road less travelled Travel

Solitude in the hills

Banasura Hill

Banasura Hill  

Banasura in north Wayanad is a great getaway if you like the idea of a solo trek, a picnic with friends or just some moments of peace

I love rains and the smell of wet earth but not when the sun is about to set and I am 45 km away from my destination, caught in a traffic jam. A heavy downpour set me back by three hours on a Friday evening and I dreaded driving up the ghat section to reach Banasura in north Wayanad. Most tourists stop at the southern tip — Lakkidi, the gateway to Wayanad — or at Vythiri, another eight km away on NH 212.

But I am in north Kerala to explore a non-touristy part of Wayanad. With a mild drizzle for company, I successfully drove up the Thamarassery Ghat Pass around nine hairpin bends from Adivaram to Lakkidi and felt like a conqueror. But at the entrance to Wayanad, I was stuck. The world seemed to have stopped by; I had never seen so many cars and buses parked and hundreds of people floating around on a hill road. I moved inch by inch on a slope. The valley to my right was 700 metres below, swathed in hazy sunshine.

A double rainbow

Then, in a flash, sun rays tore open the light of the evening bringing along a double rainbow. In a picture-perfect setting, the delightful spectrum of light peeped out from behind one jagged hill in the distance and passed into another. It was a sight to behold and I was told Lakkidi, also known as Cherrapunjee of Kerala, is the hotspot for sighting rainbows.

Solitude in the hills

Soon, rain turned to mist and shrouded the nearby hills and the vehicles began to move. My journey to Banasura resumed. Almost two hours later, in the darkness of the night I could see the silhouette of a large conical hill and there seemed to be no beyond. At the foothill is the beautiful Banasura Hill Resort, dubbed as Asia’s largest mud haven. “When you wake up in the morning, you will be thrilled to discover how close you are to the wonders of nature,” promised Swapna Nair, operations and marketing in-charge of the boutique property.

By the time I woke up the sun was shining bright. The mist-clad Banasura Hill, the second highest in Wayanad, towered over the resort resembling an elephant’s trunk. One could see miles of wilderness stretching in a soothing display of green grandeur. Puffs of grey and white clouds floated across the blue sky. Following a sumptuous breakfast in the outdoors to the chucking of a woodpecker, I was all set to trek up the Banasura Hill. A healthy pair of lungs and a good pair of shoes is all that you require to get going on the track, taking in the scent of the luscious foliage. I was slow as the initial gradient was slippery from previous night’s rains. Soon the grassy meadows changed the high mountain landscape to idyllic. As I moved into the forest on hillside, the guide told me if I don’t walk fast, it would take me another four hours to walk six kms to the top.

Solitude in the hills

I loved the solitude on the long stretches of the trail and felt reaching the top was within reach. What made the imposing yet spectacular scenery of Banasura Hill so attractive was its accessibility. On many hill tops, we tire out and feel satisfied if our camera does a good job. But at Banasura, you can be a part of the great outdoors without fear or fatigue. You don’t have to worry about being out of shape or take the challenge of reaching the peak. You can be content seeing and hearing in abundance the birds, butterflies and insects here. The vivacious chatter is an experience in itself and the combination of fresh air and walking changes your mood. Watch out for leeches in the rainy season.

Solitude in the hills

By noon, I descended to visit the Banasura Falls. According to Swapna, the entire Banasura region in the Nilgiris ecosphere, including the property, comes under the UNESCO World Heritage destination. Is that why strolling in Banasura, which incidentally is also the name of the son of the Kerala king Mahabali in whose honour Onam festivities are held, is so refreshing and relaxing? The Banasura Falls curves off into a gurgling stream and meanders over rocks and pebbles and beneath the luxuriant vegetation. A small picnic by the stream is a great way to unwind.

I go for the three km nature trail within 40 acres of the resort, walking through coffee, cashew, areca nut and pepper plantations, tea estates, herbal and gooseberry gardens, and past silver oak and variety of bamboo trees, huts on stilts, a huge rock in the shape of an elephant. Its vastness and isolation from city life — mobiles work only at some points — makes you feel at peace. As long as the weather is cooperative, you can let go of all your real world tensions.

Go ahead and discover something new about yourself. It’s good for the mind, body and soul.

How to reach

If coming from Madurai, go to Dindigul. Turn left to Palani-Pollachi-Palakkad to Mannarkkad. Turn right towards Manjeri to Pandikad-- Areakode-Mukkam-Thamarassery. Turn right towards Mysore-Engapuzha- Adivaram cross nine hair pin bends to reach Lakkidi.

From Bangalore, take the road to Mysore to Sulthanbathery or Mananthavady. From Kozhikode, one can take the Thamarassery–Lakkidi Ghat road, a part of NH 212 that connects south of Kozhikkode and rest of Kerala with Wayanad.

Lakkidi to Banasura is 45 km. Once you reach Lakkidi, drive up 10 km Vythiri and turn left to Padinjarathara Road via Banasura dam. Then to Vellamunda to Punlinjal to Banasura Hill.

Calicut has the nearest railway station and airport.

Where to stay

Though Wayanad has properties for all budgets, the Banasura Hill Resort offers one of the best locations. The 28 earthern cottages (₹19000 plus taxes), 40 rooms (₹7000 plus taxes), seven newly-built independent cottages/suites (₹17000 inclusive of tax) are built to blend into the surrounding verdant landscape.

Things to do

Obtain permission from North Wayanad Forest Division office at Mananthavady to trek up Banasura Hill. If you are staying at Banasura Hill Resort, the staff helps with the permission and the trekking path starts from the hotel’s vicinity.

The Banasura Dam, the largest earth dam in India and the second largest of its kind in Asia, is another point from where one can begin the trek. Along this route, pass by another thunderous waterfall called Meenmutty. Active trekkers and fit walkers can climb to the top of the hill in three to four hours.

The Bansaura Dam is made up of massive stacks of stones and boulders. It is about 15 km from the resort and 21 km from Kalpetta, Wayanad. A tourist attraction with a well manicured park and solar panels, people mostly go for speed boating at the dam.

Visit Pookot lake, Pazhassi or Eddakkal caves or Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary.

Zip lining facilities are available from two private operators.

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 3:35:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/banasura-in-north-wayanad-is-a-great-getaway-if-you-like-the-idea-of-a-solo-trek-a-picnic-with-friends-or-just-some-moments-of-peace/article19761856.ece

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