The faces on the field were unrecognisable, their clothes and age obscured by layers of mud. Despite the shin-high slush, they ran with remarkable agility, shouting instructions, names and curses, their eyes focused on a brown ball being kicked around, creating caramel-coloured fountains in the muddy waters. They chased one another, blocking, tackling even slipping and falling into the muck as spectators stood screaming and cheering along the short bunds surrounding the rectangular playing field. Football in Kerala has always been a craze, but nothing beats the euphoric frenzy of mud football in Wayanad.
Nearly a decade ago, Wayanad was still coming to grips with its branding issues. A tourism official lamented that bus signs would read Bangalore to Kalpetta, Sulthan Batheri or Manathavady, while “Wayanad” largely remained a nebulous hill district somewhere in Kerala. The Wayanad Laughing Thrush, a dull brown nondescript bird not very easy to spot, was hardly a good mascot.
Today, through its relentless efforts, the Wayanad Tourism Organisation (WTO), a consortium of hotels, homestays and hospitality partners, has elevated the region into one of India’s most sought-after destinations. Strategically located at the tri-junction of Kozhikode, Coorg and the Nilgiris, Wayanad owes its popularity to several reasons — prehistoric sites like Edakkal Caves, wildlife zones at Muthanga and Tholpetty, trekking trails to Chembra and Banasura, popular waterfalls like Meenmutty and Soochipara, hoary shrines like Thirunelly, Kottiyoor and Valiyoorkavu, Uravu’s intriguing bamboo handicrafts, proximity to Bangalore and Mysore but above all, stunning resorts in the midst of nature. Often the drive to a mountain retreat is as incredible as the place itself.
Five years ago, when WTO introduced Wayanad Splash, the concept of rediscovering Kerala in the rains took root. This unique festival celebrates Rain Tourism, making the most daunting and dormant period of the year more marketable. This year tour operators, media and travel experts came together at Kalpetta between July 12 and July 14) to experience and promote the monsoon carnival.
Living up to its name as wayal nadu or land of paddy fields, a football pitch was specially prepared in an empty rice field at Hill District Club near Kolagapara and people are encouraged to get down and dirty and participate in sports like mud football or kabbadi! Guests can also try their hand at farm-related activities with competitions in indigenous expertise like paddy transplantation, climbing the slipper tree, catching crabs and archery! WTO also arranges local experiences like elephant safaris.
Offroad rallying, another adventure sport organised in association with Jeep Club Wayanad, lures participants from all over India. Adrenalin junkies came to test their driving prowess and pushed their SUVs, jeeps, Gypsys and quad bikes to their limit over mountainous tracts. Since it is a time when streams and waterfalls are swollen, adventure lovers indulged in the thrills of river rafting in bamboo rafts at Kuruvadweep Island or zip-lining at Vythiri Village.
Local outdoor outfit Muddy Boots organised activities that included kayaking, river crossing, hiking, cycling and biking in Wayanad and nearby districts of Coorg and Nilgiris, catering to families, groups and corporates.
Being a hilly terrain, many resorts offer trekking opportunities. Don leech guards and embark on a trek to Banasura Hill overlooking India’s largest earth dam or scale Chembra Peak, the highest mountain in Wayanad with a mist-covered heart-shaped lake.
Lakkidi, atop Thamrasseri Ghat on the district’s western border, acts like a gateway to Wayanad. Stop by the unusual Chain Tree to pay your respects to Karinthandan, a young tribal killed by a British engineer after the former told him about a secret route across the once treacherous pass. When Karinthandan’s spirit started haunting travellers, his soul was pacified and chained to a large ficus that came to be known as Chain Tree.
Those overwhelmed by the bouquet of monsoon activities on offer can unwind in the comforts of plush resorts set in the picturesque corners of Wayanad.
From plantation bungalows and traditional cottages to eco-resorts with private waterfalls, one is clearly spoilt for choice.
Kalpetta, the district headquarters of Wayanad, is located on NH-212 that connects Kozhikode to Mysore and is 280 km (six hours) from Bangalore.
The nearest airport is Kozhikode International Airport at Karipur, 88 km away.
Wayanad’s annual rainfall averages 2300 mm with Lakkidi receiving the second highest rainfall in the country. The southwest monsoon stretches from June to September and the northeast monsoon from October to November.
Contact: Wayanad Tourism Organisation at www.wayanad.org, >www.wayanadsplash.com