Mud football, off-road rallying, bamboo rafting and other adventures, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY find out how Kerala’s northern hill district makes the most of the monsoon
The faces on the field were unrecognizable, their clothes and ages obscured by layers of mud splattered on their bodies. 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 as it splashed around the muddy waters.
They chased each other, 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!
This monsoon, you don’t have to sit in the verandah of your home watching dark rain clouds consume the sky and city. You could choose to head out to Wayanad, a district that has transformed the rains into a full-fledged tourist season. 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 brand mascot. But that was ten years ago…
Today, through its relentless efforts, the Wayanad Tourism Organization, 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 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.
In a way, Vythiri Resort did to Wayanad what Orange County did to Coorg – place it firmly on the tourist map! And soon an upsurge in the hospitality sector gave a further boost to the region. 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 for all. The event takes place at Kalpetta (12-14 July) and witnesses tour operators, media and travel experts coming together to experience and promote the monsoon carnival.
Living up to its name as ‘wayal nadu’ or land of paddy fields, a football pitch is specially prepared in an empty rice field at Hill District Club near Kolagapara. The ground is flattened and watered to keep it slushy as people are encouraged to get down and dirty and participate in sports like mud football or kabbadi! Guests can try their hand in 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 organized in association with Jeep Club Wayanad, lures participants from all over India. Adrenalin junkies come to test their driving prowess and push 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 can indulge in the thrills of river rafting in bamboo rafts at Kuruvadweep Island or zip-lining at Vythiri Village. Local outdoor outfit Muddy Boots organizes wide-ranging activities that include 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 your leech guards and embark on a trek to Banasura Hill overlooking India’s largest earth dam while staying at Banasura Island Retreat or Silver Woods. Stay in aesthetically made bamboo and eco-cottages at Greenex Farms and scale Chembra Peak, the highest mountain in Wayanad with a mist-covered heart-shaped lake.
Base yourself at Meenmutty Heights at the top of the 300 m waterfall and visit Neelimala viewpoint nearby. At Sunrise Valley Resort, enjoy a distant view of Meenmutty falls from your honeymoon cottage or drive to Sunrise Valley viewpoint to watch the river below enveloped in clouds. Birdwatching haven and eco-friendly resort Wynberg promises a jungle trek to Manikunnu mala.
Lakkidi, atop Thamrasseri Ghat on the district’s western border, acts like a gateway to Wayanad. One of the loftiest points in the region with a high degree of precipitation, Lakkidi is swaddled in mist and offers stupendous views of the plains of Calicut. Stop by at the unusual Chain Tree to pay your respects to Karinthandan, a young tribal killed by a British engineer after sharing the 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 became known as Chain Tree.
For those who feel overwhelmed by the bouquet of monsoon activities on offer, one can indulge 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 like Blue Ginger, one is clearly spoilt for choice.
Get pampered in luxurious tree houses at Vythiri Resort or Tranquil Plantation Hideaway with 14 trails within the property. At Fringe Ford, a 500-acre plantation allowed to go wild, trek to Namboodiri Hill or Makkimala reserve. Or stay in pristine tea gardens of Priyadarshini Estate at the DTPC-run Wayanad Tea Country. Whatever your idea of enjoying the rains, Wayanad has something for everyone…