Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Plantation dreamin'

I'm fed up of the long coffee-break that the monsoons seem to be taking in Mumbai! It waltzed in late and zoomed off early. So aggravating! To distract myself, I keep thinking about my trip to Kerala a couple of months ago. Especially my stay in this lovely plantation home in Kothamangalam .

Kerala has to be a gardener's idea of paradise. Forget the ease with which everything seems to grow here, it's also home to some of the best spice plantations in the world.

And Kothamangalam seems to be at the heart of all this activity in spices and forest products. It's a small town situated at the foothills of the Western Ghat mountains so there is a lot of trade in rubber and timber. And the minute we drove into this little town, the scent of medicinal herbs used in Ayurveda, is all-pervading.

I have no idea why it is so overlooked on the tourism map. The Thattekad Bird Sanctuary is hardly 10 - 15 kms away and Munnar, with its scenic tea-estates, is just an hour or so down the road. But apart from that, the looming rubber plantations enclosing whole universes within them, have a charm which is simply unique!

Imagine waking up to a view like this! Walk out onto a balcony surrounded by greenery, no people in sight, no sounds except bird-calls. Bliss!

This is what I saw from that balcony. The kitchen garden with its fair share of bilimbi trees, chilli and banana plants and a whole lot more ... always fringed by tall rubber-trees in the background.

Oh yes, and mangosteens! The tree was filled with fruit in varying stages of ripening. Have you ever tasted mangosteen? It is the most delicious fruit in my opinion.
Unfortunately, it doesn't keep well and quickly hardens to a rock-like stage where it's almost impossible to crack the fruit open and get at its pure white segments.
It has to be one of the most dramatic-looking fruits too. Just picture it cracked open... purplish skin with an inner red flesh and hidden within it, like the prized jewel, is the pure white, segmented, deliciously sweet fruit. (Give me a minute to wipe the drool off my key-board, okay?)

Pretty little white wax-apples hang like bells on the tree. Contrary to its name, there is nothing waxen about it, except maybe its glossy skin. Did you know that they come in pink and red colours too? A wax-apple tree in full fruit is a beautiful sight!

Not as beautiful as this, though. Like I said, this is a plantation home and just a few feet away from the house, a veritable forest of rubber trees grow sky-high, blocking out the sunlight and turning the sky green instead of blue.
It is an imposing sight and sent thrilling shivers down my spine. There is something so primeval about it.

In the dense undergrowth, caladiums fight for space and add a dash of colour. An eye-catching change from green of all shades .

A sudden downpour blurs the trees and everything takes on a hazy atmosphere. One can almost imagine dinosaurs foraging just beyond one's line of vision. And myriad mythical creatures suddenly seem so plausible ... as if they are surely living just beyond that clump of green yonder.

The downpour also fills up this little coconut shell which is used by the tappers to collect the latex that goes into making the rubber that your car tyres run on.
See that white line? That's the latex. The tapper makes a cut on the tree which induces the latex to flow along the line of the cut ... right into that conveniently placed coconut shell from where it will be collected later.

A stroll in the garden brought me to a large carp pond . More interesting for me was the number of dragonflies zipping around. I can't imagine how they found this pond attractive ... those carp were voracious.
Isn't this dragonfly gorgeous!

This gorgeous Dawn Dropwing dragonfly was too restless for me to get a good photo. Finally I had to make do with this though the red laterite soil is just not the best backdrop it could get.

There's something very vital and alive in the air here.... it's buzzing with activity. I had hardly bent down to click these heliconias when this Chocolate Pansy butterfly dropped in for a quick pose.
Hey, I don't mind!

(This post is specially meant for one of my regular readers in West Lafayette, Indiana. Happy birthday, Antony! )


  1. Sunita this is pure bliss! I get that feeling whenever I go to Grenada. You know before I started blogging and please do not be offended, I have heard many negative comments about India from people who have been there and the news media doesn't help. Like every place it is where you go and where you've stayed. There are some horrible cities in the USA and Europe yet no one says anything about them. Even on my island paradise there are some places I wouldn't even venture and other places that gives me the creeps. Thank you for allowing us to see India through your eyes. That is a lovely house (my kinda house)and I love the red sealing wax palm at the entrance.

