Wayanad, Feel Nature like Never Before

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference

– Robert Frost

Wayanad: The moment I said Wayanad, I had been asked not to miss Chembra, Soochippara, Phantom rock, Muthanga sanctuary and many such wonderful but ‘usual’ places in a travel itinerary. But, before even planning the trip, I had decided to give such places a miss. Yes, I chose places off the beaten track, and was rewarded with a treasure trove of virgin and enchanting spots in Wayanad.

Wayanad is like a deep tunnel; the more you explore, greater the chances of you finding something new. And, that is the charm of this place. As Harish M, an avid traveller from Wayanad, aptly pointed out: “There are some locations which remain hidden from the travellers. After visiting such places, one can take back just memories and forget the name of the place and the location details.” There is a very important message in what he says; once a place is open to the public, it slowly loses its charm.

This is my fifth trip to Wayanad but it never fails to excite me. This place has many hidden treasure troves waiting to be explored and it is the way Wayanad is.

When I met K Raveendran, founder member of Wayanad Tourism Organisation (WTO), who also runs Pranavam Homestay, one of the first homestays in Wayanad, he voiced his concerns about the careless travellers who, he feels, are a threat to the environment of Wayanad. He said WTO members have decided to skip the usual locations and introduced their own small village tours and other adventure tourism activities joining hands with Muddy Boots, an organisation run by two young entrepreneurs, which offers zipline, kayaking, trekking, camping, cycling and other such activities in select areas of Wayanad.

With plantations blanketing its hills, and paddy fields spread over its valleys, Wayanad, which rubs shoulders with Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, is coloured in the greenest of greens. This idyllic place has of late transformed into a weekend getaway for techies from India’s Silicon Valley, Bengaluru, who come looking for some adventure.

“Wayanad has been considered as a weekend destination, but there are a lot of hidden treasures in this place, which need more days to explore in detail. If we look at the international tourists who flock to Wayanad and their itineraries, we can easily understand why they are undertaking a long-duration vacation rather than a weekend,’’ says Dr. B S Thirumeni IAS, District Collector, Wayanad.

Wayanad is a feast to the eyes of every visitor who is tired of the sights of concrete jungles, blinding city lights and traffic snarls. Bordered by Ooty, Mysore, Kannur and Kozhikode districts, the misty environs of Wayanad offer a wide range of trekking opportunities, plantation visits and wildlife tours. If you like adventure and want to spend the day, and even the evenings, enjoying leisure pursuits, you will not be disappointed here. Wayanad is not just for those who want to relax quietly.

As I was journeying up along the winding road, I could see luxuriant plantations of coffee, tea, cardamom, pepper and rubber strewn all over the surrounding hills. The wonderful aroma of herbs made me feel relaxed by melting away the stress. Lofty peaks, mist-clad hills and valleys, large rocks, gurgling streams, luxuriant forests, waterfalls and fruit orchards that constantly disappear and reappear in the mist added magic to the journey. My destination was Kalpetta, which can be called the heart of Wayanad as many of the places are easily accessible from here.

Day one started with me trying my hand at some adventures at Karlad, which is located at Tariod, 16 km west of Kalpetta. Kayaking, rock climbing, paintball, archery, boating and land zorbing are all part of the experience here, and it also has the longest zipline across a lake in South India. Zipline is something that everyone should try here especially if you are scared of heights. This is the place where you can get rid of all your inhibitions and phobias, and after the activity one will come out refreshingly different. The camp also houses a conference hall and several camping tents, making it a great offbeat location for corporate trips. Apart from the zipline activity what I liked the most was a stroll along the quiet camping site. A two minutes’ walk from the entrance and you find yourself in the shades of an unknown tree, an ideal place to sit and meditate. After the much-testing zipline activity, it was quite a relief to sit under the shades. But I had to get up in 30 minutes and was off to two small but spectacular hills – Kaattukunnu and Saippukunnu in the Banasura hill ranges.

Kaattukunnu literally means wind hills and Saippukunnu, foreigner hills. After a brief stopover at the largest earth dam in India, Banasura Sagar Dam, I headed straight to Vaarambatta Vana Samrakshana Samithi to take permission to climb up the two hills. The climb starts from near Meenmutty waterfalls, an excellent base to commence the trekking expedition to Kaattukunnu. On the way up, I came across Bappanamthodu, a small creek, which has refreshingly cool water. It is from here the actual climb starts and all I could see was grass as tall as six feet and no trekking path. But, believe me, once you start climbing, you will never regret choosing the path and even ignore the muscle cramps. What awaits you up there is the sight of unimaginably lush greenery all around, the spectacular hill of Banasura, the dam and the lake – a view which is worth all the pain. After taking in as much fresh air as possible, I lay down on the hill – the magic conversation with the nature and that feeling of not being scared knowing that the only human soul in the whole area is just you, is really something which cannot be expressed through words. The Saippukunnu seemed very near from where I stood, but it is almost three km of trekking. After a lot of jumping, crawling and all those Tarzan acts, I landed up at the three stones, which gave Saippukunnu its name. The myth is that the three stones are a foreigner couple and their child/pet who were cursed for some reason and became stones. It is good to spend some time with the ‘foreigner couple’, and after a deep conversation over a cup of green tea (which I had carried with me), I was told by the couple that the third stone is their pet dog.

