Some fondest memories from my childhood include traveling with my paternal grandmother. With her, I visited innumerable temple towns, all the way from Kanyakumari to Haridwar. Had I been given the choice to select the destination, these would have been the last places I might have picked. Yet, these trips have left indelible impressions on me - up close encounters with culture, practice of life skills, lessons on Hinduism, rudimentary knowledge of architecture. I can go on.
My recent trip to Wayanad is one I am proud of. With the basics of accommodation and travel having been sorted out, the rest of the trip was impromptu. Quality over quantity was clearly the mantra. A lot of ah-ha moments too, that will help me plan my next trip.
The overnight bus dropped us off (my sister, my son and me) at Kalpetta. This is where I realized how inadequate my grasp of Malayalam was. All the Dulquer and Nivin Pauly movies seemed to be lessons that were lost on me! With broken or should that be minced Malayalam, we found out that we had to take a local bus to Sulthan Bathery and then hop on to an autorickshaw to reach our hotel Vedanta Wake up located near Edakkal Caves. That is exactly what we did. For a budget hotel, the amenities were decent. The common room left a lot to be asked for. It was unkempt and looked more like a storeroom for the hotel staff. The room was well equipped with a soothing view of the surrounding hills. We also discovered that they had no restaurant and we were provided with a breakfast of bread and omelette from their kitchen after making a request.
We then proceeded towards Edakkal caves. The walk up the steep hill was enjoyable and the view from atop the hill was completely rewarding! Personally, the inside of the cave was unimpressive. What drew my attention was the rocky boulder wedged between two steep rocky faces, allowing light to stream in through the gaps. This natural structure is what lends the name to this cave - Edakkal or stone in between.
After our return, we had Kerala meals at a mess situated near our hotel. The food was extremely delicious and nominally priced. Since we were on the outskirts and had no dedicated transport, we decided to take a nap and visit the town in the evening. What shocked us the most was that by 5pm the whole area resembled a ghost town! All shops were shut, including the mess - our source for dinner! By 7:30pm, the hotel staff called for an auto which took us to Ambalavayal town, about 4 kms away. We had our dinner in a small restaurant, purchased fruits and returned to the hotel for the night.
We heard the safari in Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary was worth going on. I was skeptical. Yet, we hired an auto to pick us up by 5:30 am and reached the ticket booth just as it opened for the day. Instinct guided me towards the left of the ticket room, which was already full with eager tourists hoping to be on the safari. The morning round of safari sees 40 jeeps go into the forest while the afternoon round sees 15 jeeps go into the forest. We were one of the lucky ones to be allotted a jeep after we agreed to share the ride with another family of 4 members.
I much rather prefer exploring a forest on foot or on an elephant. From experience, jeeps safaris are unsuccessful in my opinion. The roar of the jeep is sure to scare away any animal that might have considered venturing into the path. This safari too was turning out to be one of disappointment - we saw some deers, more deers and some more deers! Suddenly, a flash of metallic blue and green caught our eye! A lone peacock had strutted out into the open. This splash of colour against a greenish yellow backdrop brought excitement to the safari. Soon, we also spotted a couple of peahens. These birds alone changed the status of the safari from boring to wow!
After a quick breakfast, we rode on the auto to Chembra Peak. Here, my misunderstanding of Malayalam led to some adventure that I will never forget! It is the norm to rent jeeps that take trekkers to the ticket booth located about 2 kms away from the base of the hill and also beyond to the starting point of the trek. This is exactly what our driver, Santosh explained to us. I misunderstood him and he misunderstood me! When I inquired if the heart shaped lake was the drop off point, he said yes!!! I had a quick discussion with my sister. We were wondering what sort of trek it would be if a jeep was going to take us all the way to the top and bring us back! We decided to walk from the base. We walked and walked and walked until we reached the ticket booth. My son is all of 6.5 years and we had to constantly motivate him! We paid 750 rupees for the trek which included a guide. It was here that realisation dawned on us - when our guide Shahir mentioned that he would ride on his bike and meet us near the starting point of the trek, we realised our folly! The trek had barely started! We had another 1 to 2 km walk up to the starting point. We took it in our stride and ploughed on.
We started up the hill just after 12 noon. A big mistake. The sun literally sapped us off our energy. Suddenly the motivated became the motivator! My son relentlessly climbed on while I kept wanting to turn back! I am least affected by dizzying heights and quite enjoy the view from high altitudes. But, when I began to feel dizzy, I knew I was low on sugar. I had a banana and loads of water. This did the trick. After this, there was no turning back. We completed the trek and were rewarded with excellent views of Wayanad. The first glimpse of the heart-shaped lake was like a fresh breeze kissing a sweaty forehead! Not for nothing is Kerala called God's own country! The lush greenery is so soothing to the eye and calming to the mind!
We checked out of our hotel and Santosh took us to Kuruva Dweep - a biodiversity haven. On the way we came across the ruins of a Jain temple - testimony to the rich History that the town is seeped in. Several temples were used as ammunition dump during Tipu Sultan's attack on Kerala provinces. These temples were destroyed in the course of war.
At Kuruva Dweep, the completely non-motorized raft ride across the river speaks volumes about the dedication of the Kerala forest department in reducing their carbon footprint while continuing to enjoy the bounty of nature. Kuruva Dweep is an island in one of the tributaries of Kabini river. The river forms a rocky inland pool which is an ideal picnic spot. For those who prefer to walk around leisurely and observe the rich flora, this is paradise. Across the other side of the island is a tribal museum and a temple dedicated to Goddess Durga.
We reached Kalpetta after 4 pm and we had a long wait until our return to Bangalore. We waited at the bus stop. It is but natural to take time in understanding the pulse of any new town. The three days that we spent in Wayanad has woven a pretty fabric for me, each thread signifying something so very innocent - unspoiled greenery, hardworking and content locals whose intention is not to take advantage of tourists, people who go about their business but are ever ready to help should you approach them, easily accessible tea and coffee estates which emphasised the fact that the people were trusting and trustworthy. Stepping on to the bus, I wrapped this fabric tightly around me, only to feel Wayanad beckoning me to return soon!
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