  2. PS about a photo of the actual inside of the mangosteen . I have never tasted this fruit and by the sounds of it I should relish it! LOL

  3. Helen, I assure you I'm not offended. A little saddened, maybe, that many people have had experiences which were contrary to their expectations.
    It happens everywhere, I know. Somehow some tourists come here expecting one thing and then it is a shock for them to find something totally different. India is like a mini-universe. It has something of everything; good as well as bad. Then again, I've heard tourists say they're unable to think of such a huge population moving around, eating, working, living in such limited spaces like our metros. In the end, maybe it boils down to a clash of cultures.
    But there are so many lovely places in India which are just waiting to be discovered. India is a very hospitable place (usually) and tourists are sometimes unnerved to find that they're quickly drawn into that great big extended family that every Indian is so proud of.It can be tough for a person from another culture where privacy is a valued commodity ;D
    Then again, there have been cases where tourists have fallen prey to the unscrupulous. But that happens everywhere in the world, doesn't it? Sometimes tourists make the mistake of behaving as they would in their own land, totally forgetting that a very different set of values and practices is in place here. What is ordinary and nothing to excite comment in another land may be something considered totally immoral here. Which gets translated to imply that the said tourist is immoral, which of course, is an invitation for trouble.
    Like you said, the places you go to and the people you meet makes all the difference.I'm glad that The Urban Gardener has been able to show you a better side of India :)
    You're right again about the house. It is really lovely. I wish I had got better photos but I was too busy indulging myself!
    I'll try getting some photos of the edible part of the mangosteen but its not easily available in Mumbai too. I'll look around though (unless you can wait 3 years for my sapling to bear fruit (yes, I made sure I got a couple of them to plant in my garden)

  4. Aah...always love to see/read about Kerala. What a wonderful break that must've been! Your first photo reminds me of the bungalows in tea plantations. Of course the roofs aren't the same. But those open spaces, the huge gardens, the fruits-- have a kind of similarity. Worth dreaming about!

  5. I know exactly what you mean, Kanak! Those tea-estate houses are really something else, aren't they? I stayed in one for a few days when I was in college (my host was the manager of one of the tea-estates in Munnar) and the memory of it is still really special ... a colour photo in an album of black & whites!
    I missed a trip to Munnar this time but I'm already plotting and scheming for another trip to Kerala, with Munnar definitely heading the must-stay list.

  6. Sigh! Such lovely memories of my grandparents' home in Trivandrum come back to me.The backyard was so huge, it was practically a forest, and that mongosteen tree in the front of the house, the bablee fruits, the jambakkai, the shenbagam flower - in additon to the banana plants and coconut palms, pear trees and chakka trees.... Thank you for this evocative post.

  7. I'm starting to think if I don't get to India before I die I will not have lived! We have a houseguest at the moment who casually mentioned last night that he'd been there and saw Sarus Cranes. We're going off in search of our own local cranes today, but, just--wow. I think I'd go into botanical/ornithological overload the first five minutes I was in your lovely country. Again, thanks for sharing it with us!

  8. Sunita,

    Thanks for visiting my blog. Never heard of mangosteens before. I'm of Irish decent yet. Enjoyed your photos and the porch is stunning. We have a screened porch too that sees nothing but wildlife.

  9. Raji,your grandparents had mangosteen growing in their garden? Wow! Lucky you!
    I know the other fruits are delicious too but mangosteens are a class apart, aren't they?

    Shady,listen to your instincts! Plan a trip as soon as you can. You wouldn't want to have an incomplete life would you? Hurry, the Saurus Crane and Sunbirds and Hoopoe and ... well, all of them await!

