“Get Lost,” urges Fringe Ford’s motto and that isn’t particularly difficult to do at the British-style cottage, built in 1912. Located in the lush Western Ghats, the 520-acre coffee estate in Kerala’s Wayanad district stretches from the Brahmagiri Hills in Thirunelli to the Tholpetty forests. It’s so remote, only a four-wheel-drive can manoeuvre the bone-rattling jungle path.
Fringe Ford is a pleasant respite from the Kerala clichés of Ayurveda and backwaters. Instead, you are submerged in nature; elephants, Indian bison (or gaur), wild dogs, sambar, barking deer, and a host of other jungle residents are regular visitors to the front yard. The silence of the night is broken only by yelping wild dogs and croaking frogs. Stories from the wild keep you engaged around the dinner table—my favourite being the one about Muthu, the cook, who bumped into an elephant as he was walking home one night.
The best way to immerse yourself in the wild is to take hikes with Shabir and Shaji, the resident guides. There are three trails within the plantation ranging in intensity from easy to difficult. Shabir and Shaji fill the walks with interesting anecdotes and insights into animal behaviour. The 240 species of birds found in the forest include Malabar hornbills, sunbirds, imperial pigeons, parakeets, lorikeets, woodpeckers, and thrushes.
Set aside a day or two to explore places around the plantation. A trip to Kuruva Island (17 km east of Mananthavady, the town nearest to the estate), which abounds with plant and bird life, includes a boat ride in a small river raft. Known as the Kashi of the South, the Thirunelli Temple is worth the scenic 30-km drive to get there. The Pakshipathalam bird sanctuary, which is a 7-km trek from the base of Thirunelli Temple, is best visited between October and February; prior permission from the Forest Office is essential. The sanctuary is at a height of 1,740 metres, and has ancient caves, rivulets, and thick forests. About 20 km south of Mananthavady is the Banasura Sagar Dam, India’s largest earthen dam. Skip the trip to Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary. After Fringe Ford, the jeep safari here will seem pointless.
Appeared in the September 2013 issue as “Shades of Green”. Updated in January 2017.
The plantation's lush rainforest trails are ideal for birdspotting. Photo: Supriya Sehgal
Getting There The pickup point for Fringe Ford is a place called Talapoya, 8 km from the town of Mananthavady in the Wayanad district of northern Kerala. From here, it takes 45 minutes to travel 12 km to the estate. The closest airport is Kozhikode, also known as Calicut, (135km/3.5 hours) and the closest major railway station is Mysore (130 km/3.5 hours). (www.fringeford.com; 9880086411; ₹4,500 per head, including all meals, and guided walks through the property.)
Accommodation There are eight cosy rooms with low, Mangalore-tiled roofs and wooden furniture. Huge French windows ensure that visitors won’t miss seeing nocturnal visitors like elephants. Bathrooms are spacious and use fresh stream water. Meals at Fringe Ford are served on a huge wooden dining table, and include local Kerala dishes (with a dash of Tamilian flavours), and handpicked greens from the jungle, cooked on a wood fire.