As I step out of the car, the cold hits me. I can’t see much in front of me; everything is a white haze. The mist cloaks all. My exhalations condense before my eyes. As I walk forward, trees and shrubs slowly materialise out of the air. My shoes squeak as I trudge over the wet rocks and grass.
I am in Peechad, a little hamlet in Idukki district, Kerala. It is July of 2021, midway into the southwest monsoons. At this time, the sun is all but invisible, with a steady downpour day and night.
I first visited Peechad when I was eight years old, and I was instantly captivated. The only semblance of civilisation then were a few villages spread among the plantations. Now, several years later, I am back.
Rainforest and cardamom plantations dominate the landscape, with a few tea gardens here and there. The estates and forests weave into one another. You can’t tell where one stops, and the other begins.
I have come here to understand cardamom cultivation. My family owns some land here, and we are getting initiated into farming.
A thick fog accompanies the rain, covering the undulant hills like a blanket. Green melts into white. You rub your eyes as you enter the mist, convinced your vision is blurring.
As you walk through, the cold seeps into your bones, reddening your nose and sharpening your sensations.
Streams are everywhere, gushing over the black rock formations. When it rains, they swell to a great size, engulfing rocks and overflowing their banks. These merge into waterfalls, falling from great heights and landing with a sound that drowns all else.
The forests teem with life. The warbling call of the Malabar Whistling thrush forever plays in the backdrop. Woodpeckers, Drongos, and a host of other birds are frequently seen here, zipping between the tall trees.
The trees reach high into the sky, gently caressing the clouds. Their buttress roots are large, often towering over you. Lichens, mosses, mushrooms; all call these trees home.
Scouring the treetops, you find Malabar Giant Squirrels, their bushy tails hanging like commas hooked onto the branches. You can watch their curious antics for hours. They hop from branch to branch, gorging on berries and flowers.
The bird calls are ubiquitous, but they fall short of the buzzing of the cicadas. They remain camouflaged against the tree bark and drone. The humming comes from all sides, disorienting you. They begin their orchestra before the clouds break and the rain falls.
Leeches are everywhere, hiding under leaves, latching to the legs of an unwary passer-by. These tiny bloodsuckers worm their way to the nearest patch of skin and suck blood until they enlarge to 5 times their original size. Then, like ripe fruit, they fall off, leaving a red bump that continually itches.
Peechad maintains the charm of a region relatively untouched by throngs of tourists. The familiar sight is still a mundu-clothed man walking with an umbrella hooked to the back of his shirt collar.
Few places like this exist. Being there, you forget everything. Your mind turns blank as you watch the hills dressed in unspeakable beauty. The mist, the chill, the dampness; all overwhelm you.
PS: Planting cardamom is an intricate process and has many interesting facets. Expect a blog post on the subject soon!
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