Kerala’s Wayanad district is an explosion of nature’s bounty with forests, waterfalls, mountains, a rich tribal heritage and world-class homestays & eco-resorts. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY list out the Top 10 Things to Do in Wayanad
1. Stay in a tree house
Perched 60ft above a lush canopy of rainforests, the tree houses at Vythiri Resort are easily the best in the country. Built by indigenous tribals with locally sourced materials, the five luxurious cottages run on solar power and utilize natural spring water flowing down the hills. At Tranquil Plantation Hideaway, stay in the luxurious Tranquilitree, built on a gulmohur with a superb view of the 400-acre coffee estate, or the 35ft high Serenetree villa on stilts, overlooking the plantation. At Wynberg, opt for the luxury tree top perch on a ven-teak tree, 18 ft off the ground.
2. Take a boatride at Banasura Sagar
Located in the shadow of Banasura Hill, Banasura Sagar is India’s largest earth dam and the second largest in Asia. Spread over 1700 hectares, 19 islands dot the reservoir. It is magical after the rains when the dam is full and the surrounding hills are cloaked in green. Indulge in Hydel Tourism with pedal boats or speedboat rides while staying at the luxurious Silver Woods Resort. For a traditional Kerala experience and scenic views, try Banasura Island Retreat, an ideal base for treks to Banasura Hill.
Boat rides: 8am–6:30 pm Contact Asst Executive Engineer, KSEB, Banasura Sagar Dam Ph 04936-273 448, 04935-271 741
Location: 21km from Kalpetta towards Mananathavady via Padinharathara, 3 km from the dam.
3. Enjoy amazing Waterfalls
One of the most attractive falls in the district, Soochipara is a three-pronged cataract located in a forest. The water hits the sharp spikes of granite at the base, hence the name Soochipara or Needle Rock. Nearby Kanthampara is fed by a breakaway stream from the main water source. Meenmutty Falls near Vaduvanchal is a 1½km hike from the roadhead. Base yourself at Meenmutty Heights or Sunrise Valley to enjoy this 300m high cascade. And don’t miss the Little Meenmutty waterfalls at the base of Banasura Hill.
4. Trek to the Heart-Shaped Lake
At 2100m, Chembra is Wayanad’s highest peak. And only those who make the effort to climb it can enjoy the sight of Hridaya Saras, the heart-shaped lake. Permits are given at the VSS Office, 2km from Meppady town and a 5km hike through a tea estate leads to the watchtower. The 3.5km trail through forests and grassland over a series of five hills leads to the misty summit, which offers a spectacular view all around. For multiple day treks and other adventure activities, contact Muddy Boots.
Location: 7 km to the base from Meppady town
5. Marvel at Cave drawings
Reachable after a 1km uphill trudge through a coffee estate, Edakkal Cave is one of India’s most important prehistoric rock shelters. Some wall etchings belong to the Neolithic Age (4000 BC) while another set of drawings date back to the Megalithic age. The second cave, 98 ft long, 30 feet wide and 93 feet high is rich with carvings of a chieftain, wild animals and an ‘I was here’ sign in Brahmi script. The shelter was used by various people at different points of time – a dancing lady (3000 BC), lady on pushcart (300 BC), a 1st century Pali inscription ‘Sri Buddha’ and a 15th Century Star of David. The trail continues past the 4000 ft high cave to the top of Ambukuthy mountain. Edakkal Hermitage with cottages built around the boulder-strewn hill, has rooms named after Palaeolithic cave sites, besides a unique Cave Restaurant for candle-lit dinners.
Location: 10 km from Sulthan Bathery Timings 9am-5pm (No entry after 4 pm)
6. Stare in awe at the legendary Chain Tree
Beyond the misty ghats of Lakkidi near Vythiri stands an unusual tree. Local legend has it that a young tribal named Karinthandan guided a British engineer to find a passage through the treacherous Thamrasseri Ghat. Unwilling to share credit for the discovery, the Britisher killed the native. When Karinthandan’s troubled spirit began haunting travellers, a priest was summoned to pacify the soul, which was chained to a tree. The heavy shackles can still be seen draping the branches of the famous Chain Tree.
7. Go on a Wildlife Safari
Spread over 344.44 sq km, Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary comprises Tholpetty in the north and Muthanga in the southeast. Part of the Nilgiri biosphere Reserve and a Project Elephant site, Muthanga is great for elephant sightings, often in the thick bamboo groves flanking the main road. The terrain is undulating with scattered hillocks and private jeeps and Forest Department mini vans offer wildlife safaris.
Location: Muthanga is 18 km west of Sulthan Bathery.
8. Visit the Thirunelly Temple
Set in a stunning amphitheatre of four hills, Thirunelly was created supposedly by Lord Brahma as a divine centre to counterbalance the world’s excesses. He received a vision of Lord Vishnu under a holy gooseberry tree (thiru nellikai) and three of Vishnu’s nine avatars visited the place in different ages – Parasurama, Rama and Krishna. Devotees take a dip in the Papanashini (Destroyer of Sins) river and make offerings for the emancipation of the dead. The temple is serene and the surrounding forests a trekker’s paradise. The rock cave of Pakshipathalam is a haven for several birds and bats. Trekking permits are issued by the forest department while DTPC arranges guides and camping equipment. The serene Thirunelli Agraharam cottages are an ideal base.
Location: 32 km from Mananthavady via Kartikulam-Tholpetty road. Thirunelly Temple Devaswom Ph 04935–210 201
9. Check out a temple that became an ammo dump
In the 18th century, Tipu constructed a small bastion and erected a watchtower on the outskirts of Ganapathivattom. When hiding ammunition for his forces became a problem, the wily Tipu cleared the idols of a 14th century Jain temple to stock his armoury but retained the façade to hoodwink the British. The place was thus called Sultan’s Battery or Sultan Bathery. The Jain temple is well preserved, barring the missing deity.
Location: 12 km from Edakkal, 24 km from Kalpetta on NH-212. Timings: 8am-12pm, 2pm-6pm
10. Buy a Rainmaker from Uravu
Uravu, a bamboo processing training and design center near Kalpetta helps rural artisans, women and tribals to commercially use bamboo, found abundantly in Wayanad. Drop by at their store to buy spice boxes, lampshades, handicrafts, innovative utility products, binsi (a hollow reed that whistles when swung) and Rainmaker, (seeds cascading through hollow bamboo to emit sounds of rain).
Location: Uravu, Thrikkaipetta (7 km from Kalpetta) Ph 04936-231 400, 326 896 http://www.uravu.org
Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 17 August 2012 in Conde Nast Traveller online.