|Relaxing by the lake at Mottakunnu- Vagamon|
Surreal travel. Time spent in a colonial mansion, with clouds and mist floating by. Strange birds chirping all around. A feeling of being cocooned somewhere in a British Bungalow about a century old. Pack your bags and come with me to Urumbikkara. The term 'off roading' was relatively new to me, as we slithered in our sedan through the pristine Idukki district of Kerala. The moment I called up the resort from Mundakayam, we were asked to reach a junction at Yendhayar which we dutifully followed braving the dust and heat. The Kollam- Kottarakkara Highway that took us from Theni faded into the backdrop of the silent hills and dry rivers.
January may not be the right season to visit Urumbikkara. Yet, the drive in the jeep from Yendhayar to Urumbi Hills Palace is a once in a lifetime kind of experience. The jeep jumps, bumps and winds it way through deserted rubber plantations, miles and miles of pineapple fields in the valleys and the road or the lack of it worsens further that what is left is a jungle trail. Urumbi hills plantation was once a thriving tea cluster, including a dilapidated tea factory which is eaten away by the jungle. Houses are very sparse. The sign Urumbi Hills Plantation Bungalow welcomes you after a rickety ride of about more than an hour.
|The red floored veranda for you!|
|The room where we stayed... by the man-made stream|
The first sight of the red floored hall verandah was what bowled me over. Curious shaped dry wood pieces, red anthuriums that swayed in the breeze and a welcome drink of freshly squeezed lime awaited us. We had planned to do a 'locality check' that day, but the oppressive heat and the super cool stone walled rooms lulled us into beauty sleep. I woke up to the music of crickets welcoming the evening and briskly took a rain check around the resort. The children had located the large cemented ground beside the resort. One of them was cycling frantically around the ground, two engaged in a game of shuttle cock and my dad, sitting on a stone bench and drinking in the beauty of a mountain sunset.
|Fire place in the dining room|
|Veranda of the dining area|
|The beautiful sunset|
The dinner was exceptional with kappa and fish curry, soft chappatis and chicken curry. The manager gave us a tour of the bungalow which was owned by an European tea estate owner who due to change of fortunes had to sell. The current owners have refurbished it, protecting the aesthetics. The hand made tiled floors, almirahs dating back to more than 50 years, wooden roofs, restroom fitted with bath tub and open to sky....The place is simply ethereal.
|Old floor tiles|
We sat down for a game of cards, chatted till late night about everything and slept like a log. The sunrise next morning was equally glorious as the sunset. Red, yellow, blue- I saw birds of all colors singing their song by the man made stream the resort boasts of. Devoid of running water now, the stagnated waterhole served its purpose for the birds though. After a swift breakfast, we left to Vagamon, some 38 kms away by another jeep. The drive started cool, among cardamom plantations and bumpy, but as we progressed through, we saw that the hills have eaten away everything on their way- including the panchayat road which is almost non-existent now. We stopped by a beautiful hillock to have a panoramic view of the valleys and a jungle stream with so many animal foot prints that I almost fainted listening to something bellow.
|Hillocks near the plantation|
|The jungle stream|
At some places we had to get down from the jeep and walk as it spider-walked using its four wheeled drive. The drive took almost 3 hours and sapped away our energy. After a hasty lunch of Kerala biryani, we visited the pine forest which was very crowded and beat a hasty retreat to the "motta kunnu" or the grass meadows. Tiny hillocks of grass jut around the landscape which hide a small lake. As we lie on the grass by the lake and look up at the clouds, cool breeze hugs us and so does sleep. The next stop is the orchidarium. Varieties of orchids and vandas smile at you, hanging from anything possible- bamboo poles, tree barks and even fences. The star attraction is the insect eating pitcher plant with its pink pitchers. As we walk around the cafe enjoying the evening tea, the setting sun and paragliders floating by give us such innate peace.
|In the orchidarium|
We return to the resort- again another rickety ride and stop by Madammakulam, said to be a waterfall, but now devoid of any water. With a content dinner of kappa and meen, we hit the sacks. Not before discovering a toad in the bath tub and yelling, awakening the entire sleeping resort. The next morning we take a plantation walk, visiting the plantation. Cardamom is the major money spinner for the plantation and it has replaced coffee and tea. After a peek at the cardamom factory where it is processed, we walk through the plantation, adoring the 'parijatham' flowers and sweet smelling coffee flowers. The only jarring note of the walk being the workers- almost all of them are from poverty stricken belts of Chattisgarh, being paid a measly Rupess hundred a day for the hard work in cardamom plantations with almost no human habitations nearby.
|The fragrant 'parijatham'|
As we left the resort clicking a few more pictures, the care taker kindly requested us to pay a visit during season- July- October when the monsoon strikes this place with myriad colours and hues. I smile with glee...may be next time I will be lucky enough to dive into the man made pool and float, (if i can!) listening to the birds chirping and the mist floating by...