I got to join my aunt and her tribe of friends in a whirlwind weekend getaway to Wayanad. I boarded the Mangalore mail from Chennai at 8.20 PM on November 13th. There was heavy rains and storm in Chennai at that time and I heard several trains were delayed or canceled. However I was fortunate that the Mangalore mail started on time. It was an uneventful overnight journey on the train and I reached Calicut a.k.a Kozhikode in the morning around 8.30 AM. At Calicut got into a cab and after a series of 9 hairpin bends we were finally at about 2000 meters above sea level, in the district of Wayanad. Wayanad means “wayal” nadu which means land of paddy fields. However ironically all way through our journey we saw rubber trees, tea and coffee plantations, but not a single paddy field.
This was our first stop in Wayanad. The activities around this lake are boating, fish spa and an aquarium. The boating types were row boats and pedal boats. We were asked to wait for an hour for the boat as all the boats were in use. But we did not have patience to wait, hence decided to take a walk around the lake instead. In the lake we saw lots of purple colored flowers that looked like lilies. It gave a rich purplish hue to the otherwise largely green surrounding. The plant’s leaves looks like bottle brush. In the lake there were fishes and crabs. The lake itself is sort of greenish in color. After trekking half way around the lake we decided to turn back.
Me and my aunt love to see marine life and headed to the aquarium. The aquarium was not big. It had 4 big cement tanks which had only the common carp and the lower end variety of the koi carps. There was an in-house aquarium with about 4 to 5 tanks that housed just some tiger barbs and couple of Oscars.
The fish spa was a fish tank which had several of those fishes which are supposed to eat off dead cells from the soles of the feet. This was charged at 50 rupees for 10 mins. We decided to give this a miss.
After this we were to have lunch at coffee grove restaurant which our homestay owner recommended. We had fish curry meals and fish fry. The fish curry meals comprised of prawns curry, aviyal, chamandhi, sambar, rice, papad, curd and payasam. The meals was good and costed 90 inr per plate. The fish fry was fresh and excellent but on the expensive side costing 120 inr for a thin slice of fish.
After lunch, our homestay owner had arranged for bamboo rafting. There were 4 to 5 large bamboo poles about 15 feet long tied together to form a raft. The river on which we were going to raft on was more of a sedentary river.
The rafting was to last 45 mins to an hour and the guide took us through the river with greenery on both sides. The oar to row the boat was a long 10 feet pole. We also saw lots of the purple flower here. The guide told us that the purple flower was an African virus weeds which spreads over the whole river. They regularly remove these weeds. Before the advent of this weed the river was very clear and one was able to see up to the bottom of the river. This reminded me of wolf in sheep’s clothing. The pretty purple on top appeared at the outset to beautify the river whereas its rapidly expanding vines took over the river turning it into a brown murky marshland. The guide also offered us to row the boat. I ventured to go first. Pushing the boat with the pole was easy, but lifting the heavy pole up required a lot of energy. I felt an instant respect for our guide who was rowing for us. 1 hour of this job is not an easy task. After about 5 minutes of struggling with the pole I handed over the responsibility back to the guide. As we glided through the river the sounds of emanating from the forest resonated with our inner peace. It was like being in the lap of mother nature. We witnessed kingfishers flying from tree to tree.
There were some plastics in the side of the river. I wish that was cleaned up, apart from this, it was a blissful experience.
Coffee county homestay:
After our rafting we proceeded to the homestay. It was a bit difficult finding this place. It was in chundale, and there was no proper road to the homestay. After a couple of kilometers which looked like an offroading experience to me we reached the homestay. This homestay belonged to actress and writer Ranjini menon and her husband Rajagopal menon. They had made awesome stuffed stir fried banana snacks for us and gave us some tea on arrivaal. The homestay is good, spacious. They had a swing and a pool and it seemed like we were like in the middle of the jungle with the sounds of stream and crickets. Towards night it got very cold and we were yapping with the hosts till late night. I went by 10 PM to bed as I had to leave early the next day to visit Muthanga wild life park.
Muthanga wildlife sanctuary:
I left early to the Muthanga wildlife park at about 5.30 AM. The queue for the ticket begins at 4 AM itself though the ticket is given out only from 7AM. My cab driver arranged with his source to wait in line ahead for an extra cost. There are lots of guides and travelers waiting in line for the ticket. Finally at 7AM the ticket counter opened and there was some cat fight between the guides waiting in line as there were people trying to intercept the queue stating reason that they were here earlier and so on. Eventually we got into the first forest jeep and the embarked on a very bumpy ride through the forest. There is a driver and a guide assigned per jeep. I told the guide that I would like to see atleast 1 wild elephant. As we headed out, he pointed to couple of domestic elephants chained to a tree. My face fell. I felt that in case they do not find any wild elephants they will say they showed us these elephants anyway. My worst fear was coming true as we were proceeding through the forests but no sign of an elephant. The guide pointed out few peacocks that quickly went into the dense vegetation. There were a few spotted dear and a sambhar dear at a distance, again hidden by the vegetation. The guide claimed that animal spotting is tough in Muthanga when the vegetation is lush as the animals are obscured. The guide stopped the vehicle and pointed to a pug mark which he claimed is fresh and has been made by a leopard that just crossed this place. Just looking at the pug mark and no leopard was useless to me and we moved on. After 45 minutes of boring ride through the forest which would have put me to sleep had it not been for the continuous bumpiness, we eventually reached the highway and the guide said that we would have better chance of spotting animals as the vegetation on the sides of the roads were less dense and the animals sometimes cross the road. We went through the highway and this time only saw spotted deers up close, which I could have seen in guindy park anyway. The trip ended with no sightings of an elephant. I think they may have migrated to other forests as Karnataka forests borders with muthanga park as well. So Elephant sightings in muthanga to me is like lottery. Aspirations huge, but chances are slim. I also think the elephants in muthanga are not much in number. The forest guide told me the animal sightings are better during January to March when the forest is less dense. To me Muthanga looks like a waste of time and money. Though we were early in the morning, and had the first jeep of the day we did not see anything much. I heard that if one goes through the highways adjoining muthanga or tholpetty one stands better chance of seeing families of elephants. I recommend that instead of taking the safari.
