The coffee and tea plantations of Wayanad, as also its rich tribal culture, beckoned us
We were asked to get ready very early, around 6 am, if we wanted to really feel the essence of coffee plantatione. The local guides said, be it plantations, animal sanctuary or anything connected with nature, morning is the best time when they look more beautiful. Thus, it was nothing but our love for coffee, which led us to leave our cozy bed early in the morning, ignoring the cold winds. We were at Vythiri Village Resort, in a small hill station at Wayanad, in Kerala. Wayanad, which means paddy fields, falls in South Kerala. Unlike North Kerala, this part doesn't have rice boats, backwater cruises, sandy beaches, colonial churches or thatch-roofed fishing villages. But this small hill station is rich in coffee or tea plantations, the largest tribal population with a distinctive culture, an 800-year-old Jain community, home stay and much more beyond sight seeing. Our day began at the coffee gardens near our resort. Interestingly, in many areas of this region, one side of the hill had coffee plantations while the other side housed tea gardens. Since it was a morning time, we came across many women, with baskets on their backs, busy plucking tea. Our guide, who also worked at our hotel, informed us that here in Wayanad district, coffee plants could be found in every house, growing lush on any piece of land. The climate in the area is perfect for cultivating coffee and tea. Therefore, this place has also earned the title Coffee County of Kerala.
All about coffee
Robusta and Arabica are the two major varieties of coffee grown in this region.
The coffee plant is an evergreen shrub, which can grow to 20 ft in its natural state. However, the tree is regularly trimmed to 6 ft for production to keep the nutrients from going to the tree rather than the beans. When the coffee berries are a rich, red colour, they are ready for harvesting. Each berry contains two seeds, which are processed to make coffee.
After having a first hand experience of coffee plantations, our next visit was to a tribal village. Just a 20-minute drive from our hotel, took us to the interior of a jungle, away from the main populace. We had to stop our car in the middle of jungle, walk ten more minutes, climbing down grassy slopes and wading across streams, to reach a small village of Paniya tribes.
This settlement has only ten houses of bamboo-and-mud-plaster huts with thatched roof. Interestingly, all of them own some amount of land, on which they grow pumpkin, pepper vines, turmeric, ginger and tapioca. We were told that the Paniyas fall under the lowest strata, even among the tribals, therefore, they avoid mingling with the mainstream. Agriculture is their mainstay of livelihood. But they also work as farm labourers.
The next day, we visited the Jain community, which has a very significant presence in Wayanad region. They are said to be migrants from Karnataka, when Jainism went into a decline there, some 800 years ago. We visited one of the temple ruins, Janardhanagudi temple at Panamaram, dating back to the 12th century. Though it has been taken over by the Archeological Survey of India, it is in a pathetic state. At the temple, there was a heap of granite blocks covered with carving lying by the side of the road and blocking access to the three roofless temple mandapas, their pillars too ornamented with curvaceous yakshis, fierce dwarapalas and amorous figures. A Jain community member said these temples were demolished by Tipu Sultan.
The visit cost us almost half the day. We ended our visit with the Wayanad Coffee County, run by Ranjini and Rajagopal Menon. It was a dream home and we didn't know how the time flew. Situated in a 12-acre land, the house is blessed with greenery including tea garden, coffee plantation, coconut and areca palms. The courtyard boasts a swimming pool and leads on to a pavilion perched over a gurgling rivulet. Rajdeep and Ranjini's hospitality was like icing on cake. A must visit place.