65-YO Kerala Homemaker Runs the Perfect Western Ghats Getaway With Treehouses & Mud Cottages
The Mudhouse, a family-run homestay in Kerala is a sustainable sanctuary surrounded by sandalwood forests, boasting of mud cottages and a treehouse. Here's what goes behind running it.
When Kerala-based couple Aman and Shehza booked their weekend trip to The Mudhouse — an experiential boutique stay in Kerala’s Marayoor — they didn’t foresee it changing the trajectory of their lives for good.
All they were looking forward to at the time was a quiet getaway. It was the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic and they were tired of being stuck in the confines of the city. The couple saw nature as the best antidote. And they weren’t wrong.
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Their visit to The Mudhouse was like opening the most exciting chapter of a storybook and getting to live it for real. Aman, who comes from an architectural background, was fascinated with the upcoming treehouse on the property. He was stunned at how the village landscape blended with nature seamlessly.
So, naturally, when it was time to say goodbye to the land, they didn’t have the heart to. Marayoor’s serenity had gotten to them. “We ended up volunteering at the space for the next three months,” Shehza shares, adding that it was the best retreat they could have hoped for.
Those three months were a gamechanger for the couple who decided to permanently move to Marayoor soon after. They continue being an integral backbone of The Mudhouse to date.
It is fascinating how the homestay’s journey has evolved over a tangle of timelines, with numerous people becoming a part of it along the way.
“And this is what makes it special,” says Pushpa, who runs the space along with her family. Born and brought up in Kannur amongst the lush plantations, the 65-year-old always harboured a love for nature. But life in Kochi, where she was living with her family after marriage, meant nature was tough to come by.
“I would miss simple things like being in the sun and working in the garden,” she tells The Better India.
So, in 2012 when her brother Dinesh, an avid birdwatcher, stumbled upon a paradisiacal piece of land in Marayoor and suggested they do something with it, Pushpa was more than game.
The nature lover in her had finally found a home.
Living an almost alternate reality
At The Mudhouse, be assured that solitude and the mountains will be your best friends. You’ll be greeted by soft breezes and whiffs of sandalwood gratis Kerala’s only Natural Sandalwood Forest Reserve that is a stone’s throw away. The birds, insects and trees here seem to take on a life of their own as if welcoming you to their land and beckoning you to enjoy your stay. Standing proud of the haven they have created on a land that once boasted only of lemon grass, the family says it has been an endearing journey.
The idea was to build a vacation home, at first. As Pushpa explains, “Since Suresh (her husband) used to be in the Air Force, we are used to entertaining guests all the time. This seemed a perfect place to do it.”
As they stood on the land in 2012, they were speechless. This was unlike anything they had seen in the city. “We were fascinated by the few mud houses that were still dotting the countryside. After visiting the village and learning about the rich culture and heritage we have, we decided to do something native to the place rather than looking outside. It just made sense,” notes Pushpa, referring to their decision to build four mud houses in contrast to contemporary cottages.
The lack of resources in the area posed its own hurdles. But the local villagers pitched in and soon, the family was jetting off to The Mudhouse every chance they got. The five-hour drive and the remoteness of the area was no deterrent. But while they did enjoy this, it seemed almost a sin to leave a beautiful home like this abandoned for the rest of the year.
This was when Pushpa stumbled upon an idea. “We visited my son Deepak in Australia and stayed at Airbnbs during our trip. We thought, ‘Why not adopt the same concept for The Mudhouse?’”
She adds that the idea of being able to remotely manage a stay got her daughter Roopa and her husband Ajith excited too. “When we came back, they immediately set about getting a homestay licence,” she adds.
In 2016, the homestay was ready to welcome its first guests.
Highlighting sustainability all the way
They say it takes a village to make a dream reality. This couldn’t hold truer than in the case of this family. Managed by Pushpa and Dinesh’s families along with Aman and Shehza, this homestay is a testament to that.
But even so, Pushpa says The Mudhouse has grown with the learnings of their guests and the locals.
“So many of our guests are way more conscious than we are. Often a guest would say why don’t you build a kitchen garden? And we would just try it,” she adds.
“These little things have made the place even more beautiful and meaningful for us,” she says.
Every nook here boasts sustainability.
Deepak notes that the treehouse makes use of the eucalyptus trees. “These have become so destructive in the area that the government is ordering the plantations to uproot the trees entirely. But we are putting them to use,” he says.
Meanwhile, he says that the roof is thatched with grass found in the mountains nearby, while the mud is sourced from the area.
The cottages are decked in furniture made from upcycled wood. The guests are known to be astounded by the wooden crafts around the home. These are creations of Dinesh. The family thoroughly encourages guests to enjoy their stay here.
And it doesn’t hurt that they have a little trick to ensure this.
“Each cottage has a verandah, a bedroom and an open roof washroom but no TV. We didn’t want to keep a TV specifically because we wanted people to have a complete break from the city and the news,” says Deepak.
Initially, they were under the impression that guests would object to this, but were pleased on receiving the opposite reaction.
“Our guests with children are always happy to see them outside exploring. We encourage them to go on walks through the village and the forest nearby,” Deepak shares. On the subject of walks, be prepared to be greeted by nine dogs, rabbits and cows adopted by Deepak. These along with numerous deer, butterflies and bison are common features at The Mudhouse.
A main draw here is the Sandalwood Forest Reserve. Spread across 1,460.7 hectares of land, you can tell you are close when your nose catches the rich, woody notes. With over 57,000 sandalwood trees in the reserve whose value is estimated at Rs 3,000 crores, the forest attracts all kinds of attention. Hence, the place is closely guarded by forest officials at all times.
You can choose to hike to the reserve or take a picnic basket and make a trail of your own. After an adventurous day, come back to a feast — the work of the local women who are part of the homestay’s staff. Headed by Praveen, a chef who joined The Mudhouse soon after he finished college, the staff make an excellent local feast.
“We grow most of our produce on the land,” shares Roopa, adding, “Some of the guests’ favourites are the appam, stew, puttu, kadala, dosa, sambar, idiyappam and chicken curry. And no one is allowed to go back to the city without Praveen’s special dal tadka and shahi tukda.”
If you are planning your stay at The Mudhouse, be sure to book in advance. With 100 guests every month, the place is almost always filled to capacity.
Edited by Padmashree Pande. Picture credit: Aman.
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