In the Hills of Kerala

Update for week ended 4 March 2011

It was a drive that took us at least 750 feet above the hillstation of Munnar – bumpy with uphill and downhill drives, but still in the mountains. The route took us through verdant jungles that hug the Munnar tea estates, but never attempting to crowd out the green canopy of rolling hills. A few distractions along the way included an elephant that was trudging along with its mahout atop – perhaps en route to a lumbering site nearby; then there were waterfalls gurgling down the rocky slopes; and little teashops that cropped up around the corners to give us that hot cuppa which was cheered in the chilly hills. And then we saw the board that indicated that we had to take the detour onto a dirt track and then we went climbing up another hill. What was striking was that the green forest was giving away to little “grass gardens” in a few places and then getting crowded out by tall trees, to give way again to the green gardens. The size of the gardens kept enlarging as we climbed the hill towards our resort for the night. It was a little planter’s bungalow with its quaint tiled roof and wide patio outside. The 2 mastiffs guarding the gates added to the charm of the place. This was a Cardamom Estate owned by a friendly retired Malayali Professor and his family. He had turned the place into a little resort with 4 rooms and was waiting at the verandah to greet me. It could not have got more personal and warm. After I quickly freshened up, our Professor was ready to show me around the estate and introduce me to the green spice. We walked a few yards out of the cottage and we were in the “middle” of the estate – grass or lily-like shrubs with long leaves grew in little clumps around us – not very tall, about 90 – 100 cms tall and I kept wondering whether this was the nursery for the cardamoms. And then the professor bent down on his knees and asked me to look close. At the stalks closer to the ground, below the leaves were tiny green pods growing serially along a few “stems”. The green pods looked like peas, only that they were like triangular prisms with some dried petals on an end and I was introduced to the aromatic spice of these hills, the green cardamom. I could not believe that these were indeed the same black seeds that sometimes flavoured my tea or my Indian sweetmeats. They looked so fresh and glossy – and then I was urged to pick one and crush it lightly between my index finger and thumb. I sniffed my fingers and this indeed was the spice – only milder. The professor informed me that these were picked, sorted and dried in the mild sun of this hilly Kerala hamlet before being sold in the Spice Auctions of Cochin. The subtle spice had a very subtle existence in these hills – and after ambling about for a few more minutes, I headed back to the cottage, it was getting misty and cold here.

The general green atmosphere spread across D Street this week. The D Boyz stayed in the green territory all week long, at times going up sharp gradients (like on Tuesday) and at times, bumping downwards a bit, but the crisp air blowing form the Hills of Kerala was too heady for the D Boyz, pushing up the SENSEX 747 points up to end at 18486 points  – no surprise, as the Delhi Bengali read out statistics that did not shake anyone, nor empty too many pockets. Moreover, the green flag flutterer of Maghreb also saw some direction to their struggle, easing oil prices. The green palak at local markets were still vended at Rs 2 per bunch. 

That evening, I was served some local food and it was topped with a milk pudding flavoured with cardamom – it was a dreamy sequence since the pudding was light, yet firm and the flavour was there alright, not overpowering or understated. I don’t know if it was the cook’s perfection, the heady hills and its cool climes or just the tired and hungry me, devouring everything that was laid at the dinner table.

Post the fasts of Wednesday past, there are feasts planned this weekend, as some following a Mid-Eastern originated faith will tuck into meats before they turn vegetarians starting mid next week!

Have a nice weekend .. Cheers…….


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