AN EXPERIENCE OF LIFE ON A PLANTATION ESTATE
Pepper Trail Wayanad : You’re at a heritage retreat in a sprawling plantation spread over 200 acres and you’re asked to choose between a suite in an immaculately- restored Colonial bungalow, and an equally luxurious treehouse, nestled high among jackfruit trees. Quite a pickle, right? But sometimes, even the most vexing of problems can have the simplest of solutions. In this case, all you need to do is stay a night in each. Sure, it might be a tad inconvenient for your hosts, but, if that’s what you want, then that’s what you’ll get. No questions asked. That’s just how it is at Pepper Trail.
Now, Kerala in the monsoon is spectacular to begin with, and Wayanad, with its rolling hills and dense forests, even more so. And in its midst is Pepper Trail, a coffee, tea and spice plantation dating back to the early 1800s. So it scores heavily on location. But that, amazingly, is just the start of it. First, there are the rooms. Currently, to choose from – two suites in the old bungalow and two treehouses, but you’ll find it mighty difficult to choose one there are just four over the other. Then there’s the food – lip-smacking, authentic Kerala cuisine that you just won’t be able to get enough of.
And, to top it all, there’s the staff: though small in number, they’re efficient, cheerful and eager to please, so every request is met with a nod and a smile. Also, having free reign over a massive plantation can never be a bad thing, right? You can go for drives through the estate in open-top jeeps (free), coracle rides on the small, private reservoir (free), and, if you don’t mind the slush, take walks through the property. But keep in mind that this is Kerala, and you could get caught in a downpour. There is also the possibility that you’ll be rained in for extended periods of time, but that is when Pepper Trail comes into its own.
You get the chance to curl up with a cup of steaming coffee and your favourite person for company on one of the balconies. At times like these, the treehouse is a clear winner. The bonnet macaques that are usually very perturbed by human presence so high among the trees need to take shelter, and the incessant patter of rain drowns out the cicadas.
Although the property itself could keep you happily occupied for the entire weekend, there are some interesting things to do should you decide to venture outside. The petroglyphs, or rock engravings, at Edakkal Caves, for one, are extremely interesting. Although not very impressive to look at, they’re unmatched for sheer archaeological significance, dating back over 3,000 years (9am – 4pm, Mon closed; Rs. 20).
It’s a mildly strenuous 45-minute hike up to the caves and quite popular with tourists, so make sure you get there at 9am sharp, especially if it’s a weekend. A drive on NH 766 through the Bandipur National Park, quite close by, also comes recommended, with sightings of wild elephants almost guaranteed (Rs. 2,500/ trip). Stopping anywhere along the 20km stretch through the forest is strictly prohibited, and this is a rule you would be well advised to follow.
Keep in mind that even though the pace of life here is leisurely, a weekend could pass by in a jiffy and, before you know it, it’d be time to go home. So an extra day as contingency could come in quite handy, too, lest you get the Pepper Trail blues.
Closest metro: Bangalore (266km) is a six- to seven-hour drive away.
Closest city: Kozhikode (104km)
Closest airport: Calicut International Airport
(118km; three-hour drive). Air india, Jet Airways and spiceJet fly to kozhikode from Bangalore (return fares from ‘ 5,640). only spiceJet flies non-stop to kozhikode from bangalore.
Closest railhead: Kozhikode Railway Station (CLT; 103km; three-hour drive). take the daily 16527 Yesvantpur Kannur Express (leaves Yesvantpur Junction [YPR] 8pm, arrives CLT 7.25am;Rs. 880 Third AC) and return by the 16528 Yesvantpur Express (leaves CLT7.30pm, arrives YPR 8am;Rs. 880 Third AC).
Pepper Trail can arrange for you to hire a car for the day (Rs. 1,750/half day [75km] for AC sedan,
Rs. 2,500/ full day [125km] for AC sedan). The resort can also arrange transfers to calicut international Airport (from ‘ 3,000 one way) and kozhikode Railway station (from Rs. 2,750 one way). YOU can easily visit Edakkal caves, do the drive through the forest and lunch at the resort in one morning. The retreat can make the bookings for you.
WHERE TO STAY
Pepper Trail: The two suites in the bungalow are expectedly luxurious, but it’s the treehouses that are the real surprise. built 40 feet above ground, they are lavish, to say the least. The only problem is that the bonnet macaques don’t take kindly to any human that ventures this high into what they assume is exclusively their territory. Their attempts at frightening you off, though, are comical at best. but all doors and windows are best kept shut at all times (00-91-9562277000; www.peppertrail.in, email@example.com; Mangalam Carp Estate, Chulliyode, Sulthan Bathery; from Rs. 11,700/suite, Rs. 13,700/ treehouse, all prices include breakfast).
WHAT TO EAT
Whether you’re vegetarian or otherwise, Mani, the cook at the resort, is sure to wow you with a wide variety of gastronomic delights. it’s all authentic keralan cuisine here, and the spread includes everything from the humble thoran (stir-fried veggies) to kudampuli (tamarind) and varutharcha (fried coconut) curries. The mamble pulissery (yoghurt-based mango gravy), beef ularthiyathu (beef fry) and meen varuthathu (fish fry) come highly recommended. Anand Jayan, the owner of the property, claims that they can go 11 days straight without repeating a single curry. There is no menu card here, but, if there is any particular vegetable or meat that you’d like to eat, they’re more than happy to oblige. it’s best to leave the preparation up to them, though. lunch costs Rs. 750/ person, while dinner, which is a slightly more elaborate affair, costs Rs. 1,000/ person (breakfast: 7.30am – 10am, lunch: 12.30pm – 2pm, evening tea : 4pm – 6pm, dinner: 7.30pm – 10pm).
WHAT TO PACK
Although the rains are abating, this is Kerala, so rain gear is still a must. Also carry a pair of good hiking shoes and some mosquito repellent.
YOU can’t go to kerala and come away without three things: coffee, spices and banana chips. Ittaliya Coffee & Spices takes care of the first two (00-91-9846221327; Chungam, Sulthan Bathery; 9.30am – 9pm, Sun closed; coffee: Rs. 240/ kg, spices from Rs. 400/ kg) and New Calicut Chips Centre, the latter (00-91-8606401330; 9am – 10pm; Rs. 280/ kg).
CLEAN LOO GUIDE
The White house, about an hour away from calicut airport, is a nice, clean restaurant that’s popular even with the locals (00-91-495-2234889; 7am – 11pm; Thamarassery; meal for two from Rs. 250).
Although kerala in the rains is notorious for its leeches, you probably won’t encounter one at Pepper Trail. No one seems to knows why that’s so, but it’s great for the guests. Another happy fact is that not a single incident of a fatal snakebite has been reported from the plantation since it was bought in 1932.
Vinayaka hospital, 8.5km away, has comprehensive medical facilities that can deal with most medical emergencies (00-91-4936-220102; www.vinayaka hospital.in; Kattayad Rd, Sulthan Bathery).
The resort has a ‘no-kids-below-12′ policy, which is good, in a way, since the really young ones won’t find much to do here. older kids can have a great time exploring the property, provided they have company.
GOOD TO KNOW
- Expansion is on in full swing at Pepper Trail, so expect some construction-related activities to be going on. Two pool villas, along with a spa, and infinity pool will open shortly. Prices are also expected to go up considerably.