Harsha’s travel diary

Harshavardhan Srinivasan from Chennai, India, now based in the US, shares his travel diary with us. A seemingly simple trip to Wayanad district in Kerala, offered him and his friends many a challenge, though the sights were a reward in itself. The trip as described by ‘Harsha’ to STW follows.

Kerala, God’s own country, spice garden of India, and a ton of other sobriquets that one can associate it with. Yet, none of these can do justice to the eternal beauty that is, Kerala. Out of the oh so many cradles of nature, Wayanad is probably one of the most diverse of the lot. Winding rivers, sky kissing mountain ranges, rich and biologically diverse wildlife, it’s practically any tourist’s delight. I’ve always wanted to go and explore Wayanad, but never got to do so until last June. It was a short trip, literally carved out of my month long sojourn in India, with friends of course. Given the constraints all of us had, we wanted to see as much as we could, yet not get caught up in the rat race of visiting all the hotspots. So after reading up, we shortlisted five of the most well known places Wayanad had to offer- Edakkal Caves, Banasura Dam, Pookote Lake, Chembara Peak and Soochipara Waterfalls.

Mysore is the place closest to Wayanad in terms of the distance you have to travel. Mysore is also close to Chennai and is a well known weekend destination. An extra 3-4 hour drive from Mysore will land you in Wayanad district. Did I mention Wayanad “district”?

Before we get to know what these places have to offer, be informed that Wayanad is not the name of the place, it’s actually the district that comprises all these tourists hotspots. If you’re visiting, you could stay in of the many homestays that are available, to use as your base and visit all these places from there. The main commercial hub of Wayanad district is Kalpeta, which is surrounded by the homestays I mentioned.

The weather in June? Rain, rain and more rain. It literally poured all day. First stop was the Edakkal Caves. Getting to the caves involves a trek of about a kilometre. 90% of the path is paved, so it’s pretty tame. This paved path or steps leads us to the first cave. Though named Edakkal Caves, they are not actual caves. They are actually clefts, caused by a chunk or rock splitting away from the main rock. The oldest cleft is said to be about 8000 years old.

A view from the top of Edakkal caves. Pristine beauty is it not?

Due to the monsoon, the first cave had many a criss crossing stream, adding to the aura of the cave. When we reached the top, it was raining heavily, adding force to the water. That made for quite a sight. Owing to the  darkness, I could not manage pictures of this (read: do justice to the beauty and the aura inside). The second cleft had to be the mother of all petroglyphs. It had so many inscriptions and they were so closely packed together that making out the shapes and what they conveyed was really difficult. Two inscriptions however, stood out. One was what looked to be the chieftain of the tribe that inscribed it. The second was a depiction of the sun as the epicentre of everything. I could only gape and wonder how the bronze age people deduced it.

Since the caves are at the top of a mountain, the view was breathtaking from the peak. Add the cloud cover and the mist and it made for a very spectacular sight. One can only stand in awe at nature’s creations. The rain, which was already pouring down had turned to torrential by the time we decided to descend.

The petroglyphs at Edakkal Caves, shows how much people in the bronze age knew.

After the fun at Edakkal, we headed to Banasura Sagar Dam, impounding the Kabini River. This dam is 21km away from Kalpeta and is the largest earthern dam in India. Legends say that the Asura king Banasura, (the son of King Mahabali, who is believed to visit Kerala during every Onam festival) undertook a severe penance on the top of these hills and thus it was named after him. The surrounding areas of Banasura Sagar dam are ideal for trekking and probably an amateur trekker’s delight. I would surely like to come back here and explore the trails sometime.

Banasura Sagar Dam, Asia’s second largest earthern dam. How many knew this?

Pookote Lake was next in line. Interestingly, the Kabini River originates from Pookote Lake. Pookote lake has tons of Blue Lily Flowers in it, making it a great subject for macro photography. Tourists can rent pedal boats for themselves to explore the lake. The charges are INR 50 for a 20 minute ride. Make sure you have enough energy and half decent calf muscles to survive the 20 minutes. The roots of the lillies do impede your progress and make pedalling more strenuous.

Pookote Lake, birthplace of the Kabini River.

We had made Ponnada Gardens our base for our stay in Wayanad. Vythri Resort is a very good alternative, though Ponnada Gardens is equidistant from all the places mentioned above. My rating of Ponnada Gardens is very good, you have to ask for what you want though. Right from the food, to extra beds. Vythri is more of a honeymoon getaway if you ask me. Spent the night at base, only to be in line for an even more exciting day that lay ahead.

