Welcome to Kerala Some photos from Southern India, January 2013
Page 2 of 4 - Bison Camp and Wayanad Walking

Edition of 12. March 2013 : new picture from David R

We travelled as guests of HF Holidays, represented in India by Muddy Boots

Page 2 - Bison Resort and Wayanad Walking


Judy outside our luxury "tent" at Bison Resort, in Nagarhole National Park, run on behalf of his son by Saad, a very charismatic scion of the Royal dynasty. It's all tents on stilts, with raised wooden walkways, no electricity to speak of but a comfortable bed and washing facilities including a sort of Roman bath.


Inside our tent at Bison Camp - the very comfortable bed, with mosquito nets...


...and bathroom, with stone "Roman" bath & shower

We had a late lunch and then took a delightful boat safari on the river, led by our host and his naturalist, who had the most amazing eyesight. With his guidance we spotted quite a few elephant, various deer including huge Gaur, monkeys and wild boar.


Fish Eagle by the river

Birdlife included several varieties of heron, kingfishers (common, pied and others), stilts, peacocks and -hens, and most spectacularly an Osprey and a Fish Eagle, both really close by.


On the riverbank just yards from us was a huge crocodile, and a couple of turtles. All pretty good for one short boat trip


[Photo courtesy of Sue D]. A lovely picture of our group by the Kabini River.

Dinner arrangements had been kept as a surprise (though some had guessed) and we were Jeeped to a campfire by the river with a buffet, beers and chat. This was a delightful evening, made more memorable for Steve by a one-on-one discourse from Saad on the geopolitics of the area, broadening to India, the Middle East, and then the world. I did raise the subject during the afternoon, so I suppose I asked for it. The night was misty but our moonlight shadows were short and sharp, the light so bright that we were driven back to camp without headlights (this may have been because the Jeep had none)


Saad himself, strolling across his vast domain...


...and dressed for supper, with Judy, at the campfire in the evening


[Photo courtesy of David R]
Crossing the Kabini River by powerboat from Bison Camp for our village and plantation walk next morning...


...and a local fisherman doing the same, in more traditional style


Oxen being used to trample a threshing floor...


...and winnowing the rice in the traditional way


Village children near the Bison Camp... ...while Mum looks on. They appreciated being shown their portraits on the camera screen. This is a village of the displaced indigenous forest people whom Saad had been talking about. Their conditions were not great, partly because the men, used to a foraging life, apparently refuse to take a job, and are incapable of agriculture


Making mud bricks near the Bison Camp. A pit is soaked with water pumped from the river, the muddy earth dug out, and carried on a stretcher and a basket by women to where the bricks were cast in a wooden mould and then dried in the sun - all very sustainable


Walking back to Bison Camp. Tree stumps have been left when the reservoir was flooded, but the recent summer's drought has left water levels very low


Breakfast and quick packing for the bus journey into Kerala. This is the home state of our guides, and they seemed glad to be there and speaking Malayalam again. We stopped for lunch at a typical Keralan 'Mess' and were treated to a typically Keralan 'Spread'. This was a banana leaf, ritually washed and dried by each diner, on which a variety of accompaniments, starting with salt and including some fiery pickles, were carefully placed in a prescribed manner.


Then rice was added in the centre, not any old rice but twice-boiled, which makes it fluffy and absorbent. More sauce and a piece of fish completed the Spread, and to our credit most of us ate most of it, with our (right) hands, washed down with boiled water.


Boots on, we walked from the Mess into the forest and took bamboo log rafts, hauled by overhead ropes, across the Kabini river to the Kuruva islands, with lots of wildlife interpreted by two more local guides, Nikil and Vishnu, who were to be with us for a couple of days.


Our Guides Nikil, Vishnu and Jude (Muddy Boots) crossing the river

There were signs of recent elephant presence including spectacular poo, which Nikil pulled open to see how recent it was. Steve of course had to sample it, doing the finger-swap trick to general horror (apart from our couple of medics who'd seen it done many times). This was a really great afternoon.


We walked among paddy fields, saw more tribal villages, and spices growing everywhere.


Rice paddies in different stages of planting...


