Way back in July when our hair was shorter, skin paler and pockets heavier, we landed in the state of Kerala. Twelve weeks, four states and a million bus hours later and we were back. Instead of the monsoon-soaked region of Kochi, this leg found us deep in the sun-baked national parks and tiger reserves of Wayanad.
Varnam homestay, tucked away in the heart of the jungle, is reached via a very pleasant 4 hour bus route which meanders its way through thick forests, providing keen passengers with excellent wildlife spotting opportunities. Before reaching the homestay (where we were to spend three nights at a cost of £20 pppn for accommodation and all our meals), we spotted an elephant and a crested hawk eagle. This was a promising start to our time in an area many Keralans consider the most beautiful in their state.
The delights continued when we arrived at Varnam. Greeting us was Beena and her two dogs – Jockrey and Bruno. Jess fell in love instantly. Here is Jockrey guarding the entrance to our tree house villa.
Varnam is as good as it gets in terms of ideal homestays – interesting and friendly hosts, playful pets, knowledgeable staff, delicious home cooked food, basic but spotless rooms, spacious grounds (including an organic farm), hammocks and a badminton court.
The only negative happened during a pre dinner shower… Having thoroughly cleansed I bent down to turn off the tap only to come face to face with the largest spider I have ever seen outside of a cage. Letting out a high pitched scream I jumped out of the bathtub before managing to compose myself and, in an attempt to prove my manliness, caught the arachnid in a sandwich bag. Just as I thought I had done enough to reassure Jess I wasn’t a wimp, the horrific beast squeezed through a hole in the corner of the bag while I was still holding it resulting in.. girly scream number two. Eventually I did manage to securely ‘bag’ it and took it down to dinner to show Beena and Co. Watch out for another giant spider cameo in our ‘Hill Stations’ blog post coming soon.
We could have easily spent all day playing badminton and lounging in the hammocks but we had a couple of items on our to Wayanad To Do list – jeep safari and trek.
After breakfast the next day, we embarked on a 1000m up hill hike through the tiger reserve to Brahmagiri peak. Leading the way and keeping us safe from elephants, gaur and big cats was a local guide called Vishnu. I had to sign a disclaimer before we set off stating in black and white that if any injury or death should occur to any of our party (our party being me, Jess, Vishnu and Barabara/Lana/Jennifer. The latter being an Australian woman twice our age whose name seemed to change as often as Jess applied insect repellant) that I personally was to be held liable.
Dodging leeches, which raised their ugly heads to greet us as we approached, we slowly – Babs/Lana/Jen had knee problems – climbed the hill. To begin with we walked through dense and shaded jungle. About half way up we stopped at a watch tower before the Aussie lady’s knees finally gave up the ghost and we left her sitting on a rock where she could watch us finish the ascent. Marching higher we were rewarded with stunning views of the National Park as the forest gave way to rolling hills of elephant grass.
On the way back down, we were reunited with Jenbarb and ate a lunch of Upma that Beena had kindly made up for us. A short while later, we were back at the base and it was time to inspect our feet and legs.
The Sandle wearing Vishnu had no leeches, bites or wounds. Jenbarbs Daz-white cotton socks were a bloody mess. One leech was claiming squatters rights in my right shoe. Jess’ heels had suffered with the combination of ‘Leech socks’ hiking shoes and steep inclines, resulting in a nasty looking couple of blisters.
On the return drive to Wayanad we spotted an elephant in the forest and this monitor lizard basking on the road.
Having seen so much wildlife on the trek, and being thoroughly worn out, we decided to scrap the Jeep safari and spend the next day mulling around Beena’s farm.
During our time at Varnam, Beena taught us a great deal about Keralan wildlife, farming and cooking, introducing us to many new food stuffs – banana flower, Bread fruit, chikoo, mashed tapioca, boiled arrowroot and egg curry. She even played the role of tribal nurse by dressing the blistered heels of Jessica with some medicinal plants growing beside our room.
We had an amazing time both at Wayanad and at Varnam. The combination of Beena’s care and attention, delicious and varied food, pet dogs, sunshine and games left us feeling melancholic at leaving a place for the first time.
Before we had time to change our plans and make a decision to stay longer, our 10am auto rickshaw beeped its horn and, feeling thproughly healthy and revigorated we set off for the ‘Queen of Hill Stations’ Ooty.