Leave The Roads, Take The Trails

BY ANJALI HIREGANGE

“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair” mused the philosopher-poet Khalil Gibran, and that was exactly what I was gifted upon my winding travels in the South Indian ghats of Palani. Having alighted at a little town called Perumalmalai, right after the Kodaikanal stop, I made my way to an off-grid eco-stay and sustainable farm that felt more home than home in the city. What was to then come was a waterfall of precious learnings, simple living and a community infused with love and compassion for the earth.

One of the first things I was offered was a cup of tea made from ingredients grown fresh off the farm. Flavours of peppermint, marigold and tulsi danced together in this light, nourishing beverage. Apart from these, the garden was brimming with strawberries, cherry tomatoes, basil, leeks, garlic and a local variety of spinach called chicken spinach or sisu. Coffee, starfruit and jackfruit trees spread for miles across the radius of this little communal hub, and I was introduced to a new variety of fruit called pitango– a tart, crimson berry that could be used to make delicious jams and spreads.

But truly, no name or identification could go so far as to describe the sense of peace I felt being in the heart of nature. I was surrounded by butterflies, sunlight and a flowing river where I began to take my baths. As I gazed into the lush canopy of trees young and old, I started to feel a sense of merging with them, with their serenity. My thoughts dissolved into their bubbling streams and eddies. I swam frog style in the green waters, feeling like a character from the movie Avatar. This waterbody became my spiritual lifeline, a reminder to let go and let be. Days slipped by as in a dream, each varied like the colours of a rainbow, and I spun hopes for a greener future.

“Leave the roads, take the trails,” said Pythagoras a long time ago, and this was the course of my life here. A deep exploration of the unexplored, both literally and metaphorically. On one rather bright, sunny day a spontaneous plan to trek from Spice Valley to Kombai Valley was made. We packed flasks of watermelon juice, pineapples, bread and local gouda cheese and began. Alas, we had forgotten our hats and the mid-March sun was relentless. While some of us covered our heads with towels and scarves, others resorted to ingenious ways of covering their heads- a friend collected a sheaf of long leafed fern growing on the wayside and struck it into the back of his bag, from where they drooped overhead mimicking the shade of trees. We resorted to roads not taken, through streams and brambles, up and down hills clustered with lemongrass.

It was inevitable that we would be pricked by the notoriously invasive Lantana Camara, which grew almost everywhere. As Pippa Mukherjee writes of the plant in her book “Flora”, “every bush is full of impossible spines”. But the wild raspberry bushes were scratchier still. Spanish needle spindles clung to the fabric of my socks and clothing. Blue mink, a relatively friendly and rather pretty weed, strung out its purple blossom across the plains of Palani. But nothing was without purpose, as I came to learn, for the leaves of several weeds could be used as medicine.

At the end of the challenging trek, we could claim our reward. We stopped overnight at a friend’s house where we finally washed our muddy feet, took hot showers, ate delicious pasta, and simply relaxed. Here I met Ekta, a bright and curious child who always had her head buried in books. In the evening she led me to their water-lily pond to show me the fireflies. Perhaps the most magical and memorable part of the trip was this. Ekta showed me how to catch the friendly, sparkling critters, who flew about in a lazy dance. The scene reminded me of the Hayao Miyazaki film “Grave of the Fireflies,” and I was happy to discover that the little 8-year-old and I had something in common- our love for Japanese animated films! While most high-flying fireflies were male, the females preferred to stay closer to the ground, despite their larger size and wingspan. This way they could lay eggs and nurture their young. We observed how the lilies would close up at night but awaken and open up fully in the luminescence of the mid-day sun.

I have always felt that the best way to go about my life is to listen to the hums and whispers of my own intuition. The routine, clockwork way of earning money or conducting activities never appealed to me. Thus, I have always been led down strange, unexpected paths, journeys not without their hardships but always holding in their folds gems of wisdom and insight. This too was one such journey, a journey equally braided in faith and delight, wander and wonder, knowledge and spontaneity. The universe keeps on giving, I just have to be prepared to receive. I’d like to wrap up this piece with a grounding quote from the poet Gary Snyder: “Nature is not a visit, it is home.” Nature is within us as much as without, and it is always teaching us through its insects and creepers, the harmony and balance that is truly available to us. It is my hope that we can achieve this in our own little ways, through the collective energy of love, peace and laughter.

Anjali Hiregange is a writer, freelance artist and practising sound healer based in Bangalore. Following her bachelor’s at Christ University, she completed her master’s in Literature at English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. She loves travelling, smoothies, art and being in nature.