...and harvested rice, drying in the sun


A one-thousand-year-old temple, in need of some renovation, deep in the forest

Then a long bus ride to our resort, deep in the rain-forest at Vythiri, way up a dreadful 'road' which our driver negotiated in pitch darkness - never having seen it before - with exceptional skill and daring.


Our trusty bus, so expertly driven by Harish. Bottled water and chilled mango juice frequently appeared just when needed

We were pretty late and tired by now, so the buffet dinner wasn't all that much appreciated, especially as there was no beer to be had. We fell into our hard bed, and asleep to the earthy jungle sounds and the river outside our room.


A Malabar Giant Squirrel jumping off our roof, Vythiri Resort

Our next day (Friday 25th) featured a wonderful walk in the foothills of Chembra, the highest peak in Kerala at about 2,200m. This was what we'd come here for. Our coach (this time a smaller mini-bus for day trips) took us through tea plantations to the trailhead for a delightful stroll through rain-forest, open grassland and dry forest. At lunchtime a Jeep met us on the trail with beef and vegetable wraps, oranges and water, all very civilised and welcome.


Lunch stop on our all-day walk in the Chembra Foothills, Wayanad

The views were spectacular, and everyone really enjoyed the walk. After the picnic it was mainly downhill, and we were back at Vythiri in time to relax for a while before a beer-free dinner, both rare circumstances in this itinerary!


Taking a break by the river on our all-day walk in the Chembra Foothills, Wayanad. David's taking a picture...


[Photo courtesy of David R]
...and here it is!

The next day, still in Wayanad, was less enjoyable - a long transfer by bus to a rather uninteresting walk in the Muthanga wildlife sanctuary, through forest and paddies to another resettlement village. Steve found some more poo, this time smelling strongly feline, which our naturalist Nikil and Steve happily poked about in.
Nikil identified this as leopard scat, and quite fresh, which was rather exciting.

Lunch, after another drive, was a tasty biriyani in the town of Sultan Bathery (your spelling may vary) which was where the tyrant Tipi Sultan kept some of his weaponry.

After lunch and a very long wait for indifferent coffee we drove to the museum at Ambalavayal, which boast a modest collection of ancient stone carvings, mostly granite bas-reliefs of sacred figures such as Shiva and his wife Nandi, who (rather ignominiously?) takes the form of a cow. This was actually pretty monotonous, only relieved by a delightful lady curator in a beautiful bottle-green sari who spoke no English to us, but clearly understood it very well. Many of the Nandi sculptures had been defaced (literally) on the orders of Tipu, a Muslim iconoclast of Hindu carvings.

Another very long bus ride took us back to Vythiri for supper and a lecture on the local wildlife, which was a poorly presented slide show, mainly of insects, on a local entomologist's laptop.


Walking in the forest

On Sunday 27th, or Day 8, we were up very early for a walk in local plantations, led by yet another local naturalist, Anwar.


Anwar leading our forest / plantation walk

He was really enthusiastic and showed us lots of spices such as turmeric and cocoa, as well as tea, coffee and all manner of fruit & vegetation, including 'touch-me-not' mimosa, which folds up at the slightest, er, touch; and another very useful herb which closes open wounds. Here are some pictures...


Wayanad's famous pepper - it grows as a vine, like ivy, up a tree


Bougainvillea, growing everywhere


Jude shows us how to pick tea. He should know - he managed a plantation for 12 years


Tea plantation, with the beautiful reticulated pattern of bushes


Sunlight in the forest - it's all powered by this


Anwar shows us Turmeric root


Coffee "beans" growing in the plantation


Coffee "beans" drying in the sun


Bananas in the plantation


Rubber trees under-planted with young banana trees


Cardamom groves


Cardamom - often planted under betel nut palms, as they need shade


Frankincense oozing from a tree


A lovely spot by the river


We emerged into yet another resettlement village - many of the people here were very shy, apart from one lady laboriously drawing water by rope and bucket from what seemed a very deep well.

Our walk ended at Muddy Boots' own Pranavam holiday house, where arrangements had thoughtfully been made for our ablutions before our long journey down from the Deccan Plateau (the escarpment is the Deccan 'Traps' to the geologist - click to look it up) to the coastal plain.

Now click for Page 3 - Calicut and the Coastal Plain
...or Page 4 - Coconut Lagoon and the Backwaters
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