Nestled between the Western Ghats, flanked by rivers Muthappanpuzha is what I call heaven on earth. Of the few places I’ve been to, never did I get to see nature at its best, unaffected and untainted. Located a few hours away from Kozhikode, I got an opportunity to visit this place just twice. Family members and cousins who’d been there filled me with stories of its scenic beauty but no description could match what I saw with my own eyes.
Reaching Muthappanpuzha is an arduous task, but worth every bit of the trouble. After a tiring 2 hour long bus journey, there is again a 45 minute walk/drive up the hill. Yes, whether you take up a jeep ride or a walk up the hill, it would take the same time. The first time I went, I walked up claimed it was my first trek in the process :P. The second time, it was a jeep ride. If you ask me, walking up is always better compared to the experience of having your entire system shaken up during the jeep ride.
( the road upwards looked somewhat like this)
It is the locals who transport you from the valley upwards and thus, everybody knows who is coming where, who is going where. Our driver had full information about our family and recognized us quickly. We began our ride upwards and the driver said, ” I may have to leave you halfway up, coz there is an emergency labour case and they may need the jeep to go to the hospital”. The pregnant lady’s house was on the way apparently, and we agreed. He stopped the vehicle to check in on them, rather to check if he had time to drop us and come back. We got down from the jeep and waited for his return. What ensued was a loud wail of a new-born baby, women folk running around the house, trying to get hot water, cloth etc and the mid-wife popularly known as the ‘vayattati’ coming out of the house and cleaning her bloodstained hands. Until then, I had seen such scenes only in the movies. A child’s birth spread happiness all over the place and the folks in that house even offered us some ‘madhuram’/ home-made sweets(Unniyappams to be precise). The driver said, they didn’t need the jeep anymore and everything was fine. Most of the kids in the area were delivered by the ‘vayatatti’ as accessibility to hospitals was constrained in these parts. Supposedly, the same vayattati had assisted in delivering him too. This, is the paradox of my state. Its hard to believe there are some places where people still live in such archaic conditions, follow such traditions and yet, remain content.
The last leg of our journey uphill demanded the driver to negotiate a stream too. We decided to get off the jeep and walk toward my aunt’s house. The pleasure you feel, as the cold gushing water touches your feet, as you hop from stone to stone and wait to sink in the picturesque beauty you see around… it cannot be described in words.
(Imagine walking across this stream)
Curving across the stream, my aunt’s house was just a few steps away and the aroma of smoked meat wafted through the air. They get real yummy meat from the forests here. Pork, porcupine… Call me a heartless carnivore, but the taste is heavenly.Even the texture of the meat is sturdy unlike the gooey beef you get at times. ( spoke like a true Nasrani didn’t I?).
And I can’t help but say this, if you were felt that even water had a beautiful taste, it should be here.
After munching on a few chunks of dry meat, lunch still in waiting, I was shooed of to have a bath. The train, bus, jeep journey had made me look ghastly ( those were my aunt’s exact words). If you thought, a hot water bath would do me good, it is blasphemy in this part of the world. When nature’s own bath tub beckons you to laze around, no hot water bath seems appealing.
Post lunch, while the elders rested, the youngsters set off to see the newly built ‘ermaadom’ or tree-house. This was not really a tree house but a fusion of a tree house and a shed. You had to climb up the ladder and my mother and her younger sister, who were so disillusioned that they were young too, struggled with the steps. Inside the ‘ermaadom’ the sound of Muthappanpuzha regurgitating was scary at the same time amazing. My phone camera doesn’t really work well with zoom and this is whatever I could manage to capture of Muthappanpuzha (from the ‘ermaadom’) flowing in its full glory
My younger cousins refused to come with us to the ‘ermaadom’ as they were scared of the ‘puzhu’ or leeches. You wouldn’t know you’ve been bitten by one unless you see gooseberry shaped blisters. My dad and I discovered that walking in a fast pace prevented the leeches from entering your clothes or feet. Amma and her sis, walked carefully checking for ‘puzhu’ entering their feet and ended up with a dozen.
When we returned home, the younger cousins formed a circle around us and refused to let us enter until we shook off all the leeches from our clothes. The poor kids were so scared by the stories of leeches that they missed a lifetime experience of watching this scenic beauty. Maybe, someday when they grow up they’ll learn to appreciate the beauty of it all.
But all this comes with a price. To access the nearest point of civilization one has to travel 45 minutes downhill. Schools, hospitals etc came to this proximity only a couple of years ago. Even electricity reached this place , only a few years back. Kids from the area stayed in boardings or as paying guests, in the pursuit for a good education. Yet, most of them learned the lessons of life the hard way, there is something about their simplicity which overshadows their great achievements.
New roads have been constructed, the place is now accessible by all means of transport (for the past 6 months), it is developing as a tourist spot, which now serves as an additional income for the people who lived on the returns from pepper, rubber and arecanuts. While, the allure of money stays they do complain… how it has all crept in and distorted the grandeur of the place. People hunt ruthlessly in the forests, beer cans and bottles are sprawled across the river shore, drunk youngsters and tourists make it unsafe for women to venture out after dark…
And that leaves me with the question, the paradox of development. While accessibility has improved, facilities have increased and lifestyles are changing, these people are unhappy about the place losing its past glory.