    Randy, I would've thought the Irish in you would be interested in mangosteens! :) Its truly the pot of gold, with diamond-studded handles and all!
    I looked up Google to find a photo for you. Here's a link to a blog with a photo:
    I love the way he describes the taste of mangosteens :D
    You're right about the balcony. Its definitely one of those in the "I could spend a lifetime here" category!
    That home had a front porch that was equally beautiful with a view of the carp pond and the dense rubber-tree forest, but I dont have a photo of it.

  10. This is beautiful! So lush and green. In my Mediterranean climate, we are much more a study in browns!

    I wish I could grow a tea plant. Maybe some day a visit to a tea plantation will happen!

  11. Just when I think that I have recovered from Kerala withdrawal symptoms you post something which takes me back to the paradise on earth, and makes my existence away from Kerala more intolerable...more impatient...

  12. Wow, that looks like a beautiful place to visit. Thanks for visiting my blog, please do keep coming back.


  13. I think you are so right. There is something really primeval about those rubber trees. They are very green!

  14. Hi Stefaneener :) You're right about the 'lush and green'. This place is just a step away (figuratively speaking, of course) from the Western Ghats which is considered among the top ten biodiversity regions of the world. There are still plenty of undiscovered species out there, it seems.

  15. Forget it, GT! Once you've been there, there's no getting away from it ;D Its like a magnet embedded in your system, pulling you back even when you're at the other end of the earth. So what can one do but give in ... and plan your next trip there! I am. I want to go to Thekkady with my children and hopefully spot a tiger and ride an elephant :D

  16. It most certainly was, Jake :)

    Hi Tina! you're right, those trees are very green and are planted so close that they form a living wall shutting out the rest of the world, making a small world in itself. When you're there you just can't help but imagine that only that little plantation exists in this world!

  17. The Dawn Dropwing dragonfly is gorgeous! I have never seen a dragonfly with such beautiful color before.

  18. Hi Sunita, thanks for taking us away on vacation for awhile! It was indeed a primeval feeling place, with the large fruits hanging from the exotic, to me, trees. The red dragonflies were so beautiful, as were your words describing everything. The latex and coconut shell were fascinating, I had no idea! :-)

  19. It is such a beautiful and special place. Probably good that it is not prominent on the tourist map! You have described this place so well in words and pictures, every gardeners heart would be captured by its greenness. I have eaten Mangosteen fruit and it is made in heaven!
    Rubber; for some it has brought riches and for some destruction.

  20. Lovely post as usual. One of these days, I will have to visit India. I agree with your comments in the reply section. One has to really look into cultures and customs when traveling abroad or you might end up unhappy with your trip.

    By the way, I have a Meme Award waiting for you on my blog. You can find it here: Just save the image to your computer and then follow the directions if you wish to play :)


  21. What a gorgeous place...
    the trees are amazing...
    Bliss is right.

  22. I was at your blog a few nights ago and so tired that I couldn't fully enjoy the real you. So I'm back now that I can devote my attention to the dragonfly, the latex, the sweet taste of the fruit, and your lovely telling of it all. It's so pleasant to come and visit this part of world and so different from my part of NC here in the USA.

    I did see Monarchs come just yesterday and there are honey bees zipping around my garden. Both are celebrated and welcome.

    Happy Birthday to Anthony!

  23. Oh Sunita,
    For a garden starved soul as mine ... it is almost like a wakeup call ... tells me I am missing out on soooo much of what I love about life and living ... I truly believe I was never meant to be an urban dweller ... that's like the place one elopes to when you have a love affair with life ... its beautiful ... makes me miss my home up in the mountains :) ... lady I love your pictures :)

  24. Hi Sandy! I love that gorgeous dragonfly too. Its so flamboyant!

  25. Amazing post, Sunita; both the write-up and the pictures! Years back, I had read about a certain celebrity telling that the ideal day for her would begin waking up in her house in Kampala surrounded by such scenery. Two years back, I had been to Kampala and I was not greatly impressed.

