My Kerala Trip: When You Need To Go, You Go

The 12-hour car journey from Bangalore to our destination, VanaMoolika, was an experience to savour. I say ‘savour’ because it will be something I will remember for a long time to come.
Travels must be accompanied by humour and curiosity – only then will the journey be as memorable as the destination!
I was like a child in a sweet shop – for India is a bit like candy, multi-coloured, multi-taste!
It is, like Nic says, a feast for all five senses.
As unfamiliar as it was to me, it wasn’t all together new to me.
I grew up with a best friend who had acclimatized me to everything Indian.
I used to hang about her home during Deepavali. I had Indian neighbours – I grew up playing with them. I love exploring Little India in Penang especially looking at trinkets and stuff at my favourite Indian mini mart, Ramani’s on Penang Street. And eating Indian food is something I don’t have problems with. (I used to proclaim I must’ve been an reincarnated Indian princess much to my bestie’s amusement the way I drooled over her mom’s chicken sambar!)
The 12-hour journey would not be so uncomfortable if the roads were not so pot-holed or dark. Sleeping was out of the question. I dozed off part of the way but it wasn’t a fitful sleep. We stopped a few times for toilet breaks. Our local driver had no problem just doing his little business by some bushes near the road. OK, we’re Malaysians so we didn’t want to do anything by the roadside.
The funniest toilet break happened when we stopped near a mosque. It was almost 5am. We were told there was a toilet behind the mosque so all of us women went in search of that elusive loo. We were sleepy and grumpy. The loo consisted of three low cubicles sans doors! In India, squat loos are common. I didn’t mind the squatting type of toilet.
Imagine…our bladders are bursting, it’s dark (no electric lights at all) and the loos have no doors! This is where I couldn’t give a damn. I had to go so I had to go. As it was dark, no one could see our privates anyway. The water from the tap was a mere trickle so my hand sanitizer gel came in handy! And just as we got out of the dark toilet, the morning prayers from the mosque sounded. That was quite a moment!

I know, we all look intimidated by the shack!
I know, we all look intimidated by the shack!

Our bladders were full because a few hours prior we had our ‘snack’ break at a shack which looked like it catered for truck-drivers and bus drivers. At 12 midnight (India time) which was 3am Malaysian time, we were sitting in a tumbledown shack in the middle of nowhere having Bombay toast, chapati and a thick dhal parapu curry. It must’ve been something as we look like wide-eyed aliens in a shack full of truck drivers! Almost everyone stuck to their bottled water though hot coffee was available. We were scaredy cats and didn’t want to take chances.
Coffee in India needs a bit of getting used to. It’s the pure thing where it’s just kopi-o (coffee and sugar). Unlike our coffee beans which have been roasted with margarine and sugar and what-not, theirs is just made from pure coffee beans. (Speaking of which, you cannot find Coffee Bean or Starbucks in India, according to Jegan, our guide as India does not allow foreign coffee chains into the country. The local coffee chains are either Coffee Cafe or Coffee Day.) The Indian coffee is not thick and black like what we have in Malaysia. Theirs look like tea which has been brewing forever.
After another 2 hours of driving, we finally reached VanaMoolika in the Wayanad District. (GoogleMap says the distance from Bangalore to Pulpally is about 4 hours. Now we know that is not right. Google thinks all roads are American freeways?)
This is Pulpally town
This is Pulpally town

Before reaching this hilly area, we drove past the town of Pulpally. In the early dawn, many Indian men and women were up and about, carrying steel buckets. I later found out they were walking to milk cows.
One has it made if one owns cows in India...for milk, for dung!
One has it made if one owns cows in India...for milk, for dung!

If I had to wake up, walk a long way to get to the cows and milk them or get milk from the farmer, I wonder if I’d want to drink milk. It seemed like a lot of work. Do I consider myself lucky that I drink milk out of a carton instead of milking the cow? Not necessarily.
Another view of Pulpally town
Another view of Pulpally town

The people of Pulpally seemed relaxed, with all the time in the world. They retire early to bed, as early as 9pm and are awake before dawn.
Finally we reach VanaMoolika...see the luggage on top of the car?
Finally we reach VanaMoolika...see the luggage on top of the car?

I cheered internally when our convoy of Innova’s drove into the curved driveway of VanaMoolika. It was 7am then and the morning mist was slowly dissipating.
After a whole night’s journey, we had arrived in VanaMoolika. VanaMoolika is a centre which supports a community of women farmers. These women are organized under a woman leader each to plant herbs which are then sold to the centre for making Ayurvedic medicines, hair care, skincare and body care products. The centre comprises dormitories for men and women, mess hall and some special stand-alone chalets within the forest surrounding this hilly area. It also has its own HACCP certified herb processing facility.
We would be spending 3 days here before we leave for an Ayurvedic centre near Kochi.
The serene VanaMoolika, a centre to support a community of women herb farmers
The serene VanaMoolika, a centre to support a community of women herb farmers

To be continued…