Vithura Panchayat in Thiruvananthapuram district is ideally located to experience the rich biodiversity of the Western Ghats, get to know the life and livelihood of indigenous communities and taste some unique cuisines of the land.
In Vithura, most of the experiential activities are centered around Kallar at the foothills of Ponmudi hill station.
Experiential Activities at Kallar, Vithura
Kani indigenous community is one of the most skillful tribal communities in Kerala. Rich with age-old knowledge of herbal medicines, hunting and gathering methods, weaving and crafting they are leading a life perfectly in sync with nature. Most of the community members still live in their traditional bamboo huts close to the forest and follow traditional food habits, gathering yams, mushrooms, seeds and leaves from the forest. Kani tribal community has a rich cultural heritage and they perform different art forms such as Chonamkali, Kambadikkali etc;
Kani tribal settlements are spread across Kallar and adjoining villages in Vithura panchayat in the project landscape. Through the following experiential activities, we get a deeper sense of the life of the Kani tribal community as well as the general people in the project landscape.
- Experience Crafting using Bamboo Reeds
Kani indigenous community members are skillful weavers and they use bamboo, reed, cane and bending vines to make different products that help them with their daily life and also help them earn a living.
A weaving workshop with the community members unravels the efforts in preparing the raw materials behind each finished product and also help us understand the challenges they face in marketing. Guests could also try their hands at weaving and bring back a souvenir of their own making.
The duration of the weaving workshop will be 2 hours.
- Experience Indigenous food
Kani Tribal Food or ‘Gothra Bhakshanam’ is well known for its medicinal qualities as much as the story behind its preparation. The community was almost self-sufficient in terms of food as they were the predominant hunters and gatherers in South India.
As time passed, they too started following some of the main stream food habits, they still keep their traditional knowledge alive and prepare traditional cuisines in using different wild yams, wild edible leaves, different variety of rice (Karainel), Mushrooms etc; A day with the Kani people to experience their food is an excellent way to learn how they collect the ingredients, the way they process it and finally the food preparation and tasting it.
The duration of the activity is half a day, starting from 9.30 AM.
- A day with the healers (Programme to get introduced to the masters of traditional medicines and healing methods).
The Southern part of the Western Ghat mountain range is rich in medicinal plants and herbs. The Kani indigenous community members are the custodians of this traditional knowledge and developed a healing and wellness system through their practices. The elders in different clans possess this knowledge and pass it on to the next generation orally.
In this programme, a visit to the community settlement is planned and interactions with the medicine men and women from the community. Different medicinal plants and their uses are explained and for those who needed a medicinal steam bath to rejuvenate their system, it could also be part of the experience.
The duration of the activity is half a day, starting either in the morning (9 AM) or afternoon (2 PM).
- A day close to Mother Nature (exploring the rich flora and fauna of the land).
Kallar in Vithura Panchayat is right in the heart of the Western Ghat Mountains, which is one of the eight hottest hotspots of biodiversity in the world.
Criss-crossed by streams and rapids the place is home to many endemic freshwater fish, butterflies and bird species. The region is also quite known for medicinal plants and flowering wild plants.
A day with the storyteller from the community, helps us explore the land and interact with the elders from the community to learn about its best-kept secrets and also the challenges faced while living in the fringes of pristine forest.
For nature lovers and photographers, the place provides an ideal opportunity to get closer to the wild without entering the forest land. For students and academicians, the place is a great example to learn about the impacts of climate change on micro eco systems and on the indigenous communities.
The place could be best explored by staying in the Eco Camp, in Kallar, managed by the local community.
The duration of the activity: One day or even more.
- Experience Traditional Dance Forms (Chonamkali, Kambadikali)
Kani indigenous community is one of the oldest inhabitants of the land with a unique language and culture and their culture is best reflected in their art forms. They perform different traditional dance forms such as Chonamkali and Kambadikkali on festive occasions and also as performing art.
A day-long programme is planned to meet and interact with the artists of the community, learn about the stories behind the art forms and watch their performance in their natural settings.
The duration of the activity could be half a day or a full day.
- Lives and Livelihood of Kani People.
A day with the Kani people in their settlement areas is a great opportunity to learn about their life and livelihood in the wild. A predominantly hunting and gathering community had to innovate themselves to adjust with the restrictions and regulations imposed by the system. They have done it with improvising their traditional knowledge and skills to cater to the mainstream market needs and made a living.
This programme is an introduction to the livelihood methods followed by the Kani people and the challenges they face.
Duration of the activity could be half a day or full day.
- Survival Skills in Wild (Traditional fishing methods, Food from forest etc;)
Apart from different tribal communities in other parts of Kerala, Kani people still live in the fringes of forest land. A traditionally hunting and gathering community is made to innovate and explore newer livelihood options to survive with the changes in the rules and regulations of the land. Moving away from hunting, they started agriculture and growing vegetables in the ancestral land close to the forest.
New challenges emerged as Man-Animal conflicts grew and the age-old hunting weapons were modified to drive away wild animals. In this programme, we are introduced to the different survival skills followed by the community. Joining hands with the community in Traditional fishing, bamboo cooking and the use of stone bows are experiences one can always cherish.
