The secret of the Thattinpuram

Asian Paradise Flycatcher
Asian Paradise Flycatcher

A flash of a long tail gleaming like burnished copper, accompanied by a sharp skreek disappeared into the thick canopy overhead. Ajit spotted the rufous tailed Asian Paradise flycatcher perched on a low branch. It was a glorious day for a nature walk – the breeze was pleasant and the Jacarandas and the Pink trumpet trees were in full bloom. He savored these weekly trysts with nature which had become indispensable.
Today was a departure from the usual. He had brought his son, in whom he saw the same passion for nature. The little chap was curious to a fault but he had patiently answered all his questions on birds, trees and butterflies. Now he turned to find the child at his elbow holding out a jasmine flower he had picked from an overhanging vine near the fence of a house. As he inhaled the rich scent of the white flower, a long lost memory tugged at his senses.

-oo-

He plucked the fragrant flowers for his Ammamma (Grandmother) as she waited in a nearby alcove clad in her impeccable white mundu-veshti (Traditional dress of Kerala).

Naalukettu
Naalukettu

Vacations usually meant traveling across half the country to get together with his bevy of uncles, aunts and cousins at his grandparents’ place. His grandparents lived in a huge Naalukettu (traditional house of Kerala with a central courtyard open to the sky) in Manjeri , a small town in Kerala. A two storied rambling house with umpteen rooms and a plethora of common areas encircling the Nadumittam (central courtyard open to sky) , it was ensconced within a tree grove and situated in the midst of lush paddy fields. The branches of a massive peepal tree kissed the sloping roofs of the house.For him, the enormous tree was akin to a wise old sage welcoming his pupil with open arms. He used to spend countless hours exploring the varied life forms fostered by the tree. Amidst the thick canopy of shade and the ever soothing sound of the rustling of the leaves, the tree unraveled its mysteries to the discerning seeker.
Common Jezebel butterfly
Common Jezebel butterfly

Clear-winged forest glory - Damselfly
Clear-winged forest glory – Damselfly

The serendipity of seeing the tree hoppers camouflaged as thorns among one of the many creepers snaking around it, always used to be a source of delight. Apart from the myriad birds flitting on its branches during its infructescence, it hosted a plethora of butterflies,dragonflies, damselflies, insects, squirrels, skinks and yes, it used to host yet another kind of life form which he would come to know of later!

Paddy fields
Lush paddy fields

The smell of wood and trees permeated everywhere.He walked barefoot on the cool red-oxide flooring and ran down the wooden steps with resounding thumps.He loved everything about the house with its nooks and crannies, innumerable places to run and hide,its Nadumittam– where he could gaze at the raindrops falling inside the house, the kulam (small pond adjoining the main house) with its frogs and the Neerkoli (Checkered Keelback – a non-venomous snake) .

And even the Thattinpuram (low roofed attic) .

Nights at the Naalukettu ushered in the blackness which enveloped one like a shroud. The soft sounds of the night lulled him to sleep – sounds of crickets and croaking frogs, water drops trickling somewhere or a tiny rivulet flowing, whispering of the trees, a nightjar calling far away. But there were also the sounds which kept him awake half the night. And it came from the Thattinpuram.

Naalukettu
Naalukettu

The Thattinpuram was situated directly above the room where he slept and the only way to reach it was climbing the rickety wooden steps right next to the room. It had small windows overlooking the sloping roofs of the house, which were normally kept closed. Nearing midnight was when the strange creaking noises would start followed by rapid shuffling sounds. It had transpired that more often than not, the sounds followed a heavy downpour with strong winds. Night after night, he would lie awake waiting for the noises to start which would die away within an hour. He made up his mind to get to the bottom of these nocturnal goings on.

Daytime exploration of the place didn’t yield any clues and he waited for the one person who he was sure could help – Mavunni. He waved at Mavunni, who was already leading their cow to be milked and issuing instructions for the coffee bean to be plucked and dried. Everything they needed, they grew. Money was redundant for his extended family who needed it only for clothes.
A timeless old man, Mavunni was responsible for everything around his grandmother’s house. A soft -spoken, shy and retiring man by nature, he was extremely knowledgeable. Ajit had spent endless afternoons accompanying Mavunni on his chores while he listened in wonder to the old man elaborating on the various flora and fauna surrounding the house.Yes, he was sure Mavunni would find a solution.

