Posted in Forests, Sahayadris, south india, travel

Wayanad – The forests of Kerala

Enroute – Wayanad , Kerala

8th – 12th October, 2014

Delhi – Kochi – Kohzikode – Wayanad – Kohzikode – Kochi – Delhi

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“Ladies & Gentlemen, Thank you for traveling with Air India.”  This is Captain Sunil Pillai & Pilot Rajat Batra along with our cabin crew from Delhi welcome you on board.  We request you to please keep the seat belt on as for the next one hour, we are going to experience continuous turbulence as we fly over the state of Andhra Pradesh.  It is because of the cyclone that has made landfall on the eastern coast today that we will be facing this turbulence.  The flight route that we are following today takes our plane from the city of Kochi, over Kozhikode, Madurai, Hyderabad, Gwalior, Agra to finally Delhi.  Let me also inform you that we will set a distance of 2250 kms in the next three hours. We are currently flying at an altitude of 33,000 ft which is approximately 10.5 kms above the sea level.  The temperature outside is -40 degree Celsius but for your comfort we have set the inside temperature to 24 degree Celsius.  We wish you a pleasant journey and please enjoy the dinner which we will be serving shortly.  Thank You”.

That short speech by Capt. Pillai was one of the most entertaining times of the trip.  The tone of his communication and the information spilled by him was quite a new experience.

May be I need to travel more often by planes.  But I am a train person for most of my travels.  Not just cheap travel, the feeling of travelling by train is much more raw.

But this time it was different.  Anything that comes for free is just so thrilling.  A free to and fro air ticket and I decided to replace the 48 hours train journey by merely a 3 hour plane journey to Kerala.

Wayanad, a tribal region located in the dense forest and hilly regions in Kerala is only 130 kms away from the city of Kozhikode.  A 280 kms road journey from Kochi to Kalpetta (in the Wayanad district) was set in six hours.

 

The weather is usually pleasant with occasional signs of rains.  Clouds and sun are usually playing hide and seek during most time of the day.

The highway though not very wide is fast moving due to smooth roads and a good traffic sense among the locals.  There is a never ending presence of lush greenery on both sides of the road; be it the coconut trees or the paddy fields or just another wild forest.

Wayanad is a paradise destination for those who love forests and trekking.  It is situated in the northern region of Kerala; shares boundaries with Coorg (in Karnataka) and Ooty (in Tamil Nadu).

Though it is a hub for Kerala spices, Wayanad is specifically known for pepper both black & white.

Kalpetta, a small town in the Wayanad district, displays a lot of developmental work that is visible from almost everywhere around. It is a dense forest region, and as it is an extension of the Western Ghats ranges, a total of 9 hairpin bends need to be crossed.

On the very first day, along with a local, Joseph I went to Banasura Sagar Dam which is about 55 kms from the city of Kalpetta. There is a huge reservoir created between the hills due to the holding back of dam water.  A 15 minute speed boating is a good idea to enjoy the forest closely.  From a distance Banasura Forest Resort is also visible.  It overlooks the Banasura Sagar Dam and appears to be on a quiet and an exotic location.

My next destination of the day was Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary.  It is a reserved forest, home to 25 tigers, elephants, quite a lot of deer and many other animals but does not guarantee any visibility of animals.  It is a closed gypsy drive for about 20 kms into the forest which is not a very convincing one except for the fact that it is a beautiful forest. A long walk in such forests would be better than a closed gypsy drive, but that usually does not happen in reserved forests.

My last destination for the day was an ancient 500 years old Vishnu Temple called the Thirunelly temple.  It is situated on the top of a rock from where travels the melodious sounds of malyali bhajans in female voice.

As I reached the top to enter the temple, I observed some unconventional rituals which are rarely followed these days.  It goes as follows. “The boys should not be wearing anything on their upper body while entering the temple.  Do not touch anything inside the temple, not even touch the temple bell as everything is put there in the purest form.  If you do not belong to the Hindu clan of south India, the priest will not touch you and will hand over the sandalwood paste in your hand.” Though it is a beautiful monument, it can be avoided if you are not enthusiastic about the religious tourism in India. The drive back home was long and beautiful.

The very next day I decided to do some climbing on the hills and therefore headed to Edakkal Caves.  Though this place cannot be recognized as a trekking route due to the fact that it is only a 1.5 km uphill climb, yet it is a very steep climb and needs to be done with a lot of caution. It should definitely be avoided during the rains but certainly not to be missed on the other days.

There are hundreds of years old ancient rock paintings inscribed on the rocks.  These rocks are huge and stand erect and tall. From the top, Wayanad is visible and one can experience the view of the greens with the Western Ghats in the far sight.  The town is indeed very green.

On my way back, I enjoyed a sumptuous lunch in Bathery, another small town 30 kms away from Kalpetta.  Sultan Bathery (popularly known as Bathery) in the ancient times was a reservoir of arms for Tipu Sulthan’s army, mainly due to its proximity to Mysore.

The lunch was a gourmet on the platter.  Several types of fish preparations are available.  The one with a lot of organic herbs wrapped in a banana leaf was my favorite.  Seasonally, one can also relish prawns.  The black pepper juicy chicken was also something that I found unique in its preparation.

On one of these days I also had a chance to enjoy the traditional Kerala meal.  On a banana leaf they served six different types of curries with steam rice accompanied by papadam followed by a payasam (Kheer/sweet). It was authentic vegetarian food which included sambhar, rasam, beetroot, pineapple, payasam.  Though serving on the banana leaf is not a very common tradition these days in Kerala but some restaurants on prior bookings can make the arrangements.  Hotel Jubilee in Bathery is one of them.

The rest of the evening was spent shopping in the local market.  The most colorful lungis (traditional lower wear in South India) were available in some of the textile handloom showrooms.  I also bought some spices like white pepper, cinnamon, etc. for the kitchen back home. Gandhi Gram outlets are some of the most genuine places for shopping.

On my last day in Wayanad, I decided to explore some more forests.  Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary is another huge forest situated on Kerala-Tamil Nadu Boarder.  There is a wildlife museum very close to the gate.  Anyone particularly fond of forest honey can buy from here. There is also a long forest trek inside which I could not explore due to some restrictions. There are a lot of coffee and tea plantations on the way to Muthanga.  In the reserved forest region one can also spot teakwood and rubber plantations.

Since it was my last day in Kerala, I also decided to give a shot to the traditional massage of Kerala.  The experience was good but it is a very commonly available service to the tourists.  One should be wary about the exclusive authentic services.

I spent my last evening in Kerala drinking Toddy with my guide Joseph.

Toddy is the local booze of kerala made from the fermentation of coconut.  It is economically affordable liquor for the locals and is now banned by the Kerala Government in many areas as it can be very harmful if it turns toxic.

My friend Joseph got it from his friend’s shop near Muthanga and we were sure of its condition.  A lot of personal stories emerged that evening and we realized how North India is so very different from south India.

Though Kerala is one of the most prosperous state in India people still lead a fairly simple life there. Life is indeed very beautiful in the green suburbs of Kerala.

During my last drink, I invited Joseph to North and witness the fast life that city dwellers cannot seem to live without these days.

In fact, I even promised him that I will return to Kerala soon as I can never see enough of Kerala. From back waters to sea shores from dense forests to beautiful tea gardens Kerala has always been one of the perfect destinations for travelers in India.

 

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