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Life in a Tea, Coffee, and Betel Nut Village in Wayanad (Kerala): Day 2, Episode 2

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Please note: This is the second episode in the series. If you haven’t read the first, get it here: Finding a Home in a Village in Wayanad (Kerala): Day 1, Episode 1

A Regular Day of Two Travelers in a Tea, Coffee, and Betel Nut Village in Wayanad

Day 2

We slept well and woke up refreshed. The orange morning had been peeping in through the window next to our makeshift bed in the hall. It was quiet, except for the chirping of birds.

Around 9, or 10 am, AB, our tall, middle-aged host, rang our bell. We just had tea. He asked us how we slept and when we would be leaving. 

“Perhaps by afternoon or evening?” He wanted to know, although was trying not to be impolite. 

My partner and I said we would love to stay one more day. 

AB seemed surprised. The surprise turned into happiness, and he replied, “Sure.” 

I told him we had to put our own bedsheets and duvets for theirs weren’t fresh and clean, and the mattresses had plastic so we slept on the one in the hall which was the only plastic-less bed, and so on. I requested him to reduce the price. Two thousand per night is a lot for us long-term travelers, and we generally tend to bring down the average tariff to a thousand per night. He said we could pay 1700. That would do, for one can’t jump down too much after one night. With this, he left, and we were left to enjoy our home. 

It was Saturday, so my partner didn’t have his office. I, on the other hand, had many articles to publish and to make notes of our travels—most of what I am publishing now I wrote during the journey. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have remembered that velvet green bed cover or the beautiful redwood sofa.

I decided to stay in. 

“Let’s go to this hill for a viewpoint,” Sagar said, peering into his phone.

“Let’s. Would be nice to hike around.” I looked outside at the yellow morning and added, “But after 3. It’s too sunny now.”

We had wholewheat vermicelli tempered with carrom seeds for breakfast. My mother had given me the homemade vermicelli on my trip home in October. My partner and I had been carrying the box around since then, having access to a kitchen for just about fifteen days in Goa. Though we had eaten vermicelli yesterday, too, it takes two minutes to prepare and ten minutes to cook. 

No lunch. We wanted a good, hearty dinner.

“Would you get some groceries from the market? I have a lot of work. I can cook.” I tried to beguile Sagar, smiling mischievously. Immersed in his phone, he looked up at me with the face of a cat who settles for a nap but is instead scooped up in arms and taken out for a walk.

After a little back and forth, it was settled he would drive to the market, buy lentils and vegetables, and around three pm, we would leave for the viewpoint hike.

I didn’t repent not going out to the market. Being at home, writing and drinking tea sounded brilliant.

After three years of nomadic living in India, I resonate with John Steinback who wrote in his memoir Travels with Charley in Search of America:

“This journey had been like a full dinner of many courses, set before a starving man. At first he tries to eat all of everything, but as the meal progresses he finds he must forgo some things to keep his appetite and his taste buds functioning.” 

Now I don’t want to do or see it all. My priority is hiking, nature, food, and creating notes of the journey.

As Sagar revved up on the steep path to the main road, I was already on the makeshift sofa, laptop on my lap.

The family’s sounds reached me unhindered from upstairs. 

Aunty’s fast Malayalam, sometimes in the form of instructions to her son who had the television on tuned into a local channel perpetually, made me curious. The constant rumble of the washing machine mixed with the sound of the occasional vehicle from the road and the wind rustling through the betel net, coconut, bananas, jackfruits, and forest trees. The monkeys chattered, and the birds tseeped. 

How much can one listen, understand, and see without ever moving from her place! (Reminds me of Voyage Around My Room by Xavier de Maistre.)

the tall betel nut trees
the tall betel nut trees

Sagar returned with two quarter-kilo packets each of deskinned green gram (moong) and split pigeon peas (toor) lentils. So we had half a kilo each of two lentils, and we wouldn’t have a kitchen tomorrow. That’s just great, ain’t it?

