After two plus weeks in North India and covering over 2000 km overland, it was time to turn our sights South – and so we reluctantly left lovely Udaipur and flew first north to Delhi and then to Bangalore – a total of about 3 hours of flying. The Udaipur airport was new, large, and empty. We counted a total of only 5 flights out scheduled for the day. Apparently some political kerfluffle has limited flights between Jaipur and Udaipur, and squelched a lot of the tourist traffic (or so we were told…politics is proving an endlessly interesting and multi-sided subject here.)
Following our alphabetical route map for South India, we go:
F: (this is really on the map as G) Munnar
H: Allepy Backwaters
J/K/L: fly to Chennai, car to Mahalibalipuram, Pondicherry
By late afternoon of our Udaipur departure, we were delivered to the Villa Pottapatti, (http://villa-pottipati.neemranahotels.com/) a Neemrana Hotels property in Bangalore. Neemrana is buying or leasing wonderful old homes and other properties throughout India, and with minimal changes converting them into a version of a homestay, albeit with professional staffing and branded amenities. We were delighted at Villa Pottapatti to meet its owner, Mrs. Reddy, whose husband’s family had built the house in the late 19th century. She was sitting in the garden dining area when we came out for breakfast, and we spent an hour learning all about the house, the family, the neighborhood…and, how very different everything is from when she arrived as a bride over 50 years ago. It felt like we were guests in a lovely old home with a hostess who sent us out into the neighborhood on a treasure hunt.
Our first week in the South would test our energy – we’d be in six different beds each of six nights, including one spent on the local overnight train to Hosagunda (definitely not the lux train for tourists, we each had a bottom berth of three stacked, and were separated from the narrow aisle by a non-working curtain.) For most of the first week in the south we were guests of former business relations when I worked with Honest Tea. The first few days were with the Phalada Agro team (http://www.phaladaagro.com/). Phalada is an award-winning supplier of organic and Fair Trade ingredients, ranging from turmeric and coconut to spearmint and tulsi and I’ll write at much more length about this wonderful, motivated company of change-makers after getting back home.
We visited the Bangalore processing plant and test garden, visited Mr. CMN Shastry’s organic farm and excavation/reconstruction of an 800 year old temple in Hosagunda, and travelled by car to Chickmaglur where we visited an organic coffee grower and learned how cardamom is grown! Whew.
Fascinating temple visits along the way included Halebad and Belur – where the craftsmanship of the stonework was breathtaking – the incisions were deep, crisp and incredibly intricate, after hundreds of years. The temples themselves were more geometric than anything we’d seen so far, and I was awed by it all…the detail, the age, the clear devotion of those who conceived of and built the temples. And – the sculptures of the elephants that surrounded the base of both temples…hundreds and hundreds of roughly 12” long by 8” high elephants marching around, in and out of the undulating base.
In Kollegal, I was truly honored to meet the small scale farmers who are growing organic vegetables, herbs, and spices, under the auspices of the Phalada Agro group. At a Natural Products Food Show in 2013, it was thrilling to hear from Mr. Shastry about the ways in which the farmers and their families are benefiting from selling organic ingredients to Honest Tea http://www.honesttea.com, (and of course, other manufacturers as well.)
Every part of the visit with Phalada was inspiring – my work with organic and Fair Trade products has always been motivating, but travelling with the Phalada team was amazing. They are working directly with very small farmers in the Karnataka region who are at the forefront of organic farming in India. These families have 1-3 acre plots that are planted with organic tulsi, corn, watermelon, sugar cane, turmeric…and sell their product to Phalada. Their Fair Trade tulsi sales bring them an additional premium that is changing their lives. The farmland was lush, the sounds of birds and insects filled the air, and the farmers and farm workers seemed delighted to have a visitor from away. I had brought a bottle of Honest Tea’s Heavenly Lemon Tulsi with me to share – it’s not often that the farmers get to see the end result of their labors, and they were excited to see, and taste, the beverage. My few words of Hindi and Kannada (different local languages are spoken all over India) and a whole lot of smiling (I hope) helped them understand how excited I was to actually stand in the organic fields and say “thank you,” for all the work they do.
From Kollegal we headed to the highlands of tea country – first to Nilgiri, where our hosts were the team from the Chamraj Tea Estates (http://www.chamrajchai.com/), which also owns Korakundah, a large organic and Fair Trade tea garden. Chamraj’ tea bushes are grown at 6-8000’ elevation, the highest in India. It is an incredible landscape, with the labyrinth-like tea bushes growing on impossibly steep hillsides; hovering above them are the silverwood trees which are “pollarded” or pruned at various times to either shade or allow more sun depending on the need of the plants.
Chamraj runs a 60-bed hospital, school for 1200 students, and an orphanage, all on its property, and partly funded by company and Fair Trade funds. Our host, Mr. Hendrickson, seems to have 10 different full-time jobs, and is passionate about not only the tea he helps to sell, but the company’s responsibility for the community it is part of – anyone in the area is welcome to use the hospital facilities, and the school is also open to the community, not just the children of the estate staff and workers.
A visit to the Chamraj processing plant reinforced the intricacies of creating fine tea, and a tasting afterwards introduced us to “Frost Tea,” from plants grown at the highest elevations in the Nilgiri.
This second week is a slower paced travel time, as we catch up on sleep and energy after the hectic travelling in the north. And, it’s giving me some time to fully recover from my cold. So, after Chamraj we drove 30 minutes to the highlands town of Coonoor, a former summertime colony for the British as they escaped from the heat of Bangalore. We stayed at the “Wallwood,” an old bungalow and another Neemrana property. Enjoying the crackling fire in the living room, and reading one of the left-behind paperbacks while enjoying a cup of tea was like being transported back to the time of the British Raj. Strolling through Sim’s Park with its hundreds of specimen trees from around the world, and having a coffee at tiny “Cheri Brewing” completed a simple, relaxed day. With that, more to come next time!
By the way, the monkey joined me in the Wallwood breakfast room as I was sitting enjoying a cup of tea and making some notes. The monkey was about the size of a 2 year old child, and sneaked in so quietly that he was about two feet from the table when I spotted him. I calmly(!) and quickly called out “monkey in the breakfast room,” at which time one of the staff came in and shooed it away. Just another thrilling animal encounter in India!
Please let me know via a “comment” if you have any questions – I’m just scraping the very surface of the notes I’ve made. Food questions? Lodging? Culture? Travel? Let me know and I’ll try to respond with how we’ve become a bit more “JourneyWise” on this trip!