A Weekend at Iyal Farms:
There was a palpable excitement and a sense of curiosity among the young and the old on our drive to Sethumadai on a Saturday morning. The highway out of Coimbatore, bald and bare, and still under construction, gave way to canopied back roads once we passed Pollachi. Closer to Sethumadai, the coconut groves took over the landscape and there was a distinct change in the air. The atmosphere was laid-back and life was as usual in the countryside, calm and commotion less; a far cry from the city limits. Iyal Farms is a ten-minute drive from Sethumadai village and can easily be located on Google Maps.
Mr. Saravanan, the proprietor of Iyal Farms, greeted us on our arrival with a welcome drink made using tender coconut water, lime, palm sugar, and mint; all ingredients grown organically in his farm. A litter of three kittens caught the attention of the children in our group and Mr. Saravanan soon assigned them the job of naming the kittens by the end of our trip.
The children were initially shy and yet curious to see what the farm had in store for us. We had made a conscious decision not to pack any electronic gadgets for the trip. The children, two of them aged ten and one aged four, had each other and the quaint farm to keep them occupied for the weekend.
Iyal Farms is an organic model farm where Mr. Saravanan invites visitors to drop-in to learn the ways of organic farming and a holistic approach to life.
He is a firm believer in respecting all life forms and hence the food served here is vegetarian but nutritious and wholesome. Though vegetarian, the sheer spread and the warm hospitality of our host made every meal feel like a feast.
A large, well-ventilated bamboo structure on stilts was to be our abode for the night. After unloading our bags and getting a bearing of the facilities available, we piled on to the back of the farm tractor for a ride to the edge of the forest which was not very far.
The mattresses laid out at the back ensured our comfort and safety during the ride. At a scenic location by the canal, we met with Pravin and Keerthana from The Pollachi Papyrus. Sipping on hot tea and munching on a few biscuits we watched the dusk set in. Under the watchful eyes of the team from The Papyrus, the children explored a field nearby that had huge elephant footprints; plucked a mango or two from an adjacent grove and admired the cotton stainer bugs on the hedges close by.
Once darkness fell, we got back on the tractor and headed back to the farm. Just as the stars were beginning to shine, we noticed a shimmering of a different sort on our way back – Fireflies. The children were mesmerized by the fireflies that were flying about under the dark canopy of the surrounding coconut groves. As we discussed the science behind bio-luminescence it produced a few giggles from the younger lot in the tractor.
Just as we arrived back at the farm, a barbeque was set up to grill skewers of vegetables to whet our appetite before dinner. The children played a game of cards by a solar-powered lamp while Mr. Saravanan explained to the adults some of the principles he follows in his farm and his vision for the farm in the near future. The evening’s conversation was inspiring and thought-provoking. A weekend in a farm may be eerily quiet but that is precisely what one needs to relax and rejuvenate.
Two kinds of idiyappams, kolukattai, spicy chutney, potato curry, paneer, and chappathi rolls and a dessert of sweet pongal made with black rice and grated coconut were laid out for dinner. The children were ready to retire for the day soon after that sumptuous meal. Armed with our torch lights, we headed back to the bamboo cottage, weary but very content with the proceedings of the evening. The night at the farm was cool and silent, unlike the summer nights in the city in the midst of the concrete jungle with the sound of traffic echoing well into the depth of the night.
We woke up to the sound of peafowls crying at a distance the following morning. A Naturalist from Pollachi Papyrus met us bright and early, waiting to take us on a birding tour. With binoculars and a bird book in our hands, we headed to the edge of the forest and then continued on foot to watch for birds along the boundary. As a birding enthusiast, I thoroughly enjoyed this morning walk, listening to various bird calls, identifying the birds and discussing their behavior. At the end of the birding tour, I had learned to identify a few birds by their calls and was also aware of new ways to record and keep track of bird sightings.
Once again a hearty meal was served to us for breakfast back at the farm. The children were hungry and thoroughly enjoyed the pongal and idli with spicy coconut chutney and delicious sambhar. Having refilled our tanks, with renewed energy we walked around the farm with Ram, who took care of the everyday operations.
The children tried their hands at planting a couple of rows of vegetable seeds on the raised beds. Then they gave weeding a try with the traditional manvetti.
The children also had an opportunity to plant a tree each of their choices. While one picked mango as that was his favorite fruit, the other picked a lemon tree because that was his favorite.
After all this laboring around the farm, it was finally time for some fun and frolic. The kids were taught a few traditional pastimes which are a favorite among young children. They started off with a race maneuvering cycle tyres powered by sticks.
Then they moved on to spinning tops and a group challenge that involved even the adults who were just watching up until then. Then to finally cool off, the sprinklers were turned on and the children were invited to indulge in the rain-like atmosphere in the vegetable patch.
The joy it brought to them really can’t be quantified or expressed in words. Although the grown-ups were reluctant to get wet, just watching the children made us happy and had us beaming with big smiles.
After we dried ourselves and changed into fresh clothing, we packed our bags to wind up our weekend at Iyal Farms. Promptly naming the kittens Gingee, Clouds and Cotton candy, we bid farewell to Mr. Saravanan, Pravin and the rest of the team after thanking them for a memorable farm stay.
A few minutes into our return journey, almost everyone else in the car fell asleep but for me as I was driving.
I drove back content with the feeling of having taken this opportunity to indulge in a simple life, closer to nature; invigorating to the body and refreshing to the mind. The children who are cousins had a wonderful time bonding over the weekend, something that they are going to cherish for a very long time.