    Any day, I can exchange Kampala for Kothamangalam!

    You pictured it wonderfully!

  26. *gasp!* I did it again, didn't I ? I thought I had replied to all of you but it looks like I didn't.
    Frances, Trudi, Jessica, Sherry, Anna, Rajee ... I'm really embarassed about this oversight and very sorry it happened. I guess I could blame it on the poor connectivity in my other garden where I spent some days last week but more than anything, I'm mortified that this happened. Sorry!

  27. You're welcome, Frances :) It was like reliving my holiday all over again for me too. I really like the 'feel' of Kothamangalam. It is still relatively unspoilt and the rat-race hasn't got to it yet.
    About the coconut shells ... now you can tell the Financier,"those car tyres started out in a little coconut shell" ;)

  28. Trudi, I know what you mean about rubber and riches. Kothamangalam is in the major rubber-growing belt of India and while it has brought a lot of riches, I'm glad that the local people seem to be grounded enough to not allow it to go to their heads. Life is still pretty simple and traditional there. At least from what I saw of it.
    Do you grow mangosteen? It should do wellin your garden.

  29. Hi Jessica! Thanks for the meme award. I will play along but give me some time, will you please? I really have to wrack my brains to find something interesting to say about myself :P
    And, yes, I think you would thoroughly enjoy a trip to India :)

  30. It definitely is gorgeous, Sherry! :)

    Hi Anna! I'm so glad you returned to read this again. I know just how it is when one is tired but keep telling oneself, "just this one more blog, then I'll go to sleep" :)
    Monarchs? Wow! How long will they stay around in your garden? From what I've read they migrate in the colder months, dont they? Definitely worth enjoying while you have the chance!

  31. Rajee, I like that phrase "love affair with life" :)
    You have a home in the mountains? Lucky, lucky you! The mountains affect me much like the monsoon does... it zings me up and I feel so alive! I'd love to see you post about your mountain home some time.

  32. Hey, thanks Murali!
    The sad part is that I just didn't describe Kothamangalam as well as I should have. It really is one of Kerala's (and India's) unpublicised treasures. I hope it continues in its unspoilt state. It would be a real pity if over-enthusiastic tourism messes up its natural beauty.
    And you're right, it's a fantastic place to wake up in. The kind of place which could have you murmuring "all's right with the world"!

  33. Never tasted mangosteens, but now I do want to :)

    Love the gorgeous pictures and I find the information fascinating... I also have taken some pictures of red, orange, black dragonflies ...they are even more graceful thanbutteflies!

  34. IHM, whatever you do, dont start with the poor excuses for mangosteens that you sometimes find in places like Food Bazaar, etc. I've checked those and they've been away from the tree too long to be any good. Like I said, mangosteens don't keep very well, they're best just one or two days after being plucked from the tree. And then it is heaven!
    You've got photos of dragonflies? Please, please post them. I'd love to see these vibrantly coloured dragonflies. Yes, they really are gorgeous, aren't they?

  35. Sunita, I love mangosteens too. A friend told me that mangosteens will keep well for a few days in the fridge. I did that and true enough, it works! Try it!

  36. Thanks for the tip, JC. I must try that.

  37. Oh my! MANGOSTEEN? I wish they grew here. Saw them at the supermarket for a princely sum of Rs. 100 for 3 fruits *gasp*

    How are you doing? It's been so long since we last spoke.. :)

  38. Shaheen, it's been ages since I heard from you! I miss those almost daily chatting sessions. Mail me, okay?
    As for mangosteens, they do grow here. I know because I'm growing two myself. I don't know what the yield will be like because they're still quite small.
    I saw the fruits at a couple of supermarkets too but they were ghastly! Hard as a rock and guaranteed to give a bad name to mangosteens everywhere.

  39. How much time, gas, oil, it
    takes to do the lawn?

  40. Great question! I did wonder myself. Well I dont know about the time but I do know its man-power and not any fossil fuel that trims the lawn! :)


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