The Nilgiris Earth Festival begins from December 19

The Nilgiris Earth Festival turns the spotlight on inclusivity as it brings together food, ecology, and people, that is quintessentially Nilgiris

Published - December 01, 2023 08:48 pm IST

A panoramic view of The Nilgiris landscape

A panoramic view of The Nilgiris landscape | Photo Credit: Ramya Reddy

The honey collectors of the Nilgiris begin their honey hunt, either from a cliff or tree, with rituals and ceremonies. One such ritual is that a honey hunter who goes to collect cliff honey — a life-threatening expedition — climbs down the cliff via the rope secured by his brother-in-law. His role is to protect the collector and ensure his sister is not widowed. Listen to the stories from indigenous people who bring their local food, honey, and produce at The Nilgiris Earth Festival (TNEF) formerly The Nilgiris Wild Foods Festival, that shines the light on food, culture, and ecology that is quintessentially Nilgiris.

At the Habba, the central event on December 21 at The Keystone Foundation in Kotagiri, one can catch Dr Nicola Bradbear’s talk on the significance of honey bees — vital pollinators and their place in a climate-changed world. A bee expert, she is the director of Bees for Development based in the UK.

“No bees, no forest. Right?” asks Ramya Reddy, director of The Nilgiris Foundation (TNF), which is organising the festival that aims to focus on inclusivity. “Ecology and culture are so interwoven with food and with the Nilgiris being rich in all three, we wanted to make it inclusive and interweave them. Food, ecology, and people are of earth. Thus, earth became the fitting word for the festival,” says Ramya adding that Dr Nicola will also walk down participants to a honey tasting bar that showcases varieties of honey.

The honey collectors of The Nilgiris

The honey collectors of The Nilgiris | Photo Credit: The Keystone Foundation

Highlighting the connection with bees among indigenous communities in the Nilgiris, Pratim Roy, founder-director of the Keystone Foundation, says besides the Kurumbas, Irulas, Todas and Kothas, communities from the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve (the tri-junction States of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu) like Nilambur (Kerala), and Chamraj Nagar (Karnataka) will share stories on honey, starting from its colour, the flower variety, the community, and practices, followed by a tasting session.

Another keynote speaker at the Habba is Yon Fernandez-de-Larrinoa, team leader at UN’s FAO Indigenous Peoples team and a champion of indigenous rights, who is making his trip from Rome. “He is excited to be here and will share a global perspective on the challenges faced by indigenous people around the world,” says Pratim adding that he will also touch upon topics like food security as he shares insights from his rich career.

The TNEF, he says, has a far greater vision with more events, and workshops that strive to go deeper, learn and share from entrepreneurs, artists, activists, ecologists, and citizens. “The festival showcases elements of the Nilgiris to the world. It encompasses and is inclusive, bringing arts, foods, culture, practices, sustainability, and climate all together. This will be the recurring theme every year,” explains Pratim.

While the opening day (December 19) kickstarts with forest bathing at Banagudi Forest (near Kotagiri) with a walk through native forest ecosystem, what follows is a farm-to-fork sojourn at the Emerald Lake area near Udhagamandalam with Vishanth Kumar, a regenerative farmer and chef, and founder of Kikui Farms & Red Hills Tea Estate, where he grows organic vegetables, herbs and spices. The festival aims to raise a toast to people growing high mountain organic produce and organic farmers like Vishanth Kumar who comes from a multi-generational farming family.

From the Chef’s Table last year

From the Chef’s Table last year | Photo Credit: Suraj Mahbubani

Another addition is a theme on tea. “Some of the tea estates who conduct their operations in a sensitive way, and artisanal tea makers like Sandeep Subramani of Tranquilitea Tea Lounge, Coonoor, beautifully fit in,” explains Ramya adding that there will also be a session on millets with Devi Lakshmikutty, co-founder of Bio Basics that retails organic food besides curating indigenous grains. “Devi will tell us something fundamental, on how to use heritage rice and millets in everyday cooking,” she adds.

Participants can choose to learn about regenerative, urban no-dig gardening at a workshop with Gayatri Ganesh, a no-dig regenerative farmer based in the Nilgiris, take a stroll around stalls displaying posters, or listen to indigenous people. “They will not only share their food at a demonstration table but will also speak on how indigenous foods are resilient and connected to climate change and livelihoods,” says Pratim.

Wild foods on display at the previous festival

Wild foods on display at the previous festival | Photo Credit: Suraj Mahbubani

Day five of the festival turns the spotlight on films on food and climate change curated by All Living Things Environmental Film Festival (ALT EFF) and TNF. Some of the notable ones include For Tomorrow Paradise Awaits, a 28-minute film that follows Tartu’s food-saving community who save food waste from supermarket trash containers, Planet Soil that marvels at Nature and rewilding the soil, and Mhari Topli Ma, a 13-minute film on foraging in the wild.

The festival also features Chef’s Table, a private dinner by invitation for patrons, supporters and donors where Chef Avinash Martins of Cavatina Cuchina, Goa, and Chef Arup Kakati of Little Earth Group in the Nilgiris come together to curate a Goa-meets-Nilgiris culinary experience. “Avinash blends native Nilgiri produce, both organic and indigenous, with his Goan, Portugese and Goan Saraswat cooking experiences. A Chef’s Table brunch by Chef Mythrayie Iyer of Bengaluru-based Farmlore uses native ingredients and showcases her style of ‘cuisine inclusive’ or ‘cuisine agnostic’ drawn from her travel experiences. She will create an experiential brunch for the donors,” explains Ramya.

On the final day at sundown, a 10-course Badaga tasting platter put together by Chef Suresh Belliraj and his family at the picturesque restaurant by the lakeside in Aravenu, will take participants on a trip down forgotten food traditions accompanied by soulful Badaga songs performed by a Badaga music troupe.

From December 19 to 23. For details, visit or their Instagram page @thenilgirisearthfestival

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.