Kerala's: The height of comfort

To get to bed at Kerala's Green Magic Nature Resort you must first climb 90ft up a tree. But at least you'll be doing your bit for the local Indian environment

Their pretty violet petals were merely a sham, a floral siren luring unwary boatmen into an aquatic trap. Beneath these lovely water-borne blooms lurked a tangle of stems so tough and dense that they strangled our little boat to a standstill. When that happened, the boatmen would form a two-man rescue team, one of them punting maniacally in the heat while the other tugged an oar through the weed-clogged water. Astoundingly, we surged slowly onwards, driving the boat's bow deeper into Kerala's quiet backwaters.

Their pretty violet petals were merely a sham, a floral siren luring unwary boatmen into an aquatic trap. Beneath these lovely water-borne blooms lurked a tangle of stems so tough and dense that they strangled our little boat to a standstill. When that happened, the boatmen would form a two-man rescue team, one of them punting maniacally in the heat while the other tugged an oar through the weed-clogged water. Astoundingly, we surged slowly onwards, driving the boat's bow deeper into Kerala's quiet backwaters.

But the over-abundant plant life around Alappuzha is becoming an obstacle to more than just the tourists. On a sun-soaked day, when you struggle to separate the coconut palms from their reflections, it seems perverse to consider that some of the plants surrounding you constitute an environmental disaster. Yet those tangled stems are a product of increasing pressures on the region's environment - mainly the disruption caused to natural habitats by run-off from chemical fertilisers and illegal land reclamation. As these problems intensify, the effects on the waterways could be catastrophic, as the rest of the underwater plant-life and animal-life is gradually starved of light.

No one who has travelled in India will be surprised by such environmental problems. And, despite its famously high literacy rates, Kerala is just as environmentally apathetic as any other Indian state. From the waterways, to the forests to the beaches, the state is slowly suffocating under a fug of debris and diesel fumes. On the bus back from Alappuzha, the young woman who chucked her rubbish in a plastic bag and flung it casually out through the window next to me was not an unusual sight.

In this gloomy setting, the Green Magic Nature Resort is a great big gust of fresh air. Constructed in a former cardamom plantation, 40 miles from Kozikhode in the Wayanad Hills of northern Kerala, the only things contaminating the atmosphere here are wafts of pepper, vanilla, cardamom and coffee, issuing from the surrounding plantations. The latest project of Indian eco-entrepreneur Babu Varghese (who also pioneered the recreational use of kettuvallam houseboats on the backwaters), the idea was to build a resort that would both appeal to wealthy nature lovers and support the local, displaced Paniya tribes.

"I wanted to get across the importance of the trees, and what damage we are doing to nature," he explained. This meant that traditional techniques, local labour, organic vegetables (from the resort's own garden), supplies of eco-friendly face wash and alternative sources of energy (solar power and "gobar", or cow dung, gas) were in and TVs, telephones, even nails were out.

The result is surprisingly plush. So far, two treehouses have been built and both boast several floors, breezy verandas and flush toilets - the water comes from a lake 1,000ft above the resort.

Getting to Vythiri, where the resort is centred, involves a two-hour drive from Kozikhode, past rice terraces and small market towns to the foot of the Western Ghat mountains. From that point on, the only way is up, for another hour, along a series of numbered hairpin bends, which you can't help but count as you lurch queasily from one to the next, and which have been colonised in equal numbers by boisterous macaques and belching trucks. At a spice shop on the main road you turn off on to the final mile of track.

As soon as we arrived we were ushered into lunch at the rustic on-site restaurant. The chatty staff proceeded to dollop out so many spoonfuls of vivid Keralan food on to a banana leaf that I began to wish I had a second stomach. At the same time they explained what each ingredient did for you. As each little pile of okra, potato curry, fried fish, coconut paste and delicately chopped pink banana disappeared, more was offered.

By this stage, though, I just wanted to get to the treehouse, which was a 15-minute walk away, cleverly camouflaged among the rainforest foliage. Arriving on foot seemed to heighten our sense of astonishment as we looked up at the treehouse - particularly for my sister, Rachel, who reminded me half-way along a rope bridge, 90ft above the ground, that she suffers from vertigo.

