Zenobia Khaleel revisits Wayanad after 15 years to find many more hidden gems
Having grown up in the foothills of Wayanad, my childhood summers weren’t complete without a mandatory trip to Wayanad in a Mahindra jeep filled with an assortment of cousins. The major highlights of the trip included counting the treacherous hairpin bends of the Wayanad Ghats, paddling your boat round the Pookott Lake, and a drive through the Muthanga animal reserve. Visiting Wayanad after 15 years, I was ecstatic to find that it had many more hidden gems to offer.
For the adventure buff, the greatest adrenalin rush lies in the path that leads to Wayanad — the steep inclined terrain. The pothole-ridden roads (or the lack of it) provide the greatest rollercoaster ride of your life. As your car bumps and jolts during each sharp curve through the narrow jagged path, which hugs the mighty mountain, and the coastal plains lying 1000 m below, you make a silent prayer for yourself and your shock absorber.
Owing to the infinite number of waterfalls, you cannot do justice to all, but the ones you cannot afford to miss are the Meenmutty and the Soochipara. Meenmutty is the biggest waterfall in Wayanad and the sight of this 300-m three-tier vision is worth every minute of the intense two hour jungle trek you endure to get there. Soochipara, quite literally, is a silver needle gushing from stark black rock. You can wade in the shallow pools that lead into the falls, and as you dip your feet in its translucent waters, you feel the velvety stones and the tadpoles brushing your toes. Or you can get breathlessly drenched right under the thundering canopy of the falling water.
Edakkal (the stone in the centre) describes the formation of the Edakkal caves when a huge boulder was providentially placed in the cleft of a mountain rock. As sunlight streams into the cave walls, it sheds light on prehistoric wall etchings dating back to the Harrappan culture, the only signs of prehistoric civilization discovered in the whole of south India. As you gaze at the mossy etchings (petroglyphs) depicting humans, animals, implements, etc., you wonder what message this Neolithic epic is trying to convey to you.
Wayanad is also home to the largest indigenous tribal settlement in Kerala. These aborigines, known as adivasis, have a proud military history and have been instrumental in King Pazhasshi Raja’s guerrilla warfare against the British. They are also the guardians of a treasure trove of holistic medicines and cures.
At 2,100 m, the grand Chembra peak guards over the Wayanad valley like a lofty sentinel. A trek to the top can give you a day filled with nature’s glory, a year’s worth of cardio workout and a lifetime full of memories to cherish. Traffic rules should be observed as you share the trail with cowherds guiding their bovine companions to graze, the wooden cowbells clanging harmoniously with the mysterious jungle rhythm. As the slope gets steeper, you pass by the tea pickers busily plucking away at the plantations. Near the summit lies a heart-shaped lake, which is rumoured to never dry up even in the harshest of summer. You may be tempted to plunge right into it, till you spot a rat snake swimming into its crystal depths. On the summit, your lungs and your spirit get invigorated as they taste the first wisps of the virginal air and the panoramic view stretches across the whole valley and beyond to the distant Nilgiris.
For me, the most dazzling hidden gem of Wayanad was the Banasura Sagar dam. This is the largest earth dam in India and is created by the waters of the Kabbini river. The dam and its catchment area are dotted with tiny islands, abounding with foliage. Tree limbs jut out of the water, some still erect, while others float by. The Chembra and its sister peaks provide a gorgeous backdrop to this amazing scene. A half hour trail through the dense leech-infested slopes, lead you to this water body. But your daring is rewarded by the incredible sense of tranquility that envelops you as this atmosphere seeps into your senses.