Akber Ayub forgets time and drifts into oblivion on a bamboo raft.
It’s mid-afternoon and under a dull grey sky the drizzle has turned into a downpour. Rainwater streams down our faces and soaks into our clothes. A light breeze accentuates the coolness in the air. Four of us sit on the bamboo raft: My wife and daughter, the oarsman Anwar and I. Anwar punts the raft with a long bamboo pole from the forward end. “This is one of the main tributaries of the Kabini,” says he.
Monsoon had already settled on the Kerala coast by early June and now, a week later, the stream is swollen — and hemmed in by lush foliage from both banks. Tall trees and lush bamboo vie for space amid the luxuriant vegetation. Save for the birds that flit between the trees or an occasional cow munching grass on the banks, there’s no other living creature in sight, or any signs of habitation. A spotless white heron glides onto the far bank. Moving on its stilt legs, its graceful neck stretches forth one minute then retracts the next to form an ‘S’ curve as it concentrates on its afternoon snack. The squawk of a crow breaks the stillness, amid the pitter-patter of rain on the bamboo. A sublime peace pervades the verdurous surroundings.
An hour earlier we had driven down narrow, rain-drenched roads to the gates of a local temple, where we parked our black Accent and then trekked up a narrow trail to reach the banks of the stream. Anwar helped us don life jackets and we clambered on to the raft — 20-ft-long bamboo poles lashed together with coir ropes to form a five-ft wide pontoon. Bamboo rafting forms part of the outdoor activities for guests staying at The Windflower Resort & Spa close to Vythiri in Wayanad, Kerala.
Branching off from the Mysore-Udhagamandalam road just after Gundulpet, the road veers to the right towards the Kerala border. Verdant greenery signals the approaching state. Towns with quaint names like Sulthan Bathery, Muttil and Chundel pass by. The winding road heads to Vythiri, but just after Chundel a rugged track veers off to the right and heads for the resort amid hills covered in carpets of tea plantation. Three-and-a-half kilometres of twisting track leads to a hill and a steep climb later the resort looms large. The reception is sizable and airy, and has high ceilings held up by polished wooden rafters. An electric buggy transports guests and baggage to the villas and suits sprawled over 25 acres of verdant hillside. Chequered carpets of tea bushes and teeming foliage cover the valley below in the backdrop of undulating hills. If the scenic surroundings pamper your subtle senses; the villas and suites pamper you with creature comforts. Accommodation is spread out along a ridge — in all 30 suites and eight villas, each with a wide balcony at the rear facing the valley below and the mountains. Traditional Kerala architecture is plainly evident; but the interiors are contemporary. Gabled roofs covered in terra cotta tiles, parquet flooring, floor to ceiling glass windows, elegant and comfortable furniture and enough room to let you unwind. There is a comfy living area and a spacious bedroom, a walk-in wardrobe and an ample bathroom — all with the trimmings of modern civility. Flat TV, fridge and a coffee maker add the utility touch, while warm lighting and elegant furnishing add a cheerful cosiness. The balcony, adorned with rattan chairs and a recliner, takes the cake.
Ensconced within a coffee plantation, the resort is actually surrounded by endless acres of tea estates run by Harrison Malayalam and the balcony offers a vantage point to savour the lush environs. Chembara peak, the highest in Wayanad, looms in the backdrop, displaying grassy meadows and clumps of subtropical forest along its flanks. Pregnant monsoon clouds hover around its crest and rolling mist drifts along its face. The balconies attached to the villas, however, have an added feature: A capacious Jacuzzi to seat six adults that lets you soak in nature as you soak in a warm bath.
The restaurant, sitting on another ledge and surrounded by sumptuous nature doles out a sumptuous fare. All meals are buffet during the extended monsoon and winter packages. Guests are actually spoiled for choice. An assortment of continental dishes and South Indian specialities are laid out for breakfast. Puttu and idiappams remind you that you are in Kerala. Lunch and dinner boast an elaborate spread too of vegetarian and non-vegetarian, and the dessert counter has enough varieties to pamper the most demanding gourmand. The live counters are a delight as well. High ceiling and expansive glass windows let you savour the lush outdoors as you tuck into your meal; while an adjoining open patio with inviting rattan furniture lets you get closer to nature even more.
If you are the indoor kind, apart from steam and sauna and the expansive pool, the Emerge Spa should indeed delight you. Along with Keralan Ayurvedic massages, various spa treatments are on offer too. But if you are really the outdoor kind there are a number of interesting options. Outdoor activities include games, nature treks, mountain biking, rope sliding, plantation tours, bamboo rafting and kayaking. While all these are engaging diversions, the last two mentioned take you into a delightful world of land and water. Bamboo rafting takes you two km upstream and then you shift to a kayak, alternately drifting and paddling down the stream... tasting a slice of the old traditional mode of transport in these parts followed by a sampling of a contemporary sport and pastime — a mingling of past and present. These trips are best undertaken early morning or in late, lazy afternoons, so that before sundown, as dusk comes towards the sprightly stream, an unsuspecting bird might approach you for a tête-à-tête perched on a half drowned tree...for this is indeed a world tranquil enough for a kingfisher or a woodpecker to play hide and seek with a visitor.
The closest airport is in Kozhikode. The nearest railway stations are Mysore and Kozhikode. There are direct buses to Vythiri from Mysore and Bangalore. A road journey takes four hours from Mysore and two hours from Kozhikode.
Note: Pick-up and drop facilities available for guests travelling by train or air.
Contact: 0989522661 / 09895221166, or firstname.lastname@example.org