After finishing trekking for the day, I went off to Kunkichira lake, via Kunhome, which is a beautiful eco-tourist spot surrounded by thick Periya Reserve forest. It is bordered by forest on one side and by different plantations on other sides. A statue of Kunki, the tribal woman who supported Pazhassi Raja, can also be seen in the middle of the lake. Kunkichira is a bird watchers’ paradise. A stroll along the forest boundaries will take you to a huge ground which looks double the size of a cricket stadium, where you can find enormous varieties of birds. It was a very memorable evening sitting in the solitude of Kunkichira with mist all around.

Day two started with a trek to the nearby Mayilaadippara, which was a secret place suggested by Harish M, a travel enthusiast from Wayanad. On the Kalpetta Bypass road, just after Hotel Paradise, I could see the towering Mayilaadippara. You are sure to miss the trekking path if you are not looking very closely. Climbing trying to clutch all the tiny grass and shrubs on the way, it was a difficult hike. But the view you can enjoy from the top will melt all your worries.

The next destination was Thollaayiram, Wayanad’s best kept secret. Just after Kalladi Makham on the Soochippara road from Meppadi is where this treasure trove is situated. Thollaayiram can be accessed only on a two-wheeler or a four-wheeler. I opted to walk as there were no four-wheelers available. Though the climb is a bit tough, I assure you that you will never get tired walking through the dense forest, with mist all around at 12 in the noon. I could see elephant trails and a group of spotted deer on the way. Spectacular views are awaiting you at every bend, and when you reach the top, you will realise what is supreme bliss. Thollaayiram is a never-miss place. With a heavy heart, I left the place and headed for Chooralmala – Mundakkai area. I had no set plans to go to a particular place here and I was trying to be an explorer. On reaching the Mundakkai junction, I stopped and asked the local people whether there are any good places to see. Looking at the solo woman traveller, they said ‘no’ and added that there are no tourist spots around and all you have is thick, dense forest where you will come across wild elephants anytime, any moment.’ They were expecting me to return, but here I was on my way to meet the tuskers… The journey in search of the wild elephants was not a wrong decision at all. The rustic path and the winding roads, with coffee and cardamom plantations on both sides, the aroma of coffee, and the gurgle of a stream hidden somewhere, all provided a wonderful setting.

The plantations now gave way to think green forest and, there he was – my first sight of a wild elephant in this trip. He was staring at me, and to be frank, I was a bit scared and stood still holding my breath. This was my first close encounter with a tusker. I guess it got bored looking at me and moved back into its abode, and seeing this, I started moving further in the opposite direction. After a five-minute walk, I almost bumped into another one, which was a much closer encounter this time. There was no need for me to get scared because I was almost sure what was going to happen to me. He took a step towards me, nodded his head and there I was, the brave one, standing in front of him with eyes shut as if I was not willing to see what was going to happen to me. And, when I opened my eyes after what seemed to be ages, he was not there. I ran towards the base where my car was parked.

Though I had no energy left to explore any further, the sound of the stream which I had crossed on the way made me say yes to Seethammakkund, the deepest natural pond in Wayanad. I could see the towering Vellarimala on the other side of Seethammakkund. It was refreshing to spend some time at the place. And at dusk, when the mist from the hills above engulfs Seethammakkund, it feels like magic. It is a picture that will be etched in your heart forever.

Priyadarshini Tea Environs

After such an eventful day two, I decided to go all the way up to Priyadarshini Plantations at Mananthavady. Priyadarshini Tea Environs is a tea estate, tea factory, tea museum, forest reserve and tourist resort all rolled into one thrilling package. The 992 acres of Priyadarshini is fully manned by the youth selected from the tribal community and trained in community tourism.

The Vishwas Point Trek, which takes you to the highest point in Priyadarshini, is a popular trekking route. Thirunelli temple is easily accessible from this point. The project is aimed at rehabilitating bonded tribal labourers from the most backward tribes of Wayanad viz., Paniya and Adiya.

Meenmutty Waterfall

The cascading Meenmutty waterfalls, descending from a height of 300 metres in three tiers, is the largest and the most spectacular in Wayanad District. The falls can be reached by undertaking a two-km hike through the jungle from the main Ooty Road. Each of its three tiers requires a separate hike through a moist, deciduous forest. Paths and soft-trodden trails appear out of nowhere in the hills. That explains why walking, hiking and trekking are major activities in this area. The path is quiet dangerous, but the waterfalls is worth taking the risk.

How to Reach

Air: Nearest airport: Kozhikode (Karipur)

Rail: Nearest railway station: Kozhikode

Road: Well connected by roads from Kozhikode (distance: 97 kms);   Ghat (72 Km from Kalpetta), Ooty (120 Km from Kalpetta) and Mysore (140 Km from Kalpetta)

Where to Stay

  • CGH Earth’s Wayanad Wild at Lakkidi
  • Olives Homestay at Kalpetta
  • Priyadarshini Tea Environs at Mananthavady
  • Pranavam Homestay at Pozhuthana in Vythiri

Where & What to eat

  • 1980s for lunch (Kerala thali is special)
  • Wilton Restaurant at Sultan Bathery (Lunch and Dinner – perfect place if you are a non-vegetarian)
  • Malabar Restaurant at Vellamunda
  • Mintflower at Chungam
  • Coffee Grove at Vythiri for vegetarians
  • Ethnic Food Courts at Edakkal Caves and Pookkot Lake for tribal food