We wanted to visit a place which was cool, peaceful and in some ways connected to nature. What we had not bargained for was that we could get a lot more when we decided to visit Wayanad 282 kilometers from Bangalore. We did not in our dreams anticipate that we will trek the hills, go back to Neolithic period and completely get rejuvenated visiting temples amidst Brahmagiri hills.
Wayanad which literally means city of paddy fields welcomes you with coconut, tea, coffee plantations and off course the paddy fields. The spice filled air is enough for you to sense the mystery and adventure here. Located amidst the Western Ghats it is quite a popular place yet not much toured like Ooty or Kodaikanal.
Few facts about Wayanad:
Out of 7 lakh population of Wayanad 32% are tribes. This large population of aborigine people comprise of old tribes like Paniyas, Adiyas, Kattunayakans, Kurichiyans. Their settlements are mostly in deep forests and in kurvadweep islands.
A little peep in to the history of this place provided us with wonderful insights that Wayanad was ruled by Rajas of Veda tribe, Pazhassi Rajah of Kottayam dynasty, Hyder Ali and Tipu and finally the British. These rulings have left traces in Wayanad. The British for example built roads and introduced tea and other cash crops. The sultan Bathery near Wayand was the ammunition dump of Tipu and Edakkal caves in Wayand is living testimony to the Neolithic era with its strange and sinister symbols. Pazhassi Rajah’s tomb located at Mananthavady is the place where the Rajah took refuge until the British captured him.
If this is not enough, you will also see a Lava-Kusha temple in this place. This has a pond near it which is said to be Sita’s tears. The tears were said to have fallen in this place when Ravana, King of Lanka forcefully abducted her and took her to Lanka. It is believed that Rama also visited this place when he was returning back to Ayodhya.
The journey en route:
We did not know all this of course when we set out from Bangalore. We were taking the route Bangalore-Mysore-Gundalpet- Sultan Bathery. The 5 hour drive was pleasant with no traffic jams at all. En route we passed through Jnanapada Loka the city of toys, Ramnagar the silk city and sugar city Mandya. Rows of hibiscus and different colors of bougainvillea like pink, yellow and white smiled at us from either side of the road.
When we reached Gundalpet we were greeted with rows of fresh vegetables. Farmers were selling it just in front of their fields. After some time the air became cooler when we entered the Bandipur sanctuary area. Project tiger has ensured a lot of tigers in Bandipur and it is also home to around 5000 wild elephants. We were lucky to see tuskers and deers when we passed through.
As our home stay was in Mepadi we crossed Sultan Bathery and reached Kalpetta the main town in Wayand and then finally Nadumuttu our home-stay in Mepadi. This home stay was set amidst tea estate and was surrounded by mist covered hills. The view from our room showed a church on top of the mountain, a mosque and the faint background of Chembra peak; one of the highest peak in Wayanad at 2100 meters covered with mist.
After a sumptuous lunch of papads, bitter gourd pakodas, dal, curry and pickles we set out to see soojipura waterfalls.
Soojipura falls–> The 15 minutes short drive was beautiful with tea and coffee estates on either sides and yellow wild lily on the hills. During December you can see both white as well as yellow lilies here. In fact we saw an entire hill covered with these flowers.
In soojipura we walked 1.5 kms to the water fall and the roar of the falls could be heard when we reached near it. Though this waterfall is not the largest nevertheless the sight of it inspired us no less. When we got down to have a view it was as if thousands of pearls were falling down the rocks. Cascading through the rocks it joins Chaliyar river and then from there to Arabian Sea in Calicut. After an hour or so playing in the waterfalls we headed back.
Going back we had fresh tea from one of the shops. I say fresh because I believe that the tea was prepared from the tea estate just next to me. It was a memorable experience what with the mist covered hills front of us and the scent of tea leaves overpowering our senses. We ended the day by having a walk around the tea estate. In my eyes only one word to describe those tea estates; awesome.