Kulam
Kulam

At long last he managed to find Mavunni alone and explained his predicament. Mavunni pondered over it and then proceeded to give him very precise instructions. Though the old man was certain of the reason behind the strange noises, he decided to let the child learn for himself. Feeling as if a big load was off his mind, Ajit picked his way through the grassy path to the Kulam. As he floated in the still water surrounded by the dense trees, he listened to the bird songs high above. Bulbuls, drongos and flowerpeckers were all twittering away interspersed by the steady tap-tap of an industrious woodpecker. The kingfishers perched at their regular haunts swooping in now and then into the water to snatch a fish. With the tiny fishes nibbling at his feet, he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply as he prepared himself for the night
Nadumittam
Nadumittam

It was the Tulavarsham (north eastern monsoon) and dark clouds gathered overhead almost every evening. Normally he would spend hours watching the pitter patter of drops falling through the Nadumittam. But today there was work to do, as he gingerly made his way to the Thattinpuram. The last remnants of the evening light was fading quickly. A big huntsman spider lounged nearby. On any other day, he would have spent more time studying it but today, he quickly made the arrangements just like Mavunni had explained and beat a hasty retreat. A window banged somewhere.
After rains
After rains

Dinner consisted of kanji (rice porridge) with chutney and chutta pappadaam (Dry roasted rice fritters) which he insisted on eating with the jack fruit leaf spoon just like his great grandfather used to eat. He wolfed it down quickly ignoring the curious stares and hurried upstairs to wait. A good three hours passed and he was almost nodding off when he heard it.A curious shuffling and scratching. Yes, the sound repeated. The scratching sound was approaching closer to where he stood waiting at the bottom stairs of the Thattinpuram. He hardly dared to breath. And suddenly he saw it.

It was a marapatti – A civet cat !

It had the ripe papaya in its mouth. Its eyes glowed momentarily in the torchlight.As he advanced for a closer look, it spurted a noxious liquid which luckily missed him, before it bounded back to the Thattinpuram and through the window which had flapped open in the rains onto the branches of the peepal tree. The mystery of the Thattinpuram was finally solved.The peepal tree aka the wise old sage had unraveled one more of its mystery !

In the morning, when Ammamma came upstairs, a strange foul smell assailed her senses which almost made her gag. But curiously the obnoxious smell was mixed up with jasmine fragrance wafting from the flowers strewn all over the steps to the Thatthumburam.

-oo-

His son was tugging at his hand and asking ‘Don’t the flowers smell nice ?’
‘Yes,they do son’ He smiled as he remembered his frantic and ineffectual attempts at masking the Marapatti’s secretion with Jasmine flowers.

Marapatti
Marapatti – Asian palm civet aka the Toddy Cat is an omnivorous animal living on trees.It emits a noxious secretion as a last line of defense when threatened.Though not endangered, Asian palm civets have been drastically affected by increasing deforestation and habitat loss


This post is written for Kissan Nature’s Friends contest. My husband Ajit , an avid nature lover and an active contributor in several bird, butterfly and tree forums, still fondly reminisces about his time in his grandparents’ Naalukettu. He attributes his current passion towards nature to the gay abandonment of those times when boundaries between homes and nature were just imaginary.

A Vacation in the Mountains, Seas and Backwaters

It was a dream to have a weeklong vacation in Kerala with all the flavors of nature – The mountains, seas and backwaters.Thanks to Kissan for sponsoring the vacation and to Indiblogger and India Untraveled who enabled the same ! India Untraveled arranged all the bookings and went that extra mile to tailor the whole package to suit our requirements.

We (Me, my husband and my 7 year old son) started our journey by road on 28th October,6.30 AM from Bangalore. We stopped for breakfast at Kadambam (78 Km from Blr,Sarjapur Road) which serves excellent south Indian dishes. Their specialty is a delicious sweet Pongal.We passed through Mandya, Mysore,Nanjangud, Gundalpet and reached Sultan Bathery in Wayanad by 1.55 PM.

Treasure Trove Cottage

We were at Treasure Trove, our first destination at 2.10 PM (280 Km from Blr).Treasure Trove is a homestay located near Meenangadi and has two lovely bamboo cottages on stilts. These cottages were built by Uravu, which is a small scale bamboo industry in Wayanad. They have all the modern amenities and a nice bamboo balcony surrounded by a canopy of trees where one can just sit and listen to the chirping of the birds and see the sunlight filtering through the trees. The cottages are located amidst coffee plantations and provide ample opportunities for sighting different birds and butterflies.
Bamboo Balcony

Our hosts, Sunil and Reena and their two beautiful children were warm and hospitable. Food consisted of simple but delicious Kerala food served in the main house. In the evening, we went for a plantation walk which culminated in a spectacular view point of the distant Chembra peak.
View from the plantation

There are lots of places to see in Wayanad like Pookote Lake, Banasura Dam, Soochipura Waterfalls, Chembra peak. Some of them we had seen on earlier visits and some of them were closed like Edakkal Caves (closed on Monday) and Kurva. So we decided to explore the nearby places. Phantom Rock is a rocky mountain which looks like the rock in Phantom comics. It affords a scenic view of the nearby peaks.
Phantom Rock

Karapuzha Dam is another place situated close by. We visited the Wayanad Heritage Museum which houses archeological artifacts including some, dated 1 and 2 AD. Since the deep forest trek which had been the initial plan, was suspended, we took the Jeep safari into the Muthunga Wildlife Sanctuary. You have to reach the counter really early (preferably by 6.30 AM) as it’s on a first come first served basis and only 40 jeeps are allowed in the morning. We spent well over 1 hour in the safari but didn’t spot anything much, other than some deer and peacocks. The only highlight was a fresh kill of a porcupine by a leopard with the spot marked by fresh blood stains, lot of quills and the footprints of the leopard.