Ponnada Gardens, one of the many homestays, far away from the din of the city, nestled in nature.

Next day, we were informed that Chembara Peak was open for trekking. It had been closed the last couple of days due to torrential rain. Lucky us. An awesome breakfast at Ponnada Gardens gave us the energy for the arduous trek that lay ahead. The peak is about 22 km away from Kalpeta (Kalpeta is the commercial hub of Wayanad). A couple of things to be noted here – get a permission from the forest authorities at the base, trekker groups are charged and all cameras are to be declared and paid for.

All procedures done, we were informed that the more exciting forest route was closed as a herd of elephants had laid base there. It was too dangerous. The second route is a more exciting climb. Or so it sounded. I say this because there are three phases to the top. Two phases of 60 degree inclines through thickets and rocks, combined with ferrous rich mud. The second phase is a bit tougher owing to the presence of algae rich, slippery rocks on the trail. The third phase is the easiest, having an incline of 30 degrees.

Phase 1 greeted us with mild rain and we were able to take lots of pictures of the estate and the view of the peak from below. We started Phase 2 and were greeted with a torrent of rain. We thought it would subside but how wrong we were. It poured incessantly, creating a mini waterfall along the trail! We were wading our way through water, if the rocks, thorns and slippery mud were not enough. But as any good group would do, we pushed each other, cracked jokes and made the climb lighter. If rains made the ascent difficult, read on about the descent. Cameras packed, mobiles secured and dripping wet, we crawled through phase 2. The sight of the heart shaped lake warned us that we’d made it through 95% of the trail. 10 more minutes and we were atop the tallest peak in Wayanad! Clouds and literally everything below us, we felt on top of the world. We soon prepared for the descent.

If the stream of water made the ascent difficult, rain had stopped, water had receded and all we were left with was loads of ferrous slush on the trail. A couple of steps in it and we knew we were in for a tough descent. How right we were. It was slippery, but we fought it all, found good paths to descend on and once we reached the base again, all of us were elated. Words might not describe how difficult the descent was, but trust me when I say, this is what I learnt-

Tip 1: A monsoon trek is one of the most difficult things to do, but also one of the most satisfying.

Tip 2: If you’re on a monsoon trek, make sure you wear shoes, and ones that grip well.

Tip 3: Western Ghats trek trails are notorious for leeches, especially in the rainy seasons, take necessary precautions.

Tip 4: A wet trail, with water flowing on it, is better than a slushy one. Time your trip well. Try avoiding slushy ascents/descents.

Tip 5: Encourage your group/yourself no matter what, be surprised to see what you’re in store for after that.

A view en route to Chembara Peak. How many places can boast of such beauty?

It was back to base again. There were many memorable moments etched in my memory and that won’t be erased anytime soon!

Next in line was the Soochipara Waterfalls. Located 22km northeast of Kalpeta, you have to take a 1.5km walk from the parking bays to reach the falls. They are cordoned off during peak monsoon seasons and offer a great avenue for rock climbing and white water rafting. The walk is through dense, yet pristine rain-forests and tree lovers can find many a rare tree variety here. The waterfalls were at their full glory when we reached there, and we were in for an amazing sight. This was nature at its undisturbed, serene best. The full force of the waterfalls were a sight to behold. The path to the waterfall is pretty steep most of the time, so be prepared for some dog breaths, especially the walk back to the parking bay.

The Soochipara Waterfalls. A raging force in the Indian monsoon.

That concluded the short trip to Wayanad. All of us had our return booked from Mysore. We reached Mysore, only to learn that the Mysore Palace was to be lit up. The palace is lit up with thousands of serial bulbs illuminating the entire complex. They are switched off after the Mysore royal band beats the retreat. The complex is lit up on all holidays and weekends and makes for very pretty viewing. Would we miss it? Not for all eternity! We made a dash to the palace, saw the lit up complex and the band’s beat the retreat.

Bonus picture for us. The Mysore Palace lit up in all its glory.

Learn more about Harsha.

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About Shruti Bharath

Social entrepreneur and developmental writer, passionate about creating workable solutions in the areas of improving employability of youth and women through skill enhancement/training and generation of productive and sustainable employment opportunities.

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