This is a little something about the evolution of Blackberry Hills Retreat & Spa. How the chemically abused land of erstwhile Blackberry estate rejuvenated over the years to take the shape of lush shola vegetation home to exotic varieties of flora and fauna. How the concept of a resort sneaked into this ecological restoration project. How over the past 10 years we successfully catered to tourists from across the globe.

Let the saga begin.

9 acres of land was acquired by a group of entrepreneurs in the year 2002 with the then unprecedented and less popular idea of organic farming. However the land which was until then abused and exploited to the extreme through chemical fertilizing was stubborn as a wild ox. All efforts of harvesting through orthodox earth friendly organic approaches were in vain. The more we attempted to nurture earth, the more it turned hostile. The only sign of life that graced the land were weeds like Mikenia, Eucapyptus, ‘Kongini’, leftovers of erstwhile British Blackberry Shrubs etc.

Proceeding with an agricultural venture that refuses to give returns at least to break even was not feasible for the team considering financial strains each individual was facing. Nevertheless, the team was determined to revive the land and they accepted the challenge to drop farming and ensue an ecological restoration project aimed at bringing back the lost charm and vigour of the land – an attempt to restore the 9 acres of land to its true self that Mother Nature intended it to be.

Sacrosanct was to reduce soil erosion as the estate is on a mountain slope. After considerable research, Vetiver technology was applied throughout the estate towards this effort. Vetiver is a grass that has the ability to penetrate its roots deep into the earth thus holding the soil tightly together without giving away. A fully matured vetiver tiller will have its roots about 10 feet below the soil. Nobody knew then that a couple of years down the line, Paul Turong, from the International Vetiver Network was to visit Blackberry Hills Retreat & Spa and feature a whole article on the widely popular Vetiver Network Blog.

A number of Decks (terraces) were also created on the mountain side using Vetiver over which small scale farming was done. Vetiver is also widely used around the estate for landscaping.

The financial pressure over the team mounted as divine efforts towards the ecological restoration of Blackberry estate continued. Thus it was decided to open up a couple of cottages in order to sustain these efforts. The team was also excited in sharing the knowledge they gained to people from across the world. It was in 2004 the estate was graced with tourists and from then on, people flowed in to witness the grandeur of Blackberry Hills Retreat & Spa.

The concept of converting the estate into a Shola forest was also evolved sometime during the course. Planting is being done carefully selecting only those trees, plants and shrubs that is native to Shola forest ranges seen in Western Ghats.
Tourism in Kerala continued to develop by leaps and bounds and so did the number of visitors to Munnar. The charming little Bindhi of the Western Ghats called Munnar blessed with exotic vegetation and life along with the legacy left by the British tea plantations turned out to be one of the best destinations in South India. This positively affected the flow of travellers to Blackberry Hills as well and gave way to a difference of opinion. One was to expand the resort, build maximum number of cottages ensuring a higher turnover for the concern. Another opinion was to keep it small and give emphasis to the core values that the team stood and fought for over the years – ecological development through responsible tourism. Needless to say, the latter opinion was upheld.

Blackberry Hills Retreat & Spa continues to be small and continues all the efforts for ensuring a better world for the generations to come. Our measures may be small, but we believe the we will make a huge positive impact on the world and the people we interact with.

Like we care for every being – small and big including the parachute worms, atlas moths, Malabar giant squirrels, porcupines etc., that visit the estate most days – we deeply care for our guests. We are always delighted to show you our culture and our ways. Taste our food, drink our wine and dance to the tune of local music.

We seek your blessings.

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Sanesh Karyad
– author is the Chief Executive Officer at Blackberry Hills Retreat & Spa