Charan Singh, the former Prime Minister of India, had famously said, “The true India resides in its villages.”
It is these villages, with their myriad cultures and way of life, that truly epitomise the diversity that India has come to be known for, across the world.
But how often do you come across a hamlet nestled deep in a forest, where none of the inhabitants wear footwear, even while venturing out in public spaces?
No, we are not kidding.
Vellagavi, a quaint little hamlet, with a sparse population of 150, exists in relative obscurity in comparison to its extremely famous neighbour, Kodaikanal.
Located amidst the undulating forested terrains of Western Ghats, there are no roads in this hamlet, and the number of temples far exceeds the number of houses! Perhaps, that is the reason why the inhabitants of Vellagavi refuse to wear any footwear, in reverence to the local gods, who cohabit the area with their devotees.
Fascinating, isn’t it?
However, despite its proximity to Kodaikanal and Vattakanal, reaching this hamlet is nothing less of a backbreaking task. It is only after undertaking an arduous trek through dense forests from Kumbakkarai that easily takes between six to eight hours on foot that one finally manages to clinch the first glimpse of Vellagavi!
Adventure seekers beware, the trek is definitely not for the faint-hearted, for the path that takes you to Vellagavi is as narrow as footfall-worn paths deep in the woods can get, and one wrong step could result in a fall deep into the gorges.
Greeting travellers at the entrance to Vellagavi is a temple, after which one can find as many as 25 temples interspersed between houses and also at the end of streets.
The no-footwear policy is a practice that the villagers have been strongly adhering to since time immemorial, for they believe that the entire hamlet, which is believed to be over 300 years old, is a blessed and holy land. The way people have built their houses side-by-side along straight rows is quite a sight, with a beautifully etched kolam adorning each entrance.
People here have quite an idyllic way of living, with farming and goat rearing being the primary occupations. Sadly, developmental interventions from the government are yet to reach this hamlet that has no roads, hospitals or even basic amenities.
Besides a tea shop and a small provision store, the villagers have to head to Kodaikanal to meet most of their day-to-day requirements.
But the inhabitants of Vellagavi do not let the government’s indifference affect their demeanour. They come across as warm human beings, who will not only greet you with a smile but also inquire about your well being.
With the rise of visitors in recent years, the lone tea shop in Vellagavi now offers camping arrangements that you can make use of, in case you plan on making a trip to this rustic hamlet of barefoot residents.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)