Next I headed to Edakkal caves where there are inscriptions in the caves by ancients who were residing there. The ascent to the top was a steady uphill task of nearly a kilometer.
Once I reach the top I have to climb up some rocks and then a steep set of staircases to the cave sites where the inscriptions would be. No mobile photography is allowed in the cave site containing the inscriptions so unfortunately could not take any pics here as I had only a mobile cam. Once I reach the caves I see lot of inscriptions on one side of the rocks covered with moss. There is a guide in the caves but he is not very visible. So in case you want help to interpret the readings, ask the security person who will be standing there and he will point you to the guide. With the guides help you could try to decode the inscriptions which will be interesting. The script is Tamil brahmi and Sanskrit. It talks about Nandu the tiger hunter who was considered a hero by those residing in the caves. The inscriptions are one of the oldest in the world.
The journey downhill is also very steep and not as easy a task. I had bamboo payasam on the way down. I thought it was a hot soothing addition to the drizzling rain.
Once I reached the bottom, my cab driver led me to an elephant safari. Here I met an elephant called lakshimi who is 25 years old. As a consolation for not being able to see an elephant on the Muthanga safari I decided to go for an elephant ride here. Lakshmi I learn soon is unwell. She is sick with dysentery which her handler said she got from eating sugarcane. He said that they are treating her with an ayurvedic lehiyam. I hope she gets better soon. After the ride I got a kilo of bananas and gave it to her which she gladly accepted.
Wayanad history museum:
This is a small museum with about 4 rooms showing sculptures from excavations dating from 14th century AD and the tools used by the ancients. Initially it was boring to me and I was just quickly going in and out of the rooms and would have finished off the sights in 10 minutes, but a friendly worker came in. She started explaining what each sculpture represents. There were dancing men and women, woman being buried alive with her dead husband, the story of wars and where the dead soldiers go etc. She explained how and why the utensils and tools were used. These stories made the museum very interesting.
I still had a few more hours to kill before I board my bus back to Chennai and my cab driver suggested we go to phantom rock. We trekked for about ½ km and came across this rock which has a shape roughly of a head and hence called the phantom. We saw another group getting closer to the rock and hence we followed them. Getting closer to the rock involves some climbing, and then we could go no further without risking. There were some brave hearts who had climbed up to the phantom face some time ago and carved their names on it. But we would not take that risk as the rocks are steep and the fall will be to the valleys below. We stood at the base of the rock and looked at the view around.
As we headed back through the tall plantations I wondered if there were any snakes around as my aunt told me that wayanad has the highest concentration of king cobras in the world. My cab driver confirmed it and said that to scare the snakes, one has to stomp the ground. This would create vibration that would keep snakes away. We stomped our way back to the gate:p, not sure if that did keep some snakes away.
This huge tree has got some historic significance for Wayanad and is protected by the tourism department. The story goes that an Adivasi had shown a british engineer the way to get to wayanad from the adivaram. The british engineer greedy to have the whole bounty of the discovery for himself, tied the poor adivasi to this tree and shot him dead. Now there is a huge chain around one branch of the tree which represents the supernatural part of the story. The restless ghost of the adivasi used to trouble the passerbys of this road. Hence the natives enlisted the help of a manthravadhi ( a magician) who chained the ghost to this tree. There is a muneeswaran koil at the bottom of the tree which I’m not sure if it is a tribute to this adivasi. However the place seemed to be peaceful, so if the story was to be believed, the adivasi’s ghost has finally found rest.
Lakkidi view point:
This was the last attraction I saw on the way out of Wayanad. The lakkidi viewpoint shows the breath taking view of the valleys below and of the hairpin bends that paves the way to wayanad. After spending a few minutes here I proceeded to make my way to Calicut.
After reaching Calicut I take a bus out from here to Chennai at 5 PM, an overnight journey. I wished I had stayed a couple of days more so that I could cover trek to chembra peak and visit to the waterfalls. But there will always be another time for that. Wayanad has a lot of greenery to offer visitors. The place though is very touristy, still retains the rustic natural charm. It is not that high in altitude like ooty or munnar, but there are some splendid views which you can get lost into.
To get to Wayanad, the closest point is Calicut. Buses, trains and flights reach Calicut which is also called Kozhikode. From Calicut, it is a 2 hour drive up to Wayanad which can be done in a cab. The cab can be booked through the hotel/resort, or one can rent a car from Calicut perhaps.
Some of the attractions like ekkadal caves, waterfalls involve trekking uphills and climbing rocks. May not be suitable for small kids and older adults
Make sure to have the kerala parotta. You can never go wrong with them here. Places to dine here are coffee grove in Vythiri, Jubilee in Sultan battery, White house between Calicut and wayanad