All the different varieties of tea that we drink be it Assam, Darjeeling or other varieties comes from a single plant Camellia Sinensis. First these beautiful tea leaves are spread in the rack to reduce moisture, then they are rolled to break their juices, and then the fermentation process starts. After that to lock the flavor they are passed through hot air chambers and finally they are graded. Wow so much effort for my 1 cup of morning tea. The walk in the tea hills regenerated me just as a hot cup of ginger tea would have done
On reaching our home stay we realized that the owners had their own coffee estate. Their plantations like all others in wayanad had pepper and coffee beans together. Tea on the other hand has these silver oak trees in between it. As they had their own coffee supply we decided to have coffee and our decision did not go waste. Every drop of the coffee was worth it.
After having a sumptuous breakfast of Idli, sambhar and chutney we set out to see Pookut Lake.
On the way we saw the famous chain tree which was supposed to be the abode of a guide’s soul who was killed by a British. As the soul was causing a lot of trouble it was chained to a tree. Travelers drop in a penny at this place.
Pookut and Banasura dam –> Pookut Lake is a fresh water lake surrounded by dense forests and hills on either side. Boat ferrying, children’s park and shops selling various artifacts are the other attractions here. In these shops you get gooseberries dipped in pure honey and spices like lavancha root (Vetiveria) which can be added in water to aid digestion. There are also bamboo crafts made by tribals.
After the scenic water body and walk in the woods we set out to visit Banasura dam. Banasura is the second largest earth dam after china. Made of mud the dam is one of the successful earth dam projects. Here too you need to walk 2 kilometers to the dam. But the walk in the woods is worth it.
Banasura Lake is a catchment area for water coming from the surrounding steams and water falls arising in the hills. There are 32 small islands here which you can see when you speedily go in the speed boat. The scenery is so beautiful with lake surrounded by hills on all sides. Nearby there is a park full of jackfruit trees and wooden swings. A swing here gives you the feeling of being a kid again with no worries. After all where is the time to worry when watching the lazy swans in the deep blue waters and swinging to your heart’s content?
We then set out to view Lakkidi the gateway of Wayand which is situated at an elevation of 700m. It gets the second highest rainfall in the world. From here you can view the narrow winding roads cutting across mist clad hills.
After the panoramic view our next stop was Kurvadweep an island of 950 acres of forest and Kabini River flowing near by.
Here if you are lucky you can view some rare varieties of birds. If you love to be cut off from the world and would like to spend your day rowing in boats and rafts and crossing some 19 small islands then this island is for you. You can happily walk through the woods, listen to the creaking of bamboos, walk on wooden bridges, see tribal settlements and bath in the river streams and spend about 3-4 hours here.
Thirunelli –>Our final destination for the day was Thirunelli temple which is situated in between the Brahmagiri hills and is actually a famous Vishnu temple. This temple has many interesting legends connected with it and it is believed that lord of the creation Brahma dedicated this temple to Vishnu the savior.
As this temple opens only at 5.30 P.M we set out to have some snacks nearby. We had some tasty ripe banana pakodas and ended it with the famous Wayanad light tea. We then set out to see Panchatheertha in Thirunelly. 5 streams from hills come down via rock channels and joins to form pancha (meaning 5) theertha (lake). These five theerthas are represented in the centre of the lake as 5 parts of Vishnu namely Shankha (conch), Chakra (wheel), Padma (lotus), Gada (mace) and Pada (Vishnu’s feet).
Further up the Thirunelly hills there is a cave temple called Gundika Siva temple which has a small pond nearby called Gundika theertha. It is said that sage Agastya stayed in this cave and did his penance. Higher up you have the steam Papanashini flowing down the hills. It is said that a dip here releases you of all sins. A wild squirrel high above the trees signaled us to go wash our sins in the water and we did just that. The cool water was very refreshing and calmed our tired senses. We then set out to see the Thirunelli temple.