Locking the door, we walked out of the house, passing small churches, tea estates, and homes. Most houses were within their coffee or tea and betel nut plantations; every household seemed to have some land. Wayanad is one of those few places where coffee and tea grow cheek to cheek. Piles of discarded split brown shells outside the gates on the pavement intrigued me. I would later understand those were the husks of betel nut, the fruit already harvested from them.

the betel nut husks lying in a pile under a banana tree in kerala
the betel nut husks lying in a pile under a banana tree
a plantation with both tea and coffee and betel nut plants and all green
this one has both tea and coffee. tea is on the right, and coffee is on the left most.

The sun shone right above our heads but we both had our hats on. Ahead on the road, we turned a right into a residential street. The road climbed upwards steeply, flanked on both sides by coffee, jackfruit, betel nut, and wild trees. That was the way to the viewpoint, as per Sagar’s map. 

the mountain road showing betel nut trees jackfruits
Now on the steep road

An autorickshaw laden with plants was trying to climb up, crawling inch by inch. A Karnataka car coming down the road stopped on the side for the autorickshaw. The mountain road was narrow.

“Must be tourists from Bangalore returning from the viewpoint,” Sagar and I concurred. 

When the autorickshaw had climbed up the turn, a helmeted guy sitting on the passenger seat jumped out, grinned at us but with the look of someone who had just been caught plucking guavas from the neighbor’s orchard, and sprinted down the road.  

I was mistaken to think everyone would be as friendly as that man. Now we were up in a hilly village of simple homes with brick-tiled roofs, goats and cattle within the fence, and sun-scorched villagers who avoided eye contact perhaps because many travelers were now finding their way to the “viewpoint” marked on the Google Map near their houses. As we turned around from a wrong way and walked through the streets with our heads bent so as not to appear prying on anyone, the word “viewpoint” was spoken many times behind us. The residents knew what we were there for.

red and green coffee beans on coffee plants
red and green coffee beans on coffee plants

All around, the coffee plants were laid heavy with red and green coffee beans. Jackfruit trees had small spiky fruits which made me drool. Many men and women were collected in the courtyard of one home, with young men standing outside. From the cheery hustle and bustle, they seemed to be ready for some family function. They, too, avoided looking at us and continued their high-spirited conversations. 

The knowledge that we were being looked upon as outsiders, uninvited in their celebration, didn’t upset me. I was happy to go home where I could make dinner and eat it with my family (more of my secrets to a simple, happy life). We wanderers can’t afford the surety of a home with a kitchen every day. I valued that respite immensely, as I know what it is to be on the other side. 

This so-called view lay in a forested coffee estate, a fact one can only know when one has set upon the arduous and a little embarrassing journey. We crossed a sylvan shrine and when were pretty close to the marker on the map, a mundu-clad, lean man asked us where we were going and when we told him, he asked us to turn around.

“That’s forest area. Go back.” 

“Just after a little bit we’ll go.” We assured him.

“Go now,” he said but kept on walking.

We kept on walking too. Sagar said he was only a local trying to discourage us. The homes and estates turned into forest. Ahead of us was a coffee estate and a stony, ruddy mud path climbing up into it. A few sari-clad women, probably estate workers, were sitting at the beginning of the track. 

With our eyes searching the coffee estate for any signs, Sagar and I whispered to each other, “Must be private.” A group of young college students were descending the path. I say college because these were young men and women with an air of freedom and liberty that the employed ones don’t usually possess.

We asked the local women about the viewpoint. They directed us up with gestures. Neither could they speak Hindi or English nor could we speak more than a few words of Malayalam. 

I pointed to the path again and asked, “Private?”

The women nodded, then gestured with their hands to go. 

As we walked up, one of the young boys asked where were we going. 

“This goes to the view, right?”

“Yeah, but this is a forested area. You can go up a little more and then come back. It’s not allowed to go further in. This is a forest so there’s wildlife here.” His words were not the same but intended this.

