When people think of Kerala they usually think of famous places like Kumarakom, Munnar and, Thekkady. Most have not heard of Wayanad, one the most beautiful hill stations in the country. I remember the days when I used to look forward to my summer vacations to visit new places with my family. Every time my mother would mention her hometown as a tourist destination, my brother and I would scoff because we thought all of Wayanad was contained in her ancestral home. It was just last September when we finally decided to see what the rest of Wayanad looks like and were we surprised! It was like a Pandora's box had opened up.
The best thing about going to Kerala is the three-day train journey. Though you can take a flight to Kozhikode, I have always preferred the train journey. From Delhi to Kozhikode, the train crosses almost 36 stations in around four states. Once you reach Kozhikode, you have the option of taking a KSRTC (Kerala State Road Transportation Corporation) bus (which is faster) or you can hire a car. Wayanad is a good 76 kms from Kozhikode city.
I have been to a lot of hill stations but the road to Wayanad is one of the most adventurous yet exciting road trips. Your choice of transport has to navigate nine hairpin turns which are quite steep and dangerous. With each passing hairpin, you go higher and higher. The view of the beautiful mountains above and the lush green forest below is magnificent. The weather just added to the excitement of this trip. It was getting colder as we gained in altitude. We halted every half an hour to enjoy the scenic beauty and to click pictures.
Hidden away in the hills of this land are a number of indigenous tribes colloquially known as the Adivasis. En route, you will come across a large Ficus tree, bound with a long chain. It is called the Chain Tree and has an interesting story behind it. The story goes that the British explorer who discovered the area took help from an Adivasi youth to navigate the treacherous Wayanad hills but tragically murdered the youth so he could claim the entire credit for doing so. The tortured soul of the youth was then chained to this tree by a local temple priest.
The name Wayanad is derived from 'Vayal Nadu', where Vayal means Paddy and Nadu the land, making it a "land of paddy fields". Wayanad also has inexplicable mountain caves, thundering waterfalls, large tracts of forest land, ancient ruins, tree houses, jungle trails and exotic wild life. It is a perfect place for both nature and adventure lovers. Wayanad is also the land of spices. Coffee, turmeric, rubber, ginger, cocoa are grown here.
Gazing back into history
Wayanad boasts a vibrant history. During ancient times, this land was ruled by the Rajas of the Veda tribe. Later it came under the control of the Pazhassi Rajas of Kottayam. Hyder Ali, after becoming the king of Mysore, invaded the land and kept it under his control. However, during the period of Tipu Sultan, it returned to the Kottayam Royal Dynasty.
You will see pictures and illustrations on the walls of the Ampukuthimala caves which are reminiscent of the New Stone Age civilizations. The modern Wayanad district, formed in the year 1980 has its headquarters in Kalpetta. Kalpetta happens to be my mother's home town. So we saved money on resorts and stayed at my grandparent's place during the whole trip. We also didn't need a guide as my uncle took us around everywhere. Here are some interesting places we visited:-
Pookot Lake - The first destination we covered was this scenic natural freshwater lake which is surrounded by dense forests. It is about 13kms from Kalpetta and is an ideal picnic spot where visitors can enjoy boating as well. A fresh water aquarium with a wide variety of fishes adds to the attraction. I had the pleasure of shopping at a small emporium near the lake. They sell handicrafts and authentic Kerala spices. Adjacent to the shop was the Vythiri resort, spread over 150 acres with ample cottages and luxuriant hospitality including some amazing tree house cottages. Chembra Peak - At 2100 meters above sea level, Chembra peak is the highest peak in Wayanad. It is about 14 kms from Kalpetta district and is an ideal place for adventure lovers who are keen on trekking and mountain climbing. When you reach the top of the peak, you will get to see a heart shaped natural lake. The view from the top of the peak will leave you mesmerised. Edakkal Caves - Edakkal means 'a stone in between'. It is situated at 25kms from Kalpetta in the Ambukuthy Mountains. It is not exactly a cave, just a rock shelter formed by two huge rocks (about 96 feet long and 22 feet wide) on either side. The carving on the walls of the cave was quite fascinating. It is etched with drawings illustrating human and animal figures belonging to pre-historic civilization. To get to the caves, we had to climb over rocky terrains. Kuruva Island - Spread over 900 acres of land, this isolated island is home to rare species of birds, orchids and herbs. It is rich in flora and fauna. Kuruva Island is 40kms from Kalpetta and is one of the main attractions of Wayanad. The Kuruva islands are a grouping of three islands located along one of the tributaries of the river Kabani. A must see destination for nature lovers. Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary - Just 42 kms from Kalpetta, this sanctuary has one of the biggest collections of wild animals like elephants spotted deer, tiger, wild bear etc. This rain forest reserve is spread over 345 sq kms and is connected to Bandipur National Park in Karnataka and Mudumalai Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu. You can enjoy elephant rides here in Muthanga. Soochipara Waterfalls - Also known as Sentinel Rock Waterfalls, this is a must see site located about 22 kms from Kalpetta. A short 2 km trek through the dense forest will see you to the waterfall. Soochipara is a 3-tiered powerful waterfall. The water falls from a height of 100 feet to 200 feet. We took an extra pair of clothes to enjoy swimming in the pool down below the waterfall. Banasura Sagar Dam - Banasura dam is considered one of the largest earth dams in India and the second largest in Aisa. Located at 24 kms from Kalpetta, this dam is yet another picnic spot. The serene crystal clear water makes it ideal for boating. Phantom Rock - All you can see here is a rare kind of natural structure with a special skull head shape. It is also known as Cheengeri Mala by the locals. Phantom rock is situated at a distance of 25 kms from Kalpetta. The scenic surroundings near the phantom rock make it a potential tourist trekking and camping location.Pakshipathalam - Perched at 1740 meters above sea level in the Brahmagiri hills, lays a challenging tourist spot, Pakshipathalam. It is 66 kms from Kalpetta. The name Pakshipathalam refers to rich birdlife and is abode to various birds and wild beasts. In order to reach the place, you have to trek 17 kms through dense wild forest. You need to get special permission from the Forest Department to visit this place. Thirunelli Temple - Last but not the least is the famous Thirunelli temple, also known as "Thekkan Kasi" or "Dakshin Kasi". The ancient riverside temple of Thirunelli is a beautiful example of ancient Kerala temple architecture. Local folklore suggests that the temple was dedicated by the creator, Lord Brahma to appease Lord Vishnu. The two main festivals here are in April (Vishu) and August/September (Onam).
By Air -