Stretching over rain wrapped forests and rolling hills, Wayanad in north-east Kerala is relatively overlooked by tourists, most of whom come seeking the solace of the backwaters in God's own Country. Wayanad offers an enviable assortment of experiences: from trekking and safaris to restorative massages and finding rainmakers, you will be spoilt for choice. Vast tracts in the flat heartland of Wayanad is under paddy plantation; as the land rises, the misty air gets loaded with the aroma of spice. Most of Wayanad's comparatively thin population comprises of tribals. The district has a rich diversity of wildlife and is home to the revered Thirunelli Temple.
Wayanad has numerous trekking opportunities, the best known of them being treks to Chembra Peak and Banasura Hills. Chembra, at 6800 ft, is Wayanad's highest peak. The trail winds up through forests, grasslands and tea estates to reach the misty summit. En route, one will be rewarded with views of the Hridaya Saras- a one-of-a-kind heart shaped lake. The Banasura Hills offer spectacular views of the Banasura Sagar Dam. The Meenmutti Waterfalls are on the way. A word of caution though- during the rainy season, the forests are infested with leeches.
Views on a trek in Wayanad (Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
The Wayanad Wildlife Safari comprises of Tholpetty in the north and Muthanga in the southeast. Being part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and a Project Elephant site, Muthanga offers excellent opportunities for elephant sightings. Species like Indian bison, deer, civet, panther, bear, monitor lizard and tiger inhabit the forests. Scattered hillocks mark the undulating terrain. Thick bamboo groves are predominant. Jeep safari is the best way to spot wildlife and explore the gorgeous forests.
Tiger at the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary (Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
Like the rest of Kerala, Wayanad has its fair share of temples. The Thirunelly Temple is one of the oldest in the subcontinent and is located 10 km from Tholpetty. The architecture boasts of an impressive series of intricately carved pillars. The Papanasini stream flows right behind the temple. It is said that a dip here washes away all sins. Access to the temple is prohibited for non-Hindus. The beautiful Jain Temple is located near Sultan Bathery. Tipu Sultan, in the 18th century, cleared the idol from the temple and used it to hide his ammunition.
Entrance to the Thirunelli Temple (Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
Pakshipathalam and Kuruvadweep are havens for serious bird watchers. With the species count over 350, both places offer numerous opportunities for bird-watchers. The dense virgin forests and rivulets of Pakshipathalam have a rich birdlife. A cave here has become a popular draw for tourist. Kuruvadweep, an uninhabited densely forested island in the Kabini river delta, is home to some rare species of birds and orchids. Malabar Grey Hornbill, herons, egrets, water ducks, peafowl, shrikes, eagles, cormorants, wagtails, rollers, pheasants, snipes and a large variety of other birds can be spotted here.
Peacock at Pakshipathalam (Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
The Edakkal Caves has etchings dating back to the Neolithic and Megalithic Ages. The caves are reachable after a one-kilometre hike through a coffee plantation. Ornate carvings of warriors, women and wild animals mark the walls. A sign in Brahmi script says, "I am here." There is a first century Pali inscription "Sri Buddha" and a 15th century Star of David. The trail winds up past the 4000 ft high caves to the top of the Ambukuthi Mountain.
Stone carvings at Edakkal Cave (Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
The forests of Wayanad abound in stories like the one of the haunted chain tree near Vythiri. According to legends, a young tribal youth named Karinthadan had agreed to guide a British Engineer through the Thamarassery Ghat. Unwilling to share credit for the discovery, he killed the native and his spirit started troubling any traveller on the route. Finally, a priest was hailed and he chained the spirit to a tree. The iron shackles can still be seen draped on the branches of the chain tree. Gods and ghosts all co-exist in peace in the woods of Wayanad. According to local mythology, the Thirunelli Temple was established by Lord Brahma as a divine centre to counterbalance all worldly excesses. Three of Lord Vishnu's avatars - Parasurama, Rama and Krishna- are said to have visited the temple.
The Chain Tree at Vythiri (Image Courtesy: HolidayIQ)
Served on banana leaves, the local cuisine of Wayanad is distinct from the rest of Kerala. Tapioca chips and bitter gourd fries are traditional snacks. Lunch, called sapaad, in the local tongue comprises of an all-you-can-eat fixed menu of rice, sambar, rasam, and a vegetable curry in coconut milk base, selection of endemic vegetable preparations, papaya, curd and pickle. Jaggery coated banana chips and panamas are served for dinner. The Wayanad cuisine is characterised by generous use of spices like pepper, cardamom, fennel etc alongside thick coconut milk. Local restaurants or tiffin rooms and homestays are the best places to savour the authentic food.
Sadhya meal served on banana leaf (Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
Vast stretches of rolling hills are carpeted with spice plantations and the best way to experience the flavours of Wayanad is to stay on one of them. Wake up to mornings watching the rays of sun chasing the mist off the hills. The panorama that opens up is majestic. The bouquet of cardamom, peppercorn, chilli, fennel, cinnamon and coffee permeates the moist air. Walking through the plantations along winding aisles is a great way to unwind. And remember to hoard enough spices on the way home! And for all ye chocolate lovers, Cadbury has a cocoa plantation here.
Unripe Coffee (Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
Nobody can beat Kerala when it comes to ayurvedic massages and Wayanad is no exception! Treat your inner goddess luxuriantly to a careful selection of oils and methods handed down over centuries. They have been proven to rejuvenate and restore your mind and function as great stress busters. The Santhigiri Ayurvedic Centre near Kalpetta is well renowned. Make sure you visit a certified centre and discuss your requirements with the practitioner.
Ayurvedic Massage (Image Courtesy: Flickr Commons)
The Soochippara Falls, a three-pronged cascade, is Wayanad's most beautiful. Meenmutti Falls near Vaduvanchal is one and a half kilometre hike from the road ahead. The 200 m high Sentinel Rock Waterfalls at Vellarimala cascades like a milky white tongue. Against a backdrop of pristine greenery, the falls appear strikingly gorgeous. The smaller Kanthapara Falls are located in stunning locales.
The Sentinel Rock Waterfalls (Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
The little town of Uravu has earned popularity as a bamboo processing and training design centre. Apart from the many products you can buy here, nothing stirs the curiosity more than the rain-maker, an instrument made of hollow bamboo with cereals inside that produces the sound of rain. Other items for sale include spice boxes, lampshades, handicrafts, innovative utility products, and binsi (a hollow reed that whistles when swung). The centre promotes rural artisans, women and tribals and helps sustain the local handicrafts.
Bamboo Work (Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
Kathakali, a stylized classical Indian dance-drama, originated in Kerala in the 17th century. Noted for its bright costumes, attractive make-up, graceful movements and gestures, Kathakali performances are a treat not only for the eyes but also for the soul. The heavy lilt of carnatic music and songs in the Manipravalam language exude an aura of mysticism. In earlier times, most of the performances were held in temples and the only source of light was a wicker lamp dunked in coconut oil. Dialogues are rare. Instead beautiful hand gestures, rhythmic movements and facial expressions entice the audience.
Kathakali Performance (Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
This oft overlooked slice of Kerala is sure to woo your heart. Pack your bags and get set for a taste of the heart of Kerala's hill county.
Article by: Mohana Das