We thanked the group. We didn’t want to go all the way in a forest and only wanted a glimpse. 

the path into the coffee and tea estate in wayanad
the mud track through the coffee estate

The coffee plants led the way to tea shrubs. I crushed a few tea leaves to see if they smelled of tea. If I didn’t know the leaf was of tea, I wouldn’t have guessed. Through the tea plants, we came to an edge beyond which was the valley and on the other side were forested high mountains, perhaps a bit taller than the ones on our side. In between us and them, a tall waterfall splashed down, though we couldn’t see where it hit. It was a streak of white in the sun-yellowed blue and green. A tall jackfruit tree rose above us, a black pepper vine clutching it and rising along with it.

“We’re here.” We gleed, staring into the distance.

the viewpoint from a hill showing a waterfall on the opposite side on this side tea plants greenery all around wayanad kerala
The viewpoint and our view. Do you see the waterfall in the distance?

I guess we like climbing viewpoints to get—no surprises here—a view of where we are and what is around us. Even though Google can tell a lot about a destination, either we don’t read end to end or despite the text information, we find it hard to make sense of the place, to understand where we are, and how our patch of land and we in it look from above us. So we climb up hills to get a panoramic view.

The sun was a bright ball of white light, and we had to squint to see the trail on the right. The strawy, narrow track on the verge led further into the jungle. It was shaded by a few wild jackfruits. Sagar and I looked at the path longingly and turned around. We were told we could only go up to the point where we were, no further. 

“Let’s not go in the wild area.” He and I warned each other. 

the tempting trail into the jungle
the tempting trail into the jungle

So we came down, past the reticent homes and their goats, by the fruiting coffee plants, passing under the just-harvested betel nut trees, crossing the shrine, back on the steep road, and after investigating brown harvest drying on roofs, back at home.  

an auto rickshaw deteriorated and now part of the forest covered with vines
passing deteriorated autorickshaws overtaken by forests

Dinner was lentils, rice, potato beans, mango pickle, and onion and lemon.

As we lay on our bed in the hall caressing our happy bellies, the doorbell rang.

AB stood outside our gate, asking if everything was okay.

“Your house is so beautiful. You can do so much with it, Anna,” I said to AB, all of us now standing outside the house on the porch.

“I know I know,” AB replied, smiling slightly, his hands clasping each other as always.

He said he had many plans for the house and shared some of his ideas. I wanted to tell him the method with which people fix drainage in the walls but I couldn’t recall it. 

“So you guys are from Karnataka?” He asked us.

“No, we lived in Bangalore for a few years. We are both from Uttar Pradesh,” I chirped. 

When I told him we would stay one more day for we were a bit slow, he said he had been in Calicut for fifteen days visiting his friends. 

“Slow is good.” 

Saying positive things to comfort the other person seemed like a habit of AB. I liked him. He told us that in a new place, his mind was freshened. He worked in in-flight catering in Dubai but didn’t like it. The job was more for learning not for money because money wasn’t so much. He was also in Mumbai and other places, just traveling. 

“You know just to see other cultures.” His hands opened up as if he wanted to encompass the whole world within them. 

We spoke a little more, and then I requested fresh towels and to empty the garbage the next morning.

“My mother will come and clean. Just give me the dirty towels so we can put them in the washing machine now. I’ll bring them to you in the morning.” He wished us good night and left. But in ten minutes he was at our door again, standing with fresh towels and two bedsheets. 

“You can use these madam,” he said.

“Thank you so much, Anna,” was all I could say as I grinned. 

That night was peaceful. We had a home for the next day and another booking for four nights in a wooden stilt hut overlooking two lakes. So Sagar and I had a plan for the whole week, which is rare. 

We brushed, watching the full moon glowing behind the family’s coffee and betel nut estate in front of us, and went to bed like two little sleepy kitties who knew their place in the world a little better. It was time to rest.


a coffee estate in wayanad
here is a coffee estate of the village

Do you think we had a good, fulfilling day in the green Kerala village?


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