Off the Grid in the Western Ghats in India


11913936543_4705371320_bWe eyed the accommodation warily. The choice was either a canvas tipi or a room in the stone-built house, with gaping holes where windows would normally have been. Although no one voiced their concern, we were all thinking the same thing: that neither would afford us much protection from marauding wildlife.
With no electricity, no cell phone reception, no internet and no close neighbours, help wouldn’t be arriving quickly, either.

This remote mountain homestay that was to be our home for the next three days was so far off the beaten track that the last part of the journey had been made on foot. It was literally a clearing in the jungle.

Under a blue, sunny sky it had looked quite benign, and the notion of an off-the grid experience was exciting, intrepid even. But as daylight slipped away and the first stars twinkled overhead, the forest encircling the grassy clearing seemed to press in on us, the sounds coming from within it ominously magnified.

Up in the Western Ghats, the 1000-mile long mountain range that runs parallel to India’s west coast, humans are vastly outnumbered by wildlife. The evergreen forests in this region are among the ten most biodiverse spots on Earth, home to over 5,000 species of flowering plants, as well as countless reptiles, amphibians and mammals.

Over hot, spiced chai our host, Sylvia, a journalist turned potter, had put us in the picture. The evergreen forest surrounding us on all sides was a protected wildlife corridor: monkeys, deers, sloth bears and snakes lived just beyond the tree line. Elephants tended to stay on the other side of the valley, but big cats hunted nearby.

In fact, her dog had been taken by a leopard in the night, not so long ago. It was this last, casually delivered detail that had caused a ripple of alarm to run through the five of us, and that resonated in our ears as we bedded down the first night.

We survived the night unscathed, however, and awoke to birdsong and the sound of the fast flowing stream only yards from our tipi. Our sense of adventure restored, we donned walking shoes and followed our guide through damp, shady woods, along rocky ledges and across shimmering grasslands, eventually emerging at a hidden waterfall.

Diving into the icy water with childish abandon, we squealed first at the cold, and later, as we rested on river rocks, at the tickling sensation of tiny shrimp that nipped at our feet.

By the time we squelched back to base camp through ankle-deep mud, we felt like such intrepid adventurers we barely flinched as we brushed squirming black leeches off our feet, before tucking into a hearty meal cooked over an open fire.

As the sun beat down in the afternoons and the hum of a thousand crickets built to a crescendo, a contented silence settled over us. With no emails to check or text messages to reply to, we whiled away the hours swinging gently in cane chairs, chatting idly, occasionally dipping our feet in the tiny, river-fed plunge pool and watching emerald green birds flitting from tree to tree.

This lack of contact with the outside world was, we quickly realised, just as rare and refreshing as the experience of being in such close proximity to pure, unbridled nature. Our fear of being mauled by wildlife had faded quickly and we felt instead invigorated by the ‘otherness’ of a place where monkeys eating one’s crops and mango trees that threatened to fall were the issues that kept one up at night.
In an environment unsullied by modern technology, it would have been somehow crass to reach for an iPad or smartphone and their absence felt oddly cleansing.

Early one morning, I joined Sylvia to go pick up some river fish for our dinner. In the pink light of dawn the forest was silent and the dew heavy on the ground, soaking our feet as we walked.
The fisherman’s house was several miles away and across a rickety bridge made of little more than bundles of sticks. We passed simple mud-built houses, where a ladies squatted, stirring pots over open fires on their porches and children washing in the river; we passed men herding their buffalos, and crept past a herd of bison grazing in the woodland. Every scene was softened by the misty light of early morning.

An hour or so after setting off we reached the fisherman’s house.

Alas, we were out of luck. He had no fish that day.

Ah, well….. fish or no fish, the walk had been an eye-opening and energizing one, and another day of sunshine, tranquility and relaxation lay ahead. We shrugged and turned back the way we had come.

About the Author: Natasha Were is a passionate traveller and incurable dreamer. Besides exploring new destinations she loves cooking, diving, growing things, yoga and books.

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