My painting of the treasure trove cottage

We started from Treasure trove at 10.30 AM on 30th October for our next destination – Blue Mermaid, Kannur. We took an inside road as the highway road was riddled with pot holes. We stopped at an old Jain temple on the way and found it very intriguing though it was obviously not maintained and was surrounded by overgrown vegetation. The road from Wayanad to Kannur had breathtaking scenery, surrounded by thick vegetation and tall trees on either side.

Blue Mermaid, Kannur

We reached Thottada village near Kannur and as the winding roads twisted and turned, the vista opened and suddenly there was the sparkling blue Arabian Sea ! We reached Blue Mermaid at 3.00 PM, located deep within Thotada village, 130 Km from Wayanad. We were warmly welcomed by Indu and her staff who runs the homestay. We took the room on the first floor as it had a very scenic view of the sea. The room was nice with clean sheets and linen and a nice bath.
Beach at Blue Mermaid

The beach was secluded and had only a few people from nearby resorts. The golden sands and the sparkling sea welcomed us and we spent most of the day at the beach. The food at Blue Mermaid was authentic, lip smacking Kerala food and had a decent spread. It included dishes like Drumstick leaves Mologoshyam, Theeyal, Puttu, Stew and Vazhapoo curry.
My painting of the scene from Blue Mermaid

Since we didn’t want to rush around seeing places, we decided to limit ourselves to just one – Fort St. Angelo situated quite close by. The fort is massively built with laterite stones. It boasts of a rich history and was inhabited by the Portugese,Dutch, Ali Rajas of Kannur and British at different periods.
Fort St. Angelo

After 2 days of soaking up the sands and the sun, it was time to start for our third & final destination – Oyster Opera, Chervattur. The route from Thottada village to Padanna village near Chervattur took us through several small and sleepy Kerala towns, backwaters, quaint bridges, discreet temples and interesting roads.
And the last stretch was a turn from the main road which led to the island and then the sight took our breath away. Backwaters and lush coconut trees flanked us on both sides and we finally reached Oyster Opera at 1.10 PM,73.5 Km from Kannur.
Oyster Opera, Chervattur

Oyster Opera is a resort run by Mr. Gul, who owns several mussel farms. It consists of 5 or 6 cottages, each with its own individuality based on its placement and the material used for construction. We stayed at “Shrimp”, a quaint cottage built with laterite stones with an open-roofed bathroom, facing the backwaters. The beauty of the landscape cannot be described in words and the photos possibly depict a little of what we actually saw. The cottage with its stone steps almost kissing the backwaters, with a lazy hammock swinging between coconut trees was a dream come true.
The afternoon we reached, cyclonic winds and rain hit the waters. Though, we were confined to the room, it was an experience to watch the winds and the dark clouds swirling on the horizon and the waters reflecting several strange and mysterious colors.
Backwaters at Oyster Opera

The next day, we opened the door to be greeted by the shimmering clear waters and a blue sky. We spent the time in Oyster Opera, just drinking in the beauty, canoeing in the small inlet of water and boating in the backwaters. The food was also amazing with a full Kerala sadya, idichipuzhunja payasam, kappa and several other delicacies. The owner, a very humble and unassuming man, himself served the guests.
Morning sunlight

It was soon time to leave and we bid adieu to the beautiful place.
We took the Ranipur route via Madikeri which was supposed to have better roads than the main roads. But the road after Panathur in Kerala, was rough. The mountainous forests amidst pouring rain with bad roads combined with the threat of wild elephants would have been arduous , if it were not for the fantastic scenery and the fact that our car was the only vehicle for hours on end. After we stepped out to admire a hidden waterfall and got back to the car, we were in for a nasty surprise when we discovered some un-invited guests – 7-8 leeches in the car !! We had donated quite a bit of blood to three of them who had become round and satiated! We painstakingly searched and deposited them back on the grass and bid them a hasty goodbye.
We had a break journey at Mysore Infosys campus for one night and returned back to Bangalore on Saturday evening, 2nd November after a 1040 Km road trip and our hearts and minds full with the beauty of God’s Own country !

Route Details:
Bangalore to Wayanad


Wayanad to Kannur

Kannur to Chervattur

Chevattur to Bangalore

Bad stretches : After entering Kerala on the Bangalore to Wayanad route, road is not so good. Panathur to Talacauvery near Madikeri approx.68 Kms, Ghat road through wildlife sanctuary is filled with pot holes.