Monsoon magic in Nilambur
There is something poetic and dreamy about rains and the magic of monsoons is best experienced in Kerala: God’s own country. While one could debate endlessly about the traffic snarls, water logging and muck that rains bring one must admit that the inspiration and serenity rains bring along is second to none. My monsoon experience in Nilambur, home to the world’s best Teak, was unexpectedly remarkable.
Kerala is not just about its backwaters, beaches and well-kept tea estates. Wandering deep into the state reveals quaint hill villages; historically rich yet humble households and many traditions, which are kept clandestine even from some natives. Coming from Mumbai I can vouch for the city’s beautiful monsoons, but Kerala is the one place in India where the experience is truly enchanting.
A typical scene in monsoon in Nilambur.
Getting to Nilambur: A rail memory for life.
Nilambur railway station.
The best way to get here is by taking the passenger train from Shoranur to Nilambur. Palghat is a town bordering Tamil Nadu and Kerala and also happens to be my ancestral place. The passenger train runs on a single track across several kilometres of mist-filled and water-drenched green pastures, it is a scene one can only appreciate in reality and not describe in words. Once the train chugs amidst the forest with tall symmetrical trees and a carpet of yellow broad leaves, one knows they’ve entered teak country and it’s time to get off the train. Let me just quickly rewind, how could I miss savoring the steaming tangy-sweet banana fritters called pazham poris. It is an omnipresent snack in Kerala.
Pazham pori– must have snack in Kerala.
F is for food and football too: Local flavors.
Argentina vs Brazil: who’s your favorite?
Nilambur is a typically laid back town where one can spot men clad in colourful sarongs called mundu ; chit chatting over cups of black tea fondly called Chaaya. Having come here in the middle of the football world cup I couldn’t stop noticing the yellow and blue flags all over the streets! Kerala is probably divided into two,once every four years into Brazil and Argentina followers. Having just returned from Russia (2018) where all the action was actually taking place I can proudly say that kerala would beat even the host nation in its Football fanaticism. I couldn’t stop myself from taking a selfie the moment I was out of the railway station with a towering cutout of Messi.
Puttu Kadalai and chaaya for breakfast
After satisfying myself to a plate of Puttu- kadalai the traditional kerala breakfast we drove towards Kakkadampoyil from where we had to take a jeep towards our stop for the night.
Off –roading on a jeep: land rafting.
I had seen jeep off-roading videos on television before but nothing could match what we experienced, rightly named by a fellow traveller as jeep rafting! It had been pouring continuously for the last few days and streams and waterfalls were over-flowing all around the western ghats, the views were bewitching. We took several photo stops to try and capture as much as the eye saw for our friends and family but no technology can do justice to what the human eye perceives.
After a few hours of delay due to the heavy down-pour our jeep was ready to take us up on a short 5KM ride. What began as an excited ride soon turned into something we would remember for the rest of our lives! A jeep ride during incessant rains is not for the faint-hearted. The jeep carefully made its way over rocks and streams and occasionally dipped almost into the gorge on the sides. Like rafting on a river we were on a rafting experience at the edge of a valley! We crossed long stretches of streams with gushing water. If not for the laudable driving abilities of our driver these streams could easily have washed us away. This off-roading was just an adventure for us but this is how people in these remote areas survive everyday for their daily supplies and living. This is an experience which most of us do not get on holidays especially in India.
Abode of clouds: A humble hill stay
After a late lunch at the top of the hills we spent some time watching misty clouds pass over western ghats. This was a view one wouldn’t get in too many places in the world. I could sit there for hours, but the rain gods were not kind. It rained the entire evening and all night making it sound and feel like we were in Jurassic Park. I have to admit that I was scared and I had not seen such torrential ever before in my life.
The next morning we had to cancel the idea of trekking to the top of the mountains because the winds were very strong and owing to these heavy rains overnight, most of the path we heard had turned into streams by now. However, we did go on a short walk to a near-by stream, which now looked like a milky river, I am usually very scared when it comes to water and crossing ferocious monsoon streams is just not my thing. But it is these moments that make for experiences that remain etched in your memory forever.
One of the most important things travel teaches you is to face and overcome your fears. I didn’t want to be left alone amidst leeches on a rainy day inside a forest! So I let go of my fears and managed to trek upstream the path, which was more like a tiny waterfall by now. By the end of this mini-amazonic experience none of us wanted to get out of this haven.
Living with the royals: Puthiyakovilakam
We then headed towards our stay for the second night which was in fact a palace or at least the home of the royal family of Nilambur. Puthiyakovilakam is a heritage home that is over 200 years old and we didn’t just stay there, Sreevidya who is the living descendant of the royal family hosted us. As we entered this home Mr. Ravi Varma welcomed us warmly with a tour of this heritage home, little did we realize that every path we took, every room we walked into were also walked by some of its historical greats. A walk in the neighborhood revealed vast teak forests,the calm chaliyar river in the backyard and an imposing banyan tree, which is said to be the place where the inhabitation of this clan began. In the evening a story-telling session brought the bygone era alive. A traditional vegetarian dinner consisting of kanji and payar was served, loaded with nutrition; this is all we needed to retire for the day.
Kanji and payar: boiled green moong and leftover rice served in traditional plate made of leaves. Notice the spoon too is made out of the spoon!
The next day before we departed from the palace we visited the Vettakorumagan temple that is believed to be the temple of the son of Shiva in his tribal form. This is the family or village deity of this region and gains a lot of popularity during a six-day festival called Nilambur Pattu utsavam.
Relaxing at the Chaliyar river.
Luck by chance: Bull race festival.
Maramadi a very unique bull race held once a year.
With a few hours in hand before we caught our train back to Palghat we drove to a nearby village and started walking towards the lush green paddy fields. I was wondering what could Kerala offer experiential in this familiar terrain. As we walked ahead I saw a crowd gathered around a flooded piece of field; moving closer as I got a full view of what was happening I was almost confused for a moment if I was in Spain or rural Kerala! Maramadi happens in parts of central Kerala post harvest and is one of the rarest experiences in India. A pair of bulls are sent charging down the football field-sized rice paddy field soaked in ankle deep water, while their guides hang onto the tail or onto a harness and slide through the mud. This ancient sport is held once a year and we just happened to be lucky to watch it.
Our last stop before taking the train was the teak museum at Nilambur which again surprised me for being one of the best maintained museums in India. Who could think that a tiny little town in central Kerala would have so much to offer?
This trip was curated by Wandermile which is an experiential tour company and I personally love exploring all their itineraries.
Nilambur is very close to Tamil Nadu and can be easily visited from Coimbatore.
It is 50km from Calicut.
Kakkadampoyil is an offbeat hill station but quite popular with the locals hence you will get decent options for stay.
Some of the touristy must-dos here are the hanging bridge, Teak museum
Valamthode falls: has good facilities as well. Good to visit on a rainy day.
Visit Vaniyambalam para for some serene views of the valley and if you’re lucky you can catch a bird’s eye view of the passenger train.