Some interesting legends: The story behind the temple is an interesting one. Once when Brahma was passing by he was impressed by the beauty of Brahmagiri hills. He saw a Vishnu idol in a gooseberry tree and when he closed his eyes and opened them again the idol had disappeared. When he meditated he got the answer from Vishnu. The god said, “Please establish a temple here. As long as the hills and rivers exist my presence will be here”. So Brahma established the temple and did the first pooja there. Even today before the closure of the temple the head priest will arrange for all the pooja materials and it is believed that Brahma will do a pooja there in the midnight.
The story behind the name Thirunelly is also interesting. Once upon a time three Brahmins were traveling for many days to visit the temple. After walking a lot they were tired and hungry and they prayed to Vishnu to help them. The god showered them with gooseberries or nelli in Malayalam. So they called the place “Thirunelli”. Another important legend associated with this temple is that of Parashurama. Parashurama killed his mother when his father bade him to. After her death he was besotted with grief and wanted to purify himself. He performed many poojas and visited many holy places. But his grief did not lessen. Finally when he dipped himself in the waters of Papanashini it is said that he was finally at peace with himself.
So visit this temple not only to see the beautiful idol of Vishnu but also for all its legends, mysteries and scenic beauty. Surrounded by beautiful hills you will be mesmerized to see the flora and fauna in its entire splendor. Further up the hills you can see Pakshipathalam, a 7 hour trek which is a beautiful place full of birds. You need a permit to get up there though.
Edakkal caves –> The next day our plan was to cover Edakkal caves and head back home. So after a breakfast of traditional puttu a dish made of rava, rice and coconut we headed out to Edakkal caves. On the way we stopped at Wayanad heritage museum. It is a place worth visiting with its display of tools and artifacts from 14 century AD. There are hero stones, dancers, writers, goddess of fertility and Nandi the bull of Siva displayed here. You get to see the beads, ornaments of tribals, bow and arrows used during hunting in the stone ages and some beautiful pottery too. All in all a worthy place to visit which takes you back to 14th century AD people and their lifestyle.
Our next stop was Edakkal which literally means stone in between. The cave is formed by a heavy boulder causing a fissure in the rock. Light enters the cave through a gap at the right hand corner of the roof. It is said that lord Krishna shot the boulder of rock an arrow from the opposite hill causing a great rift.
The special engravings on the walls of the cave will hold you spell bound. The oldest writings are in Sanskrit and date back to fifth century AD. There are strange symbols made by new Stone Age people which have similarity to the rock cravings found in Styrian Alps. These mysterious engravings have caught the interests of archeologists from around the world. Swastika, sun symbols, magic squares, men and women in head gear, tigers etc are depicted here. Did devil worship go on here? Or was it some kind of meeting place? Or do all those symbols point towards something else? These mysteries are yet unsolved.
To reach the 2 major caves of Edakkal you will have to walk 2 kilometers or so and trek for an hour up the hill. Major shops in Edakkal sell beautiful bamboo crafts, coffee studs, rain makers (bamboos making a pitter-patter sound similar to rain fall) etc which are yours at a low cost if you know how to bargain.
Other places which you can see are Jain temples at Sultan Bathery, Sita temple at Pulpally, Pazhassi tomb, Meenamutty falls and of course the wild life sanctuary at Muthanga or Bandipur. Due to lack of time we could not cover these. A trek to Pakshipathalam and Chembra peaks is something which you should not miss either.
So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and head out to this beautiful destination which is guaranteed to be a complete holiday package. The essence of a holiday in Wayand remains even after you return from this place sometimes for months together.
How to get there?
You have plenty of KSRTC buses from Bangalore to Kalpet or SultanBattery both of which are major towns of Wayanad.Or you can get down at Mysore and catch a direct bus to Wayanad.
If you wish to travel by train then you must book a train to Kozhikode railway station which is 110 kilometers
from Wayanad. From here you can book a taxi to help you reach Wayanad.
If you plan to drive then take the Bangalore mysore highway pass Gundalpet, Munthanga and finally SultanBattery.
Where to stay:
Check out wayanad home stays to experience Kerala culture in true style. The home stays are warm, friendly and provide yummy home food which is much healthier than the restaurants of Wayanad. Check out
http://www.wayanadhomestays.com/ for more details.