Today, the unprofitable paddy fields have given way to less labor-intensive crops, but the pastoral air still remains. The only drawback we found there was the lack of electricity (currently they have electricity only during the rainy season from a mini-hydel project) and a good hospital with emergency care. Further into the forest there are tribal areas and it's easy to get unadulterated forest produce such as honey and tribal handicraft products like baskets at Mamalakkandam.
Our lunch was all the more delicious because the vegetables were farm-fresh, pesticide-and-chemical-fertilizer-free! We were thoroughly bowled over by the hospitality of our cousins. Post lunch, we piled into a jeep with a few younger cousins to take a foray into the forest. We stopped by the side of a stream that wound its way among rocks and trees. The kids enjoyed jumping from rock to rock and occasionally sliding into the deliciously cold water. A couple of our cousins wandered off to find elephants to amuse themselves and when they failed to turn up after half an hour, we were a little concerned. But they soon appeared hanging on to another jeep coming our way. Where had they been? Oh, just cornered by a couple of elephants who had driven them up a tree and kept watch underneath till the next jeep came around! Thank God, we non-tree-climbers had not attempted to go with them.
My back again proved itself sturdy on the way back in the jeep this time, after exchanging fond farewells and invitations to visit. We basked in the glory of our encounter with nature and the hospitality of our relatives as we drove to our halt for the day at Adimali.