Rob and I flew to India under the pretense of exploring India’s other King of Fruit, the mango, but who were we kidding? Following a lead, Rob and I headed into the foothills of the Western Ghats hoping to find durian in India.
Durian is not native to India, but it is slowly gaining a presence among local fruits. Some studies have revealed that durian is effective at treating infertility, giving hope to all those childless couples and sending the price of durian in India, both imported and homegrown, skyrocketing.
Most durian in India is scattered helter-skelter along the backwaters of Kerala and the mountains of Tamil Nadu, left 100 years ago by Indians returning home from working in the rubber fields in Malaysia. It’s hard to find – a perfect durian hunt. I’d heard that there was one state-owned farm that was growing durian near Coimbatore, in a region of the Western Ghats called the Nilgiri Hills.
I couldn’t find much information in part because there are three alternate spellings for the name of the farm. I spent hours looking for information for the Barliyar State Horticulture Farm, before finally realizing that the farm is really called Burliar. The other farm sometimes mentioned in news articles, Kallar, doesn’t have any durian trees.
|Rob and a worker at Burliar State Farm with durian trees in background|
How To Get To Burliar
We took an express train to Coimbatore, and from there a bus to Mettupalayam about 30 km away. The roads were good, and it slightly less than an hour. We spent the night in Mettupalayam, and were tickled to find durian being sold at the fruit stand less than 50 feet from our hotel!
Apparently people really believe in the durian’s powers as baby maker, because the price was even more outrageous than what we paid for imported Thai durian in Kochi — it cost 900 rupees ($15 USD) per kilo.
We love durian, but even we didn’t feel up to shelling out that much money. We decided to save our dollars and our appetite for the morning.
Finding the farm was easy. It’s on the main road between Mettupalayam and Ooty, and happens to be where buses traversing that route stop to let passengers to buy snacks and use the relatively clean toilets, including a female urinal. That was a new one for me. Along the road fruit sellers with pomelos, passion fruits and durian mix with vendors selling chips, roti, and samosas.
|The bus stop at Burliar|
Most of the durians looked pretty old, with wizened stems and splitting seams. Rob and I were not inspired. We decided to explore more before making any decisions – you never know, we might get lucky and find a freshly fallen one!
The Burliar farm is 6.25 hectares (~14 acres) of soft winding paths through huge, mature jungle and fruit trees. It was established in 1871 under the British, and not much seems to have changed since then. Entry is free, and there is some perfunctory information about the farm at the entrance, although no one speaks English or seems prepared for tourists. It became clear to us that we weren’t going to find the durian on our own in this 14 acre labyrinth.
We spotted a worker picking mangosteen and asked him about durian, pointing wildly in all directions. He seemed to understand, and led us down the steep terraced hillside, nimbly jumping over rocks in his flipflops. When we arrived at a stand of huge trees, he pointed high into the treetops and grinned. Squinting, I could just barely make out the spiky shadows of durians swinging high over ahead. These trees were enormous, the like of which I hadn’t seen since our adventures in Borneo.
Rob and I of course got excited, which made our guide grin. He then leaped back down the trail and pulled back a grey tarp neither Rob or I had noticed, revealing around 30 bright green, oblong little durians that had obviously just fallen that night. How awesomely fortunate!
The fruits didn’t have much odor, but we found a small one that seemed good and decided to take the gamble. At 700 rupees a kilogram, it really was a gamble.
So worth it.
The durian was very similar to the kampung durians we have eaten in Indonesia and Malaysia, with a grey white color and 4-5 seeds per pod. As is common in durians grown by seed, what it lacked in quantity it made up in quality. Each melt-in-your-mouth piece was whipped cream smooth, mildly bitter with a refreshing coolness that still puzzles me. Despite it’s somewhat lackluster appearance, it was so delicious!
Burliar State Horticulture Farm is located on the Ooty-Coimbatore National Highway 67, sometimes called the Ghat Road, about halfway between Coonoor and Mettupalayam. It is open from 9-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Durian is available in July and August.