My first trek ever was to the Himalayas. My first ever stay at a retreat of any kind of to a CGH retreat (Spice Village followed by Coconut Lagoon, back in 1999).
Ever since my first trek, time spent in Himalayas have provided me time to do soul searching and find the real me, looking for little adventures even in my daily life. Ever since my first stays in CGH Retreats, I have been an experiential traveller and look for CGH style experiences wherever I am.
27 years since my first Himalayan trek and 18 years since my first CGH stay, allure for these two have only grown and every single moment spent on these trips evoke the same romance and child like excitement in me. These are places where I am myself, I feel at home and rezonates perfectly with the traveller in me. Its amazing that after all these years I remain hopelessly yearning for yet another Himalayan trek and yet another CGH experience.
So with the prospect of visiting a new CGH Retreat, I was brimming with a mix of excitement and curiosity. Excitement because the traveller in me was going home yet again and curiosity because it was new and therefore unexplored.
Wayanad (2000-3000 ft asl) as a region in North Kerala is home to some of the earliest civilisations and now home to shola forests, tea / coffee plantations and a renowned standalone getaway. Wayanad came into limelight as a “treehouse” destination (featured in bollywood movie “Dil Se”) in late 1990s and with advent of many holiday resorts coming up, it was only time before CGH arrived.
CGH Retreats unlike other known brands looks to create a unique retreat, packing elements of as many local fervours, aspects and dimensions as possible, and blending with its unique “down to earth” hospitality, to create what is generally known as “CGH Experience”
Curious cat in me was looking forward to a CGH Experience but had no idea what it actually meant in context of Wayanad. Arriving at Calicut and reaching base point of Lakkidi was an interesting ride. One drives through narrow lanes of North Kerala without ever hitting a highway like road and suddenly after 60 kms (1.5 hour), one get a Ghat section and within no time the one reaches entry point of Wayanad i.e. Lakkidi.
Lakkidi alongwith adjoining Vythiri are renowned for its thick Shola forests and are one the rainiest places on the planet. The forests have remained untouched over many centuries and remains most vibrant biodiversity hotspot. A 3 km drive uphill (CGH sends 4WD vehicle) takes one to CGH Wayanad Wild, built right in heart of the forests with some tea plantations enroute. CGH has many retreats in South India, and to CGH veteran it was evident that this was nothing like I had seen anywhere else!
At the entrance, there was no evidence of any CGH Wayanad Wild anywhere. The forest and the arrangement of cottages ensured that only reception was seen. The welcome as usual is always genuinely warm. The pickup from base was well coordinated so the folks in pickup vehicle had already begun process of orientation even before we arrived. The retreat is set over gentle slopes, so we decided to walk right away, to get a feel of the spread before we go to the rooms.
Wayanad Wild had chalet style room blocks built all around the retreat connected with pathways with most of the forest kept intact. Ours was a pool facing room. All rooms have same category, high ceilings, large with a private balcony. Bathrooms again are modern with usual ethnic styling. There is no air-conditioning (was not needed even when we were there in Mid-May) and there is no TV in rooms (typical of almost every CGH Retreat).
My first impression of Wayanad Wild was that it’s kind of a “do nothing” place, where one can just read a book or walk around amidst pleasant climate and excellent hospitality. Cuisine was definitely the next thing I was looking forward to explore. Lunch was served, a set meal with a twist. It was the most colorful set meal (and most delicious) ever, a mix of ethnic variants which had the CGH stamp written all over it.
My “do nothing” impression was to be soon shortlived as we proceeded for a “plantation trek”. We had to wear Leech Socks to protect ourselves and that certainly helped building the excitement. We headed to a plantation right near entrance and walked uphill through the bushes. Soon enough we reached a high point offering stunning views of the thick forests around. The highlight of the trek was not the trek itself but the in-house Naturalist. An affable gentleman in his early 20s, exploring forests for over 6 months and most excited to share it with guests. The excitement was contagious and we most enthusiastically looked at Lizards, Spiders while we enjoyed our not so difficult trek. We were told that the route was part of an Elephant corridor and not recommended beyond a certain hour. Very Interesting!!
Soon enough we were interrupted by heavy thunder shower. We dreaded our mobile phones getting wet and were picked up by a hotel vehicle in nick of time, as we returned completely drenched. The rain cloud formation here seemed so dynamic that it hardly looked like it would rain when we started the walk and within no time it was pouring like never before. We soon realised that Leeches had managed creep into us much more than we thought, but we hardly flustered as its exactly the experience we had arrived for.
Chef quickly realised the mood and the weather and served us some delicious local Pakodas and tea while we marvel at the downpour. In next one hour downpour cleared and skies offered us the most amazing orange panorama as we walked around the resort further exploring. Sun seem to set early in forests and soon enough we were again on Dinner table. Yet again the Chef came up another CGH style masterclass. My son had an IPL match to follow up on and next to the restaurant TV room had a massive screen, so did not feel deprived.
Next day was our departure. Yes we were at CGH – Wayanad Wild for a day. It seemed like a poor travel planning on my part to just plan one day. CGH – Wayanad Wild is less than a year old and still evolving. More rooms were under works and its a kind of place for Wellness, Yoga and some forest walks, bird watching etc. or in a nutshell how Coconut Lagoon, Spice Village and Marari Beach Resort defined the destination and set a benchmark for destination experience, CGH – Wayanad Wild seemed well poised towards setting a similar benchmark for Wayanad for travellers.
So while one day seemed less, it leaves enough room and intrigue for another day and another time after CGH – Wayanad Wild evolves into a full blown forest retreat (I am sure very soon). I would have liked to do the night patrol and my son surely would have liked the morning bird watching session that was on offer but for our paucity of time. Even in the brief stay CGH – Wayanad Wild brought me closer to the very essence of our living and origin of entire civilisation, the forests.
The drive back was a time to reflect. It was a misty morning with slight drizzle. Mood was sombre. and spending 24 hours with nature at CGH had taken away so much of stress and ironically was returning to build that stress again!!! CGH always leaves me with that feeling. Every stay has been one day too less. Every time I leave with a mixed feeling of having fully enjoyed but wanting much more. May be I was behaving like a child going somewhere away from home. I wonder!!