- Exploring Livelihood of General Community
In Kallar, the major livelihood options of the general community are cash crops and rubber plantation is the predominant one. The process of Rubber tapping and turning the latex sap (rubber latex) into rubber sheets is an interesting activity to experience.
Waking up early in the morning, the day starts in a rubber plantation and the time spent with the community member help us understand the different stages till rubber latex turns to rubber sheets.
The duration of the activity: 2-3 Hours
Walking Kallar #1: Aranakkuzhi Trail
Walking Kallar is a day-long walking programme and the Aranakkuzhi trail is one of the three unique trails introducing this pristine landscape, rich flora and fauna and the life and livelihood of the Kani indigenous community.
The walk starts with an introduction to the community based sustainable tourism initiative and the Kani and other communities of Kallar.
The trail starts near the Meenmutty Eco-Tourism entry point. Meenmutty waterfall is a beautiful waterfall two kilometers deep inside the forest. A walk to the waterfalls through a well-demarcated route is a great experience to get close to nature and observe rare butterflies and birds.
On the way back from the waterfalls, the trail takes a deviation and follows the sacred grove route to Aranakkuzhi. Aranakkuzhi is a place where wild elephants were trapped and caught long ago and even today we can see the trenches and traps remaining in there.
The traditional wellness and rejuvenation centre is the next stop and a medicinal steam bath is a much sought-after activity here. A well-experienced and highly awarded medicinal man shares his experiences and stories with the group while having refreshments.
The walk continues to follow narrow pathways and reaches the Kani settlement of Aranakkuzhi. The community here diversified their livelihood options by getting involved in spice plantations and fish farming. A walk to the fish ponds and spice plantations amid the tall trees of the adjoining forest land is an experience to cherish.
Traditional food is planned for lunch and both the food and the story behind it are equally interesting.
Community members here are very much skilled in weaving and crafting and with a weaving workshop we say adieu to the community and follow the trail back to the start point.
Walking Kallar #2: Mottamoodu Trail
Walking Kallar is a day-long walking programme and ‘Mottamoodu trail’ is one of the three unique trails introducing this pristine landscape, rich flora and fauna and the life and livelihood of the Kani indigenous community.
The walk starts with an introduction to the community based sustainable tourism initiative and the Kani Community.
The trail follows the banks of one of the tributaries of river Kallar and enters the forest trail after half an hour. The trail follows a sacred grove and community center before taking the first break for refreshments.
As you sip the herbal drinks under the canopy of tall trees, the story teller from the community shares his life’s experiences living inside forest and the challenges they face in everyday life.
The trail takes a deviation to the mud route and crossing the stream, reaches the traditional hut of the artisans.
A bamboo weaving workshop with the artisan from the community is an opportunity to learn about alternative and sustainable options in daily life. The community members still use their crafting and weaving skills to make utensils, mats, toys, fishing tools and weapons to drive away wild animals when they get closer and try to destroy their crops and vegetables.
Fishing from the stream with the traditional trap basket is an interesting activity to try your hands at.
Trail leads to the mid-day break point and the time is well spent relaxing in tree houses and listening to the experience of the traditional healer from the community. This part of Western Ghats is rich with medicinal plants and the Kani tribal community is the custodian of this knowledge.
Kani Food is an interesting element of the walk and a community kitchen is planned where you could be part of food preparation. Most of the ingredients are collected from forest and they are seasonal.
After a much-needed rest, the trail follows narrower paths and crisscrossing streams to take us to the last point.
A traditional art form named ‘Chonam Kali’ is planned here. Men from the community sings and plays unique musical instruments made of bamboo and the women dances to the tune. The story behind this art form is quite interesting and a perfect example of the harmony with which indigenous communities lived alongside wildlife for ages.
Following a shorter route, the walk ends at the starting point and bids adieu.
Walking Kallar #3: The Mullamoodu Trail
Walking Kallar is a day-long walking programme and the Mulla Moodu trail is one of the three unique trails introducing this pristine landscape, rich flora and fauna and the life and livelihood of the Kani indigenous community.
The walk starts with an introduction to the community based sustainable tourism initiative and the Kani Community.
The trail starts near a beautiful bridge over Kallar. Crossing the river, the trail leads to a Kani tribal settlement named Kongumarathin Moodu.
The members of the community are actively involved in crafting and a craft workshop is planned as we reach the settlement along with refreshments.
Women from the community are members of VSS (Vana Samrakshana Samithi), which promotes conservation activities with the support of tourism and an interaction with them help us learn about their challenges and get inspired by their lives.
As the walk continues and finally reaches the settlement area of ‘Mullamoodu’ there awaits a very enterprising community with exposure to outside world and shares their knowledge and skills at different venues.
They are masters of weaving with bamboo, reeds and creepers and a weaving demonstration is a great opportunity to appreciate their skills.
Preparing food with ingredients from forests is a long process and its collection has many challenges as well. Get involved in the process and have a great mid-day meal with never tasted delicacies.
This settlement at the foothills of Ponmudi is an ideal place to enjoy the traditional art form of ‘Kambadikali’. The elders from the community sing songs from the epics and folktales and the groups of men and women dance with the tune.
This art form is more physical and requires great practice and flexibility. With evening refreshments, we leave the settlement and trace the trail back to the bridge.