INDHRIVANAM: forest retreat

Morten Svendsen and his wife, Sarah Cassidy welcomed my travel companion Kirsten and me to Indhrivanam, their home for the last five years near Kumily in Kerala India. Here in their homestay cottage I would spend my birthday and the last of my days in India.

I was tired. We had risen at 4:30 a.m. to travel by jeep and foot through a wildlife area. We had trekked as quietly as possible up sloping, slippery paths, over exposed roots, under tree trunks trying not to frighten away whatever animals might be near. We were ready for a bath and a long nap. We had discussed a possible trip over the next days to Madurai….but our plans evaporated as we approached this retreat.

Our rickshaw climbed high and took many small roads to reach this place of surprises. First, this home and nearby cottage is made of granite stone blocks, a departure from typical structures of Kerala. Even the dining table and benches are stone. Roofs are red tile, and the beautiful hand-crafted doors and accordion shutters are natural wood.

The interior space of the home is a simple, open, airy great room with lofts at either end reached by attractive spiral staircases. Perhaps these were inspired by castles. The furnishings are rattan, the cushion colors muted.

Second, the surprise of intelligent conversations and having so many of my questions about life in India answered during meals. As the saying goes, Morten and Sarah could “write a book” about the cultural adventure of buying land, establishing a business, constructing these buildings, and developing a circle of friends in the nearby village and in Kumily. What they have learned is patience and how to stay committed to their vision in spite of communication, budget, supply and other sometimes frustrating limitations. Having personally experienced this kind of challenge as a resident of other countries I am filled with admiration.

Third, the surprise of meeting people who live their values. This place represents a commitment to reducing the human impact upon the environment. Sustainability and simplicity are the keystones of life here. Eco tourism is best represented here.

Another surprise: Details. Details are important to a traveler and are too often overlooked. They are a way of life at Andhrivnam. At our stone cottage, we are introduced to a clever composting toilet, to a system of rainwater collection from which we will drink and bathe, to the use of waste water to irrigate the many varieties of fruit trees that will eventually bring a plethora of fruits to the table.

And of course the surprise of perfect, varied and delicious vegetarian meals. At breakfast we feast on homemade breads, banana preserves, mango chutney, cashew butter, peanut butter, and fruit and veggie smoothies. The pressed coffee and the tea is locally grown. And when possible the vegetables that will be prepared for other meals in myriad ways will be organic. Generous lunch and dinner meals are South Indian vegetarian fare—many with fresh grated coconut served over a several different types of rice.

Our room is supplied with an electric teakettle and for the first time in India I can make that early morning cup of tea or coffee. BLISS! There is a canister to keep snacks safe from insects, incense to burn, a mosquito coil, candles to provide cosy lights during those pesky electrical outages, maps of hikes, descriptions of tours and entertainments, and even a list of stores in Kumily that carry the things we might need. Oh, to have started our Kumily experience here rather than to flounder about in a sea of miscommunication.

Were this place in the USA, it would certainly win sustainability awards and recognition.

As I write I am on a shaded “sit out” extending from the “cottage” into the forest. I spy the red of an amaryllis, a spray of red coffee beans, large elephant ear plants. Wild boars and other animals sometimes pass close in the night. We are warned not to be dismayed by the night sounds outside and to close the doors in the evening. We can entertain ourselves with WiFi, with music and film available to us on our computer….but who needs these? The forest is sufficient…



Later I will witness the preparation of lunch and dinner dishes and perhaps, just perhaps, I can eventually share these treats with family and friends. They will be reminders of this place, the people who created it, and of the possibilities of living a dream.

Sarah and Morten are relatively young (just over 40) to know themselves so thoroughly, to research the possibilities and to leap from the career paths their educations would have predicted. I pray that there are many like them, showing us a way to preserve this beautiful planet and to be mentally and physically healthier humans.


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