Carefully - and triumphantly for Rachel - we stepped off the bridge's swaying slats on to the structure's main floor, suspended vulnerably in the branches of a giant ficus tree. In front of us was a big double bed, which was covered in warm woollen blankets and cool Indian textiles, a water fountain and, beyond a series of flapping curtains, the best balcony in the world.

A large rattan chaise longue rested beneath this open perch, allowing a parrot's eye view of the Wayanad Hills. Looking out down the valley there was, if not silence, an absolute calmness that came from the substitution of bird calls for car horns and cool mountain breezes for car fumes.

"If it's windy it moves a bit," warned Sreejith, our guide, as he left us to explore. "But don't worry, it's quite safe."

It was unnerving to feel a single gust of wind gently shift the floor but we didn't get any real current to test his word. Instead, we settled down to watch the sun melt down into the neighbouring valley, secure in our natural penthouse suite, a nest of bamboo blinds, coir matting, wayward tree trunks and - continuing the natural theme - several large spiky-leaved plants. Below us the floor stretched and creaked amiably in the sunshine and, later on, in the warmth of the structure's kerosene lamps.

Varghese, a trained zoologist, spent a long time sitting in Vythiri's trees deciding exactly which ones to use and what to put where within them: "I was waiting for an opportunity to explore the various moods of nature, the misty mornings, colourful sunsets, sunlight filtering through the leaves and the coexistence of all the animals and plants. I believe you have to live in the forest to understand all these things."

The utterly relaxed feeling you get sitting up in one of the treehouses suggests he understood it well. The wood, bamboo and cane houses are modelled on erumadams, the traditional treehouses of the Paniya people. Each one took nearly five months to build.

Not that it's been straightforward. The treehouses were built by trial and error; it was gradually revealed that they had to be constructed from the roof down to allow them to "grow" with the trees. Working out how to make a lift system work on the first treehouse (the basket is counter-weighted with water from the adjacent river), and how to provide a stable water supply to both structures, took more time. Each year brings new problems. During the last rainy season, much of the resort's organic garden was washed away and had to be rebuilt. And the expense of simply maintaining the resort has put Varghese's plan of building eight other treehouses on hold for the time being. But for visitors to the two existing treehouses, this feels like paradise.

As for diversions, without satellite TV and other urban distractions, you get your entertainment from the surroundings. Guests are encouraged to learn about the native wildlife, and there are reference books for those wanting to find out more about what they've seen during the day. At dinner on our first night a young honeymooning couple staying in the other treehouse remained at the table just long enough to insist we chew on a fresh cardamom pod they'd scavenged on a walk earlier in the day before racing back up the rope to their treehouse.

Which leaves you simply to branch out along guided walks, picking your way out of the shadows and into hot puddles of sunlight, through teak, ebony, jackfruit and ficus trees, accompanied by a soothing soundtrack largely composed of monkeys, squirrels and parrots. Some of the best treks lead to a couple of viewpoints and to a nearby lake, but when you've got a vantage point that's nearly 100ft high, and it features a flushing toilet and a swinging rattan chair, you probably won't want to flee the nest.

Varghese dreamed of living in a tree house as a child. "I used to climb trees and my mother always had a tough time bringing me down. I always found peace on top of the trees." At the Green Magic Nature Resort I saw exactly what he means.


Rhiannon Batten paid £319 for a return flight to Goa with Airtours, from Lunn Poly (01926 452245, From Goa there are good train and bus connections to Kerala. However, to get directly to the Green Magic Nature Resort, it is quicker to fly to Thiruvananthapuram and travel north from there. Cheap scheduled fares are available through discount agents, on Gulf Air, Kuwait Airways and Qatar Airways.

Tourindia is at 163 MG Road, Thiruvananthapuram 695 001, Kerala, India ( It can be contacted by phone (0091 471 331507) but email ( is more reliable. Treehouses cost US$150 (£105) per night, including all meals. Ground-level cottages cost $110 (£80) on the same basis but they're very dark. To get there, it can arrange a taxi from Kozhikode for Rs950 (£15) each way.

Warning: leeches can be a problem early in the morning when the ground is still dewy so bring stout shoes - and if you're squirmy it's probably safer to avoid the rainy season

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own