The Spice of India

Thursday, June 11, 2009 Kumily, India and The Spice Village

We (me and Baskar) had departed Madurai in the morning at 9 am – destination – the region of Kerala!  I’m really excited about experiencing the entire region over the next two weeks.  At first, I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be going to the Ashram – but I’m over it.  I mean let’s not kid ourselves – me doing yoga and practicing meditation for 10 days?  I would have killed someone.  So instead I’m heading west from Tamil Nadu to God’s Own Country (that’s officially what the locals call it) – Kerala! Along the way, we pass through several small villages and towns.  The drive really was great!  I did some work…checked out the view…listened to music and just enjoyed being driven about.

traffic in the streets

The temperature came down as we left the cities and towns and began to make our way up the mountains.

heading for the hills

We came to The Spice Village at the top of a mountain….the kind of mountain that you have to wind your way up along narrow little corridors of road to get to the top of – with ledges and drop offs that make your stomach churn. Yikes!

winding roads

The laptop was immediately shut down and I cracked my window for some fresh air – getting a little carsick all of a sudden.  Baskar didn’t mind passing other larger, slower buses  either.That Baskar – he’s a leader not a follower!

Kerala is one of the 28 states of India, located in the southwest. This region is popular for its spices, tea, hills and its backwater regions – all of which I will see in the coming days.  The first place I’m staying is called The Spice Village Resort located in Kumily, a small settlement three kilometers from the Periyar Tiger Reserve.

Each of my five senses was given a gift the moment I arrived at The Spice Village.  Visually, it’s a mountain paradise retreat.  Some of the more than 60 variety of  birds on the property were welcoming me from the trees.   A fresh lay of jasmine was placed around my neck as I walked in the door and all I could do was inhale it in deep satisfying breaths.

entry

I was handed a glass of chilled lemon/lime/water drink that was just what the doctor ordered!  And as for touch…there was a cool terra cotta floor beneath my feet, a cool cloth for my hands and face, and a cotton and bamboo lounge for my butt!   Ahhhh…home sweet home!

cool cloth2

A cool wet towel…

and my welcoming committee!

welcome

The temperature has dropped to a very comfortable 78 degrees with a soft breeze that seemed to be keeping the mosquitos at bay.  I hung the jasmine on the hook behind my door and settled in for two days. I’m in my own cottage which I’ve been told was designed to recreate the mood of the local tribal community.

My Cottage

my cottage

Each cottage roof is thatched with elephant grass, comes with terra cotta tiled floors, wooden beds and a charming veranda that runs round the entire cottage. But the best thing about this place – no TV and no need for an air-conditioner!

my room

Just a light breeze blowing through the windows and peace and quiet in my little piece of heaven for the next two nights.

my room 2

The general lay-out of the village.  Mine is the first one at the top left/center…#101.

map

Some of the trees along the path next to my cottage…

 allspice

malaya apple

It’s interesting that as I go back and re-read this particular blog, I notice that I’ve taken excellent pictures of the plant SIGNS but none of the actual plants! My bad.

papaya

I spent the afternoon exploring the Village.  They have over 100 different species of trees, spices, and flowers planted all over the property.

 soap nut tree

pepper

And beyond the cottages, they have their very own vegetable garden which supplies the village with all its own fresh produce.

congo coffee

sign to mushroom hut

There is a mushroom hut which I glanced at — but I hate mushrooms and so – there it is – the mushroom hut.

mushroom hut

Inside the mushroom hut – I have no idea what those things are – but the young man who walked me through the area said that they had just removed the mushrooms earlier that morning – so I guess something had been growing in there.  This could very well be the basis for my next nightmare – American traveler goes crazy after night spent locked in the mushroom hut!

inside mushroom hut

The village is  “green” meaning that they conserve all of their natural resources and encourage all of their guests to do the same.  My room came complete with a reminder of how valuable their natural water source is and to be vigilant about conserving my water usage. Titia – I’m thinking of you RIGHT now and how much you would love this place!

garden 3

broccoli

garden 2

gherkins

mint

garden 1

They make their own paper on site and I visited the young man who does this for the village. He gave me a demonstration and then let me make a piece for myself.

making paper 1

Yea – it looks easy – but try smiling for the camera and not screwing up your pulp!

making paper 2

making paper 5

making paper 3

making paper 4

Well, aren’t I something!  The leaves are removed and the “paper” is left to dry overnight.

making paper 6

Yea for me! I’ve made paper!

making paper 7

All of the reams and stacks of paper you see are used by the village for announcements and invitations.  The designs are all made from natural elements found on the property like leaves, coconuts husks, flowers etc…

paper stacks

paper stack 2

paper stack 3

paper stack 4

All along the paths are these little signs identifying the bush, tree, plant or flower.  Can you just imagine what this place smells like?  And to top it off…they had tons of rain just a week ago so everything is fresh and blooming!

Around 5:00 I packed up my laptop and headed for the very colonial looking bar just steps down the path from my bungalow. Inside were brown leather chairs, old photos of bye-gone days, an oversized pool-table and a mahogany bar – beautiful.

bar steps

The perfect place for a glass of wine and some blog time.

bar sign

The mosquito smoker…right on time!

mosquito smoker

I spent a very enjoyable two hours there with my new friend, Johnson, the bartender.

my bartender friend

We chatted while I wrote – he pored while drank. Another wonderful friendship established in India 🙂

bartener

Then I headed down to the dining area for my first indian cooking demonstration.  Several other women guests joined me there and we all watched as the chef prepared Fish Moilee and Erussery.  Check out these spices!

spice tray

It’s not until you taste it that you really appreciate what has gone into the dish. It was a flavor explosion! It wasn’t hot and spicy – it was just that I could taste all the different ingredients that I’d watched him put in the dish and it was delicious!

cooking 1

The most valuable piece of information that I took from the demonstration however, was not the spices – but the coconut oil!  Ooooohhhhh…  I asked one of the women next to me where this has been all my life and she replied that the cholesterol is out of this world which is why it’s not used a lot – but you can buy it in anywhere.  The moment that coconut oil hit the pan – the AROMA – it’s heavenly! Cholesterol be DAMNED! I’m getting me some of that stuff!

plate of food

So, as you can probably deduce – dinner was superb!  Tomorrow night is another demonstration – whoop whoop!

Friday morning arrived and I was up and out the door by 7:00.  Breakfast was an omelette, toast and fruit and I had some time to read The Hindu…India’s National Newspaper since 1878!

I was headed to the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary to take a boat-cruise and check out the wildlife. The lake that we’ll be on is an artificial one created by a dam on the Periyar River. We hoped to see wild elephants, Asiatic deer, black buck and tigers at the lake.

boatride 1

After the rainy season, the water will remain at tree level…it’s at it’s lowest point right now.

boatride 2

boatride 4

Having just returned from the boat trip, I can conclusively say that it was a bust.  Three hours of my life that I’ll never get back!  I guess that has to happen every once in a while.  Me and 30 of my closest friends jumped on board a boat headed for nowhere together with a dozen kids ranging in age from 12 down to just born!  The kids were bored in 5 minutes and loud and boisterous in 10.  The only thing that kept me sane was realizing that the other adults on board were as miserable as I was.  Misery doesn’t just like company…it NEEDS company!

The most interesting part of the journey was this woman’s henna tattoo.

She was covered from head to foot!  I snuck this picture…

henna tattoo

I happily returned to The Spice Village where I was given a lesson in how to wrap a saree.  I sort of felt like I did at Fran New’s 50th “Greek Toga” themed birthday party!  I looked like it too…

greek toga

It’s very intricate…but I have the secret! Safety pins!

It’s 5:30 and I’m sitting on the veranda at the Wood House Bar reading a book by Steve Berry and enjoying the remains of the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc I opened last night and there is a light rain falling.  It’s odd how I didn’t realize that I’d missed the rain…until the rain came.   I’m surrounded by trees, herbs, flowers, spices and who knows what else in this wonderful world of Spice Village…and it all smells incredible.

I can pick out the jasmine – it’s the strongest scent.  The birds are chirping – the rain is gently falling – the leaves on the trees are rustling and those are the only sounds I hear – except for the occasional sound of a mango dropping to the ground from the tree next to me. I couldn’t have imagined a place more different from Mumbai so peaceful.

In 30 minutes I go to my next cooking demonstration and I’m already beginning to salivate thinking about dinner! Tomorrow morning we’re heading further up the mountains to a tea plantation.

See you there!

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