26th July 2015
Everyday the Kerala Blog Express surprised me with and treated me to some amazing experiences, fantastic hospitality and luxury hotels.
But when the opportunity to experience a homestay in Wayanad presented itself, I was the first to put my hand up and keen to swap a luxury resort for a more authentic experience along with fellow bloggers Alexandra from Slovakia and Adrianna from Bulgaria.
Why? – Because meeting local people is often a highlight of any trip and gives you a much better understanding of and connection with the country you are visiting.
While some people travel for luxury and glamour, I travel to experience and learn from other cultures and ways of life. Some of my best experiences have occurred from random chance meetings with local people or unplanned events that happen when you get lost or when things go wrong. For example when I attended a wedding anniversary party in Khajuraho, India or the time I got lost in Vietnam and ended up staying in a shack with a Vietnamese family who fed me caterpillars.
The bus ride to reach Wayanad, way up in the hills of the Western ghats in the far North East corner of Kerala, took most of the day but I had high expectations as the bus winded up and up the hills. Wayanad is dubbed as the prettiest part of all of Kerala and is still largely untouched and unspoiled by tourism.
My visit to Wayanad did turn out to be one of the most enjoyable and most memorable in Kerala but not for the reasons originally intended…
The fatigue of the long journey to Wayanad was quickly forgotten when I saw Pranavan Homestays.The room I was staying in exceeded all my expectations of what I imagined the homestay to be like. There were 4 purpose built rooms in a separate building to the main house each where really roomy with high beams and lots of lovely wood, a mezzanine sitting level on the entrance and then a staircase leading down the main bedroom, ensuite bathroom, a cool indoor pebble garden and a balcony outside with views over the luscious plantations.
But of course, what is a homestay without delightful hosts and delicious home cooking?
Well Pranavam did not disappoint on this either! The genial owners are Mrs Rema AP and Mr Ravindran, both in their 60s, full of smiles and genuinely delighted to open up their home to us.
This welcoming couple were actually the first to come up with the idea of opening a homestay in Wayanad in 2000 when they just had one room in their house for rent. The popularity grew so much that in 2007 they built the amazing separate building for guests to stay in luxury while also experiencing the beautiful surroundings of the plantation, still being able to interact with the hosts and enjoy wonderful home cooking in the family home.
Talking about cooking, every meal we had was so delicious. Because the family, like many Hindus, are vegetarian, the homestay only serves vegetarian food but all the meals served were so tasty and we got to sample many Keralan traditional delicacies and many fresh, locally grown exotic fruits, spices, herbs and vegetables. I’m not actually vegetarian but I did not miss meat one bit and especially enjoyed the traditional Kerala lunch served on a banana leaf that we were treated to!
Our hosts were so open and welcoming. The part that I enjoyed the most about the homestay was talking to the family, learning about Kerala culture and seeing Rema’s lovely, warm, genuine smile that she used so unreservedly. It was also lovely to discuss our different European cultures with our hosts and Rema was eager to learn from us.
As part of the Kerala Blog Express many activities like visiting the wildlife reserves, trekking, bamboo rafting and meeting the forest tribes were planned for us. However, hot weather led to the wildlife sanctuaries being closed to visitors, the river was too low for bamboo rafting and then a strike across Kerala meant we could not use a vehicle on the roads and all those planned activities had to be cancelled.
However, this gave us more time to spend at our homestay and actually turned out to be a real highlight of my time in Kerala.
We took a leisurely stroll around the family’s plantation, I learned that the land was actually inherited by the women of the family instead of the men and that these lands have been used to grow coffee, rice, spices and many other things for a long time. Rema’s father even used the house as a hospital healing indigenous people – Kerala still has many tribal people.
It was really interesting to learn about all the plants grown here; coffee, huge jack fruits, bamboos, spices like cardamom, pepper, betel nut, custard apples, basil, thyme, turmeric, ginger, sandalwood, cocoa – plants that can be used for eating, healing and some that were just pretty to look at.
If you are interested in reading more about the plants Alexandra Kovacova has a wonderfully descriptive and informative post about it with heaps of photos. http://www.crazysexyfuntraveler.com/kerala-wayanad-home-stay-pranavam/
In the midst of this luscious and fragrant plantation is the family’s ancestral home where spices are still laid to dry outside in the sun.
This charming and charismatic house is 200 years old and now home to Rema’s brother and his family and it was a real pleasure to be invited inside this fascinating house. The family gave us a pinky coloured water drink called karingali and as I was getting a cold they even made up a special medicinal coffee drink with loads of spices to make me feel better.
After this I felt blessed to be taken upstairs and shown the delightful family shrine. This small room upstairs was packed with so many pictures, statues and candles.
I was interested to learn that traditionally only people from the Brahmin (priest) caste were allowed inside the temples and this is why the family built their own shrine in their home and it was enchanting to hear Rema talk about her family, her life and her faith and to explain Hindu rituals and beliefs to us.
As we wandered back through the plantation we were sad to say goodbye to this wonderful family and actually I was even a little pleased about the strike – it was really a fantastic experience to get to know this family better and to learn so much from them about the nature and spirituality of Kerala from such welcoming hosts.
We came as strangers and felt like we left as part of the family. Thank you for such a lovely experience.
My homestay experience was organised by Kerala Tourism as part of the Kerala Blog Express but you can find out more and get in touch with Rema and Mr Ravindran by visiting